Walking the talk at the 10th edition of TEDxGateway

Geopolitical futurist Parag Khanna, who will be speaking at TEDxGateway, believes that the “future is Asian”

Geopolitical futurist Parag Khanna, who will be speaking at TEDxGateway, believes that the “future is Asian”

The 10th edition of TEDxGateway will be held tomorrow in Mumbai. The event, which draws over 5,000 attendees and the who’s who of public intellectuals, borrows its framework from the TED mainstage in Vancouver. We speak with a geopolitics expert, an insect photographer and a music collective who will be presenting their “ideas worth spreading”.

Five billion strong: ‘Geopolitical futurist’ Parag Khanna on why the world’s largest continent is going to define the future

He is an academic, a geopolitical advisor, and a political commentator. Parag Khanna’s website is frequently updated with latest tidings from his professional life, and he often takes to social media to explain how current events prove the ideas and theories presented in his multi-hyphenated work. This week, for instance, amid rising tensions in the Black Sea, he tweeted an excerpt from his 2016 book, Connectography, where he discussed the roots of the tension between Russia and Ukraine over the bridge that connects to Crimea).

At first glance, this makes him the perfect candidate for a TED talk. But Singapore-based Khanna admits that when he was first approached by the organisers in 2008, he had never heard of TED and was intimidated by the largeness of the task. “Standing there and talking, it’s fine if you have an emotional story, but I don’t share emotions in public. It’s not my thing,” he laughs. Besides, TED is not really a political arena. “But the organisers said, ‘you know what, you do geopolitics in a way that’s not too offensive’.” Ten years since his first talk, Khanna has curated sessions, guest hosted and even timed the release of his books with his talks.

In Mumbai, his talk tomorrow will borrow largely from his upcoming book, The Future is Asian. It is, he tells me, dedicated to his “five billion neighbours” (“I could have dedicated it to my nani, but I didn’t,” he jokes). By ‘neighbours’, the author means the inhabitants of the Asian continent, 3.5 billion of whom, he reminds me, are not from China. In a Facebook live video promoting the talk, Khanna emphasises that his book is relevant to Indian audiences, especially because the country often loses out on ‘airtime’ to China when it comes to books about the continent.

“I talk about Indian identity versus Asian identity, and the reality that we’re much more Asian than we think,” he says. “Every Asian society seems to still know more about its former colonial master than its neighbours,” laments the author, who was born in Kanpur and has lived in many countries (his father worked for Tata and was stationed across the globe). “But in the past 25 years, we have been reconnecting with each other. I am a passionate advocate and an evangelist for Asian identity.”

Most of his proof, he admits, is derived from travel, his “main methodology”. He has traversed the world, driving through remote terrain (“western China had no major roads before the Olympics”), arriving “at very different conclusions about the world than you tend to get when you’re doing desktop research”.

Zooming in: UK-based photographer Levon Biss on finding meaning in a digital world

Levon Biss’ subjects include A-list celebrities like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and ace athlete Usain Bolt. More recently though, he has shifted his lens to insects, including an Australian shield bug collected by Charles Darwin in the early 19th century.

His journey to the world of microsculpture — the highly detailed photography of insects where each portrait is composed using over 8,000 individual photographs — sounds like the result of burnout. One of the effects of digital photography, he says, “is that we are paying less attention to what we are photographing. As a society, we have started to accept substandard work as normal. I want my pictures to be hard to create: they should take effort.”

Things took a turn for him around four years ago, when his son Sebastian brought in a beetle from the garden. Looking at it under a microscope from a school science kit, Biss was stunned by the creature’s beauty, and decided to photograph it as a gift for his son. “From that point forward, I’ve been obsessed with the microscopic world,” he says.

Each image from his Microsculpture project (which he calls ‘portraits of insects’) is shot using a 36 MP camera (with a 10x microscope objective attached). The insect — usually from a museum collection (even though Biss sometimes works on location, including in the Bolivian rainforest) — is photographed in approximately 30 different sections, each lit differently with strobe lights. He then brings these fully focussed sections together on Photoshop to make the final image. The entire process, from shooting to retouching, takes approximately four weeks. His work has travelled widely, including, most recently, to the National Museum of Qatar.

“I wouldn’t say I approach my subjects differently,” he says. “If you look at much of my human work, there are strong similarities with my insect photography in the way the subjects are lit. Insects do talk less though – I quite like that.”

Following Genghis Khan: musical performers Anda Union on reviving the oral traditions of Inner Mongolia

It was their time together at the Chifeng Music School in Inner Mongolia (an autonomous region of northern China) that prompted childhood friend Nars and Urgen to start a collective that would help preserve the oral culture of their land, one that often is often overshadowed by Chinese rule. Their inspiration, they confide, is the erstwhile conqueror Genghis Khan, who unified the region. “We like to think that we mirror the way he unified the nomads as we have so many different tribes in the band,” says Nars. “As a band, our relationship to one another is a reflection of our culture’s regard for a communal way of life.”

This music collective’s three-month old album, Heemor, has songs with titles like ‘The Legend of the Swan Brothers’ and ‘The Girl who Stole Horses’, and its string notes evoke the sounds of a steppe-laden and rugged landscape.

Just in the past two years, 13-year-old Anda Union — which has around nine members from different ethnic backgrounds — has performed at Kings Place, London, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and has just returned from a USA tour. In a recent review, The Guardian wrote that the collective “deserves success well beyond their homeland” – the Inner Mongolia region of China.

Tomorrow, three of the collective’s performers, Nars, Tsetsegmaa and Urgen, will bring their melodies to the TEDxGateway stage. “I supposed as nomads our music travels well; it has its routes in our history that has taken us all over the world,” says Nars, who clarifies that the music is always the same for local and international audiences.

TEDxGateway will be held in Mumbai at the DOME @ NSCI, Worli, on December 2. Details, visit

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 1:47:34 am |