There was jet lag from travelling 13 time zones, daddy’s absence that was keenly felt, and the brilliance of the world’s brainiacs arrayed before her.
None of this fazed Ishita Katyal, a 10-year-old Pune writer and middle-schooler who, quite extraordinarily, debuted as the opening speaker at the TED2016 (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a nerdy conference of some of the world’s smartest people.
Alpha-geeks from Google and Tesla, Apple and Uber, not to speak of marquee names such as Al Gore and Bill Gates are attending the annual brainiacs gig, but it was the singsong voice of this pre-teen, with her pink-frame spectacles and burgundy velvet gown, that held centerstage on Monday when the conference opened.
Her message was simple: Put children first; give kids a chance. “Instead of asking children what they want to do when they grow up, you should ask them what they want to be right now,” she told a packed audience, composed and self-assured under the klieg lights and before a brainbank that unnerves the best public speakers.
“We can do a lot in this moment, in the present. The problem is our world has many forces working against the dreams of children.” Adults, she said, chronically underestimate kids, and in the process they pass on fear to children who are born without fear.
The nerdy audience, with an average age perhaps in the forties, absorbed the mild admonition, responding with frequent applause as she pressed on to issues such as hunger, education, and war.
“My dream for the future is that people think 10 times before raising school fees, ahundred times before going to war with another country, a thousand times before wasting food and water, and ten thousand times before letting their child’s childhood go away,” she said. “I hope you adults can look after the world long enough to give us our chance.”
After she concluded to rousing cheers (AR Rahman, who performed a little later in the opening session, was in the anteroom), scientists and savants, poets and philosophers, mandarins and musicians ambushed her in the lobby, wanting selfies with her.
Her mother, Nancy Katyal, an image consultant in Pune, beamed with pride, recalling how Ishita, who wrote her first book “Simran’s Diary,” came into limelight after she organized a TEDx talk at her school Vibgyor High, Balewadi, last February.