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5 things I learnt from doing a TedX Talk

· Personal Reflections,Stories

I shared a very personal part of my family history, speaking in the same building I graduated from my Masters in, to a room full of people.

The talk itself is something I am proud to have done, and I learnt a huge amount from the process that got me there. Here are some of my key reflections:

One: I am a creation of each person that has come before me

In my talk, I shared what I learnt from retracing my family history, focusing on my grandparents who came from Bangladesh to India during Partition. Having the opportunity to do that meant everything though for me, the TEDx talk came second, the family history came first.

It was a chance to learn everything I could about my ancestors and their history. A lot of second generation British Indians (and I’m sure those of many other nationalities) have complex identities – not British (or white) enough to be British, not Indian enough to be Indian. Researching my family was my way of better understanding and connecting to my identity.

Diving deeper and learning more about how Partition affected families showed me that where you come from is as important as where you’re going.

I am a creation of each person that came before me, and no matter where I live, that will always be true.

Two: Representation still really matters

One of the things that surprised me the most was the volume of responses I got when my talk was published on the TED website.

Many of these messages were from people like me – second generation Indians who wanted to know more about their ancestors. Some were from people like my parents, touched that I had taken the time to share this story.

It made me realise how important representation still is. If you go a lifetime without seeing the nuances and complexities of your family represented, it means a lot when you finally see a story or a person you relate to.

I was amazed by how many people told me that their grandparents too had crossed the border, it is a collective truth so many of us share, and the more we represent it, the more affinity we can find in it. My own search started with this BBC documentary – I hate to think what I’d be missing out on now if I hadn’t seen it.

Three: History is wisdom, literally

The word ‘history’ means the study of past events. The root of the word is in the greek ‘histor’, literally meaning wisdom.

We never called my grandparents refugees, but they too left their homes with no choice – the same continues to happen today – in Kahmir, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar and countless other places. Accordinging to the UN, there are 3.9 million stateless people in the world – 80% of those live in just 5 countries (Germany, Sudan, Uganda, Pakistan and Turkey).

If history is how we learn, then I learned that many people helped my grandparents. When I look back on my life, I want to be one of the people that helped, especially when it is so easy to difference now.

Four: Honouring the past is how we heal

Trauma can be passed down through the generations; what our ancestors felt, we carry with us also. This transmission of trauma is known as ancestral pain – what is overwhelming, unnamable and often not discussed; it stays with us, passed down through generations.

The generation that experienced partition suffered extreme amounts of pain and loss. Researching my grandparents taught me though that human beings can survive in the face of absolute adversity. It is important to me to have conversations about their stories and experiences, so that I too learn to be resilient.

We rightly honour world events and wars in which so many lives were destroyed. It’s important we also honour our own ancestors, our loss, our stories. If history is how we learn, honouring the past is how we heal.

Five: In the end, the thing you remember the most are the people who helped

The part you cannot see in a 16 minute TED talk is the months of researching, planning, writing and practising that go into it. I do presentations at work without thinking twice, but this one was different. As the subject matter was so personal, I wanted to tell the story as best I could.

What I’ll remember most from the experience is the people who helped me write (countless versions of) the script, learn my lines, cheered me on from the audience, and ultimately helped me tell this story.

I will remember the faces of my family sitting in the audience, my mother tearing up, and every single message of support I got – before, during and after.

Thank you for reading, watching, and for your support.

If you’re retracing your family history, drop me a note, I’m always curious to hear from those you going through the process!

In loving memory of my grandparents.

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