The curator of inspiring stories

The curator of inspiring stories
If you had 12 minutes to share your story with the world, what would you say? If you are a woman, chances are that you will let go of the opportunity, thinking that nobody would be interested in your story anyway. Besides, you haven’t really achieved anything worth talking about.

“Women are their worst enemy,” rues Lakshmi Pratury, the founder and curator of INK Talks, Indian equivalent of the popular TED Talks. For the annual INK Conference that has 50 speakers from around the world, 80 per cent of the applications are from men.

Few like Arunima Sinha show the courage to get on stage amongst a 12,000-sq-ft room full of people and speak their heart out. The former national-level volleyball player spoke in Hindi last year at the conference in Mumbai about being thrown off a moving train in 2011, the doctors having to amputate part of her left leg, and becoming the first female amputee (and the first Indian amputee) to climb Mount Everest in 2013. Arunima later went on to become the first female amputee to climb Mount Kilamanjaro in Africa and Mount Elbrus in Europe.

Passage to India
In 2009, when Lakshmi (a TED attendee since 1993) hosted TEDIndia, along with Chris Anderson, the curator of TED Conference, the response was encouraging and she didn’t want it to be a one-time affair. The only feasible way to make it a long-term venture, Lakshmi realised, was for her to shift back to India from the US and start INK Talks.

“Our children need role models who look like them and talk like them,” says Lakshmi, mother of an 11-year-old boy, as we make ourselves comfortable in her two-storey, rented office in Indira Nagar in Bengaluru. (It has a photograph of Richard Gere with a friendly arm around Lakshmi’s shoulder). “We need to hear not just about the money successful people make, but also about their struggles, failures and what makes them human. We need to hear their stories in their own voices,” she elaborates.

It doesn’t matter if you are not a good orator, your diction is far from perfect, and your posture fails to exude confidence. Those are skills that can be honed. As long as you are passionate about something and have some work to your credit in the field – failures included – Lakshmi is happy to assist you share your story with the world. For her mission is to create a single stage which would connect innovators and knowledge seekers from around the world.

When Arunachalam Muruganantham spoke at the INK Conference in Jaipur in 2011, he had the audience in splits with his dry humour. His is a fascinating story of a simple man who believed that all Indian women should have access to sanitary napkins; they should be able to afford it; they should not feel embarrassed to speak about the subject.

Despite traditionally being a land of story tellers, Lakshmi laments that most of us have forgotten the art of storytelling. “There are too many cultural barriers and pre-conceived notions. We are taught not to talk about ourselves, not to open up our imagination…We don’t have to be uni-dimensional. While we may focus on one thing, we should be able to observe what’s happening around us too,” says the erstwhile, 50-something business development and marketing professional.

The world, for Lakshmi, is divided into speakers and audience. “There’s a small third sect of enablers,” adds the social entrepreneur, who believes that fame is meaningless unless it creates an impact. Just as ink is only a medium used to express thoughts, INK is a physical and digital platform for people to share ideas and drive them to action.

Currently, Lakshmi is busy with the launch of INK Makers in colleges; the INK Innovators project is already on in high schools. And then, there’s the INK Fellows Program, an annual programme that recruits 20 young innovators to attend the INK Conference (in Mumbai this year, in October) and become members of the INK Community. The organisation also hosts KIDSInk and INK salons as well as mini conferences across the globe.

The plan now is to go local. Recently, 30 talks were dubbed into Malayalam, courtesy a sponsor. Efforts are on to get fresh talks in local languages. Lakshmi’s ideal is to be “hopelessly romantic, ambitious, idealistic”; she doesn’t want to be jaded. Replace the ‘no, but’ with ‘yes, and’. She recommends the talk on finding happiness by Aisha Chaudhary, a 17-year-old who lost her brave battle with pulmonary fibrosis earlier this year. Once you watch it, you’ll know why it has got 2,58,362 views, on last count.

All the talks can be viewed on INKtalks.com.

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