TEDxKarachi: An Insider View

I survived TEDxKarachi. Not because of any bomb blast or Imran Khan’s speech (to me one politician is just like any another politician but the philanthropist Imran Khan is highly respectful personality for me) but the fact that I volunteered for the event despite strong fever, saw it to the end … I consider myself a proud survivor who was part of the TED factor.

It was a surprise for me when I received email that I was selected as a volunteer and reported on 26th at the venue for introduction and instructions. I received TEDxKarachi T-shirt with a “Made in Pakistan” tag and got the chance to hear Fasi Zaka, Dr. Quratulaine Bakhteari, Sarmad Tariq and Noori rehearsing before I returned home.

TEDxKarachi venue on rehearsal day

The next day I was on time and as per instructions I stood at the gate to check invitations and passes. Due to sudden rush of people, who came on time, the queue was very long and no matter how fast I checked the invitations and usher them in, the line still seemed never-ending and indoor it got jam-packed that forced me to halt the visitors until space cleared up.

Awab Alvi on the stage

There were several people whom I never met in person but knew their names that handed me their invitations. Sana Saleem, Abid Beli, Ayesha Tammy Haq, Umair Jaliawala, Faisal Kapadia and many more that were active on different communication mediums and known to so many of us. It was a pleasant surprise to see Fasi Zaka standing in the line as well just like any visitor of TEDxKarachi and despite my request to proceed inside directly, he jovially shook his head and stood there. He had to move inside after a minute anyway as Awab Alvi spotted him, came out and took him in. You can hardly fail to notice Fasi in practically any crowd he choose to stand.

Interns preparing Karachi Inside Out Art Project board

People of all ages and backgrounds seemed to have come to attend the event and both the organizers and volunteers were hard at work. The interns wore Organizers tag, majority of them young women who knew their responsibilities well and were hard at work. Volunteers like me wore Volunteers tag and were directed where the work was needed the most. Under the guidance of Shermeen Obaid Chinoy and Awab Alvi, we all were a pretty disciplined unit working in cohesion.

Imran Khan speaking to the audience

Due to work I missed Mr. Sabri’s talk, both during rehearsal as well as on the main day but was allowed to enter the auditorium when it was Imran Khan’s turn and I enjoyed every bit of it. I am not fan of any politician and agree or disagree with practically every one of them to a certain degree but it wasn’t the politician Imran Khan standing in front of me on stage. It was sportsman-turned-philanthropist Imran Khan for which I hold immense respect and his talk, most of his allotted time, focused on that; it couldn’t get any better.

Audience listening to Imran Khan with rapt attention

During tea break I helped out with some work in the auditorium by placing bags on the seats for the visitors and then head down to eat something myself. It had been two days since I was suffering from fever and I needed to take medicine before it got any worse. Sadly, as soon as I touched the sandwiches Shermeen was there and she said to hurry up as it was time to usher visitors back for the second session. I crammed a couple of sandwiches somehow, took a Panadol with some water and rushed back to the auditorium as people were taking their seats. My duty for the second session was inside and there wasn’t much for me to do since there were plenty of volunteers and interns inside to handle any query that came up.

Noori rocking the crowd with its music

It was a great to hear Noori once again and their ‘fast’ talk with a couple of songs which was followed by Dr. Quratulaine Bakhteari and Sarmad Tariq, both of whom I respect highly for the lives they have lived and sacrifices they gave. Even during rehearsal we had given the latter two standing ovation and it came as no surprise that they both received the same but even better response from the visitors of TEDxKarachi. I was also tweeting most of the time from inside the auditorium and Twitter was abuzz with praises for them.

Mukhtaran Mai and Shermeen Obaid Chinoy on stage

The last talk was Q&A style with Shermeen Obaid Chinoy interviewing Mukhtaran Mai. She had come on the rehearsal day as well but since I left early, I didn’t get the chance to hear her practice and on the main day I still couldn’t hear her as I rushed out for open air. My fever was getting worst and coolness in the auditorium was not helping. TEDxKarachi had also provided medical support with an ambulance standing close to the venue in case of any emergency. I had half a mind to go there and see if they could help me out but for some reason I stayed back and decided to see the event to its end.

When I returned, Mukhtaran Mai was answering her last question after which the event concluded. The volunteers and interns hung back once the visitors left, talking amongst themselves and with the speakers while Shermeen and Awab walked more comfortably, relief clearly evident on their faces. I had pleasant encounters with Awab Alvi previously and was on talking terms with him (on Facebook of course) but the first chance I actually got to speak to him that day was after the conclusion of the event. The whole group got to the stage and said cheese to the photographers, all wavy hands and smiley faces at the splendid conclusion of the event.

By the time all the picture-taking was done, my situation had gotten worse and I had to call my brother to pick me up. There was a dinner planned for all the interns and volunteers but I had to excuse myself as I shook hands with Awab and said good-bye to other team members and rushed out to the car. We went to South City hospital for check up and blood test, discovering that I was suffering from Malaria and my platelets count was about to drop below the normal range.

Despite the fact that I did not notify anyone at TEDxKarachi about my health and ended up in bed for few days before I had the strength to properly sit up and use computer to write this blog, I have no regrets and probably would do the same if given the chance because for me the concept of TED is really phenomenal and there is much to learn from the people standing in front of you on stage. The inspiration, the life changing stories and the way people overcome incredible odds with their will power, personality strength, self-sacrifice, ingenuity, creativity and sheer determination that it really feels world is changing and there is hope even in hopeless situations. To be part of such a phenomenon was a great opportunity for me and irrespective of how my body protested otherwise, I had to see it to the end especially as part of its organizing group to know and feel it from inside and what it entails.

For me the theme “Making the Impossible Possible” was highly suitable as we were hosting such an event despite such political and economic turmoil in the country and I was working as hard as any other person despite my condition, in an attempt to make the Impossible, Possible.

And we succeeded. Congratulations once again to the TEDxKarachi team for all the efforts and making the impossible possible.


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