Cutting-edge ideas blowin’ in the Goa wind
The Think festival, hosted by Tehelka on November 4-6, was like a multi-media exhibition of talent that threw up many innovative concepts
Tarun J Tejpal, Editor, Tehelka, delivering the keynote address
Photo: Shailendra Pandey
“It is time to change the very foundation of the way we think,” said Sam Pitroda, the man who made landlines a mass convenience decades ago, at the Think festival in Goa over the weekend. And then went on to indirectly explain why landlines were an idea whose time has gone: “Everything we do today is essentially obsolete.” He went on to talk not of mobile telephony but the well-established tradition of taking three years to get a bachelor’s degree. In today’s age, he says, a teacher should only be a mentor and information should stream into a student’s computer in real time.
In general, said Pitroda, India doesn’t need talent to find problems or solutions – instead, it is courage and confidence that are needed. In this context, he deplored the tendency to be cynical, to look at the glass as half-full.
The Think festival at Goa's Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, brimmed over with cutting-edge ideas like this. The carefully – and eclectically chosen – speakers from all over the world threw open to a packed audience their innovative ideas for the making of what Tarun Tejpal, Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka, called the India that we are collectively creating.
Some ideas looked deceptively simple. Actor Aamir Khan, for instance, when asked to divulge the secret behind his formidable success, said, “You have to be a team player” and “I enjoy what I’m doing and that’s what makes me what I am.” Those who didn’t find the message exciting are probably doomed to mediocrity.
Rajan Mittal of Airtel, chief sponsor of the event, had his own take on India’s current dilemmas. He said corporate philosophies have to change, they have to be re-invented. For instance, when his telecom venture was on its way to becoming a huge success, a multinational company and an Indian blue chip separately told him he should sell out, because this business is for “deep pockets”. But Airtel survived, and how, going on to become India’s market leader. He pointed out that legacy models have been turned on their heads, and Indian business models are now being studied by the world. “Our time has come,” he concluded, meaning India.
Whereas Mittal made a pitch for public-private partnerships in handling of national resources in a transparent manner, the Think fest also gave a platform to tribal activists and environmentalists. Pavan Sukhdev, a banker who became a green crusader, points out that instead of destroying nature, corporations should value it even more, as it is what gives them air, water, eco-tourism, medicine molecules etc virtually free. Forty percent of cooking fuel in India also comes from forests and is free. He pointed out that while is it important to value resources, you cannot monetise everything. “If tribals value their land as infinity, we have to respect that,” he said.
If the convention had its fair share of innovators from fields as diverse as astronomy and architecture, it also had economists, artists, musicians and social scientists. Anna Hazare disappointed fans by not turning up but Arvind Kejriwal more than compensated by speaking for the cause with his usual passion.
So did cutting-edge ideas get thrown up? Sample this:
Shashi Tharoor, MP and at one time controversial Tweeter: “It’s Delhi Police, municipalities and government departments that should be on Twitter, giving us information on what they are doing throughout the day.”
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, social scientist: “Now that traditional hierarchies have broken down, taking away our measures of self-worth, we need new measures.”
Hari Kunzru, author: “E-books will not affect authors. It’s the large publishing and distribution concerns that need to worry.”
Thomas Friedman: I tell my daughters: I had to get a job, you have to invent one. People can start companies overnight.
Kapil Sibal, minister for telecom: We produce 60,000 engineers (BTechs) a year, much more than the western world. What we need is an MTech framework so that our engineers are not forced to go abroad.
In sessions with corporate honchos, Tarun Tejpal talked about being “captivated” by entrepreneurship. He said we have to deal with a legacy of “socialism that factored out individual efforts and capitalism has reached a stage of rapaciousness.”
Some quotable quotes from that came out were:
“India’s time has come. This decade is ours, as the US is fragile and Europe in crisis.” – Rajan Mittal
“It’s time for the biggest technology adventure in history” – Sam Pitroda
“Anna Hazare, politicians, Mukesh Ambani, Medha Patkar all have different ideas of development. These have to be reconciled.” – Kapil Sibal
“Old-fashioned values will have to matter more in future – because God no longer intervenes, he has to be brought in.” – Thomas Friedman
“Liberals who are Orientalist are indulging in reverse racism. Because the Muslim world is very much compatible with democracy,” Maajid Nawaz, reformed jihadi.
As the three-day event wound up with a performance by Remo Fernandes, many innovative ideas were blowing in the wind, and will hopefully find fertile soil in which to sprout green shoots.
Manjula Lal is Senior Editor, Tehelka.
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