Five people spoke on how they “ventured into unchartered waters” at TEDx GCT, organised by the students and alumni of the Government College of Technology.

English was a nightmare for Saravanan Velrajan. He lost out on his dream job since he couldn’t communicate well. But he managed to find a job in HCL and worked in Silicon Valley, a place “filled with people who dream big”. Saro dreamed of starting his own firm. He realised that being an effective communicator was the key to becoming a good CEO and enrolled at Toastmasters International to get trained. He read books, listened to audio tapes and podcasts, started a blog… Saro worked hard to master English. His efforts paid off — in 2012, he won the ‘Distinguished Toastmaster’ Award, given to people who excel in public speaking. Today, Saro helps people become public speakers.

Did you know that there is a word to measure pain? Or that there is a word for the tiny ring through which a shoelace passes? Or that the heady fragrance of rain on dry earth (manvaasanai) is called ‘petrichor’ in English? Poet Srividya Sivakumar believes that “behind everything that inspires you is a series of words.” A little one whose gibberish makes no sense, the communication between an expectant mother and her child…words sometimes take meanings even before they are uttered. When used effectively, words are full of possibilities, said Srividya. “You could write a book, write original status updates on Facebook instead of copying someone else’s…” It’s funny how some people play with words. ‘Gym-body’ in place of ‘muscular’, ‘Cycle-gap’ for a small gap you can barely get through, ‘homely girl’ meant as a compliment for a traditional girl… One has to use words well to be taken seriously. “Words are the core of who you are,” said Srividya.

A robot can change the world. It can make our lives easier. It can be an ‘extra something’ that changes the way we perceive things. ‘Robo-guy’ Balaji Lakshmanan spoke of the robots his world is made of — from his earliest robot ‘HuBo’ made during his college days to the humanoid he created for the movie Mugamoodi. Getting a robot to move its arms is extremely difficult. As human beings, we do it without conscious effort. “We don’t realise how cool our design is,” said Balaji. Robots can be used to provide affordable solutions for everyday problems. Balaji showed videos of how his team designed fingers for Tamilarasan, a security guard who lost three fingers in an accident. “We were really moved when he lifted a bottle using the fingers,” he said. “Honda cars are said to have a very good braking system,” said Balaji. But, did you know that this was an offshoot of a braking system designed for a humanoid?

Baskar Subramanian traced his journey from his college computer lab to co-founding a successful company. He spoke of how he dropped out of IIT-Mumbai after just three months of classes. The atmosphere there disturbed him as “everything was about marks”. Today, he, along with his bench-mates Vidhya and Srini, runs a company “that tries to change the way advertising happens”. Their idea is to insert local advertisement slides during TV commercial breaks so that local companies can advertise their products. “Be it technology, music, arts…just follow your heart,” he said.

Alex Paul Menon hit the headlines last year when he was abducted and later released by Naxals. He is now the Chief Executive Officer, Raipur Development Authority. Alex’s father, a school teacher, couldn’t afford to send him to coaching centres in Delhi. It was sheer hard work that helped him become an IAS officer. “Anyone can crack the UPSC exams, provided they have the right orientation,” he said. When he started off as collector of Sukma in Chhattisgarh, Alex had to literally “carry his own chair” to the collectorate. But, things gradually improved. From starting bus services to building residential schools for children affected by Naxal-violence, Alex spoke about his various developmental projects in the Naxal hotbed.