FOR a first impression, one felt like another India at the INK Conference in Goa, the India we do not hear so much of or see so visibly. But among the 500-odd fellowship of INK (acronym for Innovation & Knowledge) at the Grand Hyatt Goa on September 16 to 18, there were an estimated 70 speakers averaging 35 years, testifying eloquently to how just plain grit, determination and thinking-out-of-box won them fortune and/if not so much fame.
A feeling of having arrived ruled and although there was a flash of the good life evident, there was little trace of elitism. One managed to listen to the speakers without fuss and favour, but then presumably being media helps. INK fellows pay to learn and chat with one another on this annual common platform and one learned registration fees moved from `50,000 to `75,000 in the count down. Most can afford it and those who can’t have some friends who count.
The host and curator of the Ink conferences in India is Lakshmi Pratury. She could be the Oprah Winfrey of India! On or off stage interviewing or chatting with her “people” (she calls herself a “collector of people”), she exudes a down-to-earth and motherly friendliness. While in the US, she recalled becoming involved with Emily McMann’s TED conferences which focused on ideas worth spreading.
Upon her return to India she thought it was a good idea to get a similar movement going to showcase all there is to inspire, educate and give a positive push to; how many people there are from whose book of life and philosophy one may take a leaf out of to get on with one’s own life. Pratury’s own soon attracted a lot of like-minded people and this year INK celebrated its 9th event in Goa.
It’s a place she would like to come back to, she says. Why INK? She has always found ink fascinating because in the old days she loved the notes her father wrote to her in ink, “Ink is just a wider metaphor to show how ideas can spread.” The metaphor is close to her heart. INK has been a slow and steady revolution to motivate and cheer one another up to pursue a more constructive, rewarding lifestyle. Not alone but taking along whoever needs, wants, seeks to climb aboard their growing bandwagon. The select few open up their doors and windows to make wider connections to educational institutions using the best technology has to offer. Reaching out and connecting to youth from all walks of life is important in INK’s kaleidoscope.
Here, Lakshmi Pratury likes to collect stories of people who disrupt any stuck-in-the-mud ideas in favour of new ideas. Kaleidoscope is another word she loves. At this year’s “Kaleidoscope INK” it was impossible to sit through so many “talkathons” – but catching just a few sessions was enough to light up the mind and soul. The nine sessions were christened Yellow Brick Road, Pink of Health, Green Arrow, Silver Lining, Red Spark, Grey Matter, Golden Age, Chasing Rainbows and finally everyone together in the White Collection finale.
A few stay in memory. There was Narayana Peesapaty, founder of Baykeys Food, who spoke about the dying millet culture of India, for the poor are shifting to growing rice which guzzles something like 60 litres. Millets are hardy and offer better nutrition and especially to poorer societies. Conscious of moving to a more eco-friendly and sustainable world, one day he realised how hard a millet roti could be. Why not turn it into edible cutlery? One may eat it or chuck it and it would still be biodegradable trash!
He had brought some of this edible cutlery as samples but this correspondent didn’t get to see it. He asks, “Who says environmentally-friendly products are non-profitable?” He’s been running all the way to the bank with export orders from more conscientious countries and is now hoping to making it more economical for Indians to invest in it.
There was also Jennifer Broutin Farah of Sproutsio who spoke passionately about how health seekers (running away from the sins of the food industry) may now grow their own food. It’s all about the development of new technologies to redefine how we relate to food. The spirit of the gardener, she believes, extends beyond growing plants. It represents the ability to thoughtfully nurture and participate in the world around us and some of her health-friendly ideas are about to hit the Indian urban market very soon.
Rohini Nilekani, a co-host of INK 2016, detailed a shocking picture of where our water battles are taking us – we’re not a country living of the surface of the land, our roots go deep down into the history of our earth. Traditionally, we’ve always been a water-rich sub-continent with our rivers and generous underground water resources but alas, big dam technologies and an open license to dig bore wells has contaminated India’s one-time fabulous underground water reservoirs. India is in big trouble. Nilekani sold off Infosys shares worth `100 crores and concentrated on first-rate home-spun textbooks for children and is now pursuing Arghyam’s challenge to teach people how to hang on to water resources. We would like to see this former journalist going places in the Narendra Modi government.
Other transforming speakers there were Abhijit Bose of Ezetap (which facilitates electronic banking and has been described as the third most disruptive private company in the world by CNBC-USA); Amitabh Kant of Niti Aayog (the man behind ‘Branding India – An Incredible Story’ and a key driver behind Modi’s ‘Make in India’, ‘God’s Own Country’ campaigns who wants to position India as a leading manufacturing and tourism hub, says his dream is Modi’s dream).
Meet Ananth Menon, musician extraordinaire, guitarist and singer from Bangalore, formerly of the Galeez Gurus rock but now with By2blues. Listen to him sing: “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out…” and you’d think you’re back to the blues era in the US. It can dissolve you in a puddle of exquisite nostalgia. Ananth is doing good and feels right at home with INK fellows and hopes to continue flying high.
More names to check out on a bad day: Ritesh Agarwal of OYO, 22 going on 23 years and surely the youngest entrepreneur around who’s arrived. He’s Asia’s first Thiel Fellow and has been listed as a Forbes ‘30 under 30’ achiever. OYO is India’s largest branded network of hotels and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for decent basic accommodation from the sound of it. Extremely memorable is Shamim Rizvi who cycled from Bangalore to Goa for INK to prove a point or two about grit and determination – it was a 620 km ride starting at 9.30 am, arriving the next day by noon. Altogether, 21 hours of riding! He took up running and bicycling as a challenge and also to spread the message of evolution versus survival and the need to cultivate new habits for an eco-friendly world.
It was not easy in the beginning and he trained for years and before doing Bangalore-Goa. He has also done Bangalore-Mumbai and somewhere along the way made it to the famous 5,000 km Race Across America. As Lakshmi Pratury put it in her warm welcome, it is entrepreneurs like Samim Rizvi who give life new meaning, who can give anyone a complex!
There are quite a few heroes of digital technology in the media. To name a few: Sattvik Mishra of ScoopWhoop, which leads in the media publishing space. He has been on Fortune India’s ‘40 under 40’ list twice; Shradha Sharma of Yourstory has India’s biggest media tech platform with over 37,000 published stories of entrepreneurs/change-makers in English and 12 Indian languages; Anshul Tewari of Youth Ki Awaaz has become the country’s No 1 youth portal; Kalyani Khona of Inclov has the world’s first app for people with disabilities and health disorders.
In fact, the country’s future scape is so bright, said angel investor Ravi Mantha (an INK fellow on the 2016 selection committee), “Have you come across anyone starving to death in India anymore?” Dying for want of other things maybe, but not for food! He thinks the future is safe in the hands of sensitive and sensible prime minister Narendra Modi! He paints a rosy picture of India on the roll and it is just a matter of a few years before it breaks out of its developing country mould to emerge on par with the US, Europe, Japan, China.
The three brightest moments at INK2016 for this correspondent were when gentle American poet-humorist-satirist Sekou Andrews performed his poem: “It’s all about the money” and had everyone roaring with laughter; 75-year-old Meenakshi Raghavan and family who wove a magical spell with a demonstration of kalaripayattu, one of the world’s oldest martial arts from India; and Luis Dias of Goa whose Child’s Play India Foundation presented an amazing underprivileged children’s choir concert which brought the audience to a dizzy standstill. It was one of the fitting notes of conclusion for INK2016 till next year.

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