‘I Grew Up Looking Up To Superheroes. This Year, I Became My Own’

Posted by GurMehar Kaur in #MeharSpeaks
December 31, 2017

I have never been able to memorise a thing in my life. For years, my mother tried to help me cram the “My School” essay that was given to us in Grade 2. I never once managed to learn it, which is why I had to learn early on to manoeuvre my way around it. I started making up my own essays and telling my own story. While the whole class wrote the formula type essay in the exam, I wrote in detail about the colours of the walls in my school, and how every desk with compass inscriptions had a story to tell. I didn’t get full marks for it (far from it to be honest) but I did make my teacher smile and tell my mother how her daughter is a storyteller. That’s who I was, a storyteller, mostly because I had an overactive brain and zero patience to sit and ratto-fy essays.

While I don’t like to talk about the incidents in February 2017, I’ve come to understand I cannot not speak about them. Those incidents are what gave me this super power – the super power I speak about in my TED talk – our words and opinions. Had someone told me that something as simple as speaking your mind can change the course of your whole life, I would’ve laughed at them. I’d have cynically replied, “Even if we speak, who is listening?” But here is the thing – everyone is listening, which is what makes your words so powerful. World leaders who are in the position to bring real change rely on this same “power of words” to stay in power, so why do we, the citizens, ignore this gift?

The night before my TED talk, the first time for me, my mother was more nervous than I was. “You have never even managed to learn a single essay in your whole life, how will you remember your whole speech without any cue, that too in front of a huge audience?” she kept asking me and I kept dodging her. The thing is, I knew I wouldn’t be able to, and I didn’t. I just went on stage with a timeline of events in my head and told my story. This is not something I had made up or thought of for the first time. These were thoughts I had slept off to for years. And I couldn’t have had a better platform than TED to express them.

I wrote the talk and rewrote it. I must have gone through about seven drafts till I finalised on what it was that I wanted to say. The first five times I tried to write it, my thoughts would stop at the mention of the events in February. I tried fighting that mental block and finally gave up admitting on the sheet of paper that I cannot think about it. My mind knows enough to protect me from certain memories. So no matter how hard I tried writing about them, they wouldn’t come back to me. It is my vulnerability, but by then, I had learned how to own up to feeling a bit lost. Because that’s where strength comes from, from overcoming those vulnerable moments and surfing with your head held high and your heart still in the right place.

I cannot talk about TED without talking about Shah Rukh Khan, and I would never want to. We shot the episode months before the world got to see it, and people around me know that I left no opportunity to fangirl and talk about him at length! He is kind, humble, funny, accommodating, but more than anything, he is warm. He radiates positivity and love. While everyone moves and works around him like they are planets and he is the Sun, he ensures every person around him is being taken care of. I’m still very young, and at the onset of my career, and I could have not asked to be exposed to a better work ethic than his.

TED was a great experience, and the best part about it were the reactions that came pouring in. It was a relief to finally tell my story, to share my message, without any of it being distorted by the media. I felt like a bird who was just let out of her cage. It was freeing… to be able to say what you want is freeing. 2017 has been life-altering, but more than anything, my biggest takeaway from this year is that we, as human beings, don’t have an idea of the strength we are capable of showing. It is only when time tests you and you survive, that you realise how strong your mind is. I grew up looking up to superheroes. But this year, I became my own.

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