Cerebrate: Where Achievers and Passionate People Congregate


Exclusive report from Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, Chief Evangelist

Cerebrate {http://www.cerebrate.in/}, an invite-only congregation of achievers and passionate people, entered its third edition with the assembly of unique people at MARG Tapovan (located at Pavanjur, Tamil Nadu, 80 km from Chennai), a 77-acre property with luxury villas designed by MARG Properties, from February 25 to February 28, 2010.

Kiruba Shankar, the Cerebrate inventor, was sure that he would not be invited to Tim O’Reily’s Foocamp, in which 300 invite-only guests in the technology domain assemble in tents and brainstorm in lawns for three days. So he thought if he could transfer that experience in India to achievers and passionate people, the outcomes would be phenomenal. The first edition of Cerebrate was conceived by Kiruba and Arun Nair of Club Mahindra and rolled out in 2008 in Club Mahindra’s resort in Varca Beach, Goa. The second edition in 2009 was held at Club Mahindra’s Fort Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan, resort.

Designed in Unconference format with no declared agenda, the Cerebrate invitees (cerebrities) engage in ‘cerebral’ conversations and don’t give speeches. These conversations provide a unique experience to the cerebrities in which they share also their own personal journey. At times, they weave stories that are a delight to fellow cerebrities. Ideas are tossed around and several thoughts are assembled in the cerebrity minds, which one day is capable of a revolution. The incredible experience of great minds in a common location and the bonding the event creates is an experience of a lifetime. The ground rules are that no two people from the same field feature in an edition of Cerebrate. It is always a residential program and invitees who, for some reasons are unable to stay on at night, are flatly refused admission. Participants are discouraged from using technology gadgets and are encouraged to focus only on conversations. Access to TV and newspapers is deliberately kept away and Cerebrate is held in locations that are preferably outside cities.

I was lucky (count myself blessed) to be part of the third edition. Historian S. Muthiah (author of Madras Rediscovered and other books), monk-cum-textile design entrepreneur Christian R. Fabre, artist Alfonso Doss, author Rajesh Setty (also a celebrated speaker and entrepreneur), musician Vasu Dixit (Raghu Dixit’s brother), RJ Niladri Bose (also voice-over-artiste), mountaineer Sandhosh (climbing Mount Everest on March 29, 2010 for creating awareness on child sexual abuse), blogger Shrinidhi Hande, technology enthusiast Aditya Kaul, former snooker national champion Siddharth Rao (also DJ and delivery head, eMantras), part-time poet Raja Sanyal (Barclays Wealth), Rang De founders Ram and Smita, venture capitalist Harish Gandhi (Canaan Partners), “ideating missionary” Venkatesh Chandrasekaran (conceiver of Schools for India project and head, R&D, Mahindra-Satyam), Knowledge Foundation director and proto.in cofounder Syed Razak, industrial designer Ramesh Manickam (Enfield Thunderbird bike designer and TED India 2009 fellow), vernacular architect Goutham Seetharaman, technology-cum-social entrepreneur Karthikeyan Vijayakumar (brain behind Deepam, a computer teaching project for school children in rural areas), special children teacher Benedict Gnaniah, and robot researcher Balaji (designer of robot for mobile telepresence) with yours truly formed the Cerebrities team third edition 2010. Kiruba was the organizer and convener and was ably helped by Shrinidhi Hande.

In the three days of congregation, stories started to roll. Each cerebrity introduced themselves in a different way, summing up their life’s journey. S. Muthiah narrated his losing battles on heritage conservation in Chennai. Christian Fabre delighted the audience with his spiritual dichotomy of a monk and an entrepreneur. Rajesh Setty captivated fellow cerebrities with his incredible story telling. Raja delighted the audience with his traffic-inspired poems. Siddharth Rao narrated his journey as a snooker champion and DJ. Adhitya Kaul found a life in Bath in England and disclosed his passion for capturing interesting people on a video by engaging in a conversation with them.

Sandhosh explained the trials and tribulations of mountain climbing. Niladri showed endorsements of his work by celebrities like A. R. Rahman, Mani Ratnam, and actor Madhavan in his Listeners book of mails and letters from his fans. Smita and Ram explained their journey and passion into founding Rang De. Goutham casually split the beans on vernacular architecture as though it is his second nature. Benedict explained the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging to brain studies and his work with special children.

Harish Gandhi revealed his latest passion – scaling small peaks. Karthik showcased his ultimate Frisbee experience as a national champion and also his persistence with marathon running. Vasu Dixit was simply mindblowing with music flowing from his guitar like water from a spring. Whenever the cerebrities were likely to sink into sleep, Vasu was called to wake them up! Especially after lunch. Ramesh Manickam narrated how he designs anything from pens to tractors. Syed gave an account of The Knowledge Foundation activities including proto.in, which has run several successful editions.

Art and transformation of life was the theme of Alfonso’s conversation with cerebrities. Srinidhi Hande’s blog impacted customers of a corporate organization and he detailed the process of his “research” in his blog post on how he refuted the corporate’s claims. Balaji dwelt upon his research on robots and designing mobile telepresence robots.

Venkatesh Chandrasekar jolted the cerebrities with his incredible ideating mission of winning a 4,000-acre aerospace park in Tamil Nadu to design and manufacture airplanes in India. He simply throws ideas to interested stakeholders who transfer the idea into a vision. Execution happens without Venkatesh taking credit for it. His ambitious vision of 6,000 schools in rural areas is a crowd-sourced celebrity project aimed at establishing comprehensive schools with all facilities spread over 20 acres in different parts of the country for rural poor children.

Kiruba’s probably only comprehensive story was available exclusively as the night passed into its sombre slot. When he started at around 11 pm, the cerebrities were all ears still. He said, “when you are surrounded by mediocrity, you life is also mediocre.” He explained his Wisdom of Crowds inspiration on creating Cerebrate and wanted to open source Cerebrate like TED. The July 2010 Cerebate edition is to take place in Tunga, Maharastra, courtesy Club Mahindra. Rajesh Setty has joined the Cerebrate organizer club with a Cerebrate Silicon Valley in Mount Madonna near California in the US due in August 2010. Aditya is interested in a Cerebrate UK.

MARG Properties CEO Ramakrishnan (Ramki) took Cerebrities to MARG Swarnabhoomi, another mammoth project of MARG Properties, which consists of an SEZ, residential area for community housing, and an international school. Each cerebrity planted a tree in MARG Swarnabhoomi as a remembrance of the visit. Ramki explained that any visitor is asked to plant a tree to create an emotional bond.

Cerebrate MARG Tapovan also featured a field trip to Alamparai Fort, about 25 km from MARG Tapovan, which is a totally brick fort in tatters. Only two walls remain. Then cerebrities took a boat ride in the sea near the fort. In yet another bonding gesture, cerebrities played a Ten-10 cricket game.

When the Cerebrate wound up, all cerebrities were upbeat (probably thanks to Rajesh giving signed copies of his latest book Upbeat). The bonding looked to last long into the cerebrity lives.


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