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M3 India Abroad June 2012

US Attorney Preet Bharara — a legend in the making

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The Enforcer Preet Bharara, the India Abroad Person of the Year 2011, in a rare interview with Aziz Haniffa

PARESH GANDHI


M4 India Abroad June 2012 The International Weekly Newspaper founded in 1970. Member, Audit Bureau of Circulation INDIA ABROAD (ISSN 0046 8932) is published every Friday by India Abroad Publications, Inc. 42 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10004. Annual subscription in United States: $32. Canada $26. India $32 INTERNATIONAL: By Regular Mail: South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Australia & Middle East: $90. By Airmail: South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Australia & Middle East: $210 Periodical postage paid, New York, NY and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to: INDIA ABROAD, 42 Broadway 18th floor, New York, NY 10004 Copyright (c) 2006, India Abroad Publications, Inc. Ajit Balakrishnan Chairman and Publisher Nikhil Lakshman Editor-in-Chief Rajeev Bhambri Chief Operating Officer-US Media Vasanth Sastry Financial Controller THE EDITORIAL TEAM IN NEW YORK Aziz Haniffa, Editor Arthur J Pais, Editor, Features Ajit Jain, Managing Editor, Canada Suman Guha Mozumder, Associate Managing Editor, US George Joseph, P Rajendran, Deputy Managing Editors Paresh Gandhi, Chief Photographer Parimal Mehta, System Manager Production: Dharmesh Chotalia, Production Supervisor. Harish Kathrani, David Richter CONTACT EDITORIAL Call: 212-929-1727 Fax: 212-727-9730 E-mail: editorial@indiaabroad.com MUMBAI Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, Editorial Director, Features Dominic Xavier, Creative Head Uttam Ghosh, Joint Creative Head Sumit Bhattacharya, Associate Managing Editor Monali Sarkar, News Editor Sanjay Sawant, Satish Bodas, Creative Directors Rukmani Sah-Mehta, Assistant Editor Shailaja Nand Mishra, Senior Production Coordinator THE BUSINESS TEAM DISPLAY ADVERTISING CONTACT THE DISPLAY ADVERTISING TEAM Toll free: 1-866-702-2650 Fax: 212-627-9503 E-mail:displayads@indiaabroad.com Geeta Singh Sales Executive Jitender Sharma Associate Sales Manager CLASSIFIEDS WANT TO INSERT A CLASSIFIED/MATRIMONIAL AD? Call: 1-800-822-3532 Fax: 212-691-0873 E-mail: classified@indiaabroad.com Shahnaz Sheikh Classified Manager Sujatha Jilla Classified Assistant Manager Jim Gallentine Classified Representative CHICAGO BRANCH TEAM Sunita Easwaran Advertising media consultant Toll Free: 800-514.8183 (Illinois) Call: 773-338-1118 CIRCULATION CONTACT THE CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT Call: 212-645-2369 Fax: 212-627-9503 E-mail: circulation@Indiaabroad.com Subscription toll free number: 1-877-INDIA-ABROAD (1-877-463-4222) Anjali S Maniam Associate Vice President, Marketing & Special Events THE INDIA BUSINESS TEAM Nikita Pai, Deputy Chief Manager. Call: 91-22-24449144, extension 320 REDIFF.COM EDITORIAL TEAM Saisuresh Sivaswamy, Senior Editorial Director. Sheela Bhatt, Senior Editorial Director, News Ivan Crasto, Editorial Director, Sports Shobha Warrier, Associate Editorial Director Prithviraj Hegde, Editor, News, Nandita Malik, Editor, Business Savera R Someshwar, Archana Masih, Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Managing Editors Rajesh Karkera, Joint Creative Head A Ganesh Nadar, Indrani Roy Mitra, Seema Pant, Ronjita Kulkarni, Swarupa Dutt, Associate Managing Editors Prasanna D Zore, Vikash Nanjappa, Deputy Managing Editors Rupali S Nimkar, Senior Assistant Managing Editor Onkar Singh, Sanaya Dalal, Assistant Managing Editors N V Reuben, Senior Art Director Uday Kuckian, Art Director Puja Banta, Chief Features Editor Vipin Vijayan, Sanchari Bhattacharya, Chief News Editors Harish Kotian, Deputy Sports Editor Patcy Nair, Bikash Mohapatra, Chief Features Editors Abhishek Mande, Meghana Biwalkar, Senior Associate Editors Rajorshi Sanyal, Deputy News Editor Gauri Ghadi, Senior Assistant Editor Sonil Dedhia, Principal Correspondent Mahipal Soni, Director, Operations (Editorial) Aslam Hunani, Joint Director, Operations (Editorial) Ashish Narsale, Associate Director, Operations (Editorial) Rajesh Alva, Manager, Operations (Editorial) Manisha Deshpande, Senior Visuals Coordinator Anant Salvi, Visuals Coordinator India Abroad Publications, Inc A subsidiary of Rediff.com India Ltd. Ajit Balakrishnan Chairman and Chief Executive Officer EDITORIAL & CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS 42 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10004 MAIN OFFICE: Call: 646-432-6000 Fax: 212-627-9503 Web site: http://ia.rediff.com/index.html

The Enforcer

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early six months ago, when I sat down with him in his Manhattan office for an extended conversation, Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had shot into the limelight for his fierce prosecution of insider trading violations and was being dubbed one of the most powerful people in the Big Apple and being described as ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street.’ Despite his best efforts to scrupulously keep a low profile and eschew the flamboyance of predecessors like Rudy Giuliani — who went on to become New York’s Mayor — Bharara’s public profile was catapulted into prominence largely by his successful prosecution of Sri Lankan-American billionaire and Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, followed by the charges his office brought against Rajat Gupta, the Indian-American Preet Bharara on the Time magazine cover icon and erstwhile managing director of McKinsey and Company and member of the board at Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble. But if he had shot into the limelight last year, when I most recently interviewed Bharara — whom India Abroad has SWATI DANDEKAR unanimously selected as its Person of the Then Iowa Congresswoman India Abroad Person of the Year 2002 Year 2011 — his profile had exploded in the past six months with a string of conSONAL SHAH tinuing successful prosecutions of Wall Co-founder, Indicorps Street insider trading shenanigans to India Abroad Person of the Year 2003 some of the country’s most important cases ranging from terrorism to narcotics MOHINI BHARDWAJ trafficking and organized crime to public Captain, US Olympics Gymnastic Team & corruption. Olympic Silver Medalist Since my last conversation, Bharara — India Abroad Person of the Year 2004 the Ferozepur-born, New Jersey-raised, BOBBY JINDAL highest ranking law enforcement officer Then United States Congressman in the annals of the Indian-American India Abroad Person of the Year 2005 experience — has been featured on Time magazine’s cover, and later selected as INDRA NOOYI among its Top 100 influential people. Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo His office, despite doubts that the case India Abroad Person of the Year 2006 brought against Gupta would be Bharara’s Waterloo and a major stumble MIRA NAIR Filmmaker in his near perfect record of prosecuIndia Abroad Person of the Year 2007 tions, scored yet another major victory, securing Gupta’s conviction June 15. FAREED ZAKARIA Bharara, 43, who makes few public Then Editor, Newsweek International & appearances and rarely grants interviews host, Fareed Zakaria GPS India Abroad Person of the Year 2008

The Honor Roll

From The Editors For being the dynamic US Attorney for the Southern District of New York; for his unshakable integrity; and for his indefatigable crusade to make a difference.

VENKATRAMAN RAMAKRISHNAN Nobel Laureate India Abroad Person of the Year 2009 NIKKI HALEY Governor, South Carolina India Abroad Person of the Year 2010

and had famously quipped at a Fordham Law School lecture in October 2010 that ‘if you live by the press, you die by the press,’ is now the subject of innumerable profiles and articles ranging from the mainstream media, including The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, not to mention Time, to specialty law journals and the blogosphere, as well as a much sought-after speaker at law schools and bar associations around the country. He is even being touted by some as the next Attorney General and a replacement of the besieged Eric Holder in a second Obama Administration if the President is re-elected. When asked how he is dealing with an even more enhanced public profile, Bharara shrugs it off and says, “I don’t pay a lot of attention to it. I do what I’ve always done, which is to make sure that we are doing the cases for the right reasons and working as hard on them.” “And any of the accolades that I get, whether it is inside a newspaper or on a cover of a magazine, is really, I will tell you, due to the hard work of the finest professionals that exist in the legal field and the investigators and the agents of the FBI and other agencies that do all the hard work, that makes for the success of this office.” When informed that his batting average in terms of prosecutions has been impeccable — in baseball lexicon he has been hitting home run after home run, in fact many out of the park vis-à-vis Rajaratnam and Gupta, with hardly any strikes at all — Bharara immediately says, “I am glad you used the baseball metaphor and not a cricket metaphor,” since he is more familiar with the American pastime than the Indian obsession, having immigrated to the US with his parents at age two. But when asked if he is apprehensive that any day soon, a curve ball may suddenly appear, he notes, “When we bring cases that are appropriate to bring, we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that justice will be served if we bring them.” While confident of the team he leads and the extensive research and brainstorming that goes into each and every prosecution — whether it be big or small, involving a petty criminal or a mighty Wall Street insider with powerful political connections — Bharara acknowledges, “Everyone loses cases, and I’ve lost cases as a line prosecutor. So, there’s no doubt there will be cases that we lose. But we don’t worry about that too much.” “I know I keep repeating myself, but

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M5 India Abroad June 2012

INDIA ABROAD

PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011

Preet Bharara became the first Asian American, first Indian American US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the highest ranking Indian-American law enforcement officer in all of the Indian-American experience thus far. Behind him, right, Attorney General Eric Holder

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M4 what we do is we find evidence of serious crimes and we bring these cases and we try them as hard as we can, but there may be times a jury may not agree with or not go the way we expect it to go. But we only bring those cases that we think are appropriate to bring and you can’t get overly concerned about numbers and statistics. We don’t follow them too much.” Bharara also — as he did at my previous meeting — hastens to add that it is unfortunate that try as he might to maintain a low profile, that he and his office’s reputation is preceded by their record of insider trading cases, even though his office as aggressively goes after hard-core criminals, narco-traffickers, arms-peddlers, terrorists and their ilk. He says, “There are some people who have too narrow a view of the great work this office does, and we try to make it a point — and I am glad you asked the question — to explain to people that at any given time there are only a handful of people who are working on any particular type of case.” He adds, “There are only a handful of people who are working on insider trading cases and at the same time, people in our office have been working incredibly hard and incredibly successfully on public corruption cases, narcotics trafficking cases, on terrorism cases, civil fraud cases, and all of that work should be in an ideal world equally acknowledged.” Bharara argues that it is important to get that message out “because a lot of that work is actually keeping people safe in their homes, keeping their neighborhoods safe, discouraging gangs and other things that poison society, poison neighborhoods. We do a lot in terms of public safety. Sometimes I do worry that that work is overshadowed by the overly particularly type of insider trading cases,” and the huge publicity that the latter receives. He bristles when asked that for some of the massive media coverage the insider trading

The Enforcer violators his office has prosecuted, there are at the same time critics. There are allegations that the Department of Justice — aimed at Holder and President Obama because of their links to Wall Street — are not coming down hard on white-collar criminals. The critics say they have only gone after a few big fish even though the sharks continue to circle the waters thanks to these connections. “That’s a silly criticism,” he asserts. “There is absolutely no justification for it. Whether you are a prosecutor in this office of any other US Attorney’s office or at the main Justice (Department in Washington, DC), the only responsibility which I have seen carried out time and time again is to follow the evidence, no matter where it leads and no matter how big an institution or how big a figure or whatever and that one’s future career plans are those that never get in the way and shouldn’t get in the way. So, that’s a silly criticism.” Asked if his own office’s track record clearly rebuts such criticism, Bharara argues, “The record of our office of not being afraid to go after whoever, no matter how big, how powerful, how connected, is not just during my tenure, (but) it goes back decades, if not a couple of centuries. So, the criticism is silly that anyone is going soft on anyone else because of links to any particular community.” Although recommended by a Democratic Senator, Charles Schumer of New York, and nominated by a Democratic President, Bharara’s fairness and almost fanatical non-partisanship has elicited kudos from even his fiercest opponents in court. The likes of noted Manhattan criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby, who has had many bitter confrontations with US Attorneys in his three decades of courtroom appearances, has been quoted as saying, ‘You expect federal

prosecutors to make all kinds of enemies, and the extraordinary story here is you have a man who has taken over the most high-profile and powerful United States Attorney’s job in the entire country, and everyone across the political spectrum, admires, respects and likes the guy.’ In an earlier interview, when such kudos about how scrupulously apolitical he is was brought up, Bharara had said, “I was trained as a prosecutor in this office and one of the most important things about it, and the legacy you want to leave, is to remain as independent as possible. The moment people start to think that a political wind or a political future is influencing the decisions that we make — decisions that can ruin a life or someone’s livelihood — the moment that happens, there’s a huge problem.” He had emphasized, “People need to have faith that not only is justice done but is seen to be done. I learned that lesson in a particularly poignant way when I worked on the firing of the US Attorneys. There was a worry — some of which was borne out — that even at the low levels people were making hiring decisions based on political affiliation or ideological affiliation. That can have no part in any of this. All of what we do is based on the law and the facts.” He had added, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to try a robbery case. Party affiliation can’t tell you how to investigate a case, whether to investigate a case, when to indict a case, when to dismiss a case. If even a whiff of that enters into anybody’s consciousness that person needs to be fired. We can’t have any of that. One of the great reasons that this office has the reputation that it does is

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M6 India Abroad June 2012

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PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 SPONSORED BY

that it is independent and there is no politics here. In fact, I have predecessors who launched investigations of the people who appointed them. You can only base your decisions on the law and facts.” The US Attorneys case he is referring to was when his star first started shining brightly during his stint as chief counsel and staff director of the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts. It was here that he helped lead an investigation into the firing of US Attorneys by the George W Bush Administration because they had not towed the then White House line even though they were Republican appointees, many of them appointed by Bush himself. When I throw the same question that I have asked him previously that whether he likes it or not, it is undeniable that he has created history on many fronts — first Asian American, first Indian American, highest ranking Indian-American law enforcement officer in all of the Indian-American experience thus far — Bharara continues to come back strongly with the same answer that he has given me and many community and South Asian American associations and bar societies that have honored and felicitated him. Bharara says, in the final analysis, it only matters that you do your job right and maintain the public trust and the tradition of the office, and that is the cardinal maxim he continues to live by and will always be his guiding force. He says, “I don’t know whether I can say anymore than I said before because I understand that it is nice for a community to take pride in someone from the community to make a mark in some way. But it is always going to be true that the most important thing for anyone is not be the first this or the first that, but to discharge the responsibility of whatever position that it is, with the trust of the public and with integrity and with a vision and with decency. If you do that, then that means something.” But asked if by the same token, the pressure and responsibility isn’t greater with a name like Preet Bharara and if the constant pressure and the long hours make him apprehensive that he could trip and mess up a great batting average, Bharara, as he has done previously, says, “First the fact that a person by the name of Preet Bharara can become US Attorney is testament to the greatness of America, not anything about me.” “Second, there is an enormous amount of responsibility for anybody who leads an office, whose assistants have to deal with matters of people’s lives or livelihood on their hands every single day, and I don’t know that more or less depending on your background and your heritage. I believe it’s a higher responsibility equally high for everyone in this job.” Bharara, as he had told me earlier, still firmly believes he has the greatest job in the world and has to “pinch myself about how great this

The Enforcer

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

Above, Attorney General Eric Holder, right, listens to Preet Bharara, center. Left, Bharara is being touted by some as the next Attorney General in a an Obama Administration if the President is re-elected

job is.” He says, “I am finding it’s more gratifying than when I started. I am loving it more than when I started and I love it more everyday. I can’t imagine anything being more gratifying than this job,” and acknowledged that this was undeniably due to the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. “We can make a difference in people’s communities; we can make people safer. We can deter crime; we can make sure that we serve the cause of justice everyday and that’s our sole responsibility and that’s what the taxpayers pay us to do and I hope the people understand and believe that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he could cite any particular case or cases that he found most gratifying thus far in terms of the indictment and sentencing that resulted as a consequence of the prosecution he led, Bharara says, “What is most gratifying is the myriad of cases that we do everyday, not just the cases that are on the front pages of newspapers. Also, the cases that are tried exp-

ertly by dedicated public servants in my office everyday that don’t get a lot of attention, where a victim’s rights are vindicated, where a bank account is protected or where civil rights are protected.” But he acknowledged that “there are certain cases that have a bigger impact that are gratifying — I wouldn’t rank them at all, but a particularly gratifying case is the one I mentioned to you before and the way in which our office working with the Joint Terrorism Task Force found and prosecuted Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber and made sure he went to jail for the rest of his life for trying to kill innocent Americans.” Bharara cites the sustained work his office has done to eliminate gangs and the violence they have perpetrated in New York in places like Newburgh. He says these are places “where innocent children have been killed in the crossfire, where mothers are losing children when they shouldn’t have to worry about that. They shouldn’t have that fear, and we’ve taken unprecedented action in law enforcement in that community and so many communities throughout our district, making sure that people have the most basic rights that you should have in America to be free from violence.” Consequently, he says this is what still con-

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M8 India Abroad June 2012

Preet Bharara is firm that he has no political inclinations, because he has the best job in the world. To his left is New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly

INDIA ABROAD

PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

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M6 tinues to make him passionate about public service and why he will recommend it to a growing influential community like the Indian-American community, because the community should give back to a country that has given so much to them in terms of the success they have achieved thanks to the opportunities the US offers. He says, “America is a great country. It gives a lot to people, including people like me, who came from the other side of the world and whose parents came here with a dream for their family to have a better life. Any country that is so good to people who come here deserves to have that perpetuated and the way that gets perpetuated is when people who have been given so much, give back. And, to the extent that is true of me. I would like to spend as long as possible, if possible the rest of my life,” in public service. He adds, “And the more people who think that the better. Particular communities who have come here, people and communities that have come here from far away who have been adopted by this country and have been given the opportunity to have great success in this country, I believe owe it to their country to give back.” He is circumspect when asked if in this regard the Indian-American community and the South Asian American community should follow the template of the Jewish-American community — that has immersed itself in public service and in the process become as influential and powerful — or develop its own template. He says, “I am a federal prosecutor and I don’t presume to tell any community how they should behave and how they should act as a community.” “But,” he reiterates, “I do believe that anybody who has come here — whether you go back generations within this country or you are from a recent immigrant experience like I am, or Indian Americans born here, like so many people are, should do everything they can to pursue the American dream by work-

The Enforcer ing hard and playing by the rules and giving back to society and in as many ways as possible to all aspects of American society, not just one area.” “We should be involved in the military, we should be involved in law enforcement, we should be involved in law, in medicine, in engineering, in teaching, in sports. Any community that doesn’t seek to be involved in all aspects of the American experience is I believe giving something up.” When I recount my conversation with his brother Vinnie Bharara and his admiration for his older sibling, and tell him that one of the things that makes Vinnie “most proud of Preet,” is that everyone can have ideas, but how one puts those ideas into practice, the choices one makes to make a difference in the lives of others “is the personification of Preet,” the US Attorney is clearly moved. He says, “Anybody who is able to make a difference — that can afford to make choices in their careers and their lives — so that they can make other lives better, will protect other people, if they’ve been given a lot, have an obligation to give back,” He adds, “I think it is good for the people who are helped, it’s good for the person who is doing the helping and it’s good for everyone because these aspirations makes the world better. Anybody who has wanted to do that — making the world a little better — I believe is also fulfilling an obligation and fulfilling the fullest benefit of a social contract.” Asked how seriously he took the unsolicited responsibility as a role model, because there is no denying that he is now being looked up to by young Indian Americans and South Asian Americans, not to mention young attorneys, as someone to replicate their lives after, Bharara says, “I don’t go around trying to be a role model other than to my children.” But he concedes that as he has said about

“prominent lawyers — and as I’ve said about a defense lawyer who passed away recently — that like it or not, you were the role model to everybody who appeared against him and everybody who observed him in court.” He says, “So, I appreciate the people who have clear responsibility and get a public profile are automatically role models for others that they do a decent job. I am aware of that. But I don’t think about that too much, except to make sure I do what anybody in a job of public responsibility always does and should do — which is to make sure that we are always doing things for the right reasons and are focusing on the right priorities and are treating people well and without abusing our power.” Bharara predicts, “If you do that, and people want to use you as a role model, that’s fine. But you can’t think too much about it, about quote, unquote, being a role model. They need to think about doing the right thing at all junctures in the way I’ve described and if people want to follow that example, that’s up to them.” I give it another shot, as I have on previous occasions, and ask him, if he will, down the road, consider a political career as many of his predecessors had gone on to have, he is unshakable. “No. This is the best job in the world. It’s the best job that I’ll ever have and I am not thinking about anything other than this job.” How about an occasional television role — maybe on the popular Law & Order series or The Firm? After all, he is tailor-made for such a role… Bharara, known for his wry humor, immediately shoots back, “I am not tailor-made for anything having to do with television. Maybe radio.” When I tried to pursue this, he said, “I was making a joke.” „


M9 India Abroad June 2012

‘If people don’t think they owe something back to their country, they are sadly mistaken’ INDIA ABROAD

PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 SPONSORED BY

‘I don’t believe that arrogance and a feeling of being above the law is something that you can attribute to any ethnic community,’ Preet Bharara told Aziz Haniffa earlier this year

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n your speeches and Congressional testimony and swearing in, you’ve spoken admiringly of your parents and the sacrifices they made, particularly the pioneering spirit of your dad to immigrate to the US from a small village in Punjab. How much have they molded your personality and is there a lesson in terms of the first generation of pioneers who immigrated to the US not knowing what the future held for them here? Absolutely. The people who left their home country and came here for a better life acted with more courage than most people ever have. Certainly, it’s the case with my father, who left, his home and everything he had to come here by way of England to have a better life for his family. That was a more courageous thing to do than anything I’d ever had to do. He had to undergo more hardship and risk to himself than anything I’ve ever done. Notwithstanding the difficulties of this job, I’ve had it easy. Most people who’ve grown up in this country, who have parents who chose to come here, have had it easy compared to what their parents did. Every act of migration embodies an act of courage that we can all take a lesson from. As I said in my swearing-in in October of 2009, my dad has said many times that he’s proud of me. But given the life that he led, and the example that he set, and the sacrifices he made, he will never be more proud of me as I am of him. People here sometimes get nervous when they have to move across the country for a job change. My parents left a country where they knew the language, where they had huge families — my dad is one of 13, my mom is one of seven, and their parents were alive at the time. They left everything they knew because they thought there was opportunity here. If somebody is a product of that, like I am, like my brother is, and you don’t feel some obligation to do something for the country that allowed their parents to go from nothing to owning their home and to putting their kids through substantial educations, even through

Preet Bharara announces charges in an insider trading case in New York. He shot into the limelight for his fierce prosecution of insider trading violations, among other crimes

MIKE SEGAR/REUTERS

Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia, if people don’t think they owe something back to their country, then they are sadly mistaken. You’ve also often joked about your family’s Jewish, Muslim and Hindu background and how even as your wife fasts for Yom Kippur and your father-in-law fasts for Ramadan, how you get to stuff your face with Samosas all day! But seriously, being a product of so many faith and traditions, does it help you bring to the table a unique sense of understanding but also a sense of tolerance, and ultimately, what it takes to be a fully-integrated American in a quintessential pluralistic society? Diversity is good, and diversity of background is good, but it’s not necessary to being a tolerant person by any means. People who appreciate diversity — whether it’s diversity of faith or diversity of culture or diversity of color or diversity of ethnicity — can help people to understand that there are different ways of looking at the world. And it teaches you to respect all of those ways of looking at the world and acting in the world. But there are also universal truths, which I think about all the time when I’m in this job. These truths are unrelated to any particu-

lar faith, culture, ethnicity, nationality or anything else. That is how justice is done. But yes, when you have some understanding of different cultures and backgrounds, I think it helps you to keep an open mind and to be tolerant of everyone. So, in some ways isn’t there a distinct advantage because you are a product of all these faith traditions and it helps you to bring to the table a unique perspective? I don’t think that it is necessary to come from a diverse background in order to have a good, healthy perspective. It may help, but there are also people from different backgrounds who are not particularly tolerant. I think what matters is what is in the core of your heart and how you were brought up. And through your education and upbringing that you realize you have to respect all people, no matter who they are, where they come from, how they practice their faith, or what their culture is. I’d like to think I’d have that tolerance even if I didn’t come from a diversity of backgrounds. Understandably, you hardly discuss in detail your immediate family except to say that you

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‘If people don’t think they owe something back to their country, they are sadly mistaken’ M9

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are married with three children. In terms of the prosecutorial work you do, is there always this gnawing element of security and perhaps having to keep looking over your shoulder, or is this something that inevitably goes with the territory? I’m not worried about it. I’m much more worried about the safety and security of the Assistant US attorneys who are on the ground prosecuting cases. Some of the people we prosecute are extremely violent and extremely dangerous — some of the most dangerous people on the planet — and we send them to prison for the rest of their lives. From time to time, someone doesn’t Preet Bharara and like that we’re doing, and there can be a Defense Secretary Leon security risk. That’s been true since the Panetta. Almost fanatical beginning of time. That will be true till about non-partisanship, the end of time. We take precautions, Bharara has elicited kudos but it is not something that I particularfrom all quarters ly worry about. One of the most high profile cases you prosecuted was that of Sri Lankan American nity that they are invincible? I don’t believe that arrogance and a feeling billionaire Raj Rajaratnam, who was sentenced for insider trading, and the other high of being above the law is something that you profile case is that of another iconic South can attribute to any ethnic community at all. What I do find, and what I do worry about Asian American figure Rajat Gupta. Of course, you’ve prosecuted several Mafia is a culture of corruption on Wall Street in bosses and surrogates of organized crime, ter- some quarters. That is a problem — when rorists and others, but there’s a perception in people think they are above the law. Part of some Indian-American and South Asian the effort that we have been engaged in is American circles that here’s this desi guy going sending the message to as many people as possible that no one is above the law, and after other desis with a vengeance. Is this a totally unfair characterization and there are rules and laws and you have to play by, no matter who you are or how much perception? Yes. We go after crime with a vengeance in a money you have. I think that message is getting out there fair and appropriate way as supervised by the court. Anyone against who we have proof fairly loud and clear. I’ve spoken about this at beyond a reasonable doubt of committing a business schools, and I’ll tell you what I tell crime — and generally it’s the most serious them — make sure at all times that your crimes that we prosecute, given our limited desire to be successful and to maximize your profits never trumps your desire to maintain resources — we prosecute. We do our best to convict them, and we do your integrity and the highest ethical stanour best to improve public safety by incapaci- dards for yourself and your business. It’s not that different from what we say tating them. It doesn’t matter what their religion is, what around here. For the long-term sustainability their race is, what nationality they are, or of a business institution, you also have to what their name is. Every decision is com- make sure that everyone understands and pletely based on the law. That was true before believes in their bones that integrity is the coin of the realm. I got here and will be true after I leave. I have seen — and you know from reading And any other way of looking at it undermines public confidence in the justice system. about our cases — institutions go down the If any of those considerations ever came into toilet because people forgot how important play, the prosecutor who thinks that way integrity is. And they lost sight of that because they got too greedy. They decided a billion should be fired immediately. In this regard, as more and more young dollars is not enough. You know what hapIndian Americans and South Asian pens? Then you lose everything. It happens Americans keep proliferating on Wall Street time and time again. These very, very smart people, who have and many in their late 20s and early to mid30s are multimillionaires, as the New Sheriff gone to the greatest colleges and the greatest on Wall Street, what is your advice to them in business schools in the world, became crooks terms of avoiding the pitfalls of the likes of in their own right. We go after them and we Rajaratnam and others, because some argue prosecute them to the best of our ability and that there is a kind of arrogance and smugness with fairness and discretion. What worries me a little bit more though that has taken root among this growing frater-

COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

are all those other people who are in a position to do something, in a position to prevent a culture of corruption or a culture of permissiveness from taking root, and they don’t do anything. We see this time and time again. Most people who work at these institutions are honest people. But they fail — many of them — because they are alerted to the fact that someone was maybe doing something funny, or was cooking up the books, or was taking a shortcut that shouldn’t be taken, and they didn’t do anything. Part of my goal is to explain to as many people as possible — when I speak to business organizations and business schools and people who are on the boards of directors of companies — that they should hire good people and securities lawyers, and everyone needs to understand that it’s not someone’s else’s job to fix the problem when it’s small — it’s your job. Because if you don’t, you get Bernie Madoff. Is it true your favorite song by the Boss is Born to Run? Your former deputy and longtime friend Boyd Johnson has been quoted saying that this song embodies you. That’s a great song, and one of the great Bruce Springsteen songs, but it’s not necessarily my favorite. There are a lot of great Bruce Springsteen songs. It’s impossible to have grown up in Monmouth County with a father who practiced in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and not become a Springsteen fan. So, I am one, as are a lot of people. It’s not just late at night; I play Springsteen during the day, too. It’s great stuff. What is your favorite song? It’s another very popular song, Thunder Road. I also like An American Land. Have you met the Boss? No, I have never met the Boss. I wouldn’t mind meeting him. That’d be all right. „


M11 India Abroad June 2012

‘His personality is all about what is right and wrong’ Dr Jagdish Singh Bharara and Desh Sudha Sondhi Bharara introduce Aziz Haniffa to Preet — the child and the son

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f Preet and Vinnie Bharara swell with pride when speaking about each other, they get doubly emotional about their parents. They recall the sacrifices Dr Jagdish Singh Bharara and Desh Sudha Sondhi Bharara made for them. At his swearing-in as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York in October 2009, Preet said of his father, ‘Given the sacrifices he has made, the example he has set, and the life he has led, he will never be more proud of me than I of him.’ Dr Bharara, born in October 1939 in Rawalpindi in what is now Pakistan, had to separate from his father — his mother had died when he was four – leave everything behind in 1947 and migrate to the Indian side of Punjab during Partition. He witnessed the riots and violence that marked the time. While he reunited with his father Preet Bharara, second from right, with his family — from left, brother Vinit, father Jagdish and mother Desh COURTESY: PREET BHARARA some months later, life was much more difficult. There was no water supply in Asian Indian Association of Central Jersey in and happiness… about smiling. My mom is their home, the sewage system was primitive the wake of the violent Dotbuster racial inci- social and likes people — talking with them, and money was short, as his father had to dents against Indians in Jersey City. He is still getting to know them and laughing and crystart his business from scratch, like so many very active, arranging several fundraisers for ing with them. She’s taught us about that. candidates and elected officials supporting She’s taken three inherently serious, introvertothers who were uprooted from their homes. ed and quiet men/boys and made them more He grew up in Ropar, near Chandigarh. His Indian causes. He also served as the president of his med- human.” father insisted on a good education, so Preet, at his swearing-in, had said, ‘My he became the first in his family to graduate ical alumni association in 1989 and on the from college. He subsequently graduated board of trustees of the local chapter of the mother is the kindest and most forgiving perfrom the Amritsar Medical College in 1961. Americans Association of Physicians of son I know. If she were a federal judge, she He married Desh Sondhi, who was also born Indian Origin, where he continues to be active would likely downwardly depart in every case; if she were a federal prosecutor, she would in Rawalpindi and had faced Partition, in as a patron member. Through it all, Mrs Bharara was the family’s likely favor the deferred prosecution. I can see 1965. Preet was born in October of 1968 in anchor. She not only raised her two children, from your expressions that many of you are Ferozepur. Dr Bharara worked for the Indian Railways but also worked part-time in her husband’s now wondering whether I take after my as a resident physician until 1969. medical office as his assistant. She is now mother. Well, the answer is: Sometimes.’ The early years Disenchanted with the corruption that per- retired. Dr Bharara says the early years in the US In 1971, when there were just a handful of meated the promotions system in India, he left for England in April 1969 with just £3 in Indian families living near the Jersey shore, were tough — as tough as when his father and his wallet — the equivalent of $7 at that time she started the Jersey Shore Club of India to family had to flee the comfortable life in bring these families together and make it eas- Murree, 40 miles from Rawalpindi, where his — in search of a new beginning. He stayed with a friend and was able to get ier for them to make new friends and cele- father had a successful grocery business, brate Indian traditions and holidays. Over the because of Partition. a job. His wife and Preet soon joined him. During his internship in Buffalo, he says, the In June 1970, they moved to the United years, she has served as its president several States for an internship Dr Bharara had land- times as the organization grew to several hun- salary was $8,000 a year. “After two months we were broke. Then I had to moonlight in ed in Buffalo. But they were again broke, as he dred families. She has been active with her husband in Buffalo — for $42 a night for a 12-hour shift.” had sent almost all his savings back to his “It was very hard managing,” Mrs Bharara father in India. Their airline tickets to the US AAPI and the AIACJ. She has undeniably had to be financed by a friend and paid back been a pillar of the local Indian community recalls. “He used to go at 7 am and come very late at night. He was so exhausted; he would for over 40 years. through his internship. According to Vinnie, “My mom may not go straight to sleep. Preet was about two and After the internship, the family moved to Monmouth County in New Jersey in 1971 have the formal professional resume of my we were always waiting for him to come where Dr Bharara began his residency in dad or her sons. But she is always been the home.” Remembers Dr Bharara, “The winters anchor of the family, as so many moms pediatrics. Vinnie was born that year. Dr Bharara was in private practice as a pedi- are. It’s important to recognize that. We’ve were extremely tough. She (his wife) had no atrician in Asbury Park, New Jersey until learned lots of values from my dad. We’ve clue of the amount of snow there would be learned just as many from my mom. She and sometimes, she had to clear the snow 2005, and currently works part-time. He has also been very active in several taught us — including my dad — about opti- with her sari on.” Indian-American organizations, including co- mism, about believing in possibility, about M12 founding and serving as president of the what can be. She’s taught us about laughter


M12 India Abroad June 2012

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‘His personality is all about what is right and wrong’

“I never wore pant-suits until 1976,” she adds. “It was so hard to get blouses from India and there were no way we could get it in Buffalo — no Indian shops and also hardly any Indians. So, then I started wearpotential.” ing pants.” Mrs Bharara recalls, “We had no After the internship, the family money for a private school, but then moved to New Jersey where Dr we decided we had to do it. We spoke Bharara began his residency in pedito Mr Russell G Ranney and admitatrics. ted him to the Ranney School (a pri“After my residency,” he says, “I was vate school in Tinton Falls, New planning to go back to India to be part Jersey). It was expensive, but we had of a group practice. All of a sudden the no choice.” person who wanted me to be part of The young Preet his group practice said he had Preet, his mother says, was always a changed his mind and wanted me to loyal friend and would always interbuy his practice. I had no money to vene on their behalf. “If anybody buy his practice and my residency was needed any help, he was always there ending. Then I decided to open an for them — any help in the class, any office in Monmouth County.” work, he used to help them,” she says. When Preet began kindergarten, Dr She recalls how one of her friends, Bharara recalls, “I used to moonlight an Indian doctor and his wife, had — after working in my office — from 3 taken the car keys away from their to 11 pm. So when Preet would wake son because he had been in an acciup in the morning, I would be sleepdent. She says, “One day we were ing because I had worked the night, chatting and she tells me, ‘I have a and when he came back from school, letter from Preet. Her son had had a I would be moonlighting.” car accident and they took the car “About six weeks later, he came to away from him — this was in the my room and asked, ‘Are you my dad?’ 11th or 12th grade — but Preet had He was five. I said, yes. But he said, ‘I sent her a letter saying that if somedon’t think so because children body makes one mistake, you don’t always see their dad, but I never see punish them right away. You give you. When I wake up in the morning, them a second chance.” you are not there — you are sleeping. Dr Bharara, relating such intervenWhen I come back from school, you tions, says he was a strict disciplinarare not there. When you come back ian and tough on his sons, especially from work, I am sleeping.” Dr Bharara quit the next day. Preet Bharara, his parents say, always PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: PREET BHARARA Vinnie, but Preet would always intervene. “When your son asks, ‘Are you my dreamt of making a difference “When he was going to dad?’ that is too much to take. Harvard, he told Vinnie, ‘WhenThere was no extra money now ever he gives you a hard time, call because I had just opened my prime’,” their father recalls. vate practice and the only source Preet’s integrity and courage, of income was basically to mooninstilled in him by example by light, but I had to quit.” his parents, also showed up early Yet when the time came, the on when he challenged his Bhararas didn’t let money stand in school headmaster, Ranney, in the way of their children getting his valedictorian speech for firthe best education. Like his dad, ing the teacher who taught him Dr Bharara was a fierce advocate American history and literature. of a strong education for his sons, Dr Bharara, who had served on sending both Preet and Vinnie to the school’s board of trustees an exclusive private school. from 1990 to 1999 and as its vice Mrs Bharara says Preet went to chairman for the last five of those kindergarten close to the apartyears, says, “How very proud we ment where they lived then. She were, but scared at the same recalls, “We had a parent-teacher time, because he had already conference. When we were on the been admitted to Harvard and way, his dad asked, ‘Preet, do you Mr Ranney was a very powerful want me to ask your teacher any- From left, Preet and Vinit swell with pride when speaking of their father person. We were scared after thing?’ He was five years old. He said, ‘You can ask my teacher why I am not says, ‘No, it doesn’t happen.’ But I tell her, ‘Five Preet’s speech that he might do something to getting a chance to say the Pledge of year old kids don’t lie.’ She says, ‘No, no, hamper his admission to college.” He recalls that Ranney loved Preet before there’s nothing there,’ but the next morning, Allegiance’.” She says that every morning one child she calls on him to say the Pledge of the speech, and even though he had walked out during the speech, “he didn’t do anything” would hold the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance.” “A few months later,” he adds, “the report to undermine Preet’s admission to Harvard. Allegiance, but Preet had never gotten a “We didn’t know what he was going to say,” chance. They had already done one full circle card comes and in every area he is found with all the kids and were on to the second unsatisfactory, including that he doesn’t even says his mother. “When you make the valediccircle, but the teacher had not given Preet a know his home phone number. But Preet torian speech, usually teachers check the says, ‘I am the only one who knows the num- speech. But he didn’t show anybody his chance. “He also wanted us to ask why whenever a ber.’ I removed him from that school because speech.” The Bhararas have no regrets that Preet question was asked by the teacher and he I felt if he had stayed in that school a little decided to do law, though Dr Bharara admits, longer, she would have destroyed him.” raised his hand, he was never called upon.” The Bhararas say at the next school “the “I thought at least one of them would go to Mrs Bharara acknowledges that Preet was teachers loved him. It was there that the medical school.” the only colored child in class at the time. Dr Bharara says, “So we go to school that teachers said he was so intelligent that he M18 night and I confront her (the teacher), but she needed to be challenged to bring out his best


M13 India Abroad June 2012

‘He can win not just minds with his intellect, but hearts too with his charm’ Vinit Bharara tells Aziz Haniffa about the pride and awe his elder brother inspires in him

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arly last year, when Vinit ‘Vinnie’ Bharara sold Diapers.com — the online baby retailer he co-founded with his childhood best friend Marc Lore in 2005 for — $540 million in cash to Amazon.com, no one was prouder of his achievement than big brother Preet Bharara. But if Preet is proud of Vinnie and his outof-the box entrepreneurial skills, Vinnie is not just proud of his older brother, but holds him in awe for this commitment to public service and passion for making a difference, not to mention his scrupulous adher- Vinit Bharara, a proud ence to integrity and younger brother ethics. “This is a guy in my opinion, who could do a lot of different types of things with all of his gifts. He is very, very skilled. But he has chosen — what I’m most proud about (are) his choices — to do good with that,” Vinnie told India Abroad in his Jersey City, New Jerseyheadquartered office. “He has chosen to act in the public interest with that. He didn’t have to do that, but he’s done that and we are now all benefiting from these gifts because those gifts were sort of really given from my parents. It’s not how much credit you can PARESH GANDHI

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Preet Bharara, left, has always been his younger brother Vinit’s go-to guy

COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

take for the gifts, but you can take a lot of credit for your choices, so, it seems to me that’s probably what I am most proud of about Preet. “I am also really proud that not only does he have this great intellect – he has always been a really smart and hardworking guy — but he also takes a lot of time to connect with people. So, he has this unique ability not only to think about an issue in a very practi-

cal, smart way — smarter than most other folk can — but he can also relate to folks and connect with folks.” Vinnie, who at 40 is three years younger than Preet, says, “He can win not just minds with his intellect, but hearts too with his charm and his ability to connect with folks. That combination is a very powerful one. I

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‘You have chosen to stand up for the less privileged, the less powerful, the disadvantaged’

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s I thought about what to say about Preet, I decided I wouldn’t spend much time actually recounting his recent achievements as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York or his time as chief counsel to Senator Schumer... Preet, you’re in the press so much these days anyway, I think even President Obama is starting to getting sick of sharing the spotlight with you. Instead, I thought I could provide some unique insight into Preet as a younger man. As an initial matter, this award

Vinit Bharara delivered this keynote address at the Columbia Law School last October when his brother received the Lawrence A Wein Award for Social Responsibility you are receiving today is for social responsibility. That can take many forms. When I think about you, though, what has always stood out to me as a persistent hallmark from very early on was this innate sense of justice you had, this unwavering commitment to fairness.

Indeed, that fairness requirement permeated our house growing up. Everything, I mean everything, had to be evensteven. Preet got the remote control on Mondays, I got it on Tuesdays, Preet got it back on Wednesdays and it was back to me on Thursdays. If he was

going to do the dusting, I was going to do the vacuuming. If he was going to mow the backyard, you better be sure I was getting that front yard. And on, and on, it went…. Now in those early days, Preet

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M14 India Abroad June 2012

‘He can win not just minds with his intellect, but hearts too with his charm’ M13

Vinnie, left, says Preet always had his back

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COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

M13 was also a classic overachiever. Straight As, near-perfect standardized test scores, tens of national forensics awards, valedictorian, Harvard early decision. But at the end of his senior year, we learned that our school headmaster, Russell G Ranney, had fired one of the most popular and longest serving teachers — merely because she had objected to and questioned a new plan that required teachers to work longer hours for a long overdue pay raise, which under that standard, amounted to no raise at all. Preet personally pled with Mr Ranney to reverse the firing, he rallied other students to protest the firing, but to no avail. Mr Ranney wouldn’t hear it. Upcoming now, however, was Preet’s valedictorian speech. And in it, Preet would foreshadow his career as a public servant, eloquently and publicly challenging what he saw as a gross injustice — an example of those in the highest positions of authority wielding the power bestowed upon them without regard to any basic sense of right and wrong, or the people they serve, or common fairness. Now, thanks to my mom and dad, I was able to dig up this valedictorian speech of over 25 years ago. And I want to read a couple of passages from this skinny, idealistic, 118-pound, poofy-hair 17-year-old kid. He said, in part: ‘Progress comes only from speaking up and taking action. If my generation wants to move forward, we can never forget to question, to doubt, to challenge. The target of our questioning may be an individual, an idea, a government, or a

am really proud of that because it’s something that I see not many others have, or at least, not many leaders have.” Vinnie can’t say enough about Preet’s almost unrelenting desire to make a difference: “He always had a very great value base, morality and ethics, and now he is using that in a grand forum. I had always seen it in small ways, even in high school, but now he has a big platform to do it, and this is definitely the personification of Preet — that’s who he is. “We went to the same school, so I would always see him outside of the home too — in the hallways and such. He was always so accomplished and we had a great relationship. He broke down my parents so that I could get some more liberty, not only in terms of going to law school, instead of medical school, but in a whole lot of other things. He always had my back.” Vinnie, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and then went to Columbia University Law School, like Preet, started his career as a

lawyer. Beginning with a stint as a litigation attorney, he worked with a small team of lawyers set up to recommend a distribution of the settlement proceeds in the Swiss Banks Holocaust case. He then launched his successful avatar as an Internet retailer. Vinne says, “When we were in our teens I had a slightly later curfew and I was able to do more things than he was able to at my age, thanks largely to his interventions with my parents. He taught me along the way — in fact, he taught me how to read. I was struggling a little bit when I was five. He was just eight, but he was able to teach me to read. It was kind of cool.” He adds, “Along the way, he has always been that kind of go-to guy when I was struggling to always lend me a hand.” They were also always friends. “We were very much friends and I guess more so, because there were no other siblings and it was just us in the house. We were good friends the whole way, watching TV, just joking around. Since we were in a small school, we would see each other often there as well and he was always looking out for me.” „

‘You have chosen to stand up for the less privileged, the less powerful, the disadvantaged’ school. And that target may be more powerful and more experienced and more knowledgeable than we are. But should that stop us from questioning? If we don’t question, if we don’t speak up, we are shirking a responsibility to ourselves and our futures… Almost every advancement in history has been the result of someone’s frustration with an existing idea or institution. That’s how America was founded; and as a matter of fact, that’s how this school was founded. And if we want any institution to continue improving, we must continue to speak up. And no one can deny us that right, for as long as we demand the best from ourselves, we can demand the best from those around us.” Now I remember sitting in that audience, as a 14-year-old kid, listening to my brother. I remember an angry Mr Ranney walking out in the middle of the speech. And I remember Preet captivating everyone else in there. And I remember this thundering standing ovation. And I remember being in awe. I remember being in awe at these gifts he had. This great ability to win minds with his intellect, but also hearts with his humor, charm and charisma. And I’ve seen these extraordinary gifts on display many times since then, and each time, I’ve always been really proud. More recently, though, I heard my current boss, Jeff Bezos, speak to the Princeton graduating class of 2010. And in that speech, Bezos distinguished between gifts

and choices. ‘Gifts are easy,’ he said, ‘They are given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.’ Preet, as your little brother, I’m proud of you, not because of your gifts, but because of how you have used them. I am proud of you for your choices. You have chosen to honor the words that you spoke over 25 years ago. You have chosen to speak up, to challenge, to question and to hold accountable, the most powerful, the most experienced — whether it be the most ruthless of mob bosses savaging the communities they live in, the most well connected of corporate executives manipulating our markets and cheating ordinary investors, and even a White House when it terminated eight United States Attorneys for political reasons. At the same time, you have chosen to stand up for, to advocate for the less privileged, the less powerful, the disadvantaged — whether it be ensuring basic taxi wheelchair access for the disabled or the integrity of programs and funds used to aid Holocaust victims. In the end, you have chosen to heed the call you so often make of us, to live life not just for yourself, but also for the benefit of others. And for all of these choices, Preet, we are proud. „


M15 India Abroad June 2012

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‘He is a real mensch. A real human being’

r Barbara Tomlinson was Preet Bharara’s teacher in at the exclusive Ranney School, Tinton Falls, New Jersey. At 17, he was one of her most memorable pupils. When a conflict erupted between the teachers and the school administration and Tomlinson spoke up for the teachers, she was fired. Bharara not only rallied the students in her support, he also spoke up for her forcefully in his valedictorian speech. Tomlinson left Ranney to teach at Kean College, also in New Jersey, and today, after retirement, keeps busy teaching adult education courses on cultural history and art at other boys his age. libraries and retirement communities. Barbara Tomlinson Just one little tiny incident: Some of She spoke to India Abroad about says Preet Bharara the students weren’t too happy with me Bharara who has shown himself to be is the kind of man ‘you would like your because I would give very long tests. So, one of her most generous and special stuson to be’ they would have a problem finishing the dents: tests. The tests were too hard and they was his teacher (at Ranney School, were too long and they couldn’t finish. New Jersey). He was a wonderful stuOne time, Preet ran into this situation. dent. But I have a lot of wonderful He could see that he wasn’t going to have students. But there was one particular time to finish writing his whole answer to episode that made him stand out as a the question. So, what he did was to student. So, he is one of the special ones, make an outline of his answer. He shofrom over the years. wed me that here is what I would like to I had him in high school, in American say, but I don’t have time to write it all history class, in American literature out. class. He was the editor of the newspaper A lot of 17 year olds would not think of and I worked with him on that. This was that. Would not do that. They would just late high school. struggle along and try to write it all out There was one particular incident, and then be grumpy when they didn’t which I think is very revealing about the have a chance to finish. But Preet was kind of person he was. At the end of his able to analyze that situation and say, senior year, he had been accepted to wait a minute, I am not going to have Harvard. I am not sure if he was top of enough time here, so here’s what I’ll do his class, but he was very much at the about that (and that would get him the head of his class. And for reasons, that I grades he required). I though that was a don’t need to go into because they are very grown up way for him to handle the really not relevant here, I was fired from situation. He was definitely a problem my job. solver type of person. Preet came to me and said, ‘This is terHe is who he is. To the extent that one’s rible. We should do something. Maybe family contributes to who you are, then we should get the students together. We COURTESY: PREET BHARARA certainly his family had to have conshould have some kind of protest, because you are a very good teacher and this old high school student. That was a very, tributed to the shaping of this young man. But I can’t analyze that. At the swearing in very brave thing to do. isn’t right, that you should be fired.’ Anyway I went off, I got a different job. He (when Preet became US Attorney)… I was Basically what I said to him was number one, I don’t want to keep this job, because went off to Harvard. And we very much lost this high school teacher from New Jersey, under the circumstances I am going to leave. contact. A couple of years ago I got a tele- this was an occasion with the entire supreme I have been asked to leave and I am going to phone call from a woman who said: ‘Are you court of New York. I didn’t know anybody leave. I am very touched that you feel so the Barbara Tomlinson who taught at the else there. His parents were very lovely — seeking me out, making sure that I stood strongly that you want to do something, but Ranney School?’ with them and had a place to be. His parents And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ please don’t do anything because it would She said, ‘Well, my son wants to speak with were very generous to me on that occasion. serve no purpose. I do not want to stay in (Preet and I) exchange e-mails once in a you and he will be in touch with you.’ And this job anyway. while. I read every word (about the moves in The headmaster was a very autocratic per- she hung up. I was maybe a little bit nervous, because I his career in newspapers and magazines). son and I could imagine that if students had raised any objections, that he could well have thought, oh my goodness, somebody didn’t Once in a while I will send him an e-mail contacted Harvard and said: ‘You don’t want get an A in English, and all of a sudden they and, to my great surprise, he answers them. I think he is still probably a generous man, are upset about that or something! to have this student. He’s a troublemaker.’ Anyway several weeks later, I got another a problem solver, somebody who cares quite I said, ‘Look you’re going to Harvard! So don’t do anything that could jeopardize that. phone call and it was this voice over the passionately that the world should be the way it should be, which is what prosecutors You have a younger brother in the school. phone saying, ‘Hi Mrs T, this is Preet.’ He called me up. We had a lovely chat and are all about; something is wrong here and Don’t do anything that will jeopardize his future in the school. So, thank you very he invited me to his swearing in as US should be fixed. But I just think it is perhaps Attorney for the Southern District of New a little uncharacteristic that he should be so much, but please don’t do anything.’ willing to be so generous with somebody Well he didn’t do anything really active. He York. So, again, here (he was) as a young man from his past. did get together a group of other students I don’t think that, perhaps, a lot of people and they went in and spoke to the headmas- showing all this courage. And here as a ter. Now I don’t know what they said. I am grown, very successful man, in the moment who get to be important, would necessarily sure they just asked why this all happened. of his triumph — I mean this is a really behave like that. So he is a real mensch (literally a Yiddish But you have to understand that for a stu- important moment for him — he would dent to do that — this was a very strict, auto- remember his high school teacher. So, I had term for human being, but it means a person cratic school — for a student to make an occasion to be touched, yet again, by the gen- of honorable character) — you should pardon the expression — he’s a real human appointment with the headmaster and go in erosity of this man. (In high school) he struck me as being very being. A good, decent… what you would like and even speak to the headmaster was a litmature. You know teenage boys can be your son to be! „ tle bit like confronting god. To my mind, this took a tremendous teenage boys. But Preet was always very amount of courage on the part of a 17-year- level-headed and seemed more mature than — As told to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel

Barbara Tomlinson, Preet Bharara’s teacher, recounts her encounters with the unusual teenager and the extraordinary man

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M16 India Abroad June 2012

Preet has an unwavering sense of right and wrong That an Indian American has played such a leading role in establishing norms of right and wrong conduct in our society is a cause for celebration and pride, and a testament to the spirit of America, says Preeta Bansal

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n a country like ours governed by the rule of law, the prosecutor — as the chief legal representative of the government — plays a critical role in defining the standards of right and wrong conduct in society. By determining the criminal and civil cases to investigate and ultimately to initiate in court on behalf of the government, the prosecutor wields considerable discretion and judgment in determining which unlawful conduct poses the greatest threat to our society’s institutions, as well as to its evolving needs and notions of fair play, so as to justify bringing to bear the enormous weight and resources of the federal government in opposition. For so many Indian Americans, the rule of law in this country remains a wonder. Many of our parents recall a homeland marked by petty corruption, where the smallest dealings with the government could require illicit payments. Far from being forces for righteousness and justice, the government and legal system in India of a generation ago were forces dragging down the creative energies of the Indian people. I recall my own parents marveling in 1974 when an American President was impeached and forced to resign following a petty break-in. That no man is above the law in America — and that justice is administered without regard to power, position, privilege, wealth, or identity — were principles my family rejoiced and embraced as new American citizens. That Ferozepur-born Preet Bharara rose to the role of United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2009 was similarly cause for rejoice for all Indian Americans. Among the 93 offices of United States Attorneys — the chief federal prosecutors whose jurisdiction is broken down by geography throughout the country — the Southern District of New York, with Manhattan as its base, has long held a storied place in the annals of American law. It has brought some of the most important and precedent-setting prosecutions — addressing terrorism and national security, the international narcotics trade, massive criminal conspiracies, organized crime rings, and complex financial crimes that pose systemic threats to the health of our economic system. The office has been led by some of the most famed prosecutors, including Rudy Giuliani. And the office historically has attracted the nation’s top legal talent — including a younger Bharara who, in the midst of his rising and promising legal career, decided a decade ago to cut his teeth as an Assistant United States Attorney in Manhattan. Now, in 2012, as India Abroad honors Preet following his successful run in the top job,

Preet Bharara, left, with Senator Charles Schumer, who nominated him for the office he now holds COURTESY: PREET BHARARA

Indian Americans rejoice that, true to the promise of American justice, he has executed his role without regard to power, position, privilege, wealth, or identity. As Preet told an audience of young South Asian American lawyers in 2007 — when, as a top aide to Senator Charles Schumer of New York, he was in the midst of leading a Senate investigation into the firing of US Attorneys during the Bush Administration — ‘party affiliation can’t tell you whether to indict a case, whether to plead it out, or how to try it.’ Neither can the net worth, position, or identity of the accused. ‘For those answers (about whether to indict or plead), you need sound judgment, ownership of the facts, and mastery of the relevant rules and law.’ I have had the privilege of knowing Preet for more than 15 years, when our careers converged as young lawyers in a law firm in New York City. Aside from his absolutely hilarious, deadpan, and sharp humor, I have been struck repeatedly over the years by Preet’s unwavering sense of right and wrong, solid judgment, love for the legal profession, and unshakable sense of integrity. Once, when an attorney asked him — at the height of his work for the Senate Judiciary Committee probing the Bush Administration’s firings of US Attorneys — whether the investigation had any ‘legs’ politically, Preet was, as I expected, outraged by the question. Whether or not the investigation could be used to score any political points or propel any political careers was absolutely not the point of his work. The point of the nonpartisan investigation was to restore honor to the US Department of Justice — an institution which he loved but which had been unduly politi-

cized in the prior decade. In successfully bringing precedent-setting cases involving terrorism, narcotics, and insider trading — among so many others — during his tenure as United States Attorney, Preet Bharara has chosen his cases based on a careful consideration of the facts and the applicable law. In so doing, he has re-established the primacy of the rule of law, and helped to differentiate wrong from right, amid institutions and individuals that may have deviated or faltered. That an Indian American has played such a leading role in establishing norms of right and wrong conduct in our society is a cause for celebration and pride, and a testament to the spirit of America. Famed American professor and writer Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth, explained the importance of lawyers and of legal rules in American society. Campbell explained that unlike in some societies where there are a number of understood, unwritten rules and a general ethos by which people live, ‘in America we have people from all kinds of backgrounds, all in a cluster, together, and consequently law has become very important in this country. Lawyers and law are what hold us together. There is no (universally accepted, unwritten) ethos.’ My father understood intuitively the important role played by lawyers in mastering, and in turn shaping, cultural values and norms in America when I announced 30 years ago — at a time when all smart young Indian Americans were told to aspire to be doctors or engineers — that I intended to study law. He

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M16 told me that if I chose the legal path, I needed to understand and accept that my professional success would be contingent on cultural factors because, unlike medicine and engineering, the law is culturally contingent, and success in the law cannot be measured by quantitative measures alone. And so Preet’s success in the profession marks new heights scaled by the IndianAmerican community in shaping cultural norms in America. Of course the most famous Indian of all time was not a doctor or engineer, but a lawyer. Mahatma Gandhi pursued law not an intellectual enterprise or as a mere livelihood, but as codified ethics. At the height of his law practice in South

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M12 He recalls a hilarious tale: “We had just gotten back from India, and Preet said, ‘We have to go back to India.’ I said, ‘Why? We just got back.’ He kept insisting we had to go back because he made a mistake. At Chisti’s mazar in Fatehpur Sikri, where one ties a thread at the marble windows of the dargah to have one’s wishes fulfilled, he had tied a knot saying he wanted to be a doctor. He said, ‘I tied a knot there that I want to be a doctor, but I don’t want to be a doctor. Unless I untie the knot, I may end up going to medical school, and I don’t want to go.’ I told him no to worry about it — he was only in the 7th grade then — but he was insistent. He said, ‘They all told me, once you tie a knot, you make a pledge, that’s what you get.’” Preet, the public servant “This was his wish,” Dr Bharara says. “This is what he always wanted to do, and this is now his 13th year in public life. He started in 2000 as an Assistant US Attorney, then he was with (Senator) Chuck Schumer, and then in 2009, he was appointed US Attorney. His personality is all about what is right and wrong.” “That was his dream,” Mrs Bharara adds. “He always wanted to make a difference.” They are concerned about his safety because he has not just been prosecuting white-collar criminals, he has also thrown the book at some of the most dangerous terrorists, mafia figures, nar-

Preet has an unwavering sense of right and wrong Africa, he wrote that ‘Legal principles emerge from facts. The profession of law is a means to enthrone justice, not to entangle justice in the net of the law.’ And later, in 1920, after he had forsaken the profession and called for a boycott of English law courts by lawyers in India, he noted that ‘it is through courts that a government establishes its authority,’ whether legitimate or not. With Preet Bharara at the helm of one of the nation’s most revered prosecutorial offices, we

can be confident in the integrity and legitimacy of our nation’s system of justice. „ Preeta Bansal served in the Obama White House as General Counsel & Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Management & Budget. She is the former Solicitor General of the State of New York, and a past partner at a leading international law firm. She will receive the 2012 NASABA Pioneer Award for her path-breaking career in the law

‘His personality is all about what is right and wrong’ Preet Bharara at the Time 100 Gala — he was on the magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list — in New York in April

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

Parents Dr Jagdish Singh Bharara and Desh Sudha Sondhi Bharara are concerned about Preet’s security, but acknowledge that it goes with the territory

PARESH GANDHI

cotics traffickers, drug dealers, arms smugglers, etc. But they acknowledge that it goes with the territory. “I know it does,” Dr Bharara says, “but as a parent, you always want your kids to be safe and a lot of times people ask — a lot of my friends who read about him — does he have security and everything else. We are so proud of him, but as parents, you know how it feels.” The Bhararas have been deeply involved with the Indian-American community. Asked if they ever felt awkward that Preet had successfully prosecuted some of the most prominent South Asians on Wall Street, Dr Bharara says, “He has gone after Democrats; he has gone after Republicans; he has gone after everybody. There has been no discrimination. I don’t know of anybody who has blamed him for that. Justice is blind. So, if you have a case, whosoever it is… I always tell him, ‘Be fair, be absolutely certain in your mind before you press a charge against anybody that that somebody is not criminalized for something he has not done. That should be your utmost thing’.” Preet, he says, always assured him that ‘before a decision is made, we don’t meet once, we meet twice, we meet three times, we discuss it over and over again, before we decide.’ “Caution is his mainstay,” his father adds. „


M19 India Abroad June 2012 Anita Desai has been writing for over 50 years and continues to publish pulse-quickening and intriguing novels

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PARESH GANDHI

Legendary writer Anita Desai, winner of the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Achievement 2011, discusses her craft and her life with Arthur J Pais


M20 India Abroad June 2012

The Teller, and the Truth Anita Desai wrote even as she raised four children in New Delhi, taught at MIT and a couple of colleges in Massachusetts, and, along the way, inspired many eminent writers

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With her inner eye she saw how her own house and its particular history linked and contained her, as well as her whole family... giving them the soil in which to send down their roots… always drawing from the same soil, the same secret darkness. That soil contained all time, past and future… It was where her deepest self lived, and the deepest selves of her sisters and brothers and all those who shared that time with her. — Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day

The Honor Roll Salman Rushdie (2006) Novelist Padma Desai, Jagdish Bhagwati (2007) Economists Zubin Mehta (2008) Music Conductor Sonny Mehta (2009) Publisher Madhur Jaffrey (2010) Actress

From The Editors For being a pioneer in the Indian literary landscape; for her exquisite craft that can evoke an entire universe in a single paragraph; and for creating the path for many to tread upon after her.

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nita Desai, who continues to publish pulse-quickening and intriguing novels like The Artist of Disappearance: Three Novellas about the anguished lives of ordinary people in her mid 70s, lives in a garden house atop a hill in the picturesque and historic village of Cold Spring in New York state. She has lived in this sprawling 170-year-old house alone for most of the last decade since retiring from teaching creative writing to engineers and scientists at MIT. Her visitors include deer that raid her garden in summer, her son in New York and a daughter who lives in Kentucky. Her youngest child, the Booker Prize winning and bestselling novelist Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss) has often used a room in the house to write her own books. A few times in the past decade, Anita Desai, who has been nominated for the Booker Prize three times and who has enthusiastic readers worldwide in about a dozen languages including French, Italian, Danish and Hebrew, has worked under the same roof as her daughter, not only in Cold Spring but also in Mexico. The view from the top of the house and the valley beneath reminds Desai of her birth town, Mussoorie, as well as Shimla, she says. She enjoys the simple pleasures of gardening and walking. “There is not much other entertainment in this village,” she says softly. When her young grandchildren visit her, Desai, who has also written for children, spends more time with them outdoors, in her garden, and by the nearby river. A slightly built woman with dainty features and an aura, Desai, the daughter of an Indian father and German mother, can be mistaken

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for different nationalities. When she is in Mexico, she says, people ask her for direction in Spanish. She has battled a few health problems and talks softly, but when it comes to wielding her pen, she performs with the sharp agility of a surgeon. You may take any of her books including In Custody and Journey to Ithaca to the beach. Once you have taken in a few chapters, you surrender to the tightly knit plots and start wondering how her characters will resolve their dilemmas. The books produce their own inimitable suspense and tension — as The New York Times said of one of her best books Baumgartner’s Bombay, the ‘daring, colorful novel’ is ‘almost impossible to absorb in one reading.’ She has been writing for over 50 years even as she raised four children in New Delhi, taught at Cambridge and a couple of colleges in Massachusetts and received praise for her work from eminent writers including writers like A S Byatt, Salman Rushdie, Abraham Verghese and a new generation represented by Rana Dasgupta. In between her books, she has written introductions to the works of writers ranging from D H Lawrence to Rabindranath Tagore to Salman Rushdie, and plenty of literary criticism in publications like The New York Review of Books. Anita Mazumdar, who was born on June 24, 1937, spent much of her life in New Delhi where she spoke German at home and Hindi to friends and neighbors. She first learned English when she went to school, she has said.

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It was the language in which she first learned to read and write. ‘I think it had a tremendous effect that you were happy to see your children the first thing you saw written and off to school so that you could work on the first thing you ever read was your books. English,’ she said in an interview. ‘It I had started writing and publishseemed to me the language of books. ing when I was in college. It was I just went on writing it because I something that I intended to keep always wanted to belong to this doing even though there were interworld of books.’ ruptions of domestic life and having Desai received a BA in English Lityour children. erature and graduated with honors Whenever people would ask how I from the University of Delhi. She managed to do it with a house full of started publishing her work shortly four children, I would just say, ‘Well, I after her marriage to businessman managed.’ Ashwin Desai December 13, 1958. I think I have written more books Critics have noted that Desai is during their childhood (in India) part of a new literary tradition of Inthan I have done after they grew up dian writing in English which dates and left home. It was just a matter of back only to the 1930s or 1940s. This adjusting one’s time, and yes, when is because, she said in an interview, they started going to school, it was my ‘at one time all literature was recited working time. rather than read and that remains I then immediately made to my the tradition in India.’ In her school desk and spent those hours at work. I days it was ‘still rather a strange act knew they would be back by 3 and I to buy a book and read it, an unusuwould quickly put away my work. al thing to do.’ My children will say they never saw She has said her primary goal is to me write and it was a surprise to them discover ‘the truth that is ninewhen a published work by me would tenths of the iceberg that lies subarrive home. merged beneath the one-tenth visiLater when I came to the States (in ble portion we call Reality’. She porthe 1980s) and started teaching and trays the cultural and social changes took up several jobs in Massachthat India has undergone as she usetts, the timetable changed. During studies families dealing with social a term when I was teaching, I would and economic problems. put away my work and I would write She has received numerous awaduring the vacations, which is the rds, including the 1978 National PARESH GANDHI opposite of what I did in India when Academy of Letters Award for Fire Anita Desai lives away from the hustle and bustle of the city, in the children were young. on the Mountain, the first of her upstate New York I suppose because I had less time novels to be brought to the United then, I used that time with greater States. The story is of a remote, isourgency, which did not persist in later life. lated woman and her equally withdrawn change, and change again.’ She welcomed India Abroad at her home It was not just your children, but also your great-granddaughter as they are forced recently and spoke for hours about her life husband you had to consider in your writing together in hills amidst violence and fire. years in India. In 1983 she was awarded the Guardian and passions. You had your grandchildren and daughter (Laughs gently) Well, that was not so Prize for Children’s Fiction for The Village by demanding. the Sea, an adventurous fairy tale about a Tani visit you the other day. My older daughter came to visit last week. I You also had a dog then to keep you compayoung boy in an Indian fishing village. She was awarded the Literary Lion Award in have four grandchildren, two in New York ny. The children loved him as much as I. Taking 1993, and has also been named Helen Cam whom I don’t see often as they are little, and Visiting Fellow, Ashby Fellow, and honorary my daughter is in Kentucky. She has two chil- him for walks to the park became part of our dren. I don’t see them often too. daily routine. I wish I could have a dog or even fellow of the University of Cambridge. The ones visiting me last week are 18 and 14. a cat now, but since I have been traveling a lot, Her novel In Custody about a degenerating poet, a neglected language and the folly of The elder one has just been admitted to col- it no longer was possible, which is a loss. Again, it was a choice one had to make — hero worship, was made into a well-regarded lege in Hartford, Connecticut. The ones in either you were free to move, to travel or you film by Ismail Merchant featuring Shashi New York are 10 and 6. What do they call you? just committed yourself to one way of life. Kapoor, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi. (Smiles.) They have all kinds of names for What did your children think of your life as a She has been shortlisted for the prestigious British award, the Booker Prize, for Clear me. My daughter’s children mostly call me writer? All my children, including Kiran, told me Light of the Day, In Custody and Fasting, Nani. But my son’s children, I didn’t want Feasting; she has been honored with India’s them to call me Dadi which, with their Ame- they never wanted to become writers. They prestigious civilian award, the Padma Shri, rican accents, would sound like Daddy! So I had imagined me sitting at my desk and writand was inducted into the Sahitya Akademi, asked them to call me Oma, which is what my ing while they were at school and they saw me India’s national academy of letters. children used to call my mother which is reading all the time. They said, “You lead such a boring life. We don’t want to live like you In addition to her writing, Desai has raised German for grandmother. do.” four children: Rahul, Tani, Arjun and Kiran. Do you tell stories to the young ones? Kiran resisted the idea of becoming a writer. She has been a member of the Advisory Board I am not a very good story teller. I provide for English, and of the American Academy of them books. I read to them. The books I used When she went to college, she was going to Arts and Letters, as well as a Fellow of the to read to my children. They are upstairs now. major in environment or something like that. But she was turning in wonderful class work Royal Society of Literature. And they read them. Reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic have Frankly, since they come bursting out of the and she wrote wonderful letters. I encouraged welcomed her books. The Daily Telegraph in city full of energy and spirits, what they want her to write, telling her she was writing so London has called her a ‘writer’s writer.’ Cal- to do is go into the garden, turn on the hose well, but it wasn’t until her college professors ling Journey to Ithaca, the richest and subtlest and play in the grass. Or we go down to the encouraged her to write that she really took it of her books, the San Francisco Chronicle river where they can watch the gulls flying seriously. What does travel mean to you? declared a few years ago: ‘Desai’s “truth” is a there, throw stones in the water. peacock’s tail. Long after I closed this beautiIn an interview your daughter Kiran Desai M22 ful book, I watched the iridescent colors did for The Guardian she spoke about how


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For almost 50 years of my life, I never really went out of India. I traveled a bit, but without any idea of relocating to another country. I was nearly 50 years old when I first undertook a long stay abroad, starting with a year of teaching at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. My youngest son Arjun had started studying in the States and I came to America so that I could spend more time with him. Kiran was 16 then and she came with me. I put her in a school nearby. This was in Amherst, Massachusetts. She followed her brother to Bennington, Vermont. I found it very important to provide them with a sense of home. I didn’t like the idea of them feeling like foreign students here that is not an easy life; it is a difficult life; this I wrote a little bit about in the second half of Fasting, Feasting what a lonely, isolating experience it can be. So I thought it was very important to provide them with a home over here while they were studying, as it happened. So all your four children studied here? My older two studied in India, which was when I was younger. My eldest son is still in India; he lives in Delhi. My older daughter came here at a later stage of her life after she married an Indian doctor. So, it was just the younger two who studied here. They stayed on in the States and made their lives here. That, sort of, influenced me to stay on (here) too. We kept going back and forth. Then three years ago, we sold the home in Delhi after my husband’s death. For the first time we don’t have a home in India. Of course, we travel, we visit. My siblings live there. Since, we are all growing old, it is very important for me to travel and see as much of things I can. So, your travels started in a real sense about 20 years ago? Yes, 20, 25 years ago. I first went to Mexico because of a bitter winter in Boston. It was an unbearably cold, frozen winter, one blizzard after the other. I just had to flee. I chose Mexico and Oaxaca because of D H Lawrence’s work and Malcolm Lowry. And when I went there, it felt like a home away from home, to use the cliché. It seemed to me so very Indian in its spirit. I didn’t seem a bit foreign there; even the scene didn’t seem foreign. And that’s why I went back again and again. Did you feel in any way the darkness of Mexico? Not in the least bit. That’s how it struck all these English writers I had been reading, like Graham Greene. What darker book could there be than The Power and the Glory or even the works of D H Lawrence or Lowry? They just saw these dark frightening aspects of Mexico which I never did. To me it was a country of light. Later on I discovered how much work Octavio Paz (the diplomat, poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate) had done on India. He also drew these parallels between these two countries: Mexico and India. I re-do a great deal of

The Teller, and the Truth a few days or minutes ago. Who encouraged you to read the book? No one told me to read it, but it was on my parents’ bookshelf. They had many books at home and nobody ever censored what I read. And then when I was in college at Delhi University, I won the first prize that I had ever won in my life and that was for English Literature. I remember taking the money and going to a bookshop called Atmaram in Delhi and seeing a whole row of those green Hogarth editions of some of Virginia Woolf ’s work, and buying the books. Reading books like A Room Of One’s Own, Orlando, To The Light House, had a very profound effect upon me too, that quiet inner voice, in which she described that inner life rather than anything on the outside. This was another way that showed me forward with my own writing. And that was important to me. So many books come to my mind. All the Russian classics that I started reading about the same time, I think I read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Although later on I was drawn to writers like Chekhov and Gogol, I know that Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are the great monuments. But it is writers like Chekhov and Gogol that I re-read constantly. Perhaps another book of that time that had a huge effect upon me is Proust’s Remembrance of Time Past. It’s a nine-volume work, but I have gone through them about twice in my life. It has always been a very profound and moving experience for me. Many people are not aware that you have introduced books by other writers over the years. A special edition of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has an introduction by you. Not many people know you wrote an introduction to a novella by D H Lawrence. I see! Yes, yes. It’s something I enjoy doing. I cannot always produce original creative work and I like to take time off from that and apply myself to more critical writing. I enjoy writing criticism. I do it quite often for the New York Review of Anita Desai’s Bengali father, Dhiren Books. Mazumdar, and German mother, But I have also written introducToni Nime, both lost the countries of their birth to conflict tions. I think what set me off doing this was when some friends of mine COURTESY: ANITA DESAI in London, who were translating 70 odd years now. I think I must have been 9 Tagore’s work and bringing out new editions when I first read Wuthering Heights, which of his work, asked me to provide introducwas the first adult novel that I read. And it tions and so I did it for their own biography of absolutely shook me. The power of that lan- Tagore, plus older translations of books like The Home and the World. guage! I found I enjoyed this kind of work, which The book wouldn’t have been more remote from my own life in Old Delhi. It was the made me go back to study their biographies power of that language that completely swept and also supply some critical voice to their me away and made me decide that this is what work. When such work is sent my way, I have I wanted to do. I wanted to use language in been very happy to accept it. You must have heard many interesting and this way. I wanted to use this marvelous, powperhaps even painful stories from your Indian erful, tool to tell stories. Wuthering Heights showed me how impor- father and your German mother. Have you tant sensitivity is to language is, how a writer thought of writing them? I have written about my parents never should have an instinctive understanding that one word is better than the other, and one M23 sentence can be better than the one produced what he wrote. Tomatoes and chilies went to India from Mexico (and Central America). Many people think that India gave Mexico mangoes. Paz also brought the spiritual India to Mexico. The philosophy of India, spiritual India, was brought to Mexico. He understood that. He wrote a beautiful little volume of poems, Two Gardens, I think, he calls it: One Mexican, one Indian and he is constantly drawing these parallels. For him, India was a familiar scene; it didn’t seem foreign to him. I feel at home in Mexico for yet another reason. People do mistake me, even now, for a Mexican. It has been a very marvelous experience discovering a country that I really never expected to visit or find and to find exactly what I wanted. What are three or four most important books in your life? How did these books change your life? Now that must make me think back about


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directly, always obliquely. I find it impossible to write about my parents, people I knew, the way I knew them as a child. I would be so afraid of misrepresenting them, of telling only one truth, my truth, not my siblings’ truth or their own truths. Of course, they are stories. They have just recently affected me deeply, profoundly. In what way? I understand this more and more as I grow older. I didn’t at that time. My father lost his country, which had been East Bengal that he had been born in and spent his early years. Later on, it became East Pakistan, then Bangladesh. He never returned. Whatever property the family had there was lost. So, he also was transplanted. Delhi was never his home. In a similar way my mother lost her Germany. She had actually left Germany before the Nazi years. She had met and married my father in Berlin where he was a student. The War (World War II) broke out a few years after she came to India and she never went back to Germany even decades after the War was over. She came from a Protestant family. She knew that the Germany she knew before the War had been destroyed and was not to be recovered. I suppose she made a very hard choice. I was 25 when I first went to Germany (in the early 1960s) and she was very excited for my sake, she made out a list of places I should see even though she rightly suspected they had changed a lot and the people I should meet. I guess she expected to live it through my experience. It was very tragic. Germany was divided into two states then and my father’s university was in East Berlin, and I could not visit it. But I had a strange and happy and very unexpected experience. I had remembered that my parents had been introduced by a well known German sculptor called Georg Kolbe who had a museum in Berlin. When the curator opened the door to me, she said at once, ‘Are you from India?’ Then she asked if I knew Dhiren Mazumdar. I said, ‘Yes, that is my father!’ She then took my hands and led me in through the galleries showing me two sculptures of him as a young man. The sculptor had met my father on a street, struck by his Indian looks and slowly they had become friends. There was a torso and a bust of my father. He had never told us anything about this! The curator said, ‘Does this look like your father?’ I told her I had not seen him when he was in his 20s, but it looked exactly like my brother! The wonderful woman made a bronze copy of the bust and had it sent to my mother. On the subject of my mother, I remember something else. Her passport came to me a few years ago, one of my sisters gave it to me. My mother had acquired a passport after marrying my father because she needed a visa to come to India. I was stunned to see the visa describing her as a British subject. Of course, that was correct! I also realized that my father’s travel doc-

The Teller, and the Truth or Tolstoy. These writers were a completely fresh experience for them. These students had no set ideas or prejudices. They came upon it, as if these writers had just been discovered, which they were doing. That was very interesting to see that and experience the freshness of response. Were you a tough grader? (Laughs gently) One is not allowed to be, frankly speaking. One has to be very supportive and encouraging rather than tough. I had a few very good students that I hoped would continue to write. Very few of them did. Most of them were, perhaps, average. How is a literature professor received at a school like MIT? I taught creative writing and the professors in the literature department did not think we were doing anything important. They thought we were having too much of fun. But when my criticism appeared in literary journals and magazines like the New York Review of Books, they Anita Desai with her mother Toni Nime, liked that kind of writing. and siblings — standing from left, Many people who enjoy teaching Roma, Dimu and Indira. Desai spoke say they hate the idea of grading stuGerman at home and Hindi to friends dents’ work. and neighbors. She first learned English Grading students’ papers were when she went to school the hardest. I always wished I didCOURTESY: ANITA DESAI n’t have to do it. Students someuments also described him as a British citi- times don’t like criticism, but you also get critzen! It had never struck me that India was a icism all the time even as a writer. Not all your reviews are wonderful. British India then! I used to say I am willing to read page by Tell us about your teaching experience. It is quite common in America that writers page and write my response, but reducing it to make a second living out of teaching. I taught one grade is absolutely the hardest thing. It’s here for about 15 years, retiring from MIT the hardest part of a teacher’s life. I wished I after 10 years. I never found teaching a second didn’t have to do that. I enjoyed meeting them at the end of the life conducive to my writing because you approach writing from a completely different term and talking about their work. Tell us what encouragement you gave the angle. From the students’ point of view, it was all students… I would encourage them by giving them cervery analytical. I thought I was not doing it (teaching) very well, really. I kind of resented tain texts to read, encouraging them to read that I was spending so much time on students’ more and more, encouraging them to read writing than my own and yet I enjoyed teach- critically, not simply for the pleasure of it or for entertainment value, but to apply their ing and it was a very pristine part of my life. I always felt I was there not because I was a critical faculty. Then explain to them that any writer anywhere has to be a good critic as well teacher, but because I was a writer. I never accepted that teaching was my pro- as have the ability to write. And must be able fession and I enjoyed teaching and being with to accept criticism and apply criticism to one’s the students for completely different reasons. own work. Who are your first readers — your editor? It gave me a handle on America and American life, which I would not have had other- When you wrote your first book, to whom did you show your manuscript? wise. Obviously, (it is) the editor. I would never If I had come here merely as a tourist or as a visitor, I could not have had this experience give my script to a friend or any one in the and marvelous opportunity to dwell into family to read. I wanted a purely professional American society and the American way of response. I knew that friends and family could never give me that. So, I would always send life. In that sense, I was learning more from my manuscript to the publisher and the first American students than they were learning response would be from the editor. I have had excellent editors in my life; some from me. They taught me everything I know less so, but with whom I haven’t worked with of America now. My students at MIT were not art students. for long. But a long term editor in my life in They were engineers and scientists and that England was Alicia Yerburgh. She was margave me another kind of look into life that I velous. I was very sad when she retired. We have been friends over the years. would not have known otherwise. Other friends whose responses I look forThey approached literature quite differently from the liberal arts students elsewhere. They M24 had never read or even heard of James Joyce


M24 India Abroad June 2012

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The Teller, and the Truth

ward to are my translators. I have worked with several who are excellent. When a trans- picks up material from all around her. She is and nervousness when I approached her lator becomes a friend and there is a close also an extremely honest writer. You can trust work. Do you read the same writers? relationship, and they understand a good deal her for telling the truth exactly the way it is. Oh yes! We love the same writers. Kiran has I always adhere to Emily Dickinson, about the India in my books, they are actually only recently started reading the great Rus(Desai lowers her voice further) rewriting your book in their language. They sian writers that I had read at a much earlier are not strictly adhering to the script and I age, when I was 15 or so. But she had not set Tell all the Truth but tell it slant — don’t expect them to. They bring an extra off as a student of literature. Success in Circuit lies understanding to the text, it helps a lot. So, a lot of it she hadn’t read until quite Too bright for our infirm Delight Sometimes there is a danger of a manurecently. It’s been a wonderful experience to The Truth’s superb surprise script falling in the hands of a translator who know she has exactly my responses to their As Lightning to the Children eased is very professional but in a mechanical way. It work. And, once in a while, we feel the same With explanation kind then becomes a disaster. But if they know way about new writers as well. The Truth must dazzle gradually India and know where a book is coming from, She is the one who introduced me to Jerry Or every man be blind — they can set the book in a context. Pinto (Em And The Big Hoom, a memoir of his Writing is like a secret profession to me. I I too believe in telling the truth, I tell so mother’s fight with manic depression) and I write the way I want without any opinion or letting anyone change the direction of my obliquely. Kiran does not observe this rule, had exactly the same reaction to it as she had. story. But once a manuscript reaches the edi- she writes head-on and that gives her work a It is first rate, often funny, but brutally frank tor, I am willing to take suggestions and even very different sound and flavor than mine. about the pain in his home. I think both of us read quite a bit of poetry. And I marvel at that, how she manages to be rewrite. I have a lot of books of poetry and I am conDo you share your work while it is in so original in her work. Were you ever afraid of Kiran growing up in stantly reading them while I am writing and I progress? I am asking this because Kiran and feel she has taken on that habit from me. you have worked under one roof around the your shadow? We may choose different poets and writers. I was really afraid that she herself would feel same time… I write in a very private way and I don’t that she was under some kind of shadow and I have read a lot of Octavio Paz, she has read she needed to struggle to be free of it in order more J M Coetzee. But, more or less, we read share my work while it is in progress. Kiran’s room is upstairs, her desk is there to become her own person, her own writer the same writers, have the same admiration. When Kiran and you are both writing, how and she loves writing there. She has a big win- with her own voice. But that simply did not dow and she can look out in between her writ- happen and when I read her first book, I real- do you go through the physical process? That’s a big difference between my daughter ized she is an utterly original writer, that her ing. I think it is her favorite place to write. Kiran knows I write in a very private way. voices are utterly her own and her personality and me. I still write by pen, long hand. I only type it when I am satisfied. Then I go to the Perhaps she has the same sense as me of pri- is utterly her own. I have been afraid when she gave me her typewriter. I don’t use a computer. She has vacy and I don’t intrude upon her work while it is in progress. She does talk about it a little first draft that I will influence her in not tried to wean me away and put me on the while she is writing, though. I know what her always the best way, which might skew her computer, but I have had no success. She has still not started working on the subject is and sometimes what characters writing in my direction. So, I would be always move in and out of her work. But I don’t ask very nervous… What if something had gone computer. She still carries a notebook and to see it page by page, chapter by chapter, and wrong with her writing? How would I tell makes notes. But she composes on the comshe does not want to show it to me at that her? Yes, there was always some hesitation puter. Your books deal with the unrest of stage. When she has a first draft, then souls, but I don’t think any of your she shows it to me. characters want to find peace through I don’t show her my draft, I am too gurus and godmen. Have you looked nervous to do that. I am afraid she for religion, godmen or godwomen? might think, ‘What am I going to tell No. We were brought up without her? I don’t want to hurt her or put her religion. My parents knew the bad off and yet be honest. ’ I don’t want to things that happened in the name of have such inflictions on her religion, but I came to know (philosoWhen she gives me her first draft, we pher) Jiddu Krishnamurti through a do get into a spirit of criticism. I do common friend, Pupul Jayakar. make notes for her to look at. Some of I admired the way when he my suggestions, she accepts, some she declared — I guess when he was in does not. Sometimes I have gone conthe 20s and before thousands of peotrary to what an editor has subsequentple — that he was not an avatar and ly told her. It is difficult really to hear told the audience, ‘I am not what you these contradictory opinions before the think I am.’ He could be very mischiework is really complete, it can be disvous and earthy in private. He once tracting. told Pupul, loudly and animatedly, What do you think Kiran has taken something like this: ‘Pupul, if you from you? ever put a statue of me after my I can’t really speak for her, but I often death, I will come back from my grave hear her say what she has learned from and hit you!’ me is the discipline of writing and What have you taken from knowing that it is not just inspiration Krishnamurti? and rushing to your desk, but it is daily I was at a writers’ conference in discipline to go to your desk and work, Prague recently and I met the Chithat you must not lose the thread of nese poet Duo Duo who told me the your writing habit, of continuing rest of the world could have Nietzsche through your good patches and bad or Kant, but Krishnamurti was the patches. philosopher for him. She always says if she did not learn People are seldom content with the this from me or observe me at work, she world they have, and Krishnamurti would have been a very different person. who said ‘There is no Here After’ still She is a very different kind of writer. wondered, ‘What is Life?’ She is very open to the wide world. For What do you think will happen after me everything I write is very much conSANJAY SAWANT death? fined and processed through my own Anita Desai with author Jerry Pinto at a reading in Mumbai. Her It is a mystery to me. „ experience. She listens to voices; she daughter Kiran Desai introduced her to his work


M26 India Abroad June 2012

‘There has always been an immense integrity to her, both as mother and writer’ Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai gives Arthur J Pais a fascinating glimpse of what her legendary mother’s life and work mean to her

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or Kiran Desai, the Booker Prize-winning author of The Inheritance of Loss, her mother, the novelist Anita Desai, is much more than an inspiration and mentor. It is her mother’s humanity and example as a writer without vanity that have made the biggest difference in Kiran’s life. Though she began reading her mother’s books when she was in her early teens, Kiran says she never thought she would be a writer. “I thought I will be reading all my life,” she says. When did you first realize that your mother was a writer? Ever since I was growing up, my earliest memories of my mother is that she was very involved in our lives as a mother. But I also had another realization about her, that she also had another life. That was one of the mysteries about her: She had a private life. Much later in my life, I came to understand it. Every morning, soon after we left for school (in New Delhi), she would run to her desk and start writing. It was this enormous thing in her life: it was a daily affair! What did you think then about her daily affair? Growing up, I would always ask myself how on earth a sweet mother in the house talking about the mundane Kiran Desai, left, says her mother’s integrity and love for writing and things with the family could literature had a very spiritual effect on her do the work coming from always been an immense integrity to her both another source altogether. Of course, now I know that the act of writ- as a mother and as a writer as well. With many ing itself, going into a room and shutting other writers, I see their ego is so big. So when you are with your mother, you are yourself from others, creates so much of sadness; to think of these very difficult things in a in a different world. Now, when I live in New York, I see the netvery clear way is very remarkable. I remember her bookshelves all over the working of other writers and the competition. house, her intensity of reading, of thought, When I leave the city and go to my mother living far from the city, I am so happy to see a and her integrity. To me, integrity is one of her most impor- completely different life, of thinking and livtant assets and that is always reflected in her ing and thinking about writing. I am so happy to have that. If I didn’t have life, and I’m sure in her writing. This intense love for writing, for literature that, I also would probably have been swalthat she had has had a very spiritual effect on lowed up by this New York way of writing, of competition, that is so much part of the us. Even today, when I work with my mother, I world: The materialistic way of writing. There is this purity of her work and writsee that she has this effect on me. There has

ing. And, for me as a daughter to have seen that, being with her and having access to that at any moment means a lot. After all these years, that spirit has evolved like her in me and in my work... You are also friends and writing companions. In a quiet way, she provides the space, not the gun at the starting point. This influences my thinking about the writing of the book. This is a totally different spirit than if I started working on it in New York because I would hear from other writers that this is the fashionable book of the moment. This kind of conversation never happens with her around. What did you notice most in your mother as a writer when you were growing up? You know, she protected her work. I think this is what I also learnt and I too did not speak about my book (The Inheritance Of Loss) for all the seven or eight years I was writing it. Of course, she knew I was writing a book, but did not discuss it directly over lunch or dinner. It also happened the same way with my first novel (Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard). When did you first read her book? I think it was, probably, Fire On The Mountain. It was close to my life as a child because we PARESH GANDHI would always go up to the hill stations for the summer. We were growing up in Delhi and we would go for summer vacations to Mussoorie (Uttarakhand). Now, when I see my first book and even my second book, I see the influence of that early book. It is about this girl who went up to stay with her grandmother whose life was very solitary and lived up in the hills and the unexpected violence that breaks into their life. My first book was very much also concerned with matters of solitude and leading a hermit life: A younger person with a crotchety older person. I knew this actual setting, this actual place and it worked. Your books are also concerned deeply with humanism. How much of that concern did you

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M27 India Abroad June 2012

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‘There has always been an immense integrity to her, both as mother and writer’

find in her books? I learned from my mother and from Fire On The Mountain that if you don’t look at what’s happening around you, address the problems and you live this isolated, hermit life and ignore that there are poor people living on the hillside, etc, then these problems will visit you. When I was a little older, I kept her books aside for a while. Why did you start reading her again? I think when your sensibilities are being developed, you begin to read with intensity. You understand what kind of reader you will be. You really learn things about yourself. You discover your aesthetic sense. I think, at that age, I began reading her work with new love and passion. In those years, I was reading Clear Light Of Day, The Village By The Sea, Baumgartner’s Bombay. Did you read any of her books as she wrote them? At that time (when I was in India and, later, as a student in America), I read the books after they were published. Now, I read the first galleys. Never read them as they are being written? (Laughs) Never. More so, because my mother writes by hand and nobody can read her handwriting. Finally she types it, and her cut and paste is literally cut and paste. She is there with the scissors and the glue and the old Anita Desai’s love affair with books fashioned whiteout. She does that began in childhood. Wuthering Heights wherever we are: In Mexico, at her was the first adult novel she read, at age home in upstate New York 9, and it shook her You have said her In Custody is one of your favorite books. In Custody was written with a lot of love and from that mixture of India and the Western fondness about that old culture in Delhi that world, I began to explore the theme in anothhad vanished, a memory of growing up in a er generation. The historical context and the Delhi that had departed. It is certainly some- depth of that emotion came from my mother thing her generation and of my father too, has and from reading her books. Does your mother discuss with you how her lost, and they remember it with certain sadwork is progressing? ness. No. She is still very private. The most she They saw their close family friends disappearing, going to Pakistan. Urdu, the lan- will say that she is working on a book on guage that they had grown up with was dying; Mexico (like the time when she wrote The the feeling that poetry was leaving meant a Zigzag Way). That’s about it! If she is reading a book on miners and mining, I know that it big loss to my mother. is going to be in her book and she’ll mention Does she still talk about old Delhi? She talks about it often, of growing up in old it. That is all. Much of her writing is done Delhi and going to their neighbor’s house mentally first before she even starts working where they would have poetry readings at on the book. Do you tell her what you are working on? night; sitting out in the old Delhi rooftops; No, I’m like her. If you discuss it with others, reading Urdu poetry and what it meant to grow up in that culture, and then to see it you are influenced by what they say and the writing becomes more mundane in a way. eroded in your lifetime. When you drive yourself to those far, interThe entire city changed, in fact vanished after the Partition, it became something else esting, eccentric places, you have to be alone. overnight; the grace of that culture and intri- This is something I must have learned from cate manners and a beautiful culture went her. I find it difficult to talk about my work or what I’m thinking, but I can talk about away. Tell us about another book by your mother thoughts behind my work. Does your mother have to wait to read your that influenced you considerably. Baumgartner’s Bombay had a great influ- books after they are published? (Laughs) My mother gets to see my work ence on my second book: Especially the theme of the combination of the Western when it is still a manuscript and she is so world and the Eastern world in exile. The happy to edit it. This was the case with my emotions of exile, I think, were so familiar to first book and the same with my second book. Were you surprised at all when you left India my mother because of her mother, who was a German, lived in India after her marriage and to study in America by the admiration and never returned to her home country. And, high regard people have for your mother?

RAJESH KARKERA

When we left India (about two decades ago), we went to England first. My mother taught there for some time. I realized then, and later as we traveled together, that she had an immediate connection with people all around the world because of her work. Her books were on the shelves of people in China, Japan, Scandinavia, Germany. That’s the wonderful thing about writing. What kind of joy have you experienced as a writer? You feel that joy that you don’t have to think about political links and fights between nations at all because your own relationships with other countries are completely different. I realized long ago that that is what she had. Going to book readings with her, and seeing her talk to her readers was a real lesson in the power of literature. I feel that is something we keep forgetting I think. You have traveled widely. Do people ask you if you are related to Anita Desai? (Laughs gently) You have no idea during my travels in the last few years, you have no idea how many people have come up to me and said, ‘I am a fan of your mother. I read your mother’s books.’ In Indonesia, and Latin America, people have asked me if I had grown up reading my mother’s work. It is really so appealing when I hear these comments about this really quiet and isolated person. „ The interview first appeared on Rediff.com in 2008


M28 India Abroad June 2012

‘The greatest gift a novelist can give us’ Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie celebrates Anita Desai’s writing in her memorable novel, Clear Light Of Day

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amila Shamsie, the Pakistani novelist who was named in Orange’s prestigious list of ‘21 writers for the 21st century, wrote the introduction to Clear Light Of Day, when it was reissued by Random House in 2007. In it, she lamented the fact that the novel has not quite been given its due: igeons, Anita Desai tells us in Clear Light Of Day, have an ‘individual genius for combining complaint and contentment in one tone.’ It is one of the few instances when she gets things wrong. Not about the tone of the pigeons, of course — as happens so often with Desai’s writing her faculty of observation is so acute, it is impossible to fault it or really even to believe that we have gone so many years without seeing things precisely as she reveals them to be. That is the power of her writing, after all. Description feels like revelation: So it is revealed to us that watered earth and refreshed plants have a ‘green scent,’ that ‘spiky’ bougainvillea should no longer be seen merely as brushing but as ‘scraping’ the walls, that a snail climbing clods of earth only to fall off is an ‘eternal, miniature Sisyphus.’ Where she does get it wrong, though, is in attributing a singularity of genius to the pigeons for their ability to hold two notes in one tone. In Clear Light Of Day, the House (which requires the capitalized letters of a proper noun because it is so vivid a character in the book) holds at least two tones in it at one time. Is it prison or refuge? A mothballed past or an oasis of continuity amidst clamoring change? Who are the fortunate siblings — the ones who escaped it (Raja and Tara), or the ones who stayed (Bim and Baba)? From the very first sentences we are in a world of two-ness: The koels began to call before daylight. Their voices rang out from the dark trees like an arrangement of bells, calling and echoing each others’ calls, mocking and enticing each other into ever high and shriller calls. From the orchestra of bells, heralding the start of day, we slip into a competition of shrillness — harmony and cacophony separated by a mere comma. Those who talk of Anita Desai’s surfaces of calm, or deceptive stillness, miss entirely her ability to make her readers feel uneasy from the start, all the more so for remaining uncertain about the nature of that unease. From where does it spring? At whom is it directed? If this is a genre, it may be best termed South Asian

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Kamila Shamsie believes Anita Desai’s Clear Light Of Day has not quite been accorded its deserved place as one of the leading ‘Partition novels’ PARESH GANDHI

Gothic. As is the case with the best writers of southern Gothic, Desai does not merely juxtapose beauty with ugliness, but makes it sometimes impossible to unpick the two. The relationships between Bim and her three siblings are at once awful and tender; the wildlife teeming around the house — the parrots, gulmohars, guavas, koels, pigeons — are symbols of both life and of neglect; Mira Masi is grotesque and heartbreaking. And the Gothic duality of the novel continues in other ways: All the events in the story’s present are mundane (a sister comes to visit, there is tea with the neighbors, a brother walks out of the front gate and then returns home, an invitation to a wedding is proffered and refused) yet startling (violence, tension, unpredictability). And yes, in traditional Gothic style, there are ghosts alluded to — the ghost of Mira Masi, of Bim and Tara’s parents, of the cow whose carcass still rots in the garden well. But the real ghost, the one which inhabits every corner of the house and walks alongside Bim and Tara, a felt but unseen third in each conversation, is the past. Among everything else that this is, it is a novel of Partition. 1947 is the backdrop — and in part II, the foreground — of the story. That Clear Light Of Day has not quite been accorded its deserved place as one of the leading ‘Partition novels’ may have some-

thing to do with its sidelong view: Glancing allusions and attention to tiny details which echo and reverberate, rather than directness. Take, for instance, the matter of Raja’s chosen field of study at university in the months leading up to Partition. With his love of Urdu he decides to enroll at Jamia Millia to study Islamic studies, but his father refuses, pointing out that he will come under danger of attack from both Muslim and Hindu fanatics if he proceeds in that course. What, then, is the politically neutral field of study that Raja enters, in the very last days of the Raj? English Literature. It is a tiny moment, mentioned only once, in passing, but the historical irony is enormous. It is through Raja — his love for Urdu, and his obsession with the Hyder Ali family — that the Partition story is most clearly played out. But it echoes through other stories — Mira Masi’s spiraling descent into alcoholism in ’47 can be seen as a reaction to the madness of the world outside, and there is a rejection of post-Partition India in Bim’s own insistence on staying within Old Delhi where ‘whatever happened, happened long ago — in the time of the Tughlaqs, the Khiljis, the Sultanate, the Moguls — that lot.’ This is not a novel of people who are forced to leave their homes by Partition, or face violence because of it; it is an altogether subtler tale of how Partition changed the world of Old Delhi. Here is the novel’s only consideration of refugee camps: Here there was no light except for the dull glow of small cooking fires, blotted out by smoke and dust and twilight. They swarmed and crawled with a kind of crippled, subterranean life that made Bim feel that the

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M29 India Abroad June 2012

A figure standing, as an equal, beside Jane Austen

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Salman Rushdie hails Anita Desai’s craft

alman Rushdie wrote the introduction to In Custody, when it was reissued by Random House India in 2007. In his introduction, Rushdie talks of how In Custody reveals a new facet to Anita Desai, the writer. He also talks of her undeniable place in the world of literature: nita Desai is by now firmly established as the pre-eminent Indian novelist of her generation, and the writing mirrors the woman to a quite remarkable degree. When you first encounter it, the prose seems to whisper, to speak so softly as to risk going unheard, but as you bend your ear to listen, you hear many unexpected notes of wicked comedy, of sharp, even biting perceptions about her fellow men and women, and of a clear-sighted unsentimentality about human nature that is anything but frail. The voice takes hold of the reader, gently, irresistibly, and its strength and clarity soon come to seem like small miracles. In an age when writers are often clumsily RAJESH KARKERA Among Anita Desai’s many honors is the Sahitya Akademi award, India’s highest literary honor grouped together by ethnic origin, or lanIn the film Ismail Merchant made of In In Custody was, therefore, a novel of transguage, or corralled into the ghettoes of ideology and gender, it is easy to forget the trans- formation for its author, a doubly remarkable Custody, probably his finest effort as a direcnational, trans-lingual, and indeed trans-sex- piece of work because, in this magnificent tor, the roles of Nur the poet and Deven the ual nature of all great literature, in whose book, Anita Desai chose to write not of soli- acolyte are sensitively played by two great frontier-less landscape R K Narayan’s tude but of friendship, of the perils and actors, Shashi Kapoor and Om Puri. And yet, Malgudi is in the same neighborhood as Will- responsibilities of joining oneself to others the film’s casting does in part undermine the iam Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County and rather than holding oneself apart. And, at the novel’s vision. Nur’s body ‘had the density, the Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, closer to same time, she wrote, for the first time, a very compactness of stone. It was large and heavy those places, indeed, than to any place in public fiction, shedding the reserve of the ear- not on account of obesity or weight, but on India; and thanks to the translations commis- lier books to take on such sensitive themes as account of age and experience,’ Anita Desai sioned by the Argentine publisher Victoria the unease of minority communities in mod- writes. This was not exactly true of his movie Ocampo, a generation of Latin American wri- ern India, the new imperialism of the Hindi incarnation, Shashi Kapoor, but the beauty of ters was reared on the works of Rabindranath language, and the decay that, now even more Kapoor’s spoken Urdu did much to make up than when the book was written, was and is for the physical differences. The biggest probTagore. When I think of Anita Desai, I see her most all too tragically evident throughout the fis- lem in the film is that the age gap between Kapoor and Puri is not wide enough. The clearly as a figure standing, as an equal, beside suring body of Indian society. The courage of the novel is considerable, novel contrasts youth and experience; the film Jane Austen, that other great Indian novelist, creator of brave, brilliant women trapped by and so is its prescience. The slow death of my sets greatness against greenness, but by narconservative social mores into becoming mere mother tongue, Urdu, is much further adva- rowing the generation gap it loses a dimenhusband-hunters, women who would be very nced than it was 23 years ago, and much that sion. And the novel’s emotional heart lies in this recognizable to denizens of, for example, the was beautiful in the culture of Old Delhi has relationship. At first the young teacher’s Delhi of Clear Light of Day. And because, slipped away for ever. The story contrasts the slow death of a false dream of the literary giant appears to have while she is wholly Indian, she is also halfEuropean, I think of her in the company of friendship and the painful birth of a true one. come true. Then, superbly, we are shown the other insider-outsiders such as the white Deven, a lover of Urdu poetry who has been great man’s feet of clay: Nur beset by pigeons Caribbean novelist Jean Rhys, author of Wide obliged to teach Hindi in a small-town college and by other, human, hangers-on; Nur glutSargasso Sea, or the half-Sikh, half-Hun- for financial reasons, is bullied by his boyhood tonous, Nur drunk, Nur vomiting on the floor. garian painter Amrita Sher-Gil. Nor should chum Muras to go to Delhi and interview the Here allegory perhaps is intended. ‘How can Anita Desai be placed in exclusively female great, ageing Urdu poet Nur Shahjehanabadi there be Urdu poetry,’ the poet asks rhetoricompany. As In Custody makes plain, she has for Murad’s rather ridiculous magazine. The cally, ‘when there is no Urdu language left?’ cared as much about, and been shaped as relationship between the weak, unworldly And his decrepitude — like the derelict condideeply by, the great (male) Urdu poets as by Deven and the posturing bully Murad seems tion of the once-grand ancestral home of at first like something out of Narayan. But Deven’s fellow-lecturer, the Muslim Siddiqui any woman’s poems. Until the publication of In Custody, one Narayan’s meek characters usually stand for — is a figure of the decline of the language and might have said that the subject of Anita traditional India, while his bullies represent culture for which he stands. The poet’s very name, Nur, is ironic. His is a ‘light’ grown very Desai’s fiction was solitude. Her most memo- some aspect of the modern world. In Custody has no such allegorical inten- dim indeed. rable early creations — the old woman, Nanda Once again, however, the point being made Kaul, in Fire On The Mountain (a novel to tions. Murad’s appalling behavior — he all but which her daughter Kiran’s The Inheritance of ruins Deven while appearing to help, wasting is not allegorical. The beauty of In Custody is Loss owes an immense artistic debt), or Bim money on a poor tape recorder for the inter- that what seems to be a story of inevitable in Clear Light Of Day — were isolated, singu- view, then arranging for an incompetent tragedies — the tragicomedy of Deven’s lar figures. Those books themselves felt like ‘assistant’ who completely fouls up the record- attempt to get his interview being the counprivate universes, illuminated by their ing, and finally refusing to settle the bills aris- terpoint to the more somber tragedy of Nur’s author’s perceptiveness, delicacy of language ing from the event — makes the fine, unsenti- slide towards oblivion — turns out to be a tale and sharp wit, but remaining, in a sense, as mental point that our friends are as likely to M32 destroy us as our enemies. solitary, as separate, as their characters.

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M30 India Abroad June 2012

A woman of great measure Poet and novelist Tishani Doshi met Anita Desai a few days after the writer was named a Sahitya Akademi Fellow, India’s highest literary honor

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nita Desai is not an easy woman to take measure of. She doesn’t give away too much too easily. In many ways, having a conversation with her is exactly like encountering her prose, which Salman Rushdie describes in a new introduction to her work as a prose that ‘seems to whisper, to speak so softly as to risk going unheard. But as you bend your ear to listen,’ he continues, ‘you hear many unexpected tones of wicked comedy, of sharp, even biting perceptions about her fellow men and women, and of a clear-sighted unsentimentality about human nature that is anything but frail. The voice takes hold of the reader, gently, irresistibly, and its strength and clarity soon come to seem like small miracles.’ It is this same small miraculous voice that speaks to me for a few DOMINIC XAVIER hours in a formal business center Tishani Doshi, right, with Anita Desai, who has been dubbed godmother to the current generation of prodigal Indian room in the Taj Land’s End, Mu- writers in English by author Suketu Mehta mbai. Sitting in a red silk sari with There’s a sense that Desai occupies this her hands clasped in her lap, not a single her, as an interviewee, somewhat impenetragrey hair from her bun out of place, Anita ble, because she levies a similar sort of position of the outsider-insider wherever she Desai is a picture of perfect composition. detachment to her own work. It’s not a cold, goes — in England, Mexico, America — Her accent has a wonderful somewhere- aloof detachment; just considered. She fin- places that have opened their doors to her in everywhere lilt to it, answering questions ishes a book, she says, with a sense of disap- numerous ways — by publishing her work, with such ease and eloquence, with hardly a pointment always, “That somehow I’ve mis- or by offering her teaching positions, or by quaver or change in tonality, and with sed my way and not written the book I’d set sheltering her from winter blizzards. Either out to write... There it is in the bookshop and way, she has been accepted, sometimes even absolutely no hand gesticulations. “Surprise me,” she seems to be saying, but someone may pick it up and read it and then mistaken for a native, and allowed to stand actually, it is she who surprises. Because it becomes their property and when they talk at the rim of their boundaries, taking the what seems like a nice leisurely chat about to me about that book I can see it’s been sift- writer’s slightly angled position to witness writing and writerly ways reveals, on later ed through their minds and brains and I can their shifting landscapes. Rather than any overwhelming sense of listening, traces of quiet indignation, of sad- see that it has become theirs, it’s no longer nostalgia or fear of losing her place, Desai ness even, but more startlingly — a delicate mine.” It’s the same ease with which she relin- seems to be in awe of all the changes that are laughter that surfaces every now and again, as if to remind you that ultimately, Desai’s quishes any notion of national identity. happening around her, especially in India. view of the world is tragicomic. While she Desai is technically a product of Germany “It’s a wonderful thing to see,” she says, of the does have a moth-like tendency to veer and India. Her father, a Bengali, was study- young women she talks to, “that they are able towards melancholy in her work, humour is ing engineering in Berlin when he met her to make a living with their art and their writalways juxtaposed against this loss, bringing mother, a German school teacher. They mar- ing, and be respected for it.” For Desai, early in her career, writing was a to clear light the absurdity of human life — ried there and moved to India in the late something which Desai is a master of cap- 1920s and her mother never went back to very secret thing — something she did in the turing, and which to me, is the essence of her Germany again. While Desai admits that hours after her children had left for school, their life in Delhi was tinged with a distinct- and put away before they got back home. “At work. This year Desai turned 70, and was induct- ly European flavor: Her mother spoke to that time, in any case, I think writers were ed as a Sahitya Akademi lifetime fellow. To them in German, they ate European food very isolated — there wasn’t a community of celebrate, her Indian publishers, Random and read European literature — her mother writers, there was no sense of fellowship, we House, reissued three of her classics — In never really encouraged them to think of were all scattered in different parts of India Custody, Clear Light Of Day and Baumgar- Germany as another home. “She (Desai’s and divided by language.” The one literary friendship that she made tner’s Bombay. Aside from this, she has been mother) said India is your home and your dubbed godmother to the current generation only one — she never created this sense of early, which still thrives, and which she said was “terribly important”, is her friendship of prodigal Indian writers in English by there being another one.” And while Desai feels that the place of your with Ruth Jhabvala, who used to be a neighSuketu Mehta. “It must have to do with having achieved childhood is always “home,” she realizes that bor in old Delhi and is now a neighbor in this age,” she smiles, when I ask her what she with time this notion of home becomes New York. She’d see Ruth pushing her babies makes of this honorary title. “I can’t think of transportable. “You carry it with you wherev- in a pram, and go over to her house to borany other reason. As a young woman, cer- er you go. It exists more in my mind and in row books and talk about books. And while tainly I looked up to the older writers, hop- my relationships than as any actual place she never shared any of her own work (she ing to pick up some kind of knowledge from because old Delhi is so changed now. When I only ever shows drafts to editors), it was them... and if young writers still feel that go back, I don’t recognize it anymore... I important just to know and see another observe it like an outsider would. I don’t way, then I suppose they do read my work.” It’s a suffer-no-fools approach that makes know it. I simply observe it.” M32


M31 India Abroad June 2012

‘She can evoke an entire universe in a single paragraph’ Publisher Chiki Sarkar explains what makes Anita Desai’s fiction unique

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nita Desai was perhaps the first of India’s most prominent writers writing in English after R K Narayan. When she was writing, it was a desert in the landscape of Indian English writing. We didn’t have our Salman Rushdies or Vikram Seths or Amitav Ghoshs or our Amit Chaudharis. She was writing in a vacuum, which also led her to leave India. She felt that was not where her audience was. In fact, her first publishers were also not in India, they were in England. Desai almost wrote at a time when there weren’t readers for books in English and no one read or wrote seriously amongst the Indian community in the English language. R K Narayan was perhaps the only person before her who had some acclaim from the world and from India. So, in many ways she has been one of the early pioneers who started it all. The great thing about pioneers is they go where no one has. She has been an Chiki Sarkar, right, seated in the audience, listens to Anita Desai inspiration for many young authors, including Kamila Shamsie, Rana Dasgupta, is deeply cosmopolitan. Baumgartner’s Bombay along with Clear Tishani Doshi and Sonia Faleiro (among others). Even the older writers like Rushdie Light of Day and In Custody were three of the first Desai books I read and left an and Suketu Mehta owe a great debt to her. Desai writes great prose that is highly impression on me. In many ways, the three books are so difdescriptive, but extremely refined. There is something deeply sophisticated about her ferent from each other. Clear Light of Day is writing; in some ways I find her more exactly the kind of writing that Anita was rebelling against when she wrote In sophisticated than some writers today. I think it was Shamsie who in her intro- Custody. She wanted a larger terrain and (go duction wrote that Anita can evoke an entire beyond the notion that) women (could) write about home, relationships or (some deepuniverse in a single paragraph. In some ways (being descriptive) is one of seeded) unhappiness. It was as if she wanted to move her books the easiest things, (but) you can so easily go outside of the realm and, therefore, felt In overboard with it. It is like baking a chocolate cake: Because Custody was important to her writing Baumgartner’s Bombay falls in between it is fairly easy to make it is a real challenge to make it exquisite. This, I think, is her these two. It has a rich world of Bombay Jews, shabby cafes and rundown houses and great strength Desai talks of great things in delicate small yet in some ways like In Custody is a deep ways — although in In Custody and Baum- interior portrait of a man. Anita’s characters aren’t ordinary people. gartner’s Bombay she talks about big things The poet in In Custody is a larger than life in big ways. Yet there is nothing that is overblown about her. Those are the qualities character. Baumgartner (may be described as) odd but isn’t an ordinary man. I respect. Even in her recent novellas — The Artist of The other thing I respect about Desai is her acumen. She is wise and her essays have Disappearance — one (character) is a slighta cerebral quality to them. She is a thinker ly haunted man who returns to his family and people don’t always giver her that due. home in Mussoorie (Uttarakhand) and She isn’t a sensitive woman’s writer; she is builds a strange garden of sorts; (another) much more than that. man never goes home, but sends his mother Among the many Desai characters, there is a gift of travel from abroad who creates a not quite a character like Baumgartner — a museum. man who is adrift and someone you would So, these aren’t the usual ordinary men call a loser. In some ways he is not from this you see on the road. I feel there is something world and evokes this world in Bombay that surreal about them cloaked in everyday ordi-

RAJESH KARKERA

nariness, but there is something strange and ‘other’ about it. I had the opportunity to meet Desai when she was in India after we reissued her books. We were doing an event in Mumbai and Delhi and I think in Kolkata. When you work on someone’s book and admire the author, it can be intimidating to meet her. But when we did, all of us at Random House fell in love with her. She was a graceful woman and there was that hint of steely quality. She seemed up for everything and though we put her through the hoops really and made her go through interviews and events there was never a hint of tiredness. She was marvelous! She doesn’t write e-mails, she writes these wonderful letters (that she delivers via) faxes. I remember she has this scrawly handwriting and wrote charming letters. Anita Desai has always lived her life largely as a mother and wife who wrote on the side and comes across as someone who is delicate and gentle. Yet I always felt that she had a real steely quality about her. She left India when she was in her 40s, at a time when most people don’t make big changes. She went to Cambridge with two children to make a new life and I suspect she must have had determination and (the ability) of sticking it out, which I would love to have half as much as her. „ Chiki Sarkar, is Editor-in-Chief, Penguin India, spoke to Abhishek Mande


M32 India Abroad June 2012

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city would never recover from this horror, that it would be changed irremediably, that it was already changed, no longer the city she had been born in. No more is said about the refugee camp. For the purposes of the novel, no more is needed. To look upon the camps and see the lives within them was to understand — and to feel — that the world had changed, brutally. Horror spirals outward, leaving no one untouched. Having said that, it would be wrong to think of Clear Light Of Day as a novel with any time for nostalgia. It is lament for what was lost, not a rosetinted looking back. But it does not stop merely at lament, which echoes and circles around itself endlessly; the real significance of the past here is the vexing question it poses of how to live in the present that has been constructed from it. The four-part structure of the novel mirrors this question: Present, past, further past, present again. Move backwards to understand where you are now; enter the past but then return to the present. And it is a present

‘The greatest gift a novelist can give us’ which — having looked back and seen its own reflection — finally, beautifully, incorporates the world of Mulk the guru with T S Eliot and also Iqbal — nothing forced or false about it. Time the destroyer is indeed time the preserver. Of course, none of this would work — not the lament, not the Gothic elements, not the historical ironies, not the coalescing of traditions which were never separate to begin with — if, both firstly and finally, the characters didn’t work. Here is a novel teeming with people: The four siblings in the House and the four Misra siblings next door, the parents who are ghostly presences even before they die, Mira Masi, the merely-glimpsed-but-rarely-forgotten Hyder Alis, Dr Biswas and his mother, Bakul the diplomat.

A figure standing, as an equal, beside Jane Austen

It is an intricate feat to keep all these characters within the pool of the novel, different storylines emerging, submerging, making their presences felt even when they aren’t seen. But at the centre of it all, sometimes interlocked, sometimes drifting, sometimes whirling away from each other, are the two sisters: Bim and Tara. The diplomat’s wife who lives far away, the unmarried schoolteacher who never left home. They are opposites in the way that only siblings can be opposites: Their opposition manifest in differing responses to the same events. As we move with them through the sharp, precise details of their days — shaking the petals off a rose, licking bright pink icecream, imagining the taste of unripe guava, listening to a record stuck in a groove, examining each other’s lives — we pass through the boundaries between what is real and what is imagined. It is the greatest gift a novelist can give us. „ This excerpt from Clear Light Of Day by Anita Desai, was published on Rediff.com in December 2007, with kind permission from the publishers, Random House India

A woman of great measure M30

Anita Desai’s In Custody was adapted into a memorable film by Ismail Merchant snobbishness, its eternal nostalgia for the M29 lost glory of an early Empire. And, most sigof triumph over these tragedies. At the very nificantly, we see while Deven may be willend, Deven, beset by crises, hounded by ing to embrace his responsibilities to Nur, Nur’s demands for money (for a cataract he utterly fails to do likewise with Nur’s wife operation, for a pilgrimage to Mecca), or his own. He feels too threatened by the understands that he has become the ‘custo- former even to read her poetry, and is too dian’ both of Nur’s friendship and of his careless of his own poor Sarla with her poetry, and that meant he was the custodian faded dreams of ‘fan, phone, frigidaire’ to of Nur’s very soul and spirit. It was a great build any sort of real relationship with her distinction. He could not deny or abandon at all. That Anita Desai has so brilliantly porthat under any pressure. Once Deven has understood this, the trayed the world of male friendship in order calamities of his life seem suddenly unim- to demonstrate how this, too, is a part of the portant. ‘He would run to meet them,’ and process by which women are excluded from he does. The high exaltation of such a con- power over their own lives is a final, bitter clusion is saved from becoming merely lush irony behind what is an anguished, but not by Anita Desai’s wholly admirable dryness at all a bitter book. „ of manner. Her vision is unsparing. Urdu may be dying, and her novel may in part be This excerpt from In Custody by Anita a lament for that death, but nevertheless in Desai was published on Rediff.com in the character of Siddiqui she shows us the December 2007, with the kind permission of worst side of Urdu/ Muslim culture — its the publishers, Random House India

woman was doing what she hoped to do for herself. Young writers today, no matter where they are in the world, suffer no such isolation or lack of inspiration. In Brooklyn, where her daughter Kiran lives, she points out there is the highest density of writers anywhere in the world. “One can’t really share in what the younger generation is experiencing,” she says. But she doesn’t fool me. Anita Desai is clearly a writer who thrives on solitude, and she isn’t considering a change in lifestyle any time soon. Her greatest literary creations have been loners too — Nanda Kaul from Fire On the Mountain, Bim from Clear Light Of Day, Hugo Baumgartner from Baumgartner’s Bombay. Through them, she has exposed something of herself, because the empathy she has for their situations is too real to be imagined. “I know there are writers who write purely from imagination, just as there are those who write purely from experiences — for me it’s always been a combination of the two. I couldn’t possibly put down my memories as they are and I haven’t written a purely imaginative work either... I’ve imagined my way into my characters, into their worlds. “How important is solitude to you?” I ask, mid-way through our interview. And it is here that I notice for the first and only time, a real tonal change in her voice, a signal that she’s offering me something important, something of a Truth. “I like to think of it the way Proust lived,” she says softly. “How every evening he would get dressed up and pick up his walking stick and go off to attend dinner parties and meet people and then come home, lock himself into a cork-lined room of utter silence and use that in order to write.” „ This feature first appeared on Rediff.com in 2008


M33 India Abroad June 2012

‘A wonderful lesson to see a master create a sense of destiny wrapped around geography’ Writers Abraham Verghese, Suketu Mehta, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Rana Dasgupta have been entranced by Anita Desai’s literary magic

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Anita Desai with a reader in Mumbai

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n old German wandering across the streets of Bombay, often collecting scraps for his cats, was found dead in the 1970s, writer Suketu Mehta recalls, and the German’s lawyer asked Anita Desai, whose German mother had taught her that language, to sort out the long-settled immigrant’s papers. Desai found among the papers letters from a Jewish woman in a concentration camp during the Nazi years writing to her son. The discovery fuelled Desai’s imagination leading to the creation of what many consider to be her best and most multilayered novel, Baumgartner’s Bombay. Anita Desai had been writing for a decade before Daniyal Mueenuddin, the bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, was born in 1963. But as he began devouring good writers still in business he came to read her Journey to Ithaca. The book, along with eight other Desai gems, has been republished in India by Random House with an introduction by Mueenuddin. Several other writers — some established, like Salman Rushdie and Abraham Verghese and some rising, like Rana Dasgupta — have written introduction to these books. So the next time someone asks you what they can bring from India, you might want to ask for these special paperbacks with masterful insights into the works of one of our most

pre-eminent novelists. What makes Baumgartner’s Bombay special is its understatement and the power of language, Mehta argues. ‘Much of the time, there is choking sadness to Baumgartner — even before he has to leave Germany,’ he notes in his introduction to the book. ‘We do not find a description of the horrors of Dachau; the killing takes place largely in the background. Baumgartner’s is a life waiting to end, almost from the beginning. When he is unable to rescue his mother from the Nazis, he steadily loses any remaining will to live, or to flourish. The novel is a classic study of the guilt of the survivor, but without drumming home the point.’ Like many critics and devoted readers of Desai, Mehta also finds the novel will continue to reveal more in a second, and sometimes third, reading when a reader may be fully able appreciate Desai’s achievement, ‘at the very basic level of sentence construction — how word follows word to make world.’ She can construct an entire universe in a couple of paragraphs, Mehta writes ‘with an accumulation of sensory detail; such as this scene of a Calcutta tenement during WWII: ‘Not that the house provided any kind of shelter from the city…There were always rows of supine bodies covered with white sheets so that they had the appearance of corpses in their shrouds but were only people lying in rows

outside the house and its once gracious, now decayed portico — those who slept in the day were laborers who worked on night shifts, and those who slept at night were families that lived in the cracks and crevices of the building like so many rats, or lice, but came out for a little after dark. Within the walls, sewing machines whirred, typewriters clacked, printing presses thumped, motor mechanics hammered at rusting automobiles, paint was splattered on tin and wood, chickens were plucked and slaughtered and, all the time, the single tap in the courtyard ran and ran over slabs of green and shining stones. Here women washed toppling mountains of pots and pans, filled buckets and kettles, scrubbed screaming children, bathed and washed their hair and carried on a seemingly endless war on filth. The first sound of the morning, long before daybreak, was the chink of a metal pail set on the stone slab beneath the tap and then the rush of water as it filled. Late in the night when the last bit of washing was done, water still ran from the rag that was tied to the brass tap to prevent splashing and one might have imagined a perpetual stream ran through the courtyard. Yet nowhere could one see any sign of cleanliness — the tap only created a morass of mud and slime; children squatted anywhere to urinate or defecate; the washing did not turn the clothes white, only muddier. These

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M34 India Abroad June 2012

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‘A wonderful lesson to see a master create a sense of destiny wrapped around geography’

clothes that were washed daily and it seemed hourly, hung in long festoons from every window and balcony of the building, covering its mottled walls with flags — or shrouds— sixfoot long saris and dhotis forty one of the earliest supporters of inches wide. The whole building Salman Rushdie and she has written seemed to tremble and sway in evan incisive and glorious introduction ery breeze as the garments flapped to his Midnight’s Children, the special or floated or hung limp like the edition by Knopf. hide of an emaciated beast or the Rushdie returns the favor by his brilbedraggled feathers of a molting liant introduction to Desai’s In bird.’ Custody. A story of two young Italian The novel, which was made into a lovers in India and the conflict film starring Shashi Kapoor, Shabana they face because of their individAzmi and Om Puri by Ismail ual desires and passions, Journey Merchant, was praised by The New to Ithaca is also a book filled with York Times as a ‘deft, sometimes a savintrigue as they come to deal with age, comedy …’ Mother, a charismatic guru. Rushdie, who saw the 1984 novel Daniyal Mueenuddin praises not more than the tragedy of an individual, only Desai’s craft, but also her hails it as a radical departure for Desai. humanity and her refusal to be The day after J M Coetzee’s novel judgmental of people seeking nirDisgrace was announced as the winner vana in India, some times out of of the 1999 Booker Prize, novelist genuine impulses and at times Rana Dasgupta writes in his introducbecause of mistaken goals. tion to Fasting, Feasting, ‘the consen‘Reading Desai, we see how sual smiles of the judges broke, and it much more nuanced their encobecame clear that the adjudication had unter with India was than that of been inharmonious. the previous imperial generation,’ In an article for The Guardian, John he writes. ‘…Yet, this is a very much Sutherland, Professor of English at a book about misunderstandings. University College, London, leaked Among its virtues is that it manhints of divisions and encampments ages to convey all the innocence on the panel — so incurring the wrath and confusion of the seekers from of the other judges, who wrote furious the West and all the hirsute and articles of their own, lambasting him mundane spirituality of India, for his indiscretion. From the ensuing without being beguiled by either — war of words it became clear that the Desai takes sides neither with one book that had divided them was Anita nor the other of the two cultures.’ PARESH GANDHI Desai’s Fasting, Feasting, which the Abraham Verghese, Stanford two female judges, writers Shena University medical professor and Anita Desai’s career is highlighted by numerous awards, including the 1978 the author of the novel Cutting for National Academy of Letters Award for Fire on the Mountain, her first novel to be Mackay and Natasha Walter, were conStone, which recently completed brought to the US; the Guardian Prize for Children’s Fiction in 1983; the Literary vinced should take the prize,’ Dasgupta observes in the introduction. two years on The New York Times’ Lion Award in 1993. She has been shortlisted thrice for the Booker Prize ‘Outnumbered on the panel, their bestseller list, is also a fond admirbeauty, its mingling of the secular and spiri- opinion was nevertheless strong enough to er of Baumgartner’s Bombay. But he wrote an introduction to The Zigzag tual into quotidian rituals, the bastardizing demand expression,’ he continues, ‘and the Way, a book set in Mexico without an Indian and deboning of indigenous culture to leave Booker Prize judges took the unprecedented character because Verghese has also long a hollow shell, and the parallel parody of a step of naming Fasting, Feasting as runnerclass posturing as European, claiming a Eu- up.’ been interested in that culture. He knows why this admirable novel can ‘I read eagerly, but with apprehension, rope that disowned it long ago.’ Eric’s zigzag journey forms the skeleton of also create problems for some readers and hoping that she had not over reached,’ he muses in the introduction. ‘I confess I was the narrative, and on those bones are draped judges. ‘It is no surprise that this novel should create conflict. Fasting, Feasting ready to be critical, because I felt possessive other stories, like that of Dona Vera. ‘She is an unforgettable character, a takes as its subject some of society’s most about a culture that I had adopted, married into, and thought I grasped. What I found woman who finds the meaning that has uncomfortable and pathological aspects,’ he out was how little I really knew; in reading eluded her in her life, and also seals her explains, ‘and it refuses to redeem them with Desai, I saw and understood Mexico anew. It escape from her husband by becoming the aesthetic flourish. It is stern, unflinching and was a wonderful and humbling lesson to see unlikely champion of the Huichol Indians,’ tragic. ‘With its two linked novellas, one set in a master create a sense of place, a sense of Verghese further notes in the introduction to India and the other in the United States, the destiny wrapped around geography, a sense the book. ‘Academics and visitors throng to her novel gives an excruciating account of how of a nation still defining its nationhood.’ The notion of Dia de los Muertos, the dead hacienda where she presides at the dinner society can seize control of individuals — incarnate at least for that day, is central to table; seated at the far end of the table are especially women — through such practices The Zigzag Way, critical to its denouement, three Huichol Indians, tricked up in elabo- as eating, and remove them from everything Verghese writes. ‘The story of a young rate native costume, ignored by the other they intended to be.’ The book is also notable for its two central American, Eric, seeking to learn more about diners, on display to lend ‘authenticity’ to her characters, Dasgupta adds. ‘Uma in the first, his grandfather, who he knows made an soirees.’ The book is strengthened by Desai’s great who is slow and captive, her attention conimprobable journey from Cornwall, England to the silver mines of Mexico, is the means by sympathy for all the characters, especially fined where others might race on; and, in the which Desai approaches Mexico, not to those ‘who at first blush seem less likable; second, her brother Arun, who leaves India understand it (because Mexico is beyond what comes across also is gentle instruction, for the first time to study in the United understanding, most of all to its own citi- wisdom about the human condition, which, States, and finds himself assaulted by the zens),’ he continues, ‘but to lay out its con- whether in Delhi or Bombay, or a silver mine strangeness of the mundane.’ „ flicting parts: The politics of identity, the in Mexico, is endlessly instructive.’ Many people may not know that Desai was — Arthur J Pais irony of its warring selves, its stark physical


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‘A brilliant anatomist of men and women’ Anita Desai deftly sketches lost landscapes of the Indian soul in her latest book

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lators, some who knew India and what government official is called she has written, and others doing more upon to inspect a crumbling mechanical work. mansion of forgotten treasDesai says she based the story on ures, each sent home by the translators she has known over the absent, itinerant master. years. ‘I realized that all translators, As he is taken through the estate, they all long to be writers themselves,’ wondering whether to save these relshe told NPR. ‘If they didn’t have that ics, he may have to reach a gift which longing, they probably wouldn’t be the writer Anita Desai may be hiding very good translators, but a lot of them for him in the shadows. do have that creative urge — and my This is one of the three stories, The character Prema Joshi simply gets carMuseum of Final Journeys, in her latried away.’ est book, The Artist of Disappearance: She has never felt that her work was Three Novellas. translated unfaithfully, but her daughThe mansion is filled with globes ter, Booker Prize-winning novelist and travel posters, stuffed birds and Kiran Desai wrote Hullabaloo in the lizards, masks, daggers, bells and Guava Orchard, a very funny book clocks. The official calls it a ‘gloomy that, when translated into Scandinstorehouse of abandoned, disused, avian languages, didn’t make anyone decaying objects,’ and declares he laugh. wishes to ‘break free and flee.’ ‘There was no humor left in it what“The story started with a landscape I soever,’ Anita Desai said. saw more than 50 years ago when I In the third story in The Artist of had visited my sister Roma who was Disappearance, a character named an IAS (Indian Administrative ServRavi lives a hermit-like existence, worice) officer,” Desai said. “When we travking on a rock sculpture hidden in the eled to the rural areas we came across Himalayan foothills. many abandoned mansions and they “Again, this story goes back to my invited us to inspect the history within childhood, especially a place called Kathem.” sauli (Himachal Pradesh). There was a Many years later Desai was in Venice visiting a museum of Oriental art filled strange intensity in the landscape, and with colorful objects the owner had I have come to realize that what a child collected during his travels in Asia. “I sees in the landscape is a very different thought of researching and writing a Anita Desai’s first book in seven years sees her dabbling with the novella experience from an adult looking at the book on a modern day Marco Polo,” format for the first time same landscape. The images of a she says, “but I also thought it would take a Globe reiterated the timelessness of Desai’s strange landscape and what I imagined to be long time to work on it. Meanwhile, the seed work, ‘Desai’s novellas are classic, entranced haunted houses have stayed with me for that had been sown during the countryside with the grace of slowly unspooling narra- decades. In this milieu, I place an artist. I travels with Roma didi years ago had been tive...breathtaking portraits of contempo- don’t tell you what is going on in his mind, growing, acquiring leaves and fruit, and that rary India.’ but he has chosen to withdraw and live as a is how The Museum of Final Journey came Even the Bible Belt could not resist her hermit.” about.” This artist has never really entered the books. ‘As shrewd as she is compassionate, In another interview Desai said the idea Desai crafts little snow globes in which char- adult world, and he retains the child’s point for the story took definite shape while she acters — trapped, magnified and exposed to of view, she continues. ‘He never really thiwas walking through the museum — the unfriendly eyes — try to find ways to live nks of himself as an artist. He has no desire objects, taken from their original homes, within their limits,’ wrote The Columbus to reveal it to the outer world. He simply seemed orphaned, she said. ‘Having been Dispatch. doesn’t have those adult impulses and ambiremoved from where they belonged, where In Translator, Translated, Prema meets tions.’ they’d been made, they had lost the quality her successful publisher friend Tara at a When a television crew from Delhi comes of life,’ she mused. ‘They all were just objects school reunion and is hired as a translator to to visit, they view the artist Ravi and his — shut up in glass cases, which made me bring Oriya language work into English, but work in a different light, leading to the queswonder: What makes people collect such Prema is lost in her own world and begins to tion: Is there art without an audience? objects? What can it mean to anyone?’ Desai’s books have touched and provoked blur the line between writer and translator. Her latest book was an Editor’s Choice “I am fond of good translators and they are thousands across the world for more than in The New York Times Book Review. ‘Desai artists in their own right,” Desai says. “I had four decades, but she thinks Ravi could be is a brilliant anatomist of men and women Indian translations in my mind when I right. who seek and gain, but fail to triumph,’ worked on this idea. Indian translators are ‘All of us who have ever written, composed declared The New York Times. sadly neglected by our publishers and as a music (or) painted know that when we perNPR felt it was ‘A pleasurably irony read- result many wonderful books in Indian lan- formed these acts, we are not in touch with ing about these lost landscapes of the Indian guages are either poorly translated or not the world,’ she told NPR, ‘We are completely soul sketched so deftly by Anita Desai.’ withdrawn from it and in our own world. We translated at all.” The Washington Post found it ‘Superb... She mused about the translation of her are re-creating an inner world with that.’ „ deceptively subtle, slightly surreal and pro- own work in nearly a dozen languages and foundly insightful fiction’ while The Boston the conversation she has had with the trans- — Arthur J Pais


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Susanne H Rudolph and Lloyd I Rudolph

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Truly, Legends No one has devoted their lives to the study of India as Susanne H Rudolph and Lloyd I Rudolph have, which is why we honor them with the India Abroad Friend of India Award 2011. In this riveting conversation with Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, the professors explain their six decades-long magnificent obsession with India


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n 1956, a young, eager American couple, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph and Lloyd I Rudolph, glimpsed their first spectacular view of India, after they crossed the Khyber Pass and entered the country near Amritsar in a dusty Land Rover all the way from London. Unlike Alexander the Great or Darius I or Genghis Khan or Timurlane or Mohammed Ghazni or the British generals, who marched back and forth between India, the future Pakistan and Afghanistan, via the Khyber Pass, the Rudolphs were conquerors of an altogether different kind. The Rudolphs ventured to India to get to know the country. Inside out. They spent the next few decades, with intense intellectual curiosity, exploring the Idea of India. Faithfully understanding its culture. Its pungent, piquant, flavor. Looking back into its turbulent history. Delving into its archaeology. Diligently fathoming its politics and the dynamics of its leadership. Criss-crossing the country to meet its people. There has arguably not been anyone who has studied India at such length as Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph. And in such depth. Theirs was a two-member, double-barreled, approach. The Rudolphs, maverick professors of political science, first at Harvard, later at the University of Chicago, presented their India — academically — to the world through lectures, papers, essays, graduate courses and books. Being multidisciplinary scientists they did not analyze just the politics of the country, but introduced India in all its fullness and color. Their exhaustive study of India has brought them a special status in the academic world. The Rudolphs’ focus on India continues. Susanne is today a frail 82 and Lloyd a more hearty 85. But age does not stop their peregrinations or their zeal to understand their adopted culture. They have three up-and-running homes across the world. A two-level snug house, packed with a variety of serious Indian and European artifacts, overlooking the Bay in Berkeley. A more traditional, much larger, white frame house at Silver Lake in the tiny town of Barnard in Vermont. And a third home, some 8,000 miles east on Shantipath in bustling, colorful Jaipur in Rajasthan. Their year is neatly divided between these three homes. Winter in India. Spring, fall and part of winter in California. The summers are reserved for Vermont. Like their year, their lives are devoted, in equal parts, to India and the United States and, of course, each other. They know India better than many Indians do. Their roots are American. But their way of life is Indian. “We felt part of India and India felt part of us.” The Rudolphs discuss their extraordinary and affectionate relationship with a second homeland with India Abroad:

Sanskrit at Harvard) Lloyd: Eventually she finished her PhD and I finished my PhD at Harvard and we went to India for our first research year. We got this Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Grant, each of us. We were there 1956 to 1957. Actually we were going around with Mr R Venkataraman, later the president of India, (he regards us as his rabbit’s foot) — he was campaigning in Thanjavur district and he won his MP seat — when we got a telegram in February 1957 (appointing them both as professors at Harvard). (Rewinding) we bought a Land Rover in London and drove overland from London over the Khyber Pass to India through the whole Middle East, camping all the way. How old were both of you? Susanne: 22 and 24. Lloyd: I think we were a little older than that. Is that what we were? We were 24 and 26. Susanne: His judgment is sometimes right. Lloyd: We had arrived in the fall of 1956 and spent the first six months in Rajasthan and six months in Tamil Nadu (known as Madras in those days). That was the basis for the research for our first book

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph in Rajasthan in 1956, their first trip to India together

What first drew you to India? Susanne: It started a bit with me. I was interested in India as a historical and political phenomenon. Actually, I started being interested in China. Then China went revolutionary, didn’t want me in as a researcher. So, I said what’s most like China? We had blank visions of what the world was like — China… India. In 1949 they all seemed the same. So, I went from China to India. Once I got to India, it bit me. And I started doing history and political science, both with a Sanskrit teacher in Harvard, which was all that Harvard had in the way of teachers, because it didn’t have anything on Indian history or on Indian politics, but they had a Sanskritist, who was very wise and exposed me to the history books. His name was Daniel (Henry Holmes) Ingalls (Sr, Wales Professor of

The Honor Roll Journalist, author and diplomat Strobe Talbott was awarded the inaugural India Abroad Friend of India Award for his key role in shaping the new India-United States relationship.

From The Editors For their insightful perspective of India spanning six decades; for their deep engagement with Indian society and history; and for being the steadiest friends of India.

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called The Modernity of Tradition, which is still in print. What continues to draw you to India? Susanne: We have become part of the scenery, I think. Becoming part of the Indian middle class is plausible (even) for an American. The fact that we landed in Jaipur is important. Had we landed in Delhi, we would have met too many Americans and too many Englishmen. There was hardly an American or Englishman or a foreigner in Jaipur. We were practically the only ones, which meant that the only people who could befriend us, or whom we could befriend, were Indians and so we sort of naturally fitted into the environment over time. People invited us, showed us their India and that was one of the reasons why, I think, we were drawn to India. We now feel so much part of it that it is hard to make distinctions.

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Pioneers, always

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And the interesting thing is that I think it is passing onto our children. Lloyd: To supplement what Sue is saying: When we came to Jaipur, we were lucky for a variety of happy circumstances that we came to live with an Indian family. It was a well off Indian family. He was the Thakur of Bissau. In Rajasthan you have these feudal lords. So he had about three or four forts and a hundred villages in the old days, before land reform. He had a big house in Jaipur. (The Thakur) invited us to live with him because the hotel we were staying in belonged to a maharaja and he did not want to redo it (make changes in the hotel to be) the way we wanted it. So for six months we lived with the Thakur, his wife, the maharani, who spoke English, and he had two teenage children. There were only two people in Rajasthan at that time who had been abroad to

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Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph go through then Indian president R Venkataraman’s photographs from his election campaign in February 1957 in Tamil Nadu, when they accompanied him as observers. That experience launched a lifelong friendship

study. The Thakur had been to Oxford. And the Raja of Khetri had been to Cambridge, who just lived up the street in another big house. By living in that house we witnessed, you might say, the end of the old regime in India, because at that time the princes had to give up their power and the jagirdars (land owners) had to give up their land. It was called jagirdar resumption. George, he was known as George, Raghubir Singh, the Thakur of Bissau, two or three nights a week would have parties. He would have 20, 30, 40 people and they would all come and have drinks and dinner often didn’t turn up till 11 or 12 o’clock. We learned to drink Scotch and soda and to not drink too much. But these guys were all the big nobleman and maharajas, who were talking about what to do to save their skins, to save their land, to save their incomes. It was as if you were going through the French Revolution and these guys did not get beheaded. They just got their lands taken back. So, we were in the inside of the old regime. In fact, we wrote about this in one of our books. We felt so involved. These people got to be great friends. We traveled all over Rajasthan, met all kinds of people. Susanne: We got a story, as it were, about jagirdar resumption and the whole rural revolution. We then got to know other kinds of people. We were very interested in the people who had made the revolution in Rajasthan — the Jats, for example, and the Kumars. They had made the revolution to some extent and we got involved with their way of looking at Rajasthan and the Rajputs. Lloyd: There was also an interior reason (why we were drawn to India). We got to be great friends with people (in the first) six months in Rajasthan. Then we went south to Tamil Nadu and we got to know R Venkataraman. But we got to know a lot of people — actually jour-

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fter earning their PhDs in political science from Harvard, the Rudolphs were fortunate to get parallel appointments in the political science department at Harvard. Says Professor Susanne H Rudolph: “At that time — in 1957 — there were very few women’s appointments made in universities/colleges in the United States. The fact that Harvard had appointed both of us, at the same time, in the same department, sort of set a precedent so that other colleges and university that were thinking about hiring had to look at this precedent.” Their numerous research years in India brought several benefits to Harvard. The Rudolphs’ knowledge of India enriched the course offerings, in an era when political science was mostly focused on the Western world. Says Professor Lloyd I Rudolph: “When we got to Harvard and started teaching, (Sue) introduced an Indian history course which had never been taught at Harvard. We introduced an Indian politics course, which had never been taught at Harvard. She with Daniel Ingalls, the Sanskritist, introduced an Indian civilization course. All three of these courses first time ever at Harvard as a result of us coming back and getting these jobs.” Adds Susanne: “We taught comparative politics at Harvard and (at the University of Chicago). Comparative politics requires that you have something to compare. It was the habit of people, at that time, to make comparisons between England and America, France and England, England and Germany and so forth. There was hardly any study of anything east of the Suez. And we started making comparative courses of India and the US.” The Rudolphs were perhaps the first professors to introduce India into education courses in America. Susanne’s expertise made her an attractive choice when it came to choosing a president of the American Political Science Association, a prestigious post she was eventually voted to. Says her husband, “She was not the first woman, but an early woman. The big thing was that the people who became presidents, studied American politics or some version thereof or they studied international relations or they studied political theory/ political thought and occasionally a president might have studied a subject like Britain, possibly France. But she was the first one (to have studied) India (or Asia). So, it is quite a miracle that Sue got to be president of the APSA because India was a subject that few people knew or cared about.” In 1964 both professors moved to Chicago to take positions at the University of Chicago’s political science department. They worked in Chicago for nearly 40 years. By focusing on India they popularized the area studies approach to political science. Explains Lloyd, “We also push something called — which came to be called — area studies. In political science there is a big tension between those who think they are scientists and those who think they are studying a country with its languages, civilizations, history and so forth. So, we are area studies people.” The Modernity of Tradition, Gandhi: The Traditional Roots of Charisma, In Pursuit of Lakshmi: The Political Economy of the Indian State, The Idea of Rajasthan, Reversing the Gaze: Amar Singh’s Diary, A Colonial Subject’s Narrative of Imperial India, Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays: Gandhi in the World and at Home are some of the Rudolphs’ most talked about, jointly authored, books. They have written eight books in all. One of their papers published in 1960 in Pacific Affairs, a Canada-based political science journal focusing on Asia, The Political Role of India’s Caste Associations, where the Rudolphs stated their position on caste with respect to democracy, became the journal’s most cited paper and was republished recently. „ — Vaihayasi Pande Daniel


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ur academic careers began roughly fifty years ago when we arrived in India in 1956 with two Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellowships. Our teaching careers came to a close at the University of Chicago on April 2003 with a Festschrift conference on ‘Area Studies Redux: Situating Knowledge in a Globalizing World’. These two singular moments in our academic lives emphasize that ‘area studies’ were central to our inquiries in the fifty-one essays found in the three volumes of Explaining Indian Democracy: A Fifty-Year Perspective. Area studies captures a central tendency of the method and substance of our work on Indian politics. Our early take on area studies is indicated by the title of the book we wrote on the basis of the research for the 1956 foreign area training grants, The Modernity of Tradition. Unlike the view of the then regnant modernization theory — that tradition would be swept into the dustbin of history and that ‘they’ were destined to become like ‘us’ — we found that tradition was often adaptive, change dialectical, not dichotomous, and that ‘we’ could learn from ‘them’. In The Modernity of Tradition’s introduction, we warned readers about ‘the imperialism of categories and historical possibilities’. Was a prosperous middle class, as Seymour Martin Lipset held, a ‘requisite of democracy’ in India? Could social change in India be explained by the dichotomous ‘pattern variables’ posited by Edward Shils and Talcott Parsons, or captured by the structural-functional variables posited by Gabriel Almond? We took an alternative view, a view captured in the topics addressed in the three parts of The Modernity of Tradition, ‘Traditional Structures and Modern Politics: Caste’; ‘The Traditional Roots of Charisma: Gandhi’; and ‘Legal Cultures and Social Change: Panchayats, Pandits and Professionals’. Change in India, we found, could be best understood as adaptations of a complex and variegated traditional society and culture. Almost fifty years later, the ‘Area Studies Redux’ conference in April 2003 revisited area studies by confronting issues raised by global processes and formal modes of inquiry. 11 September had challenged America’s parochialism by reminding it that the country lived in a diverse and complex world, but lacked adequate means to grasp its meanings. 9/11 brought to the fore the realization that knowledge of the other’s languages, ways of life, and worldviews mattered for America’s security and prosperity. Instead of asking ‘why can’t they be more like us’, Americans should be asking, what can we learn about them, and how can we live with difference? Long before the events of 9/11 challenged American parochialism, social scientists had begun to bypass area studies in favor of using data sets to statistically test formal models and run ‘large-n’country studies. As Princeton professor Stephen Kotkin put it in a New York Times article of 7 September 2002, if you tried to find a full-time political scientist who specializes in the Middle East or South Asia at the nation’s universities, you’d almost be out of luck. The absence of regional experts in political science departments of many elite universities

‘Writing about India has kept us fully engaged’ 9/11 brought to the fore the realization that knowledge of the other’s languages, ways of life, and worldviews mattered for America’s security and prosperity... note Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph

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Left, the Rudolphs at the Lake Palace, Rajasthan. They first came to India in 1956-1957, and kept returning along with their children, who attended Indian schools, above, and established lifelong ties with the country

goes back to long-running, rancorous debate over the best method for understanding the way the world works: Is it using statistics and econometrics to identify universal patterns that underlie all economic and political systems, or zeroing in on a particular area and mastering its languages, cultures and institutions? By 2003 we had come to understand area studies knowledge as situated knowledge, knowledge that is located and marked by time and place and circumstance. It is unlike the objective knowledge on offer by those who adhere to a universal social science epistemology based on the obsolete methods of Newtonian science which purports to be true everywhere and always. Unlike such theorydriven universal social science knowledge, area studies knowledge tends to be problemdriven and more prone to inductive generalization than to deductive reasoning. In 1956 we had recently finished our degrees at Harvard. We were among the first generation of American scholars to do research in post-colonial India. We purchased

a Land Rover for delivery in London, and set off in mid-July on an overland journey across Europe to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan, crossing into the Indian subcontinent over the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, traveling through the Punjab to Lahore and Amritsar, and then on to New Delhi and Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan in India’s northwest. During six months of research in Jaipur we lived with an Indian family, struck roots and made friends. In February we traveled overland by Land Rover to Madras in southeast India. We were committed to learning about India’s south as well as its north, and British as well as princely India. Our route took us first to Bombay on the west coast, and then to Bangalore in the Deccan, in 1957 a bustling post-colonial city, now the heart of India’s information technology industry. The first was 1956-7, and 1999-2000 was the last of eleven years spent in India doing academic research. Starting in 1962-3 with the first of our three children, we took them along. They attended Indian schools where they made friends, competed in sports, and learned Hindi... Writing about Indian politics, society, and history for fifty years has kept us fully engaged. We are still at it. „ Excerpted from their introduction to Explaining Indian Democracy: A Fifty Year Perspective 1956-2006, with the kind permission of Oxford University Press


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The Rudolphs with their collaborator Mohan Singh, the late Thakur of Kanota, center, in Jaipur in 1971. This was shot at Thakur Amar Singh’s Chhatri (an architectural element that demarcates funerary sites), while they worked on his diary

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nalists. Eventually, we got to know N Ram, who is The Hindu editor (Mr Ram retired as editor-in-chief this January), many very prominent journalists and businessmen. The fact is, for whatever reason, they took us in. Everybody was incredibly open and friendly Susanne: And taught us. So, we lived (within) the Indian culture on the whole. Our household was set up pretty much as a middle-class Indian household would have been, including service and food. The children took to Indian education — they went to the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls Public School in Jaipur and Matthew went to St Xavier’s and then they all went to Woodstock (a school run by American missionaries in Mussoorie in the Himalayas), which was more American. The Jaipur schools were very much Indian schools and they lived an Indian educational life. Lloyd: I guess India very quickly became part of our feeling at home. We felt part of India and India felt part of us. The first year was a tremendous success, in terms of us getting involved and writing a book about it. Susanne: Not all of the years were a success, though. The second year we spent in Delhi. Delhi was much colder. Emotionally. Climate-wise also. But emotionally was what mattered. It was harder to get to know people; you had to spin long webs in order to get to know people. And when they saw you they put you in a category with diplomats or scholars — you were very categorized. So, Delhi was much less satisfactory than Jaipur had been. Jaipur was eventually very intimate and continues to be, although it becomes less intimate over time. We had 300,000 people when we went first went. It has gone to 3 million and that is not the same kind of home. Lloyd: We have (in India) happily many old and long-standing friends over several generations, now. You have devoted 60 years to your study of India (over 11 research years and after that, since 2002, 10 years of spending three-month-long stints in India). In addition to your vast experience of India, what do you feel are the most special perspectives you offer of India in contrast to others in this field, perhaps equipped with the same experience? Susanne: We focused on a number of things in our first book — Mahatma Gandhi, the legal system — but one of the things we focused on is caste. Caste was highly controversial at that time. People were getting rid of caste. There was no caste in India. Caste had disappeared. The Constitution got rid of it. There was a big statement that caste was gone. And we took the opposite point of view. We said it has not only not gone, but it has got a new life under democracy. Lloyd: It had a new life in the democracy… that was a famous phrase. Susanne: Democracy was able to use caste to its advantage. People who were running for democratic office learned how to use caste as a means of running for office, so we stressed this side. It was very controversial. People wrote editorials (in Indian newspapers) saying that the Rudolphs say there is caste. We all know there is no caste in India. It was interesting. Lloyd: This was very unpopular. Here is the point: India did not have a lot of associational life. That is how do you get representative processes going? Well, our argument was that the way people know each other, in the first instance, in India is usually through caste. We did a lot of research. Caste starts often, for lower castes particularly, as self-help groups. They would form legal associations. They would establish hostels so people could go to school. They would even have lending institutions and so forth. It was a way for people to help themselves and to represent themselves. We came up with this paradox that eventually caste was anticaste in the following way. The huge numerous lower castes in Madras and Rajasthan, they had the numbers. And when they got mobilized they could elect people. Getting power, they were able to get access to resources and benefits and jobs This got out of hand eventually. It got to be just patronage and benefits only. But initially it was social mobility. So, (for instance) a man named Kamaraj Nadar — the Nadars were toddy tappers, kind of quasi untouchables but not quite untouchable — he got to be the chief minister and the big man in Congress and the Nadars became very power-

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ful people in Madras. So, we often reduce this to a slogan here (we don’t like doing this but): From Brahmin raj to Shudra raj, India moves via caste. Susanne: It was in the early days a very unpopular view, now it is a general view. It is no longer revolutionary or unconventional. Lloyd: But it is also now out of hand. Now caste has become very self serving, rather than helping themselves for social mobility and gaining self respect and respect from others. That is what caste initially did. Susanne: What (also) sets us apart from (other India specialists) is that we are shamelessly interdisciplinary. And most folks doing comparative politics are not interdisciplinary. We do archaeology. We do history. We do political science. We do culture and we try to do some of all of them. That’s the University of Chicago imprint on us. The University of Chicago is very strong at encouraging multi-disciplinary studies. That distinguishes us to some extent from other scholars. At what points or in what areas are you at times not sure or doubt your understanding of India? Or does that happen all the time and India always surprises you? Susanne: Well, this caste thing has been very interesting because it has so greatly changed. The situation, when we first met it in Rajasthan and Madras in 19561957, was a situation, where if you were American liberals like us, you cheered on behalf of the lower castes, because they were making a space for themselves. They were having a position for themselves. They had a voice, democrats like us liked that. Now when you come to 2012, you have a different kind of situation, where it has become much more a matter of patronage and give away and taking the state treasury, which is a very different point of view and gives us a very different notion. Now you say caste somehow has got to be de-emphasized. Something else has to be emphasized — quality and status and capacity on the part of civil servants and government people, so they are less children of caste and they are the children of merit. Lloyd: We are rolling with the punch. We introduced the idea of caste and politics as a way of creating a new social mobility in a (new) democratic India. But now it has gotten quite different. We have been open to what is going on. So, in our last piece in Pacific Affairs (an interdisciplinary journal published out of Vancouver) we had from Brahmin Raj to Shudra Raj, now we have from Brahmin Raj to Goonda Raj. Also, let me turn your question on its head. When we began working on India, India was pictured in America, and to some extent in Europe, as a country that was non-literate. People say illiterate, we say non-literate, a lot of difference. India was poor, a kind of a basket case in 1956. The big scholar Seymour Martin Lipset (a political sociologist at the Hoover Institution) wrote a very important article about the conditions under which a country could have democracy. It had to have a numerous, prosperous, middle class. This article became a dominant view and it was pictured that it was impossible to have democracy in India. What we did was quite the other way around. We pushed the idea that yes, India could be a democracy and one of the reasons it could be a democracy is very paradoxical — it had caste. People could join together, represent themselves, participate, be represented. So, we wrote against Seymour Martin Lipset. We were fighting an uphill fight because he was the big name in the field and he had written a defini-

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my. To some extent some capitalism has saved some of the Indian economy. That was a surprise. And emotionally how is India developing, do you feel? Lloyd: It is a hard question. I think India is getting more like the rest of the world, up to a point. It still has enormous diversity and color and distinctiveness, but… Susanne: When all the villages go away, India is not going to look the same. And the middle class people will sort of regret it. Yes (I think the villages are going away). It is very interesting, we have driven through the same Rajasthan villages, numerous times over, over a 10-year period and 20-year period and what happens is that the dhoti gives way to the pants, to the jeans. And it is interesting how much difference from the dhoti to jeans, how much difference it makes when it colors the rest of the clothing, when it colors what signatures you put on your cottages and on your houses, when all sorts of advertising springs up that has nothing to do with the

tive work on who could be a democracy and India couldn’t be a democracy. We had a chip on our shoulder about India for a long time and we had to fight. Happily, one of the surprises, we were constantly being rewarded — India had one good election after the other. They threw the rascals out. New governments came in. Things are more difficult just now. Susanne: Democracy worked better than anybody thought it could possibly work. And are there times when you doubt your understanding of India? Susanne: Indira Gandhi was under a different kind of direction, but not hard to understand. There was an alternative possibility in Indian politics, which she picked up. But what was surprising in some ways was how quickly the country hit back. We expected the country to hit back, but the American scholars were deeply divided. Many of them thought that this (the Emergency) was the natural government for India — Indira Gandhi’s government. There were many of us who thought it was unnatural, but might last. But when it was ousted so quickly, we all cheered and were surprised. Lloyd: I guess that was a surprise. (For) Indira Gandhi herself in 1977. She would not have called that election unless people told her, looking at surveys and polls, that she was going to win the election. But the surprise was that she didn’t win the election. (She lost) in such a big way. And the Janata (Party) came in. COURTESY: THE MEWAR F0UNDATION The Rudolphs receive the Colonel James Tod award from Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar. Susanne: One of the things that were inter- After Tod, they are perhaps the only foreigners to have written so authoritatively about Rajputana esting about her realm was that the civil servants were very much, initially, on her side, because she was efficient. India we all thought of. I have a collection of udhnis (chunnis/stoles) from 1960 from She encouraged efficiency. She encouraged thrift. She encouraged all kinds of good bureaucratic virtues. But they were overridden in the Rajasthan that is terrific. You can’t get it any more. Lloyd: In every region, the design and the colors and the patterns later years by the fact that there was corruption, there was authoritarwere different. You could tell where a person was from because they ianism. The positive side was emphasis on strong bureaucracy. Lloyd: She called for a committed bureaucracy. But that did not had a distinctive udhni. Susanne: Now you can hardly find an udhni. If you find one you can mean the bureaucrats had to be committed to their professionalism. It no longer find one from other regions. You find one kind of udhni and meant they should be committed to her. That was in the latter part. We had a friend named (E N ) Mangat Rai. Nehru’s sister’s daughter it is a kind of a cheapened version of the carefree woven village craft was a famous novelist, Nayantara Sahgal. She was living with and udhni. They are wearing things from the cities and also the ones they eventually married this guy Mangat Rai, who was a famous civil ser- weave themselves no longer have that same quality. Lloyd: You see one of the reasons we write about Gandhi was because vant. He wrote a book called Commitment, My Style which was a book against being a committed bureaucrat for Indira, but being committed Gandhi tried pretty hard to make the village crafts and industries productive. He wanted — people don’t realize how much he complained to India and to professionalism. You have been watching India for decades. What do you feel about all the time — that (Jawaharlal) Nehru was investing in science and technology. He said, ‘Look you put some of that money into how you where India is today? What kind of road is India on? Susanne: Well, you would have answered that question differently improve things in the village.’ For example, the bullock cart could — eventually got — pneumatic last year than you do this year. Last year it looked as though the high percentage of growth — 8 to 9 percent — was going to be the growth tires and ball bearings instead of a wooden wheel, but Gandhi was a from now on. You thought that the leadership was on the whole was great admirer of machines that served. As he said you should not be a slave to a machine. You should be master of the machine. handling it, with wisdom and prudence. He would like computers. You can work at home with the computer. This year, because of the great scandals that have burst over the year, and the decline in the economic condition of the world, these two You are the master of the computer. One of the things that was so disthings coinciding with each other, the situation looks much less bright tinctive about Gandhi as a thinker was that he took traditional ideas — swaraj, ahimsa — all these things, these were all Indian terms, which than it did last year. Lloyd: The corruption scandals, the IT scandals, the slowing down of he gave new meanings to and new practice to. That is what we are lamenting: India has not been able to keep up growth. Economists are discussing what has happened to India’s growth. But the fact is that we are down to 6 percent, there are people this kind of Gandhian (direction). Our first book is called The saying it is going to go lower and the Congress leadership, not only Modernity of Tradition, which is how India can use its ideas, its instiSonia (Gandhi), but Manmohan Singh, (P) Chidambaram, all these tutions, to remain Indian, but make a go of it in the modern world. Susanne: This raises an interesting question about the whole comguys are now looking like they have feet of clay. They were looking pretty good a couple of years ago. Intelligent, and that they could han- puter revolution. Gandhi would have liked the computer. But would he have liked the dle it. Susanne: One of the things that we would not have predicted in 1989 computer revolution which transforms all relationships? Would he have thought the transformation of relationships a gain or is that India would be as prosperous as it was in 2011. In some ways the predictions of that earlier point were much more pessimistic about the a loss? It is a gain in the sense that people can communicate in rapid ways, future. That was just on the eve of the tremendous economic changes that (Prime Minister P V) Narasimha Rao had to make. And the effect holistic ways, they couldn’t before. But it also has the withdrawal of it had on the Indian economy. 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If nothing of it is preserved, a certain India can vanish. Lloyd: One of the earliest fights was the question: Is India a country that is massively illiterate? Our point, early on, in writing, was that India was non-literate. We saw in Rajasthan those big screens and the bhopas (Rajasthani M42 priest folk singers) would come and perform all night and all day and they knew everything — the story of Dhola-Maru (a folk tale about a Romeo-Juliet-esque pair) and all these stories. humanity from that apparatus. Which way would he (look at it)? And there were the village Ramayanas — we went to Dussheras in Lloyd: You see we have a place in Vermont and Vermont is one of those states that retains its rural qualities and village quality, to a point. various places — everyone had their own ideas, performers and so One of the ways it is doing that — and this is one side of the computer forth. So the image in the world — when we began working on India — was IT revolution — a lot of people work at home. You can be in touch with the world while sitting in your village in Vermont, shall we say. (I am) that they were illiterate. That is that they could not read and write. But we knew, we quickly found out, that people in village India knew a helNot saying that is happening in India in a big way. Susanne: It would be interesting to give a seminar on Gandhi and luva a lot about everything, a lot about their traditions and their heroes, heroines. the computer revolution. (Laughs.) Would you take that course? We had a great friend named Komal Kothari (a folklore specialist). What are the disappointments you have felt watching India move He was a big naturalist and preserved music. He was so unhappy about along? Susanne: The biggest disappointment is the commercialization of the education in Rajasthan. (Growing up) village kids would learn cultures, the advertising, the hotels, the transformation of weddings, about grasses and fauna and flora and they knew that you could grow this here, but you could not grow this here and that (Rajasthan had) the transformation of all public rituals. I think India has always overdone public rituals. In the 15th century microclimates. They learnt that at home. But when they went to school they learned what was the climate in they overdid public rituals. But the way they are now doing public rituals, it deprives the public England or something (like that). So there is a huge amount of local ritual of domestic and local roots. It is based more on New York or knowledge and local culture and local civilization and when you say Bombay than it is on village Rajasthan. And when it is based on village illiterate, it is so off the point. The oral traditions and the performing traditions — that was what Rajasthan, it is a bad transformation of village Rajasthan. Lloyd: We had a very distinguished colleague at the University of was so exciting about India 40 or 50 years ago. You went there and saw Chicago, A K Ramanujan (the poet, scholar and folklorist, who wrote in that village India was not a bunch of impoverished people. People have 1991, the essay Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three an idea that (it is like) an American slum. There is village poverty, no Thoughts on Translations ). And he and others wrote about the many doubt about it, but this side is totally invisible to people. Having divided your life between India and the US over half a century, simplistically speaking what is the good you absorb from and the bad you acknowledge of each culture? And which aspects of each culture have you drawn sustenance to run your life? Susanne: On the positive side in some ways, Jaipur is at the center of what one has learned, but there is a much bigger India. It is the enormous stage-like quality of India — Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar. (In Bihar) the current hero Nitish Kumar has stepped forward (on the stage) as against Laloo Prasad Yadav. When India puts its heroes and villains on stage, it really puts them on stage, in ways that no other place that I know does it. Then in some ways it dramatizes politics. And it makes it all terribly interesting. Also, I find very few middle class males in India who don’t read the paper in the morning and who don’t have their local politics all under control. So and so is up and so and so is down. Politics is a game, as well as a way of life and people find it immensely interesting and they make it interesting for others. So part of the answer is: Interest. COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS Christmas of 2010 in Jaipur. Susanne, front center; Matthew, third right from center; Lloyd, But the other thing is that watching our friends fifth right from center, with their Jaipur research and administrative staff. Standing at the rear handle their problems in their personal life. I think are their cook Inam, who has been with them since 1971, and his wife Amna I have seen people, in Rajasthan… we have seen a Ramayanas (that existed) by state, by region and even by village, local lot of change. And some of it is very well handled and some of it is disperformances. This is not a disappointment, but a problem in India: astrous. (Among) the Rajputs you have those who won and those who lost Eventually, there was a standardization (of the Ramayanas) and this had to do with L K Advani, when he went on a rath yatra all over the and you see among the middle castes, people rising. So in some ways it country (in 1990 to muster support to build a Ram temple in is the interest of the situation. What this does for you normatively is another question. Ayodhya). The diversity and the easy diversity — people are continuing to write So there began to be the idea that there is only one version of this Ramayana and everyone should adhere to it. In fact, it entered aca- letters and editorials about the fact that India’s diversity is damaging demic life, because last year it turned up, somebody in Delhi University to it. But India’s diversity is also very enriching to it and somehow see— they dropped from the reading list Ramanujan’s book about the ing the enriching part always makes us positive about India. We have focused on the diversity, but we have not focused on the many Ramayanas. And that launched a big firestorm. (Ramanujan’s essay was scrapped from Delhi University’s BA history syllabus in homogeneity, although you cannot ignore it. Lloyd: Yes, we are living off both cultures in different ways. The thing October 2011 following a protest from right wing groups in 2008 that it offended Hindu feelings, and in spite of a Delhi high court organized is that India is only an example — and a massive example in our lives — but of opening the way you see. committee’s view that it remain in the syllabus) You get a perspective on your own culture in the US by living and Susanne: And the many Ramayanas is in some ways a preservation of an older India. If you make it all homogeneous then you go in with being involved and getting inside of and acting in terms of another culglobal religion, global faith and you destroy the local expression. Local ture. Now that is massively the case in our lives and in our children’s lives. expressions are central to traditional resurrection and preservation and some of it has to be preserved in order for the ancient to be preM45 served.

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India is a kind of big instance in our life of not being confined to a parochial presence in one culture, or being a narrow nationalist or something. She was born in Germany. I went to France a lot when I was in high school and college and lived with families. We gain perspectives on our own US by getting knowledge of and getting involved with others. And India, of course, is massively the case. Of course, it is also you see the problems of each when you get this multiple perspectives. So each culture sheds light on the other? Lloyd: You see the feet of clay in the other. One of our big ideas, in several of our books lately, is the success in India of hybridity. In the old days, the Raj days, if you talked or acted like an Englishman you were deracinated. They had bad names for people like that. Black Englishman. But the fact is if we take Salman Rushdie, if we take Indian writers or if we take cricket, India is a master of hybridity, which is to say living with elements of two or more cultures at the same time and doing very well with them. Our friend (political psychologist) Ashis Nandy says in his book The Tao of Cricket that it is an Indian game invented by the English. It epitomizes the fact that it is not just the Brits. It goes back to the Mughals, all the way back the Kushans and so forth and so on, India has been absorbing and creating hybrids. Hybrid is often taken as a bad word. It is a good word. You create new things, mixing a bunch of originally different things. Yes (that is America’s way too). So what then is the difference between India’s hybridity and America’s? Susanne: In America you work within a single cultural frame. In India it is a number of cultural frames. In the West we have many versions of Christianity, in fact, but the hybridity was performed within Christianity. But now it is not being performed within Christianity. It is very interesting to go across to San Francisco and ask yourself: What about that hybridity in America? It is everywhere. But I don’t know if it is within a single cultural frame or a civil cultural framework. I suspect it becoming to be within a single cultural frame. Lloyd: I think what Sue is getting at is that in India, self professedly or by its circumstances, in terms of the many histories and regions — Tamil Nadu and Punjab and so forth — India is more like Europe — so many different histories and cultures and languages and religions and all that stuff. In America we have the idea of the melting pot and you are supposed to become American even though we do give some attention to residual differences. Both countries have crises in this respect. We have people who are after immigrants in this country, who want everyone to speak English — all the kinds of hyper-nationalisms. In India we have had all these minor troubles with standardized Hinduism. So there is tension, but I think India’s diversity is different from America’s diversity. I don’t think India has the same pressure for the melting pot. There is pressure for more homogeneity here.

jects. Many of our colleagues in political science, they get a question and a method and they keep running that theme. They keep doing the same thing slightly differently. If you look at our many books you will find huge numbers of different kinds of subjects in different kinds of questions and different kinds of methods. Intellectual adventure, geographic or travel adventure, even the fact that we have spent the last many years living in three places — we lived in Vermont, we lived in California or Chicago and then we lived in India every year. And having all these different friends and having these different homes. We feel very much at home in Jaipur and in our little town of Barnard in Vermont and in California and in Chicago. Most people find it uncomfortable to keep changing all the time, but we like the idea of change, adventure. Both of us can see life as an adventure. I think that is what keeps both of us going and happy. It was a huge step to bravely expose your children to India. What do you feel each or all of your children have gained from their parents’ or their own relaCOURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS tionship with India? Susanne: They had very different Wasn’t it so fortunate that both of you made experiences. The girls went to the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls Public School in Jaipur, India your life study? It is so interesting to know of a husband and which taught them spelling, which American wife who were able to work side by side and schools don’t do, and sums, which American towards the same goal. What has really made schools don’t do. At the same time they gave them the most innocent view of history. that career-work relationship succeed? The sports scene was very tame. Our girls Susanne: The interesting thing is that people are always surprised to hear that Lloyd are very strong sports persons. And they said and I work in the same field, that we had vir- they don’t play anything except pussy in the tually parallel careers. Both were professors at basket at the Gayatri Devi Public School. That was one of their objections to it. University of Chicago and Harvard. In any case when we came back in 1975 we I think we worked out over the years a common literary style. We did not start out with put them in Woodstock, which is in fact a very the same literary style. Lloyd wrote different- Indian school in that 90 percent of the people ly from how I did. And the whole came to there are Indians, overseas Indians often. They took home Hindi. Amelia got married form a kind of homogenous literary style. I wrote very long sentences and Lloyd wrote in India. She had a marriage here. And then very short sentences. My German past haunt- she had one in India. Lloyd: We have wonderful pictures of her ed me. wedding. She is sitting in a pandal and we are Germans write very long sentences? Lloyd: They say you have to go through sitting around with the bridegroom, Brahmthree pages to find the verb which is at the end ins and so forth. The whole traditional (thing). She loved it. of the sentence… but that’s a joke. Susanne: They have a feel for Indian culSusanne: And working out a style, we really had a kind of vested interest in each other’s ture. It is not very deep, They have had three style. We came to think very similarly about or four years in India each; and as adolesmany things — we disagree on particulars — cents. Not as adults. So there is more to learn. but on the whole overall framework of intel- But they have great affection and India is their lectual interest. We were both interested in place. Matthew goes back every Christmas to comparative; we both like to wander outside a see his friends. Lloyd: They are all very involved in India. I single national framework; we like a variety of humanistic and anthropological as well as think they feel India is a second home for them. political science modes of doing. Amelia is the most obvious. She’s a dancer We converted each other to each other’s style, which I think makes for some of the and has a dance company. She imagines and knows she was conceived in India. She says I homogeneity. Lloyd: I would stress the fact that both of us was conceived in the mountains of India. Her were interested in adventure. And doing new Project Bandaloop is based on a (Tom) Robbins novel (Jitterbug Perfume) where things. We went to India a lot, but the fact is that there is a group of people who are based in the most of our colleagues, who worked on India Himalayas who are called Bandaloops. But the big thing is that she started in — historians, anthropologists — very few could get their wives and their children up Jaipur. There is a wonderful Bharata Natyam and out to go to India for a year. I think we male dancer named Natraj and he began were probably unique in that respect that we teaching her. She was only seven or eight dragged our kids. M46 We kept writing books about different subHoli in Jaipur in 1967. Like their parents, Amelia, Jenny and Matthew have made India a part of their lives


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years old. She got to perform at the Ravindra Manch (Jaipur) at a tender age in front of 600 people. She later on went to Kiran Segal, who is a great Odissi dancer and she spent six months with her. Her dance is not Indian dance, but her idea of being a dancer is somehow part of her Indian identity. Matthew’s Hindi is probably the best in the family. Also, he spent a lot of time in China. So he is teaching at Georgetown University and he teaches Indian and Chinese political economy, how the different economies are different forms of capitalism and the investment and capital controls. Then he does East Asian and South Asian security and so he does Afghans, Pakistan and India and then he does China and how it is related to Korea and Japan and the East Asian setting. His acaKSHAMAYA DANIEL The Rudolphs in Berkeley last month demic world is shaped by his experience. Our eldest daughter, who is an assistant professor at the Harvard broaden its approach and grow intellectually through education? Susanne and Lloyd: There is, as there is in the US, a crisis with Medical School, she tried to adopt a child from India, but the Indians by that time said that foreigners cannot adopt Indians anymore, so she respect to the humanities. India is losing access to its civilizational adopted a girl from Nepal. She is teaching her Hindi and teaching her texts as the number of those capable interpreting texts in Sanskrit, Persian and key regional languages such as Telugu and Tamil diminIndian dance. ishes year by year with no remedy in sight. So they all made India part of their lives. The humanities are also rapidly losing ground in collegiate and postWhat are your loveliest memories of India? Lloyd: We have many wonderful, happy memories. We had a 40th graduate education as educational institutions seek to profit from jobwedding anniversary in India at a place call Mandawa (in the related courses and students seek vocational degree programs tied to Shekhawati region in Rajasthan) which has a wonderful old fort con- paid employment. In your article in the Indian weekly magazine Outlook in 2008 on verted into a hotel, a desert resort and 110 people, half of them from India’s Emergency your wife mentions how India has a peculiar way of abroad came and half of them from India. We had a big weekend. We had two or three buses. We took them on making women invisible. Can you shed some light on your experience of a tour of Rajasthan which we had planned out ahead of time. One of that peculiar aspect? Susanne and Lloyd: We first encountered an extreme version of makour friends is Jagat (Singh) Mehta, who was the foreign secretary of India for many years. He was on this trip and we had a breakdown of ing women invisible when we arrived in Jaipur from our overland the bus and he took command. We had this wonderful party and tour journey from London in a Land Rover. For six months we lived in the household of Thakur Raghubir Singh of Rajasthan. Wouldn’t you say it was a kind of high point (he asks of Bissau, a 100 villages, three forts, Rajput nobleman and Oxonian Susanne)? Susanne: Yes, very much a high point. It was one of the happiest whose wife was an English-speaking princess of Banswara. He entertained a lot. moments in the locale. We learned that zenana/mardana rules applied at parties. The Inam (Khan)’s cooking. Since 1971 we have had the same cook and his wife with us. He has taught me a lot of Indian cooking. I have women automatically self-segregated by sitting together, apart from taught him a lot of American cooking, French and German cooking. the men in the capacious sitting room. Susanne did not observe the Being in the kitchen with them is one of the more attractive moments. rules. Her behavior was tolerated, even accepted. It seems a Western, Similarly dealing with an Indian craftsperson — I have some people educated woman who dared to could socialize with the men. Over the 50 years that have passed since our first experience in who make skirts and tops for me, choli pieces — working with them, working with Indian craftspersons is a very intimate experience, (a) Bissau House, Jaipur, we often find a lingering residue among the women of our cosmopolitan middle-class friends of zenana/mardana very attractive one. behavior. And your debt to India? This is a very vast question. But in a nutshell, how much good has Lloyd: Our whole professional life is built on interpreting and writdemocracy done for India? ing about India, living in India, being in India, being with India Susanne and Lloyd: Democracy has made possible a peaceful social Susanne: It offers a way of life. Tell us something about what you perceive to be the character of the revolution in India as the lower castes have used their superior numIndian people. Character that helps define India, the experience of bers to gain self respect and political power. Democracy has also been critical for brokering India’s amazing diversity. Indian culture and living in India. The downside of democracy has been evident in recent years as caste Susanne: Since we started talking about hybrid, in some ways, it is the diversity rather than a single trait that we would have to specify. politics has turned increasingly to the pursuit of jobs and benefits and the corruption of associated with profiting from office. And it is in fact the diversity that is one of the pleasures. What is special about India’s traditional modernity compared to You go into a shop and talk to a man who has got one kind of accent and one kind of speech form. You go to another place in Connaught other countries where superficially similar parameters are in play? In the modern era many countries have experienced change through Circus (in New Delhi) and you get a man with a different speech, different interest. It is the diversity that makes it in some ways interest- revolution. The model was the French Revolution in 1789, which tried to elimiing Lloyd: Two of our big subjects of study have to do with what kind of nate the ‘old regime’s’ monarchy, aristocracy and established church. Other major instances of revolutionary change were the Russian or people Indians are. One was writing about Gandhi and we wrote about Gandhi a lot, in Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the Maoist revolution in China in terms of his relationship with life, his experiences, his mother, his 1949, both of which tried to eradicate traditional institutions, ideas father and his children, etc. Also, his ideas and how he came to have and practices. Turkey under Kemal Ataturk in 1922, is another good example of these ideas, how he developed them and how he was able to give new attempting to eradicate the past. life to civilizational concepts. India, by contrast, has changed via adaptation, not revolution. And the other big book is called Reversing the Gaze about a Rajput Gandhi was a master at transforming tradition based on India’s nobleman who kept a diary — Amar Singh. We interpreted his life… So we have gone into great depth in two people’s lives — two of our major ancient civilization into modern and even post-modern ideas and research projects is writing about particular Indians, but those partic- practices such as swaraj. Even the self declared modernist, Jawaharlal ular Indians say a huge amount about not just one India, but several Nehru, adapted Raj political institutions for use in independent India and, in The Discovery of India, made clear that his version of Indian Indias. What can you say about India’s intellectualism? Is it growing and modernity incorporated Indian civilization, albeit the Vedic rationalist becoming more vibrant or are there areas where India really needs to variant. „


M47 India Abroad June 2012

Their hearts belong to India and India belongs to them The Rudolphs’ legacy continues on their students’ shoulders, says Kamal Sadiq

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inis. I stared uncomprehendingly at the word on Lloyd and Susanne’s signup sheets tacked on the wall outside their office in Pick Hall. Was finis a temporary pause in their long career, or the end of a significant academic period? Were the Rudolphs speaking to us in Hinglish saying ‘Finis ho gaya. It has ended’? Perhaps it was a combination of all those meanings. In fact, it did mean that they were retiring from the university. To some, Finis was the end of a Chicago institution. For me, though, the Rudolphs will continue their writings and relationships globally, as they have done for decades from Vermont, California, and Rajasthan as well as Chicago. I developed a relationship with Lloyd and Susanne (‘The Rudolphs’, sometimes referred to as ‘Sue And Lloyd’) even before I actually met them in Chicago in the early 1990s. Their books Modernity of Tradition and In Pursuit of Lakshmi were recommended reading in classes at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi); in fact these books were always ‘checked out’ of the JNU library, posing a challenge to many students. You could go to Delhi University, Rajasthan University, or JNU and come back with an acute sense that the passage to modern India went through the analytical lens of the Rudolphs. Their arrival marked hectic activity in India, as everyone showed up to listen to the duo perform in packed auditoriums; they were as close to academic royalty as we will ever see in modern India. I had to make them my gurus, and so I left for Chicago. The Rudolph Family I landed in Chicago on a cold day and soon enough was taken on a UChicago campus tour by Lloyd, who wore his inimitable woven tie with a distinguished herringbone jacket. I soon became a regular at their house. You did not just become a student of the Rudolphs, you became a part of their family. As an Indian student away from my family, I was invited to the Rudolphs for Thanksgiving, a special treat. With huge knife and fork, Lloyd carved the turkey with ceremonial flair, and Susanne served Halwa made from a recipe borrowed from Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith’s cook; and then began the stories with which the Rudolphs regaled us through the late evening. This repertoire of stories would reappear at the Rudolphs’ 11th story apartment in

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS

Above, Lloyd Rudolph with Maharaja Bhawani Singh of Jaipur. Lloyd and Susanne, right, not only embraced India when it was not fashionable to do so, they also provided a permanent bridge for Indo-American relations in the hundreds of students who graduated from their classes at Harvard and University of Chicago

Jackson Towers every Thursday after the U of C ‘South Asia and the Middle East Workshop. Students and colleagues, some from nearby institutions, migrated to the Rudolphs’ place, where they were offered various drinks. People relaxed — with wine, beer, or special hot apple cider — and soon were in the mid-

dle of Sue and Lloyd’s 1956 travels in a Jeep across Europe through Afghanistan and of their world-views (which differed from those of colleagues at Chicago or Harvard). Talk inevitably led to India’s doorstep, analysis of its progress and its challenges. Their academic excellence attracted to Chicago not only leading scholars, but also Indian leaders: I K Gujral, Pranab Mukherjee, Jaswant Singh, Jairam Ramesh. I met them all — quizzing some, sharing a Chai with others. The Rudolphs fostered a community of expertise on India such that the University of Chicago became a fulcrum of desi activity. If I needed a source material, all I had to do was walk over to the library to see James Nye, South Asian bibliographer par excellence; soon I would either have access to all the records or Jim would have them brought to Chicago. If I felt the need for some desi gossip and snacks, Friday Chai in Foster Hall served everyone Samosas, beer and Chai. As the Rudolphs’ student, I later became the coordinator of the ‘Theory and Practice in South Asia Workshop’, hosting a variety of leading scholars in that familiar room in Foster Hall.

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M48 India Abroad June 2012

M47

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Their hearts belong to India and India belongs to them

The Rudolphs were directly or indirectly involved with all things South Asian on the campus. The University of Chicago’s success as a leader of South Asian studies the American mind in the 1990s. was no less due to the Rudolphs’ Post-Cold War, American academia central role in keeping everyone was in its hegemonic phase: ‘Let us together. They had firm views, and get rid of foreign-language requiremany disagreed with them; but we ments, since the world will be an remained a part of the same journey, American image of English-speaka community, nevertheless. ing peoples.’ A Liberal Outlook Today, as we hurry to train chilThey were ‘Kennedy liberals’, dren in Mandarin, Spanish, and ‘Gandhians’, ‘Pluralists’, ‘Softies’ who Hindi, it seems foolish that we were tolerated ‘offensive realist’ argualmost ready to give up communiments to Gandhian constructivist vicating with others in their own lanews on international relations from guages. Others argued against overtheir easily enamored students. seas fieldwork, saw no need to learn But there were limits. I remember Hindi or go to India to understand that once, walking back from the it substantially. Online sources, Regenstein library, I shared my newreadily available data, and English found enthusiasm for structural reamaterial will do. Never mind that lism and how ancient India was the best minds cannot comprehend marked by security dilemmas and the chaotic democratic plurality competition, only to be sternly called India, and predict its future; reminded by Susanne that contrary not even the monsoon can be preevidence of a peaceful ancient India dicted. Being in India had little also existed. value? We went back and forth as we The Rudolphs were shocked and passed the Medici, a local favorite reacted strongly. They joined a largcafé, Susanne and Lloyd gently er campaign across the social scinudging me to an alternate view of ences, one that posed expertise in international relations. Soon I was regions against thin macro-generalreading the emerging literature on izations, context versus universalcritical and constructivist theory, as ism, knowing the world by experithe Rudolphs went into full gear — encing it versus the gaze from afar. lending me personal copies of books If ancient Greeks and modern and articles or pointing me to simiFrench thinkers could be the subject lar sources. of Political Theory, why not a major I may not have been convinced, figure like Gandhi, they asserted? but I had been exposed to a contrarCOURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS Lloyd was soon teaching ‘Gandhi’ as ian view, to an alternate explanation, a graduate course in Political to a broader and more complicated The Rudolphs in Udaipur. Much sought after by academics, students, policy-makers Theory at the University of Chicago. understanding of International and ambassadors in the US, they were welcomed by the same in India as well understood this world well; as annual ‘immi- Plural, accommodating, global — these attiRelations. The Rudolphs were accommodating even as grants’ to India, they too had experienced tudes and more marked the Rudolphs. India in America, America in India I traversed the boundaries between Comp- these interlocking webs. The Rudolphs also provided a permanent It is the abiding nature of their scholarship arative Politics and International Relations. One quarter, I adopted a realist persona, on India that marks the Rudolphs as unique. bridge for Indo-American relations in the another quarter I was peeling away the link- In 1967, in Modernity of Tradition they hundreds of students who graduated from argued that traditional identities such as caste their classes at Harvard and Chicago. Under ages between cultures and states. Who was I academically? A die-hard Realist will adapt, update, and modernize in Indian their leadership, the University of Chicago became the pre-eminent place in the world to in comparative clothes? Even when I occa- democracy. They were challenging a powerful faith study South Asia. sionally disagree with them, they softly conMuch sought after by academics, students, tinue to send me new material faxed from among scholars of the time — that modernJaipur, conference highlights from London ization will lead to a slow erosion of tradition- policy-makers and ambassadors in the US, and Berlin, editorials scanned from Vermont, al practices such as caste. In fact, varieties of they were welcomed by the same in India as caste groups not only modernized but accu- well. The Rudolph’s books, written in the opening new paths for new inquiries. Both Susanne and Lloyd were comfortable mulated power, as they adapted to modern seclusion of Jaipur and Mussoorie, carried the peculiar micro-understandings of local with my emerging identity on the borders of democracy. The Rudolphs had it right, very early. knowledge. the fields of Comparative and International Clearly, India had bared itself and been Remarkably, despite the popularity of Marxist Politics. The world of sovereignty, borders, immigra- class-analysis in some Indian circles, the embraced by The Rudolphs. Their legacy contion, citizenship, state-making, human traf- Rudolphs were instrumental in bringing the tinues on the shoulders of their students, spread widely among the leading institutions ficking, illegal flows — this and more emerged state back in as a vital unit of analysis. They outlined and theorized the role of of the United States and India. as the Rudolphs tolerated my disaffection For 18 years they have shaped me personalwith traditional boundaries in political sci- ‘demand groups’ in pressurizing and making possible the interventionist Indian state. For ly. I hope that India will soon recognize them ence. The way I saw it, a new world with new example, ‘bullock cart capitalists’ — small and with a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card, for challenges was emerging while we were stuck middle land — holding farming groups from their hearts belong to India and India belongs in a conceptual world more fit for the Cold Uttar Pradesh (Charan Singh, Mahinder to them. „ War. Susanne and Lloyd were attuned to this Tikait), Jat landholders from Haryana, the transnational world, and were intrigued when sugar lobby in Maharashtra — continue to Kamal Sadiq teaches Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and is the this Indiawallah followed the trails of inter- seek intervention from a ‘weak strong’ state. As the state evolved from an interventionist author of Paper Citizens: How Illegal national flows to other regions. Much conceptual and empirical innovation to a regulatory phase, the Rudolphs percepti- Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in could result from crossing regions. After all, bly emphasized its vital role in the political Developing Countries (Oxford University Press, 2009). He is the President (elect) of the India was tied in dense webs of trade, culture, economy of India. The Rudolphs’ deep understanding of India Ethnicity, Nationalism, Migration Section of and peoples across regions and oceans; Politics was about these flows. The Rudolphs was the basis for their challenge to a closing of the International Studies Association


M49 India Abroad June 2012

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or over half a century, Professor Lloyd Rudolph and Professor Susanne Rudolph have been towering figures in research, teaching, and institution-building in relation to the study of India and South Asia. As faculty members first at Harvard and then for almost four decades at the University of Chicago, their brilliant scholarship on India, and their legendary teaching, has reached generations of students, not only undergraduates but also an astonishing number of graduate students who in turn would go on to become major figures in the field. For many of their students, they have been not only intellectual mentors, but also models of the kind of person they themselves wanted to become in the classroom and in their everwelcoming home with its open door. The Rudolphs are well known beyond university walls as well, with publications and public appearances in both India and the United States that have deeply enriched the understanding of India’s rich and fascinating political and historical life. The Rudolphs break many molds, including their rare, decades-long, collaboration. Each Rudolph is, of course, distinct and has played independent roles, but their eight coauthored books, and countless co-authored articles make ‘the Rudolphs’ truly — to use a cliché that well makes the point in this case — ‘more than the sum of their individual parts.’ The Rudolphs’ careers span the entire postwar period beginning in the 1950s when the study of India had barely begun in this country. For many decades, Chicago was the intellectual beacon for scholarly work on India, led by legendary figures in both the humanities and social sciences who not only trained their own students, but produced scholarly and pedagogic materials that provided resources for countless other teachers and scholars across the country and beyond. The Rudolphs, political scientists in their core discipline, have been interdisciplinary giants, not only attuned to concrete and deep engagement with India’s society and history, but also never faltering in the kind of theoretical and comparative work core to the social sciences. Their book, The Modernity of Tradition (1967), not only illumined political change in

The giants who break many molds The Rudolphs are interdisciplinary giants, notes distinguished historian Barbara D Metcalf, hailing their brilliant scholarship on India

COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS

Susanne Rudolph at the American Political Science Association. She was one of the ‘early women’ to be voted in as APSA president, but the big thing, says her husband Lloyd, was she was the first one to have studied India

democratic India, it also challenged existing models of ‘modernization’ within political science generally. The title of their book became part of the vocabulary of every student in the field. The span of topics the Rudolphs have engaged with over the years is remarkable but their publications on Gandhi, from early articles, then Gandhi: The Traditional Roots of Charisma (1987), and, most recently, their landmark Postmodern Gandhi (2006), all deserve particular mention.

Another notable dimension of their scholarship was their prescient attention to the importance of regional identity in both its scholarly and institution building dimension. In particular, they were central to the creation of a forum for scholarly interaction on their own region of scholarly attention, Rajasthan. They were founding members of the Rajasthan Studies Group in the 1980s, which became a model for many other regional study groups that have been founded since. They and other members of the Rajasthan Studies Group, over the years, have worked closely with the Institute of Rajasthan Studies in international conferences and the production of edited volumes that have charted important dimensions of Rajasthan studies and the role of regional identities over all. There is no book to compare to their Reversing the Gaze: The Amar Singh Diary, A Colonial Subject’s Narrative of Imperial India (2000, 2005). Yet, at the same time as they have written in such depth on an individual’s life, they have also engaged with the most important national and geopolitical issues of the day, from education policy, to foreign relations, to globalization. Some idea of the honors and recognition the Rudolphs have gained for their work can be measured by the honors and fellowships earned, for example, by Lloyd Rudolph, which were granted by the MacArthur, Ford, National Science and Guggenheim Foundations, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the National Endowment for the Humanities,

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‘Many scholars are more outsiders than insiders; the Rudolphs are an exception’ Neerja and Mukund Lath on their friendship with the professors

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e met the Rudolphs through their friends, Professor Daya Krishna and his wife Francine. It must have been in the 1970s, so they had been in Rajasthan for a long time . As time passed we began meeting them more often and we discovered we had much to talk about. Susanne and Lloyd have an innate ability to mix with both the Thakurs as well as the intelligentsia. Their interest in the Thakurs and the royals, I suppose, came with the Kanota Thakur, whose diaries they found fascinating and on which they based their book, Reversing the Gaze. Whenever they were in Jaipur, they would always reach out; they would inform you about their coming, book dinners and meetings. Even when they weren’t in India, they would make it a point to keep in touch with everyone. Certainly they are scholars in the field, but what sets them apart is that they are very sensitive to the people and changes around them. Both of them have a feel for the changes taking place in India and have

a sympathetic mind. One of the reasons for this could be because they were so close to the people around them and because they were interested in so many aspects of India. They had a broad spectrum in mind. They fitted into the scene here and for the few months they were here they would draw you out ensuring they made you feel important. It was like a jugalbandi when they spoke — Susanne would always take off from where Lloyd left off. The fusion was amazing! Whenever you write something there is a vision that doesn’t always come from scholarship alone. It sometimes also comes from being, as Dr Ashis Nandy would say, insider-outsiders in some ways. Many scholars are more outsiders than insiders; the Rudolphs are a happy exception. And this is what made them and has kept them relevant over the years. Mukund Lath, a historian, and Neerja Lath are art collectors. They spoke to Abhishek Mande


M50 India Abroad June 2012

‘An independent spirit, an unorthodox spirit, characterized their Indian experience’ INDIA ABROAD

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Matthew Rudolph tells Aziz Haniffa what drove his parents’, and his, engagement with the country

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he deep influence of Professors Lloyd and Suzanne Rudolph is palpable in all three of their children, but it is perhaps their youngest, Professor Matthew C J Rudolph, 43, who is most directly following in the path they blazed in terms of academia and research. Matthew is a visiting assistant professor in the Government Department at Georgetown University. His work here is based on the premise that security shoMatthew and Amelia Rudolph at Kunzum-La, uld be broadly defined to encompass the Himachal Pradesh. Matthew says he has a economy, international society, military special connection with the Himalayas security and technology. COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS His research approach blends international and domestic factors, emphasizing political institutions and The hippy back-packers, sort of stuck together and went to Goa and political elites. He has worked on security politics and arms control in places like that, the diplomats and the aid workers, tended to again Asia, the international political economy of finance, and US, India and operate in their own world and connect with their own — people who Chinese foreign policy. were either diplomats or aid workers — and the Christian missionarHe is revising a book manuscript based on his doctoral thesis, The ies tended to do their own thing. Diversity of Convergence: State Authority, Economic Governance, and My parents, because of their independence, had many friends who the Politics of Securities Finance in India and China, where he com- were Indian. They socialized with Indians, not with Americans. They pares the politics of stock and bond market development in China and had us, the kids, involved in Indian culture and in Indian schools. In India during the 1990s and explains how and why India’s financial sys- my case it was St Xavier’s School in Jaipur, an Indian school, albeit tem is less politicized and less fragile than China’s. Jesuit. I and just one other kid were the only foreigners in the school. He is also completing several projects — including an analysis of Their independence shaped the way my sisters and I came to experiIndian grand strategy and foreign policy in the context of the US- ence India — very differently than many of the other foreigners that we China-India strategic triangle, India-China rivalry in information encountered and to the point where by the time I was in middle school technology, and also an analysis identifying the key driver of Asian or high school, I had a slightly, might not be inaccurate to say, scornful insecurity as contested sovereignty — based on years of field research view of the diplomatic brats. People who were in the American in South and Southeast Asia. embassy and the kids who lived in the embassy compound in a fancy Matthew’s encounters with India, which is such a key focus area of diplomatic type of life — didn’t really stay in India, didn’t speak any his work, began when he was two and first accompanied his parents Hindi (Matthew also speaks Mandarin and French), or if they did, not there. very much, didn’t interact much with Indian kids. He says there’s no denying the influence his parents had on his So, my parents’ choice to be independent and to have an interaction becoming a full-immersion student and researcher on the politics an with India and Indian society and Indian people on a direct basis totaleconomy of South Asia, largely India, and that like his sisters Jenny ly changed my view of myself in the way I interact with people when I and Amelia, it was his parents’ sustained travel and stays in India that am abroad. I came, in a sense, to see myself partially as Indian — I may shaped his personality as a global citizen: not be Indian, but you could say dil se kamse kum adhe Hindustani had an ayah (governess) — Harade — and can remember living (my heart, at least, is half Hindustani). And, that’s all because of my parents’ choices. right under the Moti Dangri Fort, the fort that belongs to the *** Rajmata of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi. Matthew, who spent more than eight years in India with his parents, We would climb up and play around there. I remembered (telling) this to my ayah when I saw her a couple of years ago, just before her continues to go back every year. While it is research and teaching that death. It was a beautiful street, where there was a Ganesh temple and takes him there now, it is not the only reason. Like I said, it’s not by accident because dil hai adhe Hindustani. I do she would take me there. The Brahmins there would stuff my face full love India. of Ladoos. In my teens and younger years the culture shock and the frustration I would say the most significant way in which my parents shaped my India or South Asia experience and the global citizen dimension, is with daily life and food and getting things done was occasionally chalthat they went as scholars and they went as people who were going to lenging and I would miss the US. I learnt what culture shock was a litorganize their stay and their relationship with the country and the peo- tle bit — not for myself but also from other Americans of my age who, I saw, come and be shocked. ple of India independently. As I got older, I came to appreciate. That frustration diminished and In those days, in the 1970s, there were four sets of foreigners in India. There were the hippy back-packers, there were the aid workers, there M51 were diplomats, and there were still some Christian missionaries.

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M51 India Abroad June 2012

‘An independent spirit, an unorthodox spirit, characterized their Indian experience’ my parents is that my father started his PhD before my mother did, but finished it after she finished hers in the love increased — in particular, record time. the connection with three places. Her dissertation adviser was (The first is) the Himalayas — the Rupert Emerson and the dissertaareas of Garhwal, Kashmir and the tion was on the growth, organization high Himalayas, both for hiking and ideology of the Congress party of and mountain-biking. I love to do India. mountain-biking up there. So, the My father’s dissertation was on the Himalayas, both for beauty and the emergence on party politicians, mountains, but also for the sacred political parties in England and the geography parts of it. US — a comparison. It was my mothSometimes it’s funny. I meet peoer who first started doing intensive ple in India, who are more devout research on India. Hindus than I am — not that I am My mother had started being intera Hindu — but I have been to more ested in India and did her dissertaof the sacred dhaams (pilgrimage tion while they were sitting outside spots) than they have. That’s sort of Indianapolis, as my father was servan expression of my love of the ing in the Korean War at Fort mountains. Part of that came from Benjamin Harrison. She was relying going to school, prep school in on inter-library loans to get docuMussoorie, above Dehra Dun. ments on the Congress party of India The second, location, of course, from the libraries in Indianapolis. was Rajasthan, where I learnt to My mother chose to write on India ride horse-back and sword fight at the time, in the 1950s, when and grew up with these close nobody was writing about India or at friends of my parents who were least very few people on Indian poliRajputs with fairly significant land tics. holdings in an extremely illustriMatthew Rudolph My father was willing to shift his ous, aristocratic heritage going dances with his direction and apply for the Fulbright back to being member of the Jaipur mother Susanne at a grant that allowed them to drive to royal court under Sawai Mansingh New Year celebration India in 1956. That was the first step, and previous maharajas. in Rajasthan showing their unconventional, The Kanota family is very close to COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS unorthodox thinking that drove their my family. When my sister had her wedding in India, she was married in their where we were discouraged from moral rea- whole careers academically, professionally, as well as a deep respect for India. soning. ancestral home in Jaipur. They were willing to make those daring In the late 1990s, with the rise of Hindutva The third was Delhi. in the country, it was clear that many of our decisions, I believe, in everything that they *** My parents were quite permissive, but they friends, who for a long time — sort of in the did — in terms of choices of places to go in did educate us very intensively on how to era of Congress party hegemony in India — India, friends they made. They had so many make good decisions. So, we were educated had maybe been RSS (the Rashtriya friends all over the subcontinent who are peofrom an early age about public health and Swayamsevak Sangh) members, we had not ple that they met every decade starting from sanitation — only to eat safe foods, and to be heard about it. As Hindutva rose and the BJP the 1950s plus students who came from all (Bharatiya Janata Party) became increasing- over the world. cautious. One way to characterize their involvement My sisters were taught to be cautious with ly powerful and then came into government, their demeanor in public spaces, and I many of our friends became explicitly sup- in India is one of unorthodox thinking, both remember being mocked by my Rajput portive of the BJP and expressed what was a in terms of their ideas in social science and political science that they have contributed to friends who I would ride with when I was sort of Hindutva line. The tricky thing there is these are people the field, and in terms of the ways in which seven because I was never allowed to ride a horse without wearing a helmet, which they who are my childhood friends, my parents they made friends. These connections go back to the theme I friends for 40, 50 years, taking a political and never did. My parents were permissive, but also moral position that is not one we could agree brought in before — that when they went to instilled and educated us to make good judg- with. I believe I speak for my parents in that India, they went and lived independently. ment calls. But yes, they did pass on to the regard as well. But to understand that we They intentionally tried to live in places where next generation, their intrepid spirit and their could tolerate and continue our close and inti- there were no foreigners and make friends mate and long-term friendships with these and connections with local people and instituinterest in inquiry and exploration. Another really important thing that they people, even while maintaining some moral tions in India. That independent spirit, that unorthodox handed onto me — and I would say to a cer- reasoning distance and capacity. spirit, would be the key elements that charac*** tain extent to my sisters — was tolerance of The important thing to know in this story of terized their Indian experience. „ difference, which never went to the point

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The giants who break many molds M49 and the Fulbright program. Susanne has been equally honored and has served as well as the president of two of the most important professional scholarly organizations in the United States, the Association for Asian Studies and the American Political Science Association. Both Susanne and Lloyd have been consulted widely by governmen-

tal bodies and NGOs eager to profit from their expertise on issues related to one of the world’s most important countries. And now the bestowal of the ‘Friend of India’ award on these extraordinary scholars simultaneously — as an excellent match always — brings a very special honor both to those receiving the award and those bestowing it as well. „ Barbara D Metcalf is Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Davis


M52 India Abroad June 2012

‘The Rudolphs are true lovers of India, which is not the case with all scholars of India’ Nathan Glazer, the eminent sociologist, salutes his friends, Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, and their devotion to India

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Nathan Glazer, left, and Susanne Rudolph, right, with friends in Mandawa, Rajasthan in 1992

The two most accomplished scholars on contemporary India in the United States are Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph,’ wrote John Kenneth Galbraith in 2002, when commending their most recent book. It was a knowledgeable judgment by the former American ambassador to India and world-famous economist. Lloyd I Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph have for a half-century been among the most influential and productive scholars of modern India, its politics, its society, and its culture. They have also been among the steadiest friends of India, understanding its problems and difficulties, but appreciative of its ageold culture and hopeful that India will play an ever larger and more progressive role in world affairs. They helped create at the University of Chicago, where they taught for 38 years, the major center in the United States for teaching and scholarship on modern India. They have trained scores of scholars, American, Indian, and of other nationalities, who now teach on India in the major universities of the United States, and in universities abroad. They have been consulted by American ambassadors to India from the time of John Kenneth Galbraith, as well as by Indian ambassadors to the United States. Susanne Rudolph has served as president of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Political Science Association, and

was for many years a member of the Board of Foreign Scholarships, who are appointed by the President and who administer the Fulbright program. The Rudolphs are true lovers of India, which is not the case with all scholars of India. They have chosen to live a good part of their lives in India, and when they were raising their three children, they sent them for part of their education to Indian schools. The Rudolphs had no original connection with India: Susanne graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1951, went on to Harvard to study political science; Lloyd, after a spell at West Point, graduated from Harvard in 1948, and after a year in Washington returned to Harvard to study political science. They met and married in 1952, before either had become involved in India. But in those early years of Indian freedom and Indian democracy, when so many Americans were attracted to the possibilities of the new Indian democracy, and its great leaders with their worldwide reputations and esteem, the Rudolphs too became interested in India, though none of their mentors at Harvard had any significant connection to India. With new PhDs, they went on their first year of exploration of India under research grants in 1956-7, traveling by land to India in their own Land Rover, through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to reach India, a journey which a few years later

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was no longer possible to make. It was the beginning of many trips, and of a shift to research and teaching on India, and eventually a decision to spend part of their lives in India, in Jaipur, where they return every year. In 1967, they published their first book on India, The Modernity of Tradition. It became an instant classic on modern India, and pointed up a paradox that has only become more accentuated over the years: Yes, India is a modern secular state, as Jawaharlal Nehru and the other founders wished it to be, but even as India modernizes, ever more rapidly in the last few decades, its traditions, and in particular caste, a shaping element of its society, plays an ever larger if transformed role in its politics. ‘Theorists of social change in new nations,’ they wrote, ‘have found a dichotomy between tradition and modernity. Useless and valueless, tradition has been relegated to the historical trash heap.’ But, they argued, ‘the assumption that modernity and tradition are radically contradictory rests on a misdiagnosis of tradition as it is found in traditional societies, a misunderstanding of modernity as it is found in modern societies, and a misapprehension of the relationship between them.’ Almost 50 years later, the traditions that

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‘The Rudolphs are true lovers of India, which is not the case with all scholars of India’

were relegated to the trash heap, and in particular the role of caste and caste organization, has survived to play an ever larger and indeed frustrating role in Indian politics. The Modernity of Tradition has been reprinted many times, and is still in print. Other major books followed, among them Education and Politics in India in 1972; In Pursuit of Lakshmi in 1987; Postmodern Gandhi in 2006, and a host of influential articles on all aspects of Indian politics and society that have recently been gathered into three large volumes. One of these articles, published in 1960 in the journal Pacific Affairs, on caste associations, they were recently informed, has been more often cited than any other article published in that journal, and was to be the subject of reevaluation by various India specialists fifty years after its original publication. One must also mention one large labor of love, Reversing the Gaze: The Amar Singh Diary, A Colonial Subject’s Narrative of Imperial India, published in India in 2000, in the United States in 2002. This work, in progress for many years, is based on the enormous diary in many volumes of Amar Singh, from a noble Rajput family, who was one of the first Indians to receive a King’s Commission as an officer in the British Indian army, and who gave in his extensive diary a remarkable insight into how upper caste ‘natives’ saw their rulers, and into the

lives of the noble families of Rajputana. During the years in which they studied this diary, and considered how to bring it to a Western (as well as an Indian) reading public, their automobile license plate bore the letters, ‘DIARY.’ They were fully absorbed in this project, which testified to their love and understanding of Rajasthan, where they live and where they have celebrated with their many friends key anniversaries of their lives. Not long ago, Lloyd Rudolph saw in the company of friends the current successful movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel set in Jaipur, where the Rudolphs have a home and many friends, and was less than enthusiastic about it. He wrote in an e-mail letter, which he shared with friends: ‘My trouble comes with the Jaipur aspect. Jaipur I realize is a mise en scene, the visual theme supporting the plot. At the same time, it functions as a character in the story. As such, it is deeply disturbing because it is false to Jaipur. Jaipur is probably the first modern planned city [1727, before Washington DC]…. Modern Jaipur has attractive boulevards whose medians are beautifully planted and lighted. The Jaipur Literary

Festival has made Jaipur a literary and cultural mecca. Its enormously successful Heritage Hotels keep alive Rajasthan’s feudal heritage and ‘royal’ provenance, selfconsciously challenging the sterility of the modern five-star hotel. Our late beloved friend and colleague, Mohan Singh Kanota, the diarist Amar Singh’s nephew, helped create the concept and actuality of the Heritage Hotel. The slapstick incompetence of Sonny Kapur, the manager of the Marigold Hotel, is an offense to Jaipur’s hotel scene. Yes, I know it is a film, an entertainment, not actuality, but all reviews mention Jaipur as helping make the film. So the world will imagine a Jaipur which to me, a 50-year resident, is not only unrecognizable but also profoundly false, a travesty.’ The words of lovers of Jaipur, of Rajasthan, of India, who continue to interpret India, with understanding and sophistication, to the rest of the world. „ Nathan Glazer, the eminent sociologist, has taught at the University of California Berkeley and Harvard and is best known for books like Beyond the Melting Pot and We Are All Multiculturalists Now

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‘They have such an amazing symbiosis in their thinking!’ Rani Vidya Devi and her husband Raja Jai Singh of Jaipur’s royal family met the Rudolphs at dinner about 15 years ago and became good friends

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being taken over and the transimet both of them about 15 years tion from the princely states to the ago over a dinner party converdemocracy of today (was taking sation. My husband and I were place). so impressed with their erudition, Over the years they have blendthe vast sweep of their grasp of ed beautifully with the fabric of things in India that we kept meeting Jaipur, in part because of their them on every subsequent visit of sharp and tremendous insights. theirs, which was usually around The books they have written are, winter when they would come to of course, full of great scholarship, Jaipur every year. We would meet in but they are extremely readable the evenings and the discussion for the average person too. I have would be on anything because they read their book Reversing the Gaze were so familiar with Rajasthan. and their essays on Rajputana. They were in Rajasthan at a very They have gone minutely into so crucial time — during the feudal many issues that I have learnt a transition when the Rajput aristocgreat deal from them! racy was coming under the Indian Both Joey (Raja Jai Singh) and constitution and when land reforms myself — in fact, most people in were happening. They picked up all Jaipur — congratulate Susanne the nuances of what perhaps may be and Lloyd for this wonderful being reflected today. recognition they have received. We are a democracy, but for the COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS We look forward to their next Western mind we are quite differ- Over the years, the Rudolphs have blended beautifully visit to Jaipur when we can discuss ent. We have so many different with the fabric of Jaipur, says Rani Vidya Devi all the things we haven’t discussed issues in our democracy. We still have political dynasties, for example. It is pe- have such an amazing symbiosis in their earlier — from the Boer War to Adlai Stevenson’s politics to the constitutionally ople like the Rudolphs who would be able to thinking! It was after we met Lloyd and Susanne that valid aspects about the surrender of the paraunderstand these different things about we read their books. They came to Rajasthan mountcy of power and so on. India. There are a lot of people in Jaipur, RajastWhat struck me about both of them — and as a young couple with an open mind and it is quite appropriate that they are both get- were open to all the ideas. They had the han, and in India who would be delighted ting the award because they have authored advantage of living with a Rajput family — with this recognition. „ their works jointly — is when one is talking to the Thakurs of Bissau. They got an insight them, if Lloyd says something and ends it, into that period, which was quite a difficult Rani Vidya Devi spoke to Abhishek Mande in Susanne takes off exactly from there. They time when the jagirs (feudal estates) were Jaipur

‘India has played the role of the ‘necessary other’ in their lives’ Ashis Nandy, the eminent Indian thinker, on how Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph’s unique insider-outsider perspective shaped their understanding of India

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he contributions of Professors Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph are important milestones in the study of India by non-Indians. I remember reading and being impressed by Susanne’s book on Gandhi. It offered a fresh perspective and a different insight into Gandhi’s politics and a different view on his society and his culture. It was (and continues to be) in some ways a path-breaking work on Gandhi. Their Amar Singh Diaries have also proved to be a marvelous

piece of work that I believe will survive as an interesting way of looking at colonial administration while on the one hand being subjects of colonial rule and an outsider to the regime’s policy on the other. Their attempt to weave around that story, the changes undergoing in India at the time and the political ambience at that time is fascinating and an example that has not been followed by anyone. The Rudolphs also brought in a playful yet insightful perspective to the world of Indian politics in that they have written (I have

only seen it in manuscript form) a counter historical account of what would have happened if India had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan. One sees in their initial works an attempt to be an insider, but as years pass, you see that they have matured and moved to a position where they are no longer trying to be Indian. They remain outsiders and recognize that in India there is a place for everyone (to live) on their terms, that an outsider doesn’t have to be Indian to be accepted. The Rudolphs internalized this

awareness and I say this because without it, they couldn’t have written that counter historical account. I also find that their interest in India is not only professional; it is a larger and more general interest. I believe that perhaps India has played the role of the ‘necessary other’ in their selves and that when they are studying India they are also studying themselves. „ Dr Ashis Nandy, political psychologist, sociologist and thinker, spoke to Abhishek Mande


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Amelia Rudolph’s introduction to dance began in India, extreme left. Today she is artistic director and dancer with Project Bandaloop

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‘They instilled in us adventure, the global citizen, the rigorous mind and academic curiosity’ Aziz Haniffa meets the Rudolphs through the eyes of their daughter Amelia Rudolph

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ince 1991, Amelia Rudolph, 47, Lloyd and Suzanne Rudolph’s younger daughter, has been the artistic director and dancer with Project Bandaloop, which she founded in 1991. Project Bandaloop could be described as Cirque du Soleil on steroids, although she recoils at any such comparison and has a visceral reaction to the more well-known Canadian entertainment company’s selfdescription — ‘a dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment.’ Project Bandaloop instead states it ‘honors nature, community and the human spirit through perspective-bending dance.’ Over the years, Project Bandaloop, choreographed by Amelia, has reimagined dance, activating public spaces and inspired wonder and imagination in audiences around the world and, in the process, trained dancers and youth both in the US and on tour. Amelia — who has learned ballet and Bharata Natyam and gymnastics, and done rock and mountain climbing – is continually challenged and educated by her experiences in nature. This, she is convinced, is a manifestation of the adventurous spirit and independent streak of her parents, who in 1956 drove a Land Rover overland from Salzburg to India. For the next 50 years, they went back regularly, researching, writing, lecturing, always studying. On dance and India The early introduction to Indian dance, the community and human relationships she formed in India, the hikes through the Himalayas, the long drives to Kashmir, her schooling in Mussoorie, Amelia says, set the stage for everything else that followed. She says it molded her life and work. During a conversation in Washington, DC, where she was presenting Bound(Less), a large-scale vertical dance where dancers circled the historic old Post Office Building in harnessed on-wall movement to

live music by Dana Leong, Amelia says, “I’ve been a dancer since I was small. I studied Bharata Natyam very seriously in Jaipur in 1970-71. We would go and live as a family every four years for one year, since my parents would be on research grants, and speaking tours, etc. I believe that was the year they encountered the Amar Singh diaries and started asking questions, which turned into a 40-year project. My teacher was from the south (India), but he came to Jaipur to teach me. I practiced very hard and apparently was very focused. He said to my parents, ‘I will take her to my dancing school and I will make her a great Bharata Natyam dancer.’” That was not to be. After finishing 10th grade at the Woodstock school in Mussoorie, she returned to the US to attend college at Swarthmore, from where she received her bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree from the Theological Union at Berkeley. But dance came to the US with her. Amelia says, “I chose that school over Harvard because they allowed me to do religion and the arts. It was here, while I was getting my master in comparative religion, that I created a group of people to dance my master’s thesis, which was in religion and the arts. With that group of people, I decided to keep going.” “I had this idea of having a dance company and at the same time I began to rock climb in the Sierra and I loved it,” she says. “It was a way to engage nature physically and mentally that was so focused and powerful and in these incredible places. On one of my early climbs, I was holding on, looking around, and thinking what would it be like to dance here, and that was one of the initial thoughts that turned into what we do now. Since that time, we have danced on flat surfaces and rural meadows, and we’ve been high in the mountains in Italy, Norway, as well as Sierra many times — it was all about celebrating natural spaces with performing arts.” “The India connection, the love of dance, love of movement, the exploration of gravity through Indian dance and Bharata Natyam in particular made me incredibly grounded. I spent a year in India studying Odissi with Kiran Segal in Delhi, which also made me aware of thinking about this inward gravity.”

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On becoming a global citizen Amelia says there is no denying that she is a quintessential global citizen today because of the more than five years she lived in India, especially the years spent in the central Himalayas, and the influence of her parents. “When I was three, in India, I was learning Hindi and seeing the theatre that is India — the street shows, the performances, the food, the smell, Holi and all of the colors — just everything,” she says. “All of these sensory inputs made a powerful impact on me as a child, on my imagination and how I saw the world.” Consequently, every time she returned to the US, she says, “I would find America so bland and so wasteful — these would be the two words that come to mind. Compared to India, it’s so bland, so brown and so gray, and the waste shocked me. It was a hard cultural return from India as a kid — having this shift of consciousness as a child between very different worlds.” “Of course, when I was in Jaipur, India was a different place too,” she adds. “There was no Coca-Cola. It was a closed economy. It was much, much smaller, one-third the population of today, and Jaipur was tiny. So, I had an impression of the world that was very different from many of my colleagues in Chicago.” On living in India Amelia speaks animatedly about the cultural milieu while living in the world of her parents in India. It was a world, she says, “where you constantly go see dance, then there’s the music and friends, art on the walls. There was also that processing as a kid, especially of the poverty and the sickness, which was shocking to me, but also a very healthy awakening — that life is very different for many people in the world. It made me realize how lucky we are in so many ways. I would come back and find the kids here just taking so much for granted. Because of the time I spent in India, it would make me feel very dif-

‘They instilled in us adventure, the global citizen, the rigorous mind and academic curiosity’ ple of times,” she says. “We did a small piece at Woodstock for the opening of their gym and the State Department sponsored our performances in Hyderabad and Delhi. We scaled and danced on the skyscrapers facing Connaught Place (in New Delhi).” On her parents’ India connection Amelia believes her parents’ connection with India is complex. “They are intellectuals who became completely fascinated with India — its expression of politics, the expression of identity, the expression of how states exists, all the big questions and all that plays out in the historical state of India — as its so unique,” she says. “It’s so fascinating… because of India’s history, of being such a long and robust culture. Then we have this historical shift with the British and then emerging out of the other side and how that history is so ripe and rich with material and interesting stories.” “On the other side of it are the people — this huge network of community of people in India whom they are very close with and who mean a lot to them and who inspire them and who they inspire. That is something that is so India — the family connections and community and that they have there in a way they don’t have here.” “There is also this side of my parents as academics that people don’t really get — their adventure in India. For crying out loud, they drove to India, the two of them, a woman and a man, just the two of them from Europe, through Pakistan. It’s just unbelievable. I strongly believe that side of them is so important, this spirit of adventure.” She recalls, “In 1971, while we were all driving to Kashmir, we were in a car accident. It was all very scary in the rain. But I remember my dad saying how all of this was so fulfilling, that life is good… that you are not sure of what’s going to happen next PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS and what the next project is and where you are going to go and what you are going to do.” “I believe that’s an amazing quality that they both have, and which they instilled in all of us kids. It is the worldview that I embrace. They instilled in us the adventure, the global citizen, the rigorous mind and academic curiosity.” “Some academics like the right answer,” she says, “but they are not interested (in that). They don’t believe in objective truth. I remember in our household, no one ever would say you are wrong. I don’t remember my parents telling me I was wrong — like that’s the wrong answer. Your perspective was what would always matter.” „

ferent.” “I was horrified when I went to India,” she remembers. “By the time I came home, it gave me humility, but had also evoked in me a curiosity of hope and mind that what you perceive and see around you culturally is one flavor and there are many out there. This gives you a respect for other cultures.” During the time in India, Amelia says, her parents imbued in them a cultural sensitivity to people that holds her in good stead even today. “It would be like the simple act of saying Namaste when you meet people,” she adds, “and not putting your feet forward or up when watching a dance — certain subtle things that were very important culturally.” On being a good Indian girl “Being the good Rajasthani girl that I am,” Amelia says, “I told my husband that you are not properly married till you get married in Rajasthan. So we got married again at the Kanota family house, and my Bandaloop team also came. He (her husband) came on a haathi (elephant) and all that.” “We took the company back to India a cou-

Amelia Rudolph at her Indian wedding at the house of the Thakur of Kanota. Being a good Rajasthani girl, she says, she felt that she wouldn’t be properly married until she had a ceremony in Rajasthan


M57 India Abroad June 2012

‘The Rudolphs shaped careers, influenced lives’ Arthur Rubinoff salutes his teachers, friends, and inspiration

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eople, including television interviewers, are always asking me how I, someone from the football factory of western Pennsylvania, became interested in India. I reply that it was because of my exposure to Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph at the University of Chicago. It was my intention to study British politics, the subject of my undergraduate honors thesis, when I arrived at that institution in 1964. However, Herman Finer, who taught that subject had just retired. Lloyd Rudolph, who had written a PhD dissertation on British politics under Sam Beer at Harvard, had just joined Chicago’s faculty, but he was teaching ‘The Government and Politics of India.’ The closest I could get to studying British politics was to take Lloyd’s course on India. Lloyd had a very effective means of introducing students to a multiplicity of aspects about India in a way that laid the foundation for future research. Our paper assignment was to write on a personality, an issue, and an institution. I wrote on ‘Nehru, Parliament, and Goa.’ That essay led to my writing two books on the former Portuguese colony: The first on the 1961 Indian military campaign that incorporated Goa into the Indian Union, and the second on the state’s subsequent politics after its integration, as well as dozens of articles on the country’s domestic and foreign policies, including the role of the Indian parliament and the United States Congress in bilateral relations. The number of published dissertations on their office bookshelves is testimony to the Rudolphs’ skills as supervisors. Unlike most Chicago political science professors at the time, Lloyd Rudolph was completely undogmatic. He did not insist that students replicate his work or his methodology. When I approached him to supervise both my master’s and doctoral dissertations, he instructed, ‘Do something interesting and important and I will support you.’ Under his direction I won Fulbright and Ford Foundation Fellowships to research my PhD dissertation ‘Neutralism and National Interests: India’s Foreign Relations with Egypt and Yugoslavia,’ the Nehru-Nasser-Tito relationship. It was the first of my 11 research trips to India. My career was launched. The Rudolphs were stimulating teachers. They were a team and many students had the benefit of working with both of them, either separately or in courses they taught together. Susanne Hoeber Rudolph was a mainstay in the popular Indian Civilization course where she exposed thousands of undergraduate students to the study of the subcontinent. Susanne had an illustrious career. She was the first woman to gain tenure in the Division of Social Sciences at Chicago, and she later became the first female chair of the Department of Political Science, as well as president of the Association for Asian Studies and the American Political Science Association.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph and Indira Gandhi at O’Hare International Airport in the fall of 1965. They had invited her to the University of Chicago for a lecture

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The Rudolphs were generous toward their students. They encouraged their students to publish and provided them opportunities by engaging them in their own work. A number of their former students contributed to various editions of Making US Foreign Policy Toward South Asia (University of Indiana Press, 2008). Most importantly, the Rudolphs were role models — especially for married academic couples. They entertained every class at their wonderful home in Kenwood, a practice my wife Janet — also a scholar of India — and I replicated. At the time of their retirement 10 years ago,

Lloyd explained their philosophy of teaching, ‘For four to six years the people you teach are your students, and for the rest of your life they are your friends and colleagues.’ The Rudolphs stayed engaged with their former students. When we were in Chicago, their house was our base in that city. When Lloyd and Susanne were in Toronto, they stayed with us. The Rudolphs are not just great scholars and marvelous teachers. They are wonderful people. „ Arthur Rubinoff is Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Toronto


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‘They should be given honorary citizenship of India’

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he Rudolphs were very close to my parents so that is how I first knew them. I may have met them for the first time sometime after 1965 in Jaipur when I visited them. It was because of their persuasion that I chose Chicago University over Princeton for my Fulbright Scholarship. Lloyd was my faculty advisor and I did a reading course with Susanne there. Subsequently I have known them as friends and colleagues with a lot of shared interests. In the 1950s, the Rudolphs came to India from London via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (by road) and started writing about it when the country was not ‘fashionable’ for academics across the world. They returned to the West and that is when a large number of courses began being taught at Harvard. Over the decades they have trained generation after generation of students about India and have contributed to the understanding of India in far many ways than one can imagine so much so that their thinking on some issues has provided important shifts in the ways we think of India

The Rudolphs’ partnership is like a jugalbandi, says former student Shail Mayaram today. Both Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph are extremely serious about their work. They would start at a particular time and end at a certain hour. They have been disciplined and their partnership is unique. This is also what set them apart. Their partnership was almost like a jugalbandi where you cannot identify individual distinctive strands. I know they had debates and arguments, but you cannot identify one voice from the other in their works. Often they would jointly present a paper and Susanne would pick up where Lloyd would have left off. This is very special; there aren’t many examples of such wonderful academic partnership and, of course, a great marriage What also makes them special is that their interest has been varied — from the Akbarnama and Sanskrit to Gandhi and

Nehru and debates on history texts and education, they were keen to learn and discuss about each of these topics. Whenever they were in India, they would read not just the English language newspapers, but also Hindi dailies, spend time talking to people about what was happening around them and, hence, get a great grasp of what the modern state in Rajasthan was all about and what it was doing. Both Susanne and Lloyd have lived the life of the mind to the fullest. Work for them wasn’t something that stopped at five. It was something they were always engaged with. For their contribution, I believe that they should be given honorary citizenship of India. „ Professor Shail Mayaram, Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, spoke to Abhishek Mande

‘We are still your family’ The Rudolphs’ monumental book Reversing the Gaze is based on Thakur Amar Singh’s diaries written between 1895 and 1905. Thakur Mansingh Kanota, Amar Singh’s grandson, looks back at their contribution to Rajputana and Rajasthan

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rofessors Rudolphs came to Jaipur in the 1950s and met my father Thakur Mohan Singhji. They discussed my grandfather Thakur Amar Singh’s diaries that are 89 bound volumes of about 800 pages each. The first time they came down to India, they stayed with the Bissau family (aristocrats) from whom I suppose they heard about us and the diaries. They were quite interested in and attracted to the material about Rajputana (that they saw in my grandfather’s diaries) and requested my father not to hire anyone for the job. The next winter they returned, rented a house next to ours and started their research work. I believe that after Colonel James Tod, the Rudolphs are perhaps the only people to have written (so authoritatively) about Rajputana. Their books have helped the West have a better understanding of Rajasthan and India. One of my first memories of the Rudolphs is that of a large office being set up in Narayan Nivas (which is now a hotel) with lots of typewriters and people working, typing, taking notes… Every evening the Rudolphs would discuss with my father what they found of interest in the diaries and what they could print and what they couldn’t, etc. Each time they would return to the US, they would take the material back, work on it, send it back to my father who would write back to them. This went on for a few years — almost five, six years or more.

The Rudolphs were fascinated by Thakur Amar Singh’s diaries, which were 89 bound volumes of about 800 pages each

Their son Matthew and I studied together for two years in St Xavier’s and as time passed they became part of our family. Matthew and I were good friends and during our time in school we made for an odd pair — he, a gora foreigner, and I a dark-skinned Indian. I remember he used to be quite an attraction in school because no one then had seen a foreigner in school! Along with his parents, Matthew would occasionally join us for shikars (hunting trips) and for the time he was here, he was even learning a martial art from my father. After work, the Rudolphs would spend their time sometimes going for shikars with my father. In the evenings, Lloyd would occasionally be spotted playing squash at the Ashok Club where Susanne would join him sometimes. Matthew used to love bicycling and riding. As a family, the Rudolphs were very social and were very well-connected not just with the Thakurs, but also with the Rajasthan intelligentsia, the academicians; they managed to balance the two quite well. If there was one thing I’d like to tell the Rudolphs it is this: My father is no more, but we are still your family. We look forward to hosting you once again at Narayan Niwas! My best wishes to you and I pray for your good health. „ Thakur Mansingh Kanota, a hotelier, spoke to Abhishek Mande


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‘My parents are like the Energizer bunny’ ‘My parents are plain gutsy. They are the ultimate real adventurers,’ says eldest daughter Jenny Rudolph

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loyd and Susanne’s eldest daughter Jenny Rudolph works in Boston as the associate director at the Institute for Medical Simulation. She is also an assistant clinical professor at the Harvard Medical School. Jenny has a yoga practice and has won medals for rowing internationally. She adopted a girl from Nepal and feels that her journey to adopt little Maya began with her parents’ special links with India and the six years she spent there: et me start backwards a little bit with the theme of Maya, who is taking a nap right now. Maya is our six year old, who we adopted from Nepal four years ago. We have really been trying to work hard to kind of keep her connected to South Asian culture. So, I speak a little bit of Hindi. We do a lot of small words and counting and everything like that. Hindi is obviously not exactly the same as Nepali, but I don’t speak Nepali, so I am just trying to sort of keep her connected. I think this is all from the wonderful opportunities that my parents provided us to spend time over there (in India). Maya has been enrolled in something called Shishu Bharati here. Every Sunday morning she is doing her little Hindi classes, her little South Asian culture and holidays (orientation) and so on. We are sort of tuned into when Diwali is and all those kinds of things, and that helps us remain in the loop and stay part of an Indian/South Asian community. My partner’s name is Linda Shalon, she is an Anglo-American. My other daughter (Tia, 15), who is actually the biological daughter of my ex, is also white. So, this is our first time experiencing a multiracial family. I feel like that is a very important commitment of ours. To stay connected to the variety of cultures that Maya came from. It is not hard for us, because I cook Indian food two or three times a week. I notice, when I hang around a lot of Indian colleagues and people that we see at the school, they actually know less about India than I do. (I) spent time there, really interested and steeped in the culture and what not. (In terms of) sheer logistics and on a personal level, it was fairly difficult to make the transition in either way, initially. Leaving the

Jenny Rudolph, right, with her parents and siblings

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States and leaving all our friends and going to Jaipur or Woodstock School (Mussoorie, northern India). Always within a month or two of getting there we were so really thrilled to be there. We had great friends in Jaipur that we have been friends with since we were little. And at Woodstock — which I started going to when I was in the eighth grade, and Amelia started going to when she was in the sixth grade, and Matthew when he was in the second grade — (we had) a lot of friends there, so making those connections which were important. We were always a little bit snobby about actually valuing and knowing Indian culture. There were a lot of people we interacted with, for example at the American Embassy School, who had no clue about Indian food, no clue about Indian holidays. I remember feeling very smug at one of our basketball games. Woodstock was playing the American Embassy School. We had all these little mithais for fundraising in the middle — Jalebis and Gulab Jamuns etc. Kids from the AES came up and said ‘What’s this?’ So like ‘How long have you been living in India? This is the Gulab Jamun. It is the best dessert ever.’ You know ‘What is the matter with you?’ I think we enjoyed our (superior cultural knowledge). The other wonderful thing I remember from being young was Mom really tried to bring the Hindu pantheon alive for us. She is

a fantastic story teller. Before iPads, iPods, music and all that stuff — whenever we had long car rides, especially when we were in India, but also in the States, she would tell us the story of how Ganesh got his head or why did Vishnu have water pouring out of his head. All kinds of stories that allowed us to have a personal connection… I feel like I have a personal connection with all the members in the Hindu pantheon. My parents were completely successful in convincing us that the culture of our family was the best and right-est culture. So, we had this feeling that our family was better. And our family was more knowledgeable and that it was really important to value other cultures. I can’t even say that we thought of it as valuing other cultures. We thought everybody should (be valuing other cultures) and there was a sort of naturalness with which Mom and Dad did everything with. For example, I was probably 10 years old, nine years old, before I realized that not everybody’s parents went to office together. I thought everybody’s parents worked together. I remember going over to a friend’s house (and asking): ‘What’s your mom doing home? Your dad and mom don’t work together? What’s going on with this?!’ (My parents) certainly are very similar,

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M60 India Abroad June 2012

‘My parents are like the Energizer bunny’ M59

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and very linked. There were challenges and culture differences (about going back and forth between the States and India), but I think my parents really succeeded in brainwashing us in a very positive way. (That) it was a superior lifestyle to really appreciate and live in different cultures. I kind of felt sorry for other kids who only lived in the States. I think it is really my parents’ model of sharing their deepest intellectual passions and their work passions that has really set a very high bar for me about what I expect in my friendships, what I expect in my intimate relationships. The ability to talk about all kinds of challenging, deeper subjects…. I think it is really something I got from my parents. I am in some ways much more psychological than my parents. I am in the family business, in the sense that I am in academia, but I am an organizational behavior person, a kind of special psychologist. I am much more interested in what makes people tick whereas my parents are much more interested in what makes governments tick. I think my intellectual curiosity came from the rigorous approach that they take to (issues/life in general). One thing I really value is that my parents are just plain gutsy. They are gutsy and they have amazing stamina. This year my dad is 85 and my mom is 82 and this is the first year since 1956 where they have not physically been able to travel to India and that’s the only thing that is keeping from going. They are very torn about it. We are all hoping that my mom will regain more of her strength. I am 30 years younger than they are and until maybe a year ago, two years ago, I couldn’t begin to keep up with their schedule. They are like the Energizer bunny (the mechanical toy in the battery advertisement that keeps going and going). When you ask (how India has affected you) I will just tell you what things are going through my mind right now — the quick associations… So, I am thinking particularly about going — my sister and I — to the little Ganesh temple near our house (in Jaipur) with our ayah (nanny). I think about going to the Ganesh temple and bringing the Ladoos, ringing the bell. The other thing that came to my mind is going to Bodh Gaya (in Bihar, northern India, where Buddha found enlightenment) as an eighth grader and then as a senior in high school. I am a Buddhist and I have had a very serious yoga practice for 25 years. I feel like spiritually — I know this is so clichéd for Westerners to say it and I am reluctant to say it — but spiritually that’s the biggest impact that India has had on me. I am deeply, deeply, influenced by the philosophy of Buddhism, the tolerance of Hindus — many Hindus, I should say, not all — and the tolerance of Hinduism as a whole, in contrast to many other world religions as prac-

Lloyd Rudolph with his grand daughter Maya at their Vermont home. Jenny feels her journey to adopt Maya (from Nepal) began with her parents’ special links with India and the six years she spent there

COURTESY THE RUDOLPHS

ticed, had a big influence on me. The other thing that had a big influence on me was deeply experiencing the differences between passive cultural expectations. I remember writing my Harvard college essay, for entrance, on the difference between time perception in the United States and my experience of time perception in India. As kids we used to joke about you know how people did not get at all impatient about waiting or being late as much as we as busy, busy, Westerners did. That is obviously all changing in India in the last 20 years. I think the best parts of me — the part of me that can be present in the moment, the part of me that aspires to connecting deeply with others, the part of me that is valuing of relationships, rather than getting things done — I attribute a lot of that to my experience, especially in the Himalayas. For that

landscape alone, being there in Woodstock and going into the higher Himalayas (I have) a lifelong, deep attachment. For me that is the right state to be in, the place to be, emotionally and spiritually. When I am awake and when I am present, I realize that I really associate a lot with my experiences, my best moments in India. My parents are the ultimate real adventurers in a way. They have been willing to take risks. They have been willing to bring their family. The idea that anything is possible if you work really hard and put your mind to it. They are very accomplished, but they work extremely hard. Admiring their stamina as well as their gutsiness I think that would be (what I think is most special about them). „ Jenny Rudolph spoke to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel


M61 India Abroad June 2012

‘They were like jazz musicians riffing off of each other’ Stephen B Herschler looks back on his time as a Rudolph student

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ou could say it started with lunacy and ended with poison, my time as a Rudolph student at the University of Chicago. I first encountered Lloyd at a department of political science graduate student reception shortly after arriving, fall 1988. By chance, I found myself in a circle of students surrounding a rather dashing, very animated figure, all of us desperately trying to keep up with a conversation that challenged me both by its theoretical depth and its empirical breadth. Afterwards, two other junior graduate students called me over and, laughing raucously, exclaimed, ‘Isn’t he totally senile?!’ Five years later I was asking Lloyd to chair my dissertation committee. Likewise, Susanne’s impact upon me and many others of my cohort was both powerful and immediate. My indoctrination into U of COURTESY: STEPHEN B HERSCHLER C’s obsession with theory started my first term Stephen B Herschler, right, with the Rudolphs at the defense of his dissertation in 1999 with her Max Weber class, which she led with immense knowledge and intellectual recti- of linear logic. Studying with the Rudolphs meant far more tude. (Only later did I learn that she came from an academic family that was part of than engaging class discussions. Indeed, most of the academic fun was to be found in nonWeber’s broader circle.) The elegant yet dynamic energy with which class academic activities. There one could see she conducted class and the way that phrases them at their best: As a team. I cannot imagine two academics working like ‘Weber’s conceptual architectonics’ rolled off her tongue made one of my first year col- together more naturally and effectively than leagues practically swoon at the mere men- Lloyd and Susanne did. Although one might think that Susanne’s role was to tether Lloyd, tion of her name. I am still mulling over a comment she made at times they swapped roles. Keen insights or in that class suggesting Weber’s differentia- great anecdotes came from both of them. tion of Western ‘rationalization’ from Chinese They worked not as an ‘United Front’ over and against students, but more like senior jazz ‘typification’ to be problematic. Susanne also stood out as the first Chicago musicians riffing off of each other while trying faculty member to know my name outside of to induce a good intellectual jam session with class, a watershed moment for any new grad- those around them. Such ‘intellectual jam sessions’ occurred in uate student, but then she was always acutely attuned to the human factor. In fact, I decid- venues formal and not. Formally, the Social ed to write my Masters paper on Weber just to Sciences Division had set up a series of ‘workshops’ — non-credit, interdisciplinary semiwork with Susanne. Although not a student of South Asian poli- nars where faculty, students, or distinguished tics, I like many of my cohort took as many guests could present research and discuss it. classes from the Rudolphs as I could. For me Although my own focus was China, I attended that meant, in addition to Susanne’s Weber the Rudolphs’ South Asia and Middle East class, Lloyd’s classes on US and European workshop regularly. SAME workshops were bureaucracy, the American Presidency, and not tea parties; some pretty intense disputapolitical economy for post-moderns. I am tions occurred over the years. A cycle seemed to develop: Differences geneternally grateful to him for introducing me to some great ideas and books, ones that influ- erated factions; fissures deepened until some coterie would splinter off, perhaps subseence me to this day. Having taken numerous courses with him, I quently to re-enter the fold. But such is the think I understand the principles underlying stuff of politics, perhaps particularly the poliLloyd-speak. Take a person with a profound tics of South Asia and the Middle East. The Rudolphs presided over the workshop curiosity about everything, one with deep knowledge about many things, and a firm with an equanimity that factions may not conviction about the interconnectedness of have appreciated at the time, but which knowledge. Now, set that person to talking helped the intellectual community cohere about any topic. Invariably one sentence will over time and across academic generations. While Weber would have chided them for lead to another sentence with an intellectually rich topic embedded within it, a topic sim- not maintaining a more strict delineation ply too exciting to ignore. Hence, another between the professional sphere and the priintellectual odyssey would commence before vate sphere, equally important to perpetuating a true, dynamic learning community were the first one had quite ended. Conversations with Lloyd did at times the ‘informal’ extra-curricular activities hostresemble trips through Wonderland, but ed by Lloyd and Susanne. The SAME workshop would usually conwonderlands they were indeed — at least for those not too constrained by the conventions clude with participants reassembling at the

Rudolphs’ to continue the discussion over beer and snacks. I remember as well a number of dinners they hosted featuring a good mix of classmates and distinguished guests. Unlike most other graduate school functions, the food wasn’t the draw, it was the people: Lloyd and Susanne. Reflecting back, although there was something unquestionably old school about Lloyd and Susanne’s gracious acts as academic gentry, there was also something distinctly populist about their actions. Their academic work, of course, often challenged conventional academic paradigms or dominant power structures. Their classes took a similarly critical stance without resorting to demonization of a straw man ‘other.’ When my own research seemed to be falling prey to conventional stances, they would cheerfully pose questions that made me question my assumptions or my categories. Being a professor now, in retrospect, I am amazed at the degree of trust they had in students. For example, they often used student presentations at the start of class as a springboard for subsequent discussion. A prominent intellectual force at the U of C, they were no factory. They informed their students’ intellectual development while never seeking to clone themselves. While there may be a Rudolphian intellectual stance, the concept of a ‘Rudolph School’ is an oxymoron. Now about that poison. My peripatetic dissertation committee left me no choice, but to defend my dissertation at the APSA meetings in Atlanta Fall 1999. Both Rudolphs were on my committee. Coming down to Atlanta directly from their Vermont home on their way to their Jaipur residence, they asked a favor of me: Could I swing by their chemistry professor friend’s office and pick up a vial of some chemical compound that they liked to use to wash their fruits and vegetables in India? Officially, US airport security banned the transportation of this substance as a poison, but how could I resist doing the Rudolphs a favor? Besides, it was pre 9/11 and it somehow seemed so fitting for my dissertation defense to occur in an Atlanta hotel room, attended by distinguished Chicago professors lounging in chairs and on beds, with me arriving to the event with a vial of poison — a scenario I doubt even my unconscious could concoct. I’m happy to report that the defense went fine. After the defense, however, things did get a bit dicey when it was discovered that the poison was missing. Eventually it was found in a drawer in the room into which Susanne had astutely, if not entirely consciously, tucked it. So, the lives of 1999 APSA annual meeting attendees were never really in any danger. Oh, did I mention that, like many of the best professors, the Rudolphs could be absentminded on occasion? „ Stephen B Herschler is Associate Professor, Politics, Oglethorpe University


M62 India Abroad June 2012

‘All their working life, they tried to figure out India’ N Ram, former editor-in-chief, The Hindu, on why the Rudolphs are his favorite Americans

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met Susanne Rudolph in the mid-1970s at the Tamil Nadu archives where my friend Badrinath Chaturvedi, a rebel IAS officer, was the commissioner of archives and historical research. He had invited Susanne for a talk and I was invited to attend the function. Her work was quite well known to us. She spoke of the modernity of tradition and tradition in modernity, and I had challenged her. I was young and asked, ‘Are you romanticizing?’ What struck me was she was remarkably tolerant of anyone challenging her ideas and was ready to discuss it. She treated you as an equal intellectually. After the talk, we had coffee, and she was very interested in listening to me. She welcomed any idea. Later she told me, ‘You gave me a hard time.’ That was my introduction to the Rudolphs. When I went to Washington, DC as The Hindu’s correspondent in 1980, I really interacted with both of them. There was this Association of Asian Studies that held its annual conference at the University of Chicago and the Rudolphs were the guiding spirits behind India Studies. Lloyd was the organizer and he invited me to be on a panel discussion. I remember I did a longish paper on India’s nuclear policy and sharply criticized the US’s non-proliferation treaty. I also remember staying with them. It was a huge house in the center of Chicago with some 10 bedrooms. Many of their students were also staying with them. Their hospitality was marvellous. They had a magnificent library and there I came to know of their intellectual taste. Spending time with them, I got an idea what intellectuals were really like. Let me quote historian Richard Hofstarter on the intelligentsia and intellectuals. The key distinction, according to him is, the intelligentsia lives off ideas and intellectuals live for ideas. I think that is very relevant to the Rudolphs. They are always interested in ideas and they are theoreticians, having taught at Harvard for many years and later at the University of Chicago for 37 years. They are wonderful teachers, I am told. They took joint classes and seminars. I have not seen such great intellectual partnership, equal and sharing. They may not agree all the time, but they complement each other. They

The Rudolphs at their home in Jaipur COURTESY: THE RUDOLPHS

even did joint keynote addresses. They engaged deeply with India. They made this famous land trip to India in a Land Rover from Europe and they must have fallen in love with India. From then on, they were interested in India and the modernization theory, which was an antidote to Communism. It was assumed that all these traditional societies just get modernized and go the European way. The Rudolphs really challenged it. They had a huge influence on area studies relating to India. It was very broad ranging in every conceivable field. They were not just trend setters, but they transformed the whole approach to area studies. They had challenged modernism in tradition and also theorized that class in the Indian context was subordinated by the state, which they called ‘Centrism.’ People have discussed, challenged and debated the idea. All their working life, they tried to figure out India — Indian politics, the role of class in Indian politics, Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology in the post-modernist context, the political economy, politics and education, regional leaders, elections, pursuit of Lakshmi. They also did some remarkable work on the diary of Amar Singh. There is nothing that they have not touched, except perhaps cricket. I don’t think anybody else had such broad ranging interests and stayed so long with their interests and covered such variety in their studies. I can’t think of anyone whose studies had such impact. None can be compared to the Rudolphs. Here, you have not one, but two people, if not

on the same page, on adjacent pages! To use horse racing terminology, they are not sprinters, but stayers. They stayed with the subject that is India, and showed tremendous commitment and changed with the times. They were very close to (former Indian prime minister P V) Narasimha Rao, who was an intellectual. Lloyd was always available to the media and gave popular lectures and tried to explain India. They are great friends of India in an intellectual sense, not uncritical, but the empathy was tremendous. They made significant contributions in changing views about India. They tried to figure out India in the last 60 years. They have made a lasting contribution through their profound work, especially in the modernity of tradition. They now share their time between California and Jaipur. I remember them working on the same floor of the house, but in different rooms; sometimes even in the same room. Once computers came, they started communicating by e-mail, commenting in a very objective way. It was wonderful to see them work like that. After my stay in the US, we were continually in touch, but not as much in recent years. I have stayed with them in Vermont and at Landour and they have stayed with us here in Chennai. They are such wonderful, gracious, courteous and graceful hosts. I would say they are my favorite Americans. „ N Ram spoke to Shobha Warrier


M63 India Abroad June 2012 Neera Tanden, a trailblazer, with President Barack Obama

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The Policy Guru

Neera Tanden, winner of the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2011, broke the glass ceiling last year to become the first Indian American to head up a major American think tank. Aziz Haniffa looks back at her inspiring journey


M64 India Abroad June 2012

Neera Tanden was a close aide of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, through her days as the First Lady, Senator and her Presidential campaign

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VANITA GUPTA Lawyer India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2004 ANURAG KASHYAP, ALIYA DERI, SAMIR SUDHIR SHAH, RAJIV TARIGOPULA Spelling Bee Stars India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2005 SUNITA WILLIAMS Astronaut India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2006

The Policy Guru

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eera Tanden — the first Indian American to head up a major Washington, DC think tank, when she took over as president of the Center for American Progress in November 2011 — says the more than six months that she has been at the helm of CAP and travelled across the country and beyond it has been a “great experience.” “What has been particularly heart warming is that young Indian women in particular, but also young Asian women, and young women of color — who don’t have a lot of role models of women heading up leading institutions — come up to me and tell me how my career has inspired them to get more involved in politics, in policy,” she says. “That has been particularly rewarding, because it is true that there are so few institutions like CAP that are run by women of color and Indian women in particular,” adds Tanden, 42. “It makes you feel real good and so very humbled.” She notes that most such organizations and institutions are mostly still run by older white men. The only other woman of color heading such an institution is Angela Glover Blackwell, who runs PolicyLink in California, a progressive institution that seeks to develop policies to achieve economic and social equity. “It is so much to the credit of CAP and its particular progressive infrastructure that women are thinking of getting involved and becoming leaders in these organizations,” Tanden says. “CAP has been an incredibly exciting institution and we are always developing long-term ideas and also short-term ideas and are involved in the political debates of the day,” she points out. “Over the last few months we have been doing lots of important work on women’s issues and driving the agenda on the differ-

ences between progressive and conservatives on women’s issues.” “So as a woman, it has been exciting to lead an organization as progressive as CAP as we jump into these issues and take the lead in these debates — and so far, so good. CAP really does work on the country’s most pressing problems and I feel CAP is really running… firing on all cylinders, but we still have a lot of work to do and think though.” Tanden — who served in the Obama Administration as a senior official and was a close aide and confidante of Hillary Clinton during her days as First Lady, United States Senator and her Presidential campaign — succeeded CAP’s founder and president John Podesta, President Clinton’s former chief of staff and the head of President Obama’s transition team, November 1, 2011. Asked if she occasionally, while sitting in her office, reflects on her own life — how far she has come as a young Indian-American woman whose mother went through very difficult times when her father abandoned them when Tanden was just 5 — she gets emotional. When her mother Maya got divorced and her husband returned to India, leaving her virtually destitute with two children to care for, Tanden has spoken of how her mother, who had never worked a day in her life, faced a stark choice. She told Politico that ‘she (her mother) could go back to India, where there was no woman she ever knew who had been divorced, or she could stay here.’ The family went on welfare for more than two years before Maya got a job at an Indian travel agency. Tanden has said thanks to a government program that offered faster building permits to developers who included lowincome housing units in their developments her family managed to remain in public schools in the affluent Boston suburb of M66

RENU KHATOR President and Chancellor, University of Houston India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2007 JHUMPA LAHIRI Novelist India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2008 MADHULIKA SIKKA Executive Producer, NPR India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009 RAJU NARISETTI Managing Editor, The Washington Post India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009 ABHIJAT JOSHI Screenwriter India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009 SHEENA IYENGAR S T Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division, Columbia Business School India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2010 SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE Pulitzer Prize winner and Assistant Professor of Medicine, Columbia University India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2010 VIJAY IYER Grammy-nominated jazz musician India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2010

From The Editors For being the first Indian American at the helm of a leading think tank in the country; for bringing fresh energy into the American policy infrastructure; and for her brilliant leadership.


M66 India Abroad June 2012

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Bedford. After a few years, Maya got a job at Raytheon, first as a travel agent for the giant defense conglomerate, and later rose to become a contracting administrator, which helped her put Tanden and her brother Raj, now a tax partner at a Los Angeles law firm, through college. Tanden first attended the University of California, Los Angeles, from where she received her bachelor of science degree, and then went on to the Yale Law School, from where she received her JD. “This is a great country where we still believe in ensuring that everyone can live up to their potential,” she says. “I believe I was really lucky that through government policies, as well as through people just taking a chance on me that the system was open for me to succeed. I didn’t have political connections; my family wasn’t wealthy; I didn’t have a network of people to depend on; I didn’t know anybody. When you are an outsider, you have to work really hard. I worked really hard to get where I am. It was not like anything was handed out to me.” Her life, she says, is “really a testament to people taking a chance on me and to ensure that there are opportunities for everybody and having an open network. “That’s why what really motivates me and why I think places like CAP are so important is to ensure opportunities for all Americans. Our most valued principle is ensuring opportunity for all; it was important to my success. America is a place you can be on welfare and one day be running an organization like CAP. That’s why I feel it’s fortuitous that I have this position. I am incredibly proud of what I’ve done every day and to get to work to ensure that this is true for other Americans.” Tanden is dedicated to this cause. She says, “What I think we lose sight of when you are talking about cutting back on schools, or Head Start or food-stamps… in the budget debates that those are real people,” she says. “I’ve benefited from all those programs. I’ve been on welfare, food stamps and school lunches at school when my mother fell on hard times, when my family fell on hard times. That’s why it’s so personal to me.” She recalls, “When I first started working for Hillary, she didn’t know about my background. But when she hired me and we were talking about it she said, ‘We should put you on a billboard and show America your story because people forget that story.’ I was really lucky, but I honestly believe, mine is an American story. There has always been two visions of America — whether we extend opportunity or restrict opportunity. And, I am proudly on the side of extending opportunity.” Inside the administration Tanden was a key protagonist in developing President Obama’s health care reform proposals, including the Affordable Care Act. She is still solidly behind the President. CAP as a 501(c) 3 organization “can’t lobby to get the President re-elected and we can’t participate directly in the political process,” she says. “But obviously, our role is to talk about ideas and to talk about differences between the conservatives and progressives and discuss what (GOP Presidential nominee) Mitt Romney’s election would mean for America. Romney has moved far to the right of where (2008 GOP presidential nominee, US Senator) John McCain was four years ago.” When pressed what would be wrong with a

Neera Tanden with her husband Benjamin Edwards and their children Ilena and Jaden

The Policy Guru Romney Presidency because after all the progressives are saying that the template for Obama’s health care reform proposals was Romney’s health care bill when he was governor of Massachusetts, Tanden says, “We are a 501( c) 3, so I can only tell you what Mitt Romney actually says. In terms of his policy, he has talked about cutting back Medicare, cutting back dramatically — draconian cuts to Medicaid. He would lower taxes for wealthy Americans, cut education spending, cut NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding, cut food security, cut a whole list of domestic programs. A lot of programs that Indian Americans and new immigrants have access to, like college loans, grant support — all this would be dramatically cut.” “What is so important to Indian Americans is that America should remain a place of expanding opportunities — an open place that is a meritocracy,” she points out. “That you don’t have to be an insider to succeed is really critical and the challenge is that Romney represents a close-door like insider. I don’t believe in a hand-out, I believe in a hand-up. America is a country of such diversity and people need to help when people are struggling.” In a Romney administration, she adds, “Only the insiders will be helped out. We’ve illustrated that in great detail. Republicans concentrate power among a chosen few and Indian Americans should also be very worried about it.” She acknowledges that there has been a dissipation of enthusiasm, particularly among young Indian Americans, many of whom had put their careers on hold or even left their jobs to campaign for Obama four years ago. But she defends Obama, saying progress had been blocked at every turn by “unprecedented efforts” of the Republicans. Tanden says it must not be forgotten that “this President has in his first two years accomplished,” what the Clinton administration was unable to do — health care reform. “I worked in the Clinton administration

COURTESY: NEERA TANDEN

and I was very proud to work there. President Clinton was a great President, but President Obama was able to accomplish health care reform, that had eluded previous Democratic Presidents. So, there has been progress, but there is one group blocking everything. You shouldn’t take that out on Obama, because of an intransigent Republican Party. “For us Indian Americans, we have to think how far the country has come and how meaningful it is to all of us — that you have a President named Barack Obama. I have friends who have unusual names, who are now thinking about politics because they never thought they could get elected and now they do. My daughter looks at the whole Obama family and thinks that she can one day be President. These are important measures of how far the country has come.” Taking CAP forward When Tanden took over as CAP president, Podesta said, ‘She is a committed public servant… has proven expertise in areas like health care reform, economic growth and justice, and crafting foreign policies that reflect our nation’s values and strengths. By appointing Neera, CAP is recognizing that she has the experience, the intellect, the policy chops, the public communication skills, and the leadership ability to blaze a path for this great organization and take it to a new level.’ Tanden is in charge of over 250 full-time staff of policy analysts and researchers, assisted by an annual crop of nearly 200 full-time interns, with an operational budget of $40 million. Taking over as president and chief executive officer, she says, was a relatively smooth transition. “I was well trained for the job being COO before this. So, I was really doing a lot of management of this organization. I am still able to do some policy work and I still head the health care analysis work (which she loves), but I am also responsible for the budget of the organization and do a lot of manage-

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M67 India Abroad June 2012

‘It was the three of us against the world’ Raj Tanden, Neera Tanden’s brother, gives Vaihayasi Pande Daniel a glimpse of how his mother, sister and he battled all odds to survive, and succeed

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tive feelings about India? aj Tanden, a tax That is an interesting question. attorney who pracIt is the opposite. Since my father tices in Los Angeles abandoned us I bonded much at the firm of Mintz more with my grandfather, my Levin, spoke to India mother’s father. His name was Abroad on the teleSuraj Prakash Mehra. phone while traveling on work in He was a great role model. He Massachusetts. basically pulled himself up from I understand you and Neera had a his bootstraps. He grew up in a difficult childhood and were raised ghetto in Kanpur and he became without a father. a self-made man. He was a very I have learned something in my caring and loving man. I think of 46 years. Bad behavior by men isn’t him as my surrogate father. limited to jurisdictions. I think Unfortunately he died in the Indians are as capable of such fall of 2010, but I had the opporbehavior as well as Americans. You tunity to take my son to India — hear about American families my son is turning six next month where their father abandoned — to meet my grandfather. I was them. That happened to us. so pleased that he got a chance to Our father abandoned us in 1976 meet the man, who I felt was my and my mother, who was born, COURTESY: NEERA TANDEN From left, Maya Tanden with her children Raj and Neera father. raised and educated in India, had I would say I am probably ambivalent about I think my sister realized at an early age that to take it upon herself to raise us. So for about a year we were on welfare while she trained to the government can assist people in their time (the concept of arranged marriages and the become a travel agent. She trained to do that of need and then help them become con- way marriages are made in India). I think my and then supported us. I was 10 and my sister tributing citizens. That’s what my sister wrote mother didn’t make the right decision, but in her essay and that’s the philosophy my sis- many people have had very successful was five. arranged marriages. (I am not against) the What are your memories of growing up with ter has followed throughout her career. arranged marriage system, but it obviously Why did your father leave his family? Neera? I think my father is unfortunately a very did not work well for our family. What I remember is that despite the fact I have very strong and positive feelings that we were in poverty, my mother cared for selfish, self-centered individual. I am right us deeply. It was a very loving household. (It now in Acton (Massachusetts) and he lives in towards India. We try to go to India every was) also a very inquisitive household. Since Carlisle (also in Massachusetts), but he has other year. I want my son to realize that he is we were talkers, she would teach us politics, decided that he does not wish to be involved an Indian American and he should be proud with my sister and I. He has never seen my (of it). challenge us and treat us as adults. My wife, who is not Indian — she is We would talk about the difficulties of the sister’s children or mine. (It’s) Very sad. Yes, he lives in the US. My mother married American, but her heritage is Irish and day and discuss what was important. It really instilled in us the liberal philosophy of gover- him and migrated to the US in the 1960s. He German — is very supportive of the fact that I nance that has carried with my sister to this left her basically poverty stricken in 1976. He want to raise our son as an Indian American day and has certainly carried with me as well. then remarried another Indian woman and and expose him to Indian culture. I use every My mother instilled in us — not overtly, cer- since then has had very little to do with his opportunity to expose him to that. I would say tainly by example — a desire to be good citi- original family. Despite overtures by my sister we are very proud South Asians or Indian zens and really contribute back. This is some- and I to try and reconcile with him he has Americans or whatever term you want to use. Certainly, that has a lot to do with how well one who was born and raised in India, with an shown no interest whatsoever. You must be great supporters of the my sister and I — I can only speak of my own arranged marriage, was abandoned by her American system that offers this provision of family, but my mother always treated us with husband with two young children. respect and dignity and that is the case By her example, my sister and I saw that welfare. (We are great supporters) of Democratic throughout my extended family. I attribute with hard work and dedication, one can make it. My sister certainly built up on that sort of principles. The Republicans, I think, are very that to Indian culture and I am very proud of vision and drive, by example. And she has fol- cynical and they would rather give tax cuts to it. What is your sister like as a person? lowed through with that through her entire multimillionaires than those that need govMy sister is a loving, caring, and sincere perernment assistance the most. life. In the latest (Paul) Ryan budget they are son. We were very close growing up. Basically, I remember reading her essays for the Yale Law School and that was what she said in basically gutting social programs to continue it was just the three of us against the world. When we went through our teens we sort of them and that’s true. (In her essays it was) the Bush tax cuts, so I guess we are big supbasically about how she came from poverty porters of the American ideal of helping those grew apart as typical teens do, but we certainand how she realized that government can in need, helping them get back on their feet ly have come back together and our families and helping them become contributing citi- are very close. help. She is a caring, dear and warm person. She We hear how the Republicans want to cut zens. I am not going to tell you how much I pay in practices what she preaches. She literally has back on welfare because people want to stay on it. I don’t know who in their right mind taxes (but) we pay back to America far more dedicated her life to public service and would want to stay on welfare. It is not like it than we took out. For that reason, my sister — because of the travails that she went through provides you with any degree of comfort — I am just a tax-payer — works in public serv- as a child that made her decide to make that (just) basic sustenance. It allowed my mother ice. We want this opportunity to be available dedication. I think India Abroad has picked a great perto go back to school and get a basic profes- to all. Did your father’s abandonment lead to nega- son. „ sional license to be a travel agent.


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From left, Benjamin Edwards, Neera Tanden, Hillary Clinton and Maya Tanden

A profile in courage M aya Tanden, now in her early 70s, is certainly a profile in courage and it’s from where daughter Neera gets her chops. Tanden, nee Mehra, Kanpur-born and raised, came to the United States when she was in her early 20s. She had just married, but after about 10 years of marriage when Neera was barely 5, her husband abandoned the family by selling the family home in the Boston area and took off back to India with the profits, leaving her to care for her two children, including her son, Raj, five years Neera’s senior. “I had an arranged marriage in India, but we were different and not compatible, and sometimes when you have an arranged marriage, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Tanden says. After she immigrated with her husband, they lived in Philadelphia the first few years. She says, “He was doing a business and dabbling in real estate and then we moved to the Boston area and after that we’ve always been in the Boston area.” But, she says, after about 10 years of marriage, “the whole thing collapsed.” She found herself as a single mother with two kids and had to give up her pursuit of a PhD in political science at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. She had received her bachelors and masters degrees, also in political science from Christchurch College in Kanpur.

Aziz Haniffa meets Neera Tanden’s mother Maya, the woman from whom the policy wonk gets her chops

“The first year or so was very difficult — I had never worked here," Tanden remembers. "So, it was very difficult and to try to work when you had no work experience was extremely difficult. I had to give up my working toward a PhD, and I had to go on welfare for a year or two. After that, I got a job, first as a travel agent and then I went to work at Raytheon and that’s where I had a good job.” She acknowledges that the fact that she was interested in politics and would have friends over to discuss politics rubbed off on Neera and got her hooked at an early age. “When I would pick her up after work — and she was only about 6 or 7 then — she would ask me questions like what is affirmative action,” recalls her mother. “It was quite incredible. I would be exhausted after work, but she wanted to know everything about affirmative action — why it was there, how it came into being, and how it helps minority groups and so on. That is just one example I remember so vividly.”

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“Neera and I and my son would have (discussions) and I guess, because of my strong interest, they got interested too. We used to have some very interesting discussions.” But life was tough, besides Neera had some major health problems," Tanden adds. “She was eight months old when doctors discovered a serious digestive problem, which they said could be genetic. The enzyme that breaks down sugar in your body, it was missing in her body. It was a rare disorder and in fact, I was so lucky, because we had a very good doctor and he and his team, previous to diagnosing Neera, had come across a couple of these cases before. There were only 11 known cases at the time who had survived from this deficiency.” She speaks of how Neera’s diet had to be closely monitored because otherwise it could have affected her brain. “I was beside myself and so worried and so concerned about her but I am so proud of her and what a remarkable woman she turned out to be.” “But those were very tough times and my friends would say, ‘My God! She can’t digest anything, what will happen to her. I struck to a strict regime, in terms of her diet and drink — no sweets at all — and we had to be very disciplined but she got through it and learned to live with it.” Tanden admits that the stress at the time

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would be overwhelming. “Here I was a single mother with two kids and a very sick child and with all the financial difficulty and had to train myself to go to work,” she says. “I had always said, one is given a duty and you do your duty. I looked at it philosophically in that this is the hand I was dealt, and I had to deal with it.” But it must have seemed worth it when her children did well. Tanden speaks of how Neera excelled in school, got a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles to do her bachelors, and thereafter to the Yale Law School. “She got admission to all the top schools — Harvard, Stanford, but even when she was young, she used to always say, she wanted to go to Yale,” the proud mother says. “Actually I couldn’t help them in terms of going with them here and there because of my job, but in some ways, because of that the kids became very independent and entrepreneurial and they developed great survival skills. Neera did everything on her own, applying for the schools, getting the scholarships and tuition grants and everything else, and was very politically involved during her college years too.” She recalls, “Neera was running for vice president of the Student Council (at UCLA). Suddenly she had to undergo some surgery. But the day she came out, she started campaigning again and got elected vice president.” Tanden acknowledges that when Neera

A profile in courage graduated from Yale, like a lot of parents, she hoped Neera would join a law firm, eventually make partner and become financially stable. She admits being quite perturbed when Neera decided to go into politics and join the Clinton campaign, where she met her future husband, Benjamin Edwards. “You know, I am Indian, and I always thought, it will be nice if she makes money. In fact, I said something to Hillary Clinton and she got very worried,” she says. “Now, I feel very embarrassed about that. But when you’ve been poor all your life, you are always looking to lift yourself up and enjoy some of the benefits that financial stability can bring. But I shouldn’t have said that to Mrs Clinton.” What Tanden told Clinton, at the time Clinton was throwing a wedding shower for Neera and Ben at the White House in 1999, was that when the First Lady had asked if she was proud of Neera’s accomplishments, she had replied saying, ‘A lot of her friends are partners at law firms and make a lot of money.’ Neera recalled this incident in a profile of her in The Washington Post’s style section and how she had stood mortified when her mother uttered these words, and that for months thereafter, Clinton would ask her if she was financially okay. Tanden says she is very proud of what her

daughter has achieved and how far she has come. “After all the hardships that we had gone through,” she says. “She just came right through it. She was just such a survivor, and I always knew the way she works so hard and is so disciplined, that she will come through everything.” She also gets nostalgic about how touched she was about Clinton’s concern about the family and the friendship the then First Lady had shown, which has continued to grow. “I still remember, what an unforgettable experience it was to me when Mrs Clinton came to my son-in-law’s show (Ben is an artist and has a studio in DC), and as she saw me, she hugged me and kissed me,” she says, getting emotional. “I have never forgotten that day because who was I? I just thought, who the heck am I? But here was the First Lady, recognizing me and coming over to me right away and hugging me and kissing me, and telling me how proud she was of me and the way I had brought up Neera and how proud they were of what Neera had achieved, and what an asset she was in the White House.” She adds, “I just couldn’t believe it — it was just like a dream. I guess it’s only in America that this can happen, considering all the hardships we had gone through.” „


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‘She has the vision needed to champion change’ Neera Tanden is first amongst the new generation of women who are reshaping and reinvigorating the political and policy infrastructure of our country today, says John Podesta, co-founder of the Center for American Progress and President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff

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want to congratulate Neera Tanden for receiving the India Abroad Publisher’s Award for Special Excellence. I first got to know Neera in the Clinton White House. She was my partner in founding and building the Center for American Progress. She is not only the first American Indian to lead a top tier Washington think tank, but also the first amongst the new generation of women who are reshaping and reinvigorating the political and policy infrastructure of our country today. Given our country’s challenges we need Neera’s brilliance and leadership now more than ever. She has the vision, energy and policy expertise needed to champion change. Among her many impressive achievements — she has worked for and been key advisor to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama. And doing all that while raising two beautiful children with her husband Ben! The Indian-American community can take great pride in her accomplishments and I am proud to call her my friend.

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erhaps there couldn’t have been a better appreciation of Neera Tanden on her being awarded the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2011 than from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for whom Tanden had worked for more than a decade. She was one of Clinton’s most trusted aides and confidantes. Clinton told India Abroad, “Neera worked for me and with me for many years, from my time as First Lady to my time as Senator for the great state of New York, and during my Presidential campaign. She consistently provided me with smart advice on major policy issues, and now as president of the Center for American Progress — a leading think tank that is providing new policy ideas to move the country and the world in a progressive direction — she and CAP are giving sage advice to policy leaders in Washington and around the world.” She added, “Neera has had an unusual path and a wide and varied career. She is a role model for many Americans, and including, of course, Indian Americans.” Gene Sperling, director, National Economic Council, and assistant to President Barack Obama for economic policy, who served in the same capacity in the White House for President Bill Clinton, told India Abroad, “Over the last 15 years I have watched Tanden work as a top domestic policy advisor in the West Wing of the White House, the top policy

Neera Tanden with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton COURTESY: NEERA TANDEN

‘A major force in progressive policy’ Hillary Clinton, Gene Sperling and Tom Daschle tell Aziz Haniffa why they admire Neera Tanden so much advisor to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, as a health care expert in the Obama Administration and as now the head of Center for American Progress. In each of those jobs she has shown the same impressive set of skills that has been responsible for her rise to being one of the very top progressive policy leaders in Washington.” He added, “She is fiercely committed and hard working. When I was National Economic Advisor to President Clinton I would sometime leave the West Wing at 1 am sure I was the last person there, only to see that Neera was still pouring over a memo to the President and First Lady on a pressing children’s policy issue.” Sperling pointed out, “She is tenacious and demanding. When she ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign she pressed and pressed all of us who were advisors to think again, to be more creative, and to think through every angle or

how a seemingly good idea might have a fatal flaw. “She is creative and brilliant. She has repeatedly found herself in top, high pressure, jobs where she had to master the details and politics of a wider array of issues than anyone else and yet still somehow usually emerges as the one in every policy room who knows the details, understands the complex politics and more often than not comes up with the key insight that will lead to a new and creative policy.” He predicted, “There is no question that Tanden will be a major force in progressive policy in the United States for decades to come.” Former United States Senator Tom Daschle said he has “had the good fortune to know and work with Neera Tanden in a number of

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Neera Tanden with former President Bill Clinton. She worked in the Clinton White House

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ment. I have to meet with the board, and spend a significant amount of time on this, but I still have time to work on some of the most pressing issues with the policy folks.” While acknowledging that there are “an array of policy issues” on CAP’s agenda, Tanden says, “Right now, the focus is on economic issues, because economic issues are so front and center... I really enjoy that, and I wish I could do more of that. But it’s my role in heading up the organization to make sure that we have the resources to be where we need to be, develop the policy we need to on important and press issues and making sure that we are getting new ideas out there.” “There has been no other organization that has been as effective in shaping the progressive debate as CAP,” she says. “So it’s easy for me to talk about that with donors or reporters of anybody else because it’s important for me to bring in new donors.” She has been assiduously and aggressively working her large network of contacts, talking about CAP’s role across the country, particularly in areas where the progressive agenda has not been disseminated. “We are very well established inside the Beltway and we have supporters here, but it’s great to have more people interested in CAP across the country and we are working with our supporters in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, and so on,” she adds. “The thing about CAP is that we are not a political organization, so, we are going to live on forever. We hopefully will get more and more supporters. So, it’s really exciting and I enjoy it.” Noting the significant number of young and talented Indian-American alumni that CAP has produced and have been recruited by the administration, Tanden says continuing to grow that reputation of young talent is her priority.

‘A major force in progressive policy’ M70 capacities for several years. As a member of the board of directors for the Center for American Progress, I have witnessed her impressive leadership skills and have been thrilled with her great success as our organization’s president.” He added, “Among her many talents, Neera is an extraordinary motivator and innovator. She is taking the organization to new levels and is viewed as a rising star in our nation’s capitol. She has a very bright future as a model leader for a new generation. Other young leaders could do no better than to learn from her example.” „

The Policy Guru She says, “With the really important and good work — rigorous work — we’ve been a place where we continually feed the administration from the White House to State, to Defense, and Treasury (departments). We are a feeder of talent… We are hiring talented people from all over — it’s not people hiring people they know, but really going out and getting talent. “I was incredibly lucky to be able to get into politics through a kind of scholarship. So, I think it’s really important for places like CAP to work long term and to bring in talented people. We really encourage our managers to seek out this talent. There is a lot of young Indian-American talent out there and we are looking out for them to play that role in helping to develop and shape policy.” Another priority item on her agenda is to establish an India Center at CAP. In an earlier interview with India Abroad, she had said it was a no-brainer to establish such a program because “first and foremost, India is a vital relationship with the United States regardless of my heritage. I believe it’s important that when you are thinking about America’s foreign policy challenges within the next century, India is one of the relationships which can move our standing the furthest.” She had said, “Obviously, I come to this position with a lot of interest in India as a person of Indian origin and an Indian American who has been to India many times; I have a strong sense of national pride and heritage. But beyond foreign policy, I also want to think domestically — in terms of the role and influence of the Indian Diaspora in the US and that will be an important issue of the work we will do once we hopefully set up this India Center. “My concern is that too often we think about Indian Americans as an immigrant community. I was born here, so, it’s no longer just an immigrant community. The focus has to be on… the kinds of issues that move beyond the first generation to the second generation, and

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there’s already a third generation, too.” CAP hosted Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao and US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell just before the recent third USIndia Strategic Dialogue, moderated by CAP Visiting Fellow Rahul ‘Richard’ Verma, another ex-senior Obama administration official. Tanden says this was a kick-off event of sorts for this program. She hopes some well-heeled Indian-American entrepreneurs will become donors to this program and reiterates that it will be different from the several other India centers and programs at other think tanks and universities. Besides briefings and meetings and seminars, she says, CAP will also use its young talent to spread the India and Indian-American message via social media and blogs and “talk more directly to people than the traditional way.” Tanden says, “We are incredibly successful in influencing the influencers, but it has to be more successful than the traditional way of thinking by communicating directly with people. That separates us out in a way that others don’t. We want to get the message out, for example, about India’s investment in the US, not just to the elite, but to each and every American. “It is the ability of ours in that we are a different kind of organization in thinking and strategy; we combine ideas with action and it’s this unique ability that makes CAP successful because we marry communication strategy and ideas to move the debate — from foreign policy to domestic policy. “We are an influential organization and, though it sounds corny, trying to make a difference is what motivates me all the time. I hope I can motivate others. Most importantly, I have people who recognize that you can actually change the world for the better — and that’s what has been motivating me for a long time, and I hope will motivate other people as well.” „


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Dr Shwetak N Patel, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Electrical Engineering, University of Washington

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The Innovator

PARESH GANDHI

MacArthur Genius Shwetak N Patel, winner of the India Abroad Face Of The Future Award 2011, discusses how his motel owner parents enabled his pursuit of scientific discovery and the discovery of happiness in this fascinating interview with Arthur J Pais


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Dr Shwetak N Patel with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, right. Patel is also a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow

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f you are meeting Professor Shwetak N Patel for the first time, it is better you don’t go to his lab. Unsuspecting visitors, even those who know he is 30, have stood puzzled wondering which of the young men in the room is the MacArthur Genius. Invariably, visitors head towards his graduate students. They look older than Patel does. If he shaves off his beard and moustache, he is easily mistaken for a teen, says his wife Julie Kientz, an assistant professor in the department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and The Information School, and an adjunct professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. Patel, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, best known for his work on developing novel sensing solutions and ubiquitous computing, received the $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship last year. The fellowships honor ‘talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.’ The 2011 class of 22 MacArthur Fellows included an evolutionary geneticist, a journalist, two musicians, a poet, a biologist, an elder rights lawyer and a European historian. One of the most valued of awards in America, it has also been given to musicians, novelists, potters, filmmakers, scientists, academics and magicians. The South Asians who have received include sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Harvard professor and surgeon Dr Atul Gawande. Patel, one of the youngest ‘geniuses’ at age 29, joined the University of Washington in 2008 as an assistant professor in computer science and engineering and electrical engineering. He told a university publication last year that winning the MacArthur felt like ‘winning an intellectual lottery.’ He confessed he collapsed to ‘the floor’ when he received his early morning call from the foundation in his Seattle home. The Alabama-raised son of immigrant motel owners gets this animated not only while discussing his work, but also his vegetarianism, the arrival of his first child in

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The Innovator October, travel (and his honeymoon in Bora Bora), his work with school children and his love for gardening. Among Patel’s inventions is the Infrastructure Mediated Sensing, which can detect noise on electrical systems to monitor the energy usage of specific appliances and electronics in homes. The MacArthur citation pointed out that in addition to the resource conservation applications of his sensor systems, he is also exploring their potential for home security or elder care, as they serve the related function of sensing human activity and monitoring movement.

The Honor Roll One of the youngest professors at Princeton, mathematician extraordinaire, a musician of unusual talent, Dr Manjul Bhargava won the inaugural India Abroad Face of the Future Award 2008. An astrophysicist exploring brave new worlds, she pushes the frontiers of our knowledge, constantly. It is the enchanting promise of future achievements that India Abroad recognized last year by conferring on Dr Priyamvada Natarajan its Face of the Future Award 2009. A pioneering innovator in social networking, he built Foursquare, a community of 20 million people and counting across the world. We honored Naveen Selvadurai with the India Abroad Face of the Future Award 2010.

From The Editors For being a technological genius; for developing innovative sensor systems for improving daily life; and for being a brilliant, young visionary.

Matt O’Donnell, dean, UW’s College of Engineering, has called him ‘an inspirational teacher’ and an innovator who understands the needs of the consumer. His technology start-up on energy sensing, Zensi, with colleagues from Duke and Georgia Tech, was acquired by Belkin International, Inc in 2010. He was also named a Microsoft Research Faculty fellow last year, which came with a nostrings-attached grant of $200,000 for his UW lab. For this and more, Seattle Magazine named Patel as one of its 100 most influential city citizens. The genius, who has been on the invention path since he was 8, speaks about his work and more to India Abroad at his office in Seattle. Tell us what has happened by way of work after the MacArthur Genius award. We could start with your typical work week. I am a professor. My primary job is to conduct research, advise graduate and undergraduate students working on our research projects, and teach classes. A typical week is a series of administrative meetings, staff meetings and classes. That’s a very small part of what I do during the week. My day usually starts at 8 or 9 am. I come in, I check in with my students in the lab. One of the things I really like doing is to be directly involved with the work that the students are doing. My office is strategically located right across from the lab so I can pop in and out all the time. My students may not like it, but I really enjoy it and I think they really appreciate it because I’m really involved in what they do. So I have in my lab, every now and then, (meetings) just to brainstorm ideas to work on projects. I have at least a half hour meeting every week with every single graduate student. The other thing I do once a quarter is what I call a marathon meeting. I have a one to three hour meeting with each student where we go into a lot more detail about what they want to do in life, what they want to do next

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‘He has so much energy and it’s just so infectious’ ‘Every time I’m around him, I feel this sense of energy and enthusiasm’ — Julie A Kientz on her husband ho did the black magic, we asked Julie A Kientz, MacArthur Fellow Shwetak Patel’s wife. W “Well…..it kind of just happened,” she said. “We were both studying

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for a qualifying exam for the PhD (at Georgia Tech). It was a lot of work and we were both doing it at the same time. We were spending a lot of time together and we realized ‘Hey, we were more than just friends’.” An Assistant Professor in the department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and The Information School and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, she works on the same campus as her husband in Seattle. She says she is interested in determining how novel computing applications can address important issues in health and education and evaluating those applications through long-term real world deployment studies using a balance of qualitative and quantitative methods. Her most recent research involves the design and evaluation of computing technologies to support parents tracking the developmental progress and health of their newborn children, individuals with sleep disorders, and families with children with autism. Kientz received her PhD in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008, under the advisement of Gregory Abowd (who was also Patel’s adviser), and her BS in Computer Science & Engineering from the University of Toledo in 2002. On what fascinated her most about her future husband I think it was his enthusiasm. He’s always so excited about everything and he never really stops moving. You might get that impression of him even if you spend a little time with him. He thinks a lot, he moves a lot, he just has so much energy around him and it’s just so infectious. So every time I’m around him, I just feel this sense of energy and enthusiasm. This is even one of the things when I wrote my dissertation; I dedicated it to his enthusiasm. The couple is expecting their first baby in October. On the cultural challenges in their relationship I wouldn’t call it so much of a challenge as an adventure. I’m always learning new things and exposed to new things that I definitely didn’t experience when I was growing up in the mid-West; where there wasn’t a lot of diversity where I grew up. I grew up in Ohio in a small town; we did not get a lot of exposure to different cultures. Getting to know Shwetak and his family and their cultural differences has been an adventure. It’s been just one thing after another. Sometimes, it’s oh! ‘There’s this great new Indian ceremony surrounding weddings that I just learned about for the first time. I’m kind of learning as we go along. When we go to visit his relatives and Indians around the country, we get to know about different types of food that his family makes and different rituals and customs. It’s really been eye-opening and fun. On what her family said when they heard she was dating an Indian When I first told them, they really didn’t ask about him, but wanted a clarification as to what type of Indian. (Laughs.) My brother lives in Montana and he thought Shwetak was native American. Apart from knowing that he was from India, my family didn’t know about different castes, different religions, different customs, different regions in India. They had some stereotypes about who Indians are; they knew some doctors in Ohio who were Indians, and it was a learning process for my family. They were pretty open. When they met Shwetak they realized he was just like me in many ways. So, they just went past that (his background) and didn’t seem to have any problem with it. He proposed to her at a ski resort in January 2009, near Mount Rainier. The two sat down on the side of a slope overlooking Mount Rainier. He then popped the question (he still had his snowboard gear on, so there wasn’t much kneeling involved). He didn’t have the real ring yet, since his dad had just come back from India with it, so he had secret-

Dr Julie A Kientz PARESH GANDHI

ly grabbed a ring from my jewelry box to propose with. Little did he know, it was actually a toe ring! How romantic! Shwetak told her he had wanted to propose close to Mount Rainier, so that whenever she saw it from Seattle, she would always remember where they were engaged. The two had an Indian wedding first, followed by an American-style wedding. The ceremonies were held on a decommissioned ferry boat docked in a Seattle lake. On some things her family found surprising in Shwetak in the beginning He being vegetarian was very interesting with my family. Growing up in the mid-West, it was pretty much a meat-and-potatoes culture. My mum has a number of recipes where she just puts bacon in or all sorts of meats in the dish. So just educating them (her family) on his vegetarian lifestyle was an important thing. I’ve always been very sensitive to him being vegetarian. I don’t eat meat when I’m with him and I’ve kind of graduated from it for kind of health reasons. I’m always educating them about Shwetak’s specific dietary requirement; and yes, he is American like me, but he has these little different quirks about vegetarianism. Another thing is that my mum was an English teacher. So, she really loves a lot of the clichés and idioms from English culture like ‘the pot calling the kettle black,’ ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and those sorts of idioms. I realize that Shwetak didn’t learn much of those idioms as I did when he was growing up. Often, he will take a lot of things that I say and what’s true of American culture and true of the English language that he didn’t really pick up when he was growing up and then ask ‘Why would the pot call the kettle black? Do the pots even talk?’ As an American growing up with American parents who have been here for many generations, my experience with the English language is a bit different than that of Shwetak’s who just didn’t pick up similar

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Dr Shwetak N Patel and his wife Dr Juile A Kientz on the Husky Stadium, Seattle, scoreboard, a recognition of the newest MacArthur Genius

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The Innovator M74 year, what jobs they really want to look for. This is a way to go into a lot of detail. It could be over lunch, in my office, or in the lab. The other thing I do is a couple of days in the week, I teach classes: It could be a graduate class, an undergraduate class and it could be on a variety of topics. That’s my day job. Working with students throughout the day, that keeps me excited, keeps me motivated, working on what we do. I also do a lot of things outside the university as well. I have consulting responsibilities where I work with other companies to commercialize technology. We are trying to commercialize our own technology. And so, roughly, a day a week, I work with other companies on that. This is really an exciting way to take the work that we are doing in our research lab and making sure it has impact outside the lab and university. How best have you been able to use the MacArthur Genius grant? When I got the phone call about the award, they said it would be a life-changing opportunity and I really never understood what that meant. Life changing! It’s just an award! It’s just a designation! The only thing that changed is that I got this award. I think one of the things that is apparent was the amount of perceived credibility I received. I am the same person, but the opportunity, the doors that opened, were just amazing! Just weeks after the announcement of the MacArthur award, I received a call to meet the Secretary of Energy (Steven Chu) in Washington, DC; it was a meeting that I was trying to set up for months. But after the MacArthur

award announcement, he had some time available and I had a personal meeting with him and that went great. The best thing that came out of this is that all my students are benefiting from this (the MacArthur Genius grant). They are also reaping the benefits in terms of the opportunities that we are getting with meeting with officials and executive members of companies. I think we are taking advantage of these opportunities to see what else we could do with our work. What is the enjoyment of being in the class like? How do the students challenge you and how do you challenge the students? There are two types of interactions I have with the undergraduate and graduate students: These are formal classes where I interact with them; the other side is the advisement of the research students; these are my PhD students whom I’m advising to do their thesis and then eventually they will get their own PhDs. On the classroom side, it is incredibly exciting. One of the things I have to do is to make sure that they don’t get intimidated. One of the students came up to me and said, ‘You know your class is very intimidating. What do I do in a class where a genius is teaching me?’ What does that really mean? You probably know as much as I do. Because my job is not just to give you the tips, techniques and skills to work on this problem, but to motivate you to work on this problem and be an inspiration for you to do well. I need you to push me as I’m pushing you. What I often try to do is to try to revamp the curriculum a little bit, to make it really fun. We do a lot of theoretical work, book work. But that’s only a very small portion. A significant portion of the work that I try to

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‘He has so much energy and it’s just so infectious’ M75 English from his parents. That’s been a funny thing as well. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling in my life, and it’s something I love to do. When I was younger, my parents took me on a lot of trips across the US by train, which is what got me started in my desire to take in as much of the world as possible. While in college, internships took me all over the United States, and while in grad school, conference travel and research internships led me to various countries across four continents. I hope to visit all 50 states — I’m at 48/50 now — and all seven continents — I am currently at 4/7 — at some point in my life. I’d also love to see all the Seven New Wonders of the World — I currently have seen two: The Great Wall and the Coliseum. Now with the baby coming, we should be planning to visit India. I want our child to know of its Indian heritage, too, and surely some Gujarati. „ — Arthur J Pais


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do in the classroom is actual projects that they have to apply to and really make it an exciting opportunity. Instead of me pushing them, the students end up pushing themselves. I realize what I need to do has been successful is when they realize that the things that they are doing is self-motivating. That’s kind of the curriculum I try to set up. You are very young; but you look younger than you are. If you were in the movies, you would be described as a hero who never grows up. So, as a teacher, is it difficult to make an impact on the students? PARESH GANDHI People always say to me that I look real- Inside Dr Shwetak N Patel’s lab. Among his inventions is the Infrastructure Mediated Sensing, which can detect ly young, like a graduate student, even an noise on electrical systems to monitor the energy usage of specific appliances and electronics in homes undergrad, not like a professor. Some even mistake me for a high school student. Some views, and university events. It started to calm ent culture, a very different set of cultural ask how hard it is to get students to really down a little bit; but then in February it start- norms that you have to deal with. But at the same time, it’s an interesting ed to ramp up again. trust you or treat you like a professor. They said it will keep going, maybe for a opportunity because you can see what the two Actually, I think it is the opposite. It’s actually easier for me to engage with the students. couple of years. It’s OK as long as I can man- different cultures are, (not only) what the difThere are a couple of reasons for this. One is age it and the schedule. But it is still fun and ferences are between the two cultures, but the feedback that I often get and I always it is always great to talk about our research, also the excitement of adopting them both. I grew up being bilingual. I’m the oldest; my make sure that I am very approachable. the university, etc. Now, the interviews are getting more inter- brother is in the middle and my sister is the Students often say I am very approachable, which may actually be because I am closer to esting. A lot of the initial interviews were youngest. It was a way for my brother, my sisabout the phone call that I got. ‘What am I ter and I (not only) to be able to convey diftheir age or look closer to their age. ferent ideas through different languages, but Whereas (on the other hand), if I were older, going to do with the fellowship?’ Now, there’s a different spin to it. ‘How did I also using different cultures to really expand for example, a lot of students say it is kind of intimidating. In a way, this is actually a great grow up, what is my philosophy in life, why what our view of the world really was. We became very open minded as a did I become a professor, what classes do I opportunity to get a different kind of respect. result. This should be (the case) for anyone grThey can come to me anytime and can teach,’ and so on. My sister and my wife (who is also a profes- owing in any country. speak their mind. I use that to my What was your dream when you were growadvantage. I don’t think it’s been a problem; sor at this school) have made a really good scrapbook. They found all the articles on me, ing up? it’s actually been an opportunity. I do a lot of presentations for middle school cut them out and made a big scrap book over What do your students call you? and high school students. The story I always They can call me anything. I don’t particu- Christmas. We are expecting our first baby in October. tell is that when I was growing up, I wanted to larly like to be called Professor or Dr Patel. They call me Shwetak. It’s all on a first name We are trying to come up with a unique name do a lot of things. I really did not know what I that also sounds Indian. I am going to give the wanted to do although I wanted to be an basis, which is common in computer science. If it’s my PhD students, or undergraduate book to the kid. That’s one of the things I inventor or scientist, and being a scientist is a research students, or students in my class- think about all the time: How do I explain all pretty nebulous concept. So, what is being a scientist? I wanted to be room, I encourage them to call me by my first this to my about to be born kid? an inventor, but I didn’t quite know what that What was it like growing up in Alabama? name. When I was growing up, we traveled a little meant. I just knew that it was something that They’re not just my students, they’re my colbit. So, I got a sense of what the other parts of you came up with a new idea and people leagues, right? would use it. I am a mentor while at the same time I want the country looked like. If you ask my parents (who ran a motel) I never really thought: Now here’s the them to be treated as colleagues so we are on the same footing. We can actually engage in South, and how it’s different from the rest of they wouldn’t have guessed what I wanted to dialogue that transcends the roles that have the world. I don’t think it was limiting in any do until the very end. I could have become a typically been set out, of a professor and a stu- way. It was pretty exciting. I was able to do a mechanical engineer, a civil engineer, a comvariety of different things that anybody could puter scientist, electrical engineer; I could hadent. ve gone into medicine. Did you ever feel you had to shorten or have done anywhere in the country. But when I was little, I really liked to build I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. change your first name? Did people ask you to Birmingham has a lot of people who have things; I liked to take things apart and reconchange your name? People have always tried to come up with an moved there from other parts of the country. struct them in different ways. My parents often spoke about me not being alternative pronunciation of my name. But There are a lot of transplants there. I was expearly on I just made a decision that I’m not osed to a lot of different cultures and oppor- able to sit in one place doing one thing, but going to change my name, I am not going to tunities and a lot of different ideas because running around and doing a lot of different there is a significant mix of a lot of different things; and a lot of it was around constructing have a different nickname. new ideas, new devices and building things If people pronounce my name properly or backgrounds there. I also went to a high school that was slight- from scratch. try to pronounce my name, then I know that As I got older, I think in middle school, I they are taking it seriously and they care. So, I ly different where there was a mix of different started to realize that computing technology, actually never decided to change my name. I people as well. What were the challenges growing up as the the computing revolution, was really fascinatjust said well that’s how it’s going to be. ing. son of an immigrant? Do you enjoy being interviewed? At that point, I really didn’t know if I was Being first generation, there are a lot of culThe MacArthur announcement came out in September 2011. The interviews started to tural challenges. At home, we had a lot of tra- going to be a computer scientist or electrical reduce around Christmas. September to De- ditional Indian culture and religious beliefs; M78 cember was ridiculously crazy — press, inter- and, outside it is very different: A very differ-


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engineer. I did a little bit of both. I ended up writing my first computer program when I was 6 years old. Later, in junior high, I started to really focus on technology. In retrospect, I really didn’t realize what I was thinking about until many, many, years later. What I was thinking was that computer science, electrical engineering, and computing in general was going to have a big role in the future. I didn’t know what role that was. But I started to see how computers were everywhere already. Computers were in our classroom, people were starting to learn about them, we were starting to learn more about the Internet. Every automobile had a computer. Everything had a computer in it. That’s when I started to say this seems like a really fun area where if I start to do something around in computing technology, which is also going to have an impact in a lot of different areas. Luckily, when I went to undergrad and grad school in computer science, I realized that that was actually true. Computing technology was having an impact in many different areas. Being the first born, especially of immigrant parents, did you have a choice in what you wanted to do? The most valuable thing my parents offered me in terms of my career was they said I could do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to do the family hotel business; I didn’t have to be a doctor, or lawyer, or engineer. They basically said you should do what you enjoy the most. I think that’s the best thing they could have done, because that allowed me to explore. Being the first born, that was big, that was huge, that was very valuable for me; to allow me to do whatever I wanted in college and as a career. At the end, what happened was that they were equally very supportive of my brother and sister and they were able to see what I wanted to do and they went off into their respective fields. I ended up doing computer science and my brother graduated with a PhD in chemical engineering. My sister is in medical school and going to be a doctor and also going to focus on research. Are your parents still running the motel business? Yes. I told them they don’t have to do it; I told them they could retire. But they said they would after my sister graduates. They still feel an obligation to help us out even though they don’t need to. Speaking of life lessons, what are some of the most valuable lessons you have taken from your parents and teachers? What incidents do you remember most? One of the things they taught me was ways to be happy. That’s something people always struggle to figure out. The little things that you overcome are the things that you really need to appreciate; and getting a PhD, is an incredibly stressful and hard time. We have a really typical qualifying process. The thesis process in general is really hard and very uncertain. You don’t know what’s going to happen at the other end of that process. Those are big hurdles that I had to get past. My parents taught me that these hurdles are going to happen in life all the time and when you get past them you don’t want to just discount them and say I accomplished this and (get) on to the next one. You really want to take a step back and reflect. Those little things you have gone past — and no matter how simple it is, you want to be able to embrace those hurdles and be able to learn from them and appreciate what you accomplished. Family was another thing that they really harped on. Early on we had to do all these family gatherings. What does that really mean? Later on, you realize that your friends and family are basically your social support and that’s what’s going to make you happy as well. Being family oriented was very valuable and that was something they really pushed on us. That totally makes sense now, growing up and seeing when I am starting my own family. Happiness starts at home — this is something they really encouraged to think about and instilled in us. What was your parents’ reaction when you told them you were going to marry a Caucasian woman? They were incredibly supportive. Everybody in the family was incredibly supportive. That was great for us, the family and everybody else. My parents are definitely conservative and open minded at the same time. They appreciate Indian culture and want to keep it as much as possible, and for a good reason, right? They have an interesting balance of the two cultures, Indian and

COURTESY: SHWETAK N PATEL

A young Shwetak in the kitchen. He was and still remains close to his family

American, which is really hard and they have been able to succeed. They were able to not lose the Indian culture while at the same time absorbing American culture. They were able to be not too conservative and not be too open so that the cultural traditions were not lost. Have you thought of what your child will inherit from you and your wife? Yes, a little bit! I think the values we can offer our children is openmindedness. That’s the most valuable part of what we can offer. We come from very different heritages, very different cultures and backgrounds; and that open-mindedness is going to be very valuable for that child moving forward. As a result, we will try to teach them multiple languages, give them exposure to multiple cultures, backgrounds. I want them to experience that, first hand. Professor and inventor Amar G Bose once said teaching electrical engineering at MIT was only a part of his work. He was also very keen on teaching his class to think critically. The field is moving fast, especially computer science and electrical engineering. Every six months, there is something different. It is hard to teach a particular concept because six months from now, they will have to learn a new concept. But critical thinking is definitely important. One of the things that I like to focus on is confidence. Confidence is the most valuable tool or piece of information that they can learn because confidence is how they are going to get through different challenges in life, be it an exam, a research problem, a project they are working on or just something else outside their career. I have seen a lot of students initially struggle, but when they start to get a little more confident they shine in the end. The skills will come over time. Part of the education system is to teach them how to absorb more skills and let them teach themselves, but I think confidence is the most critical component that I try to impart to them. We spoke about the life lessons that you learnt from your mentors. Tell us something you have learnt from your students. I think the general lesson I have learned from my students is reaffirming. One of the things that excites me about being a professor is the ability to not just impart knowledge, but also to see them go out and be successful and to be able to know that you helped them make some of these choices and helping them make their first leap into their new career. You really want to focus on what their passions are and make a connection to what they are excited about. Often, I have my own ideas on what to do for research or a project, but actually the more valuable part of mentorship or educating graduate students is figuring out what their ideals and passions are and trying to tap into that and trying to create a project around that. Often a student is pushing me in new directions because it’s what they’re interested in. Often people ask where’s your research heading?

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Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, left, in Dr Shwetak N Patel’s lab at the University of Washington

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M78 I say I don’t really know; my research is heading where my students are going. They could take me in this different area that I never thought I would go into because that’s where they really wanted to go. When you do the outreach work with students, do you discuss your own life? When I do K12 outreach work, I talk to hundreds of middle and high school kids a year; maybe even thousands, depending on the year and the venue. I’ve given talks to high school, middle school kids in Seattle, in Los Angeles, wherever I go. I try to share my story with them. Usually the title of my presentation is ‘How to make having fun into a career.’ How what I did when I was really young, I am basically doing now and made a career out of it. I tell them about the different projects I worked on when I was little, what I did as I was growing up. I went to a normal elementary school, middle school, junior high. But I did go to a magnet high school, which was still a public school, though. I was fortunate there. I went to Georgia Tech and now I am a professor at the University of Washington. These are great schools, but I learned that it is not always where you go, but what you do with the opportunity you have. This advice I give to a lot of parents who are trying to help their sons or daughters decide on schools. Going to a great school helps a lot. You get a lot of credibility, get the contacts with people that you might not have otherwise access to. It doesn’t always matter what school you go to. What matters is what you do with the opportunity. You don’t have to go to the absolute top tier school to be successful. It’s the opportunity that you are given and what you do with that is what is going to dictate how you end up being as a person or how successful you are. Another thing I talk about is don’t be afraid to ask for help early on. If you start an undergraduate program and want to do research,

The Innovator it’s OK to go to a professor and say, ‘I want to do research. I haven’t quite taken the classes yet, what can I do?’ Being proactive is something that is incredibly invaluable. Are there times you feel you could be more confident in your own work? It happens all the time. The biggest critic is always you. That’s why you want to be put in environments where you getting relative feedback, to make sure you are getting the mentorship that you need — to get the feedback that says look the thing that you’re doing is absolutely right or you’re moving in the right direction. You have to make sure you set yourself up where you have people that you can really trust and mentor. This could be everywhere, from your family, your friends, your siblings, to your colleagues. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have amazing mentorship throughout my career at the academic level, the career level, at home. That is what’s helped me continue to move forward. And that’s something I want to do with my students. I want to be able as a professor, a mentor, an advisor, to provide the level of feedback to give my students the confidence. This is just one little piece of that entire chain of mentorship that you will get and I think you need to have that across the board. Were you ever told by a teacher or two that you are underestimating yourself? When I was growing up in Birmingham, there were not a lot of immigrants in my school. I was always different, but at the same time, I was always treated as an equal. All of my teachers were very supportive. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher had the first opportunity to push me. This was a really challenging time for me because I was bilingual and was actually learning English really well, but it was something that she real-

ly pushed me a lot on. Kindergarten was really invaluable. I remember my kindergarten teacher to this day. When I started to move through the school system, I think it was in junior high, when I started to get pushed in a lot of different areas. My technology teacher was really invaluable, allowing me to do a lot of things myself. I think he realized that I knew a lot of concepts that maybe he may not have known. He allowed me to explore them myself. All my math and science teachers were just great. They realized that let’s start to push him in new ways and let him do things that are beyond what we typically teach. My high school was a magnet high school with students from all over the county coming to one school. That was a very different kind of challenge where everyone was incredibly smart and talented. Everybody had very different skill sets and backgrounds and interests, but the thing is that everybody ended up going to college and they were all going to be successful coming out of high school… That was a very different kind of challenge and we got pushed in other ways. We were encouraged to do research and explore. I remember doing a lot of computer science work when I was an undergrad, being able to do undergraduate research when I was at the university. Philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell wrote about being unhappy about the things we don’t have instead of being happy about the things we have. From your personal life, tell us about things that make you happy, unhappy and how you strike a balance between the two. Happiness is a hard thing to put a finger on. But it’s the things that you appreciate you already have. It’s hard to do that, right? Because you see so many things going on and you wish you had something else and I don’t think that’s the right philosophy. Appreciating what you have and what’s personal to you. Like many people I struggle with M80


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that too: Being an engineer, a professor, an entrepreneur, a computer scientist. It seems like I want to solve a lot of the world’s problems. I can’t solve everything. I always get frustrated or unhappy when I can’t do everything. I think that’s life. We are designed not to be able to do everything. We can only focus on a handful of things and the things that you focus on are the things that you can do well. It doesn’t matter if it’s something really simple, whatever it is, do what you do, that you’re passionate about, well. Even if it’s a very small thing. What are some of the most difficult decisions you have had to make in your personal life and your professional life? In my professional life, I had to decide what COURTESY: SHWETAK N PATEL to do when I graduated; this is something Shwetak, center, with, from left, father Naran, brother Shrayesh, sister Shweta and mother many students struggle with. Right now, a lot Kusum during his wedding of students are graduating and trying to figure out what they want to do and that’s an incredibly hard challenge because you have professors, you have students, you have industry, you can build things that have a global We stayed with a Japanese family for our wedding towards the end. We had a single impact. I’m very fortunate to have a faculty position. reception where there was a mix of Indian internship in Japan. The culture, how everyThis is really hard to get these days. That and Western food, a lot of different cuisines. body takes care of one another, in Japan was opportunity was there. At the same time, I This was actually on July 4. So, by the time just eye opening. This is something we had to decide: Do I become a professor, or do evening came, in Seattle, we had the Seattle noticed when we were in Japan and looking at I go to industry. A lot of times you have diffi- fireworks in the end. This was more of an Am- some of the recent disasters, there was no cult decisions (to make) but the decisions that erican tradition. This was a hybrid of eve- rioting or looting. People actually came together rather than trying to break apart. This is you make always end up working out because rything in one night. What are some of the things you do outside something that’s culturally in them. That is you’ve embraced the decision you’ve made. something that they just do. You can’t look back and say I should have the lab and class? Food is a very big thing when traveling I am a very outdoors person. My wife, Julie done that or the other thing. You look forward and keep looking forward and that’s where a skis, I snowboard. Being in Seattle it’s a great because everybody has very different cuisines. lot of the hard decisions that I had to make opportunity because we don’t have to worry Going to the night market in Beijing was very actually do the best, because we look forward. about the snow in Seattle, but only have to go interesting because I never really knew that Being an immigrant’s child, there were a lot an hour away to get great skiing and snow- these cuisines actually existed. I’ve heard stoof cultural and traditional challenges and this boarding. Hiking, running, that’s something ries, but it wasn’t until we saw the things that you can find in the night market like ants and is something we had to struggle with. Julie’s we enjoy. When I was young, I liked tinkering. I work bugs, things that are not traditional in (his wife) family had a very different set of ideas and we had a very different set and if on cars, electronics, woodworking and that’s Western culture. I’m vegetarian; my wife is vegetarian at you combine those together, it’s not an easy when I have time to work on them. In my garage, (there are) whatever tools you need to home. She is non-vegetarian outside of the mix, right? There were a lot of challenges in trying to work on, any kind of project, be it electrical, home every now and then at a restaurant. I try come up with a balance between the two. The be it mechanical. I like doing all kinds of proj- my best to be a vegetarian when I travel, but it is very hard. In fact, in Japan, Korea, and families were supportive and this organically ects in my garage. My wife and I like to do gardening. This China, it was really hard. But, things have chevolved and it is a lesson that a lot of people probably rubbed off from my parents who are anged across the globe. Now, it’s not unheard can learn from. The wedding itself was yet another surprise. avid gardeners. They have half an acre of a of to find vegetarian options when you visit a There was a very different challenge and don’t garden. Our chores when we were little was place. You have to do a little bit of research forget that culturally Indian weddings are not only helping with the hotels, but also ahead of time before you visit a place about vegetarian options. very different from traditional American wed- helping cultivate the giant garden. What are some of the fears you have as a perWe like to travel. We have the opportunity to dings. So, we actually had a hybrid wedding travel to a lot of exciting places because of our son or as a parent? and it worked out very well. We’re in an age when we have access to lots In fact, it was really great for all the guests to work. But, as a result of that, we also get to see a variety of different cultures coming piggy back on that and do all other kinds of of information and so the challenge here is that we’re actually inundated with informatogether because this was a very good educa- travel. For example, we went to Bora Bora for our tion. The question is what do we do to sift thrtional process for them and for a lot of other friends who are doing dual traditions and are honeymoon. One of the things that my wife ough all of it? Everything is now digital, we learning from it as well in terms of how they and I try to focus on are experiences; because have to access books etc online, the media has experiences are the things we remember for a really changed the way it has disseminated could do something like this in the future. But it was a hard thing. Do we prefer one lifetime whereas buying something new will information. My fears are how do you go through all this over the other, how do we do a mix of the two, wear off in a few months. Tangible items are do we come up with our own ideas? So in the fun initially, but it’s the lifetime experiences information and pick out the relevant information that’s going to be valuable? You can end, it was a hybrid wedding. It was a great like travel that last a long time. My wife and I have gone to Japan. In fact easily focus on a very small subset of the accexperience not only for us, the families, but both of us have interned in Japan. It’s great to ess of information that you have, but how do also for everyone. go to a different part of the world just to see a you know that’s information? Describe the hybrid wedding. So, what is the balance of having a child to We had an abridged Indian wedding. We new cultures and traditions. That’s when we realize that there are a lot of look at things that are online, versus reading did the traditional going around the fire seven things that we can do in life, not just what we in a book, versus having all the access to infortimes. Then we had an intermission where Julie, learned when we were growing up but bor- mation that he or she might have. So, that’s one of my big fears right now. It’s the family and I switched from Indian garb to rowing and choosing from various different traditional Western garb. She went into her cultures and creating our own philosophy on also an opportunity though. The flip side is how we are going to raise our kids and how we that we do have access to information that is wedding dress and I into a tux… invaluable. „ Then we did the more traditional American are going to live our lives.

The Innovator


M82 India Abroad June 2012

‘He did not become a genius overnight’ His parents and siblings share rare memories of Shwetak in conversations with Arthur J Pais

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aran Patel had no doubts that his eldest son would sooner or later have taken to invention and yet he has wondered from time to time if Shwetak would have started so young but for a computer a long time guest at a motel the Patels owned in Birmingham, Alabama, had left behind. The man who had no family died of heart failure in a local hospital and had entrusted his possessions to Patel, including an IBM computer before going to the hospital. Patel did not know what to do with the computer. In fact, he will tell you that he did not know how to use one. “We did not have a computer at home or in the hotel,” he remembers. “Twenty years ago, you did not really need a computer in your home or to run a small motel or a hotel.” Shwetak, a hotshot inventor today, a MacArthur Genius and a professor, was around eight at that time, and he had been asking for a computer for some time. But it did not occur to the father that his son could work on a computer and put the IBM machine to use. A technician working for the hotel told Patel that the IBM computer was nearly useless, but offered a ‘good’ computer in exchange. Patel should have known better and he should have certainly consulted a family friend. Or perhaps he could have checked with Shwetak. After getting the ‘new’ computer, he thought Shwetak was not in a hurry to use it. But the next morning or so, Shwetak got up, went straight to the computer and started using it. “He said he had dreamed about it all through the night,” Patel said. “It was like he had a vision, showing him how to use the computer. For, there were no computer classes for boys of his age at that time.” Shwetak also knew something was not right with the ‘good’ computer. Seeing his son’s passion, Patel decided to buy the boy a new computer, but this time, Shwetak went with his father. “Soon Shwetak was helping to fix his teacher’s computers,” Patel adds. “I even asked him, ‘Are you going to school to study or fix the computers of the teachers?’” Naran and Kusum Patel came to America with professional degrees from India and worked for a company for a few years before deciding to open a motel, first near Selma in Alabama where Shwetak was born, and then in Birmingham in Alabama. “We noticed right from the beginning that Shwetak was self motivated,” says Kusum. “We did not have to tell him to study well and get good marks. We were lucky our other two children followed his example.” Shrayesh, who is four years younger than his brother who was born December 9, 1981, will have a doctorate in chemical engineering next

Shwetak N Patel’s interests have always been varied — science, arts, sports

year from the University of California, Berkeley. Their only sister Shweta is following a medical career course at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and has been a member of the University Honors Program. She is also a researcher investigating the role of natural compounds in breast-cancer prevention. “It was fun growing up with two older brothers,” she says. “I am small made compared to them, but I played basketball with them. They made a few exceptions for me, in the sense if the ball reached a certain point, I would get a point.” Shrayesh is amused by her account. “We were scared of her,” he says. “I think we were nicer to her, but between Shwetak and I there was always this good-natured competition. He did not like to lose to anyone, especially in video games. And we played a lot of those video games together. There were times he would reset the game! ” When he was in the seventh or eight grade, Shwetak had begun winning a lot of prizes; he even built a robot for a school project. “I realized he had something special in him,” Shrayesh says. “He is very much like my father who is always busy. In the motel business, you are busy 24/7, but even otherwise my father would be ever busy with his hands, and so is Shwetak. If Shwetak was not tinkering with computers or working on class projects, he would be working in the family garage. He always enjoyed physical activities.” Shwetak has said he has always enjoyed tinkering with things — wood, cars, and electronics. His first computer program in third grade was for a race car game, according to The Birmingham News. By the time he was in fourth grade, he moved on to applications that required more electronics. He excelled in science and the arts. Beth Tanner, his Spanish teacher, told Birmingham News that Shwetak ‘attacked every subject with intensity.’ ‘He is one of the smartest students I have taught, and I have had many students who have been very smart,’ she said last year. She also said she remembered one of his inven-

COURTESY: SHWETAK N PATEL

tions from a high school science fair — a hover board. Shwetak describes it as an ‘anti-gravity levitation system, complete with solid state aircraft.’ It was battery powered and did not require a propeller, he said. He won the science fair that year with the device. The Patels remember telling their children that they had to choose between college and running the hotel. “Shwetak was in middle school and his siblings were very young, but I got them to join us in the discussion,” his father says. “All three said they wanted to go to college.” He believes the best thing he and his wife have done for their children is “to let them be.” When they knew the children were self motivated and disciplined, everything was going to be alright. “We did not have to tell our children, this is right or this is wrong,” says their mother. “They knew that in their hearts from very young age.” “Shwetak was far ahead of his class,” his father continues. “Naturally, he was bored in class. I asked the school if he could jump a few classes, but at that time in Alabama there was no provision for such a thing. But when he went to college in Georgia, he could do it (take a bigger load of courses and get his first degree in three years) He was a big role model to his brother Shrayesh and sister Shweta who is three years younger to Shrayesh.” Shwetak and Shrayesh collected baseball mats during their school years, but did not have a box to keep them. So they dumped them in a cupboard. One day, Shwetak looked around and found a few scrap items in the house, soon he got a few things from a shop, and within hours he had created two elegant boxes which could easily be mistaken from having been brought from a store. “He did not become a genius overnight,” Shrayesh says. “He had big confidence in himself, and that has helped him to be an overachiever.” When he was little, Shrayesh remembers his brother telling him, ‘You cannot know everything, and it is impossible to know everything, but you must have confidence in your work and you are not going to fail then.’ „


M83 India Abroad June 2012 Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi

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The Warrior

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Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first turbaned Sikh to serve in the US Army in almost 30 years, was decorated with the army’s fourth highest honor, the Bronze Star, for his services in Afghanistan. Suman Guha Mozumder finds out what drives the winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2011


M84 India Abroad June 2012

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eptember 11 had a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people across the United States, but the tragedy transformed one Indian American in a very different way. The attack on his country steeled his resolve to serve the US Army, which he had joined a few months earlier. Meet Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, the first turbaned Sikh recruited by the Army in almost 30 years, and winner of the fourth highest combat medal awarded by the US armed forces, the Bronze Star. During a conversation at his home in Riverdale, New Jersey, Kalsi recalls that his father Charan Singh, who worked for the New York Police Department, was meant to go into one of the buildings around the World Trade Center on 9/11, but could not do so. The devastation that horrific Tuesday rekindled his son’s patriotism. After a battle to be accommodated in the US Army with his turban and beard, Kalsi was

The Honor Roll Vijay Balse, Aadith Moorthy and Anamika Veeramani stunned us with their unique talents and razor sharp minds. They were the recipients of the inaugural India Abroad Special Award for Achievement in 2011.

From The Editors For being a role model and patriot; for setting an example for the community and country; for being a trailblazer.

The Warrior deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 as part of task force 115CSH in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. A doctor who specializes in emergency medicine, he served for a little over six months in Helmand province, one of the bloodiest war theaters in the world, treating hundreds of patients, both military and civilian. On his return, the US Army decorated Kalsi with the Bronze Star for his ‘exceptionally meritorious service as an emergency medicine physician’ and promoted him to the rank of major from captain. The citation highlighted his resuscitation back to life of two patients who were clinically dead on arrival; his expert emergency care of over 750 soldiers and civilians; coordination of five mass casualty exercises; and his general ‘commitment and leadership above and beyond that of his general duties.’ Four generations, including your father, grandfather, great grandfather and others, have served in the military. Did you always aspire to follow in their footsteps? Part of me wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and forefathers and pursue the military tradition. Growing up, I was the only Sikh in my school, pretty much for all of my schooling. Even when I got to college, I was the only Sikh in my college. I think that is one of the beauties of our community — you can never hide yourself. But there was definitely a great longing to be a part of something bigger. The military helped fill that void. I feel sometimes that maybe I have something to prove, maybe to the rest of the world.

After 9/11, people, in one way or another — sometimes by their comments or the way they look at you — made you feel like you are less American, although I came to this country when I was two. I felt I had to prove that I am an American; that this is my country and I am willing to fight, bleed and die for it. In a way 9/11 steeled my resolve to serve the armed forces. It was good fortune that I had this opportunity. When it was presented to me, I had the support and good fortune to go ahead and accept the offer, and say that ‘Yes, I do want to serve.’ I wanted to continue the family tradition. I joined the army in my first year of medical school in 2000 when I was studying at the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in California. I was in the reserves; you can be called up if they need you. But usually, while you are in school, they leave you alone. I served at an air force base in California, and at West Point in New York when I was training. My movement into active duty didn’t start until 2010. You spoke about the impact 9/11 had on your life. Could you please elaborate? I had joined the army just months earlier. Then 9/11 happened and it sort of changed our reality. It changed the way a lot of things used to operate in this country. After all this happened, it made me feel I want to give back to this country. I want to be

Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, center, then a captain, serves at Camp Dwyer, Helmand province, Afghanistan. A doctor who specializes in emergency medicine, he served in one of the bloodiest war theaters in the world, treating hundreds of patients, both military and civilian, for a little over six months in 2011

M86

COURTESY: THE KALSIS


M86 India Abroad June 2012

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Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, second from left, with his sister, center, and friends. He was the only Sikh in his school, but is grateful to his parents and proud of the fact that they didn’t give into peer pressure and cut his hair

M84 a part of something bigger. The army was there; it helped fulfill that need for me as I know it has for many, many, people after 9/11. In terms of your life and career, especially when you were on active duty in Afghanistan, could you cite people or events that shaped your life? The first day we got there on the ground, within a couple of hours, we had lots of wounded coming in. Many of them soldiers, many of them local citizens. It struck me immediately that I am in the middle of a war zone now. That helped bring me to reality very quickly. From there, I made so many life-long friends — the people I served with, people I interacted with. Throughout it all, I couldn’t have done it without my wife and family’s support. They really have been my solid rock. I think that is important because the world can be crashing down around you, but as long as you know your family is okay and they are happy and they are supporting you, it does not matter what happens to you. Even if something catastrophic had happened to me, I would have died in peace, knowing that I had made a difference. I would know I was doing this with my family’s support. On a personal level, who has influenced you the most in your life? It’s so difficult to pin down one person. My parents have obviously been a huge influence. I am so grateful to them for not giving in to peer pressure when they initially came to this country. Other families, even my uncle, told them, ‘He’s going to have trouble. Why don’t you just cut his hair? Don’t speak to him in Punjabi. It’ll just confuse him at school.’ I am forever indebted to my parents, Charan Singh Kalsi and Paramjeet Kalsi, for

The Warrior taking a stand and saying, ‘No, we want him to know his mother tongue. We want him to look like his father. We want him to have a turban and know where he came from.’ I think it’s also the strength of this country. It gives you the freedom to do that. There’s nothing wrong with the strength and the beauty of being here. My wife Chinar has had a huge impact on my life. We’ve known each other from our early years in college. We basically grew up together starting from those years. You are still a kid in college. But we both worked in college, two or three jobs each. We worked hard, knew the value of a dollar. We supported each other, laughed together, cried together and became who we are, together. You have maintained a balance between your faith and tradition and your American upbringing. What does it take to do that? Faith means (for me) maintaining your Sikh identity, yet integrating yourself into society. I try and strike a balance between the two and tell others to do so. The two could be combined if one tries. You can be a good Sikh and yet an American. To be a Sikh in America, you have to know who you are and where you come from. I have a lot of friends and family back in India still. They haven’t had to endure, in many respects, the sort of environment in which we have grown up, where we are constantly sort of having to explain to people why you wear a turban, why you still hold on to these religious and cultural identities. They (Sikhs in India) did not have to do that. I feel that being a Sikh in America makes you a stronger person. It gives you a skin of steel. You learn to be able to speak intelligibly about your faith, and you get to practice those

COURTESY: THE KALSIS

ideals which you’ve grown up with. The (Sikh) Gurus told us that men and women are equal. We practice that on an everyday basis. The Gurus also told us that there should be no difference between any of the religions. Mankind is all created equal, and that we should tolerate other religions. So, we put that into practice. But it has not been easy, by any means. It has certainly been a challenge. In the military, we (Sikhs) have had to justify our existence, even though we have served honorably for many, many decades and throughout all the World Wars. It’s okay to struggle. We will take up the struggle for our kids. I hope that our efforts will pay off. My little brother is in medical school. If he wants to join the army, he still has to do what I did; spend a year-and-a- half, go through a mountain of paperwork to be able to join the army. So, we are looking to push for accommodation for all Sikhs. That is my ultimate goal. Almost everybody has a dream in life. Do you think you have fulfilled all your dreams? Is there anything that remains unfulfilled? I have many, many dreams and ambitions. First, I want to be able to see my family and my wife and kids every day (Kalsi lives away from home in a military facility in North Carolina). I want to have dinner with them and see them before I go to bed. Secondly, I want Sikhs to be able to serve freely in all branches of the military and all service sectors. I want all Sikhs to be part of the fabric of this country. I want Sikhs to be able to run for office. I want to be able to go through the airport without having to be randomly chosen for secondary screening every single time. I want us to not be profiled anymore when we walk down the street. In essence, I want all Sikhs to be seen as Americans without them having to sacrifice those ideals that make us Sikhs. „


M87 India Abroad June 2012

‘Always been so proud of the army’ Suman Guha Mozumder finds out what went into Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi’s battle to win accommodation in the army with the articles of his faith

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n the night of October 23, 2009, when Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi learned that the United States Army would grant his request to serve in the force with his religious articles of faith, including a turban and beard, the then 33-year-old turned emotional. As he stood before a small crowd at Glenn Rock, New Jersey, he said a few words that resonated well with those present at the temple and kindled the Sikh community’s hope that someday things would change for the better for Sikhs, who have suffered discrimination in America and often times witnessed lack of understanding of their faith by the mainstream community. COURTESY: THE KALSIS ‘One day my son Kabir may want Kamlajeet Singh Kalsi with his colleagues in Afghanistan. He says if something catastrophic had happened to him there to serve in the army,’ Kalsi had told he would have died in peace, knowing that he made a difference the assembled crowd, alluding to his then three-year-old. ‘This work is about the US, launched an international campaign soldier could wear a helmet over his small him and the Sikh children in our sangat. One in Kalsi’s support. It was an extensive effort — patka and under his religiously mandated turday, with the Gurus’ grace, they will never three full-time attorneys from the Sikh ban. Gates and the army top brass accepted have to go through what I went through to Coalition worked on the campaign, six pro the argument. “It was a milestone for the community,” says either serve in the US military or pursue their bono attorneys from McDermott Will & Emery worked with the Coalition and as did Amandeep Singh. “The low-key, but firm, chosen field.’ Kalsi’s story before being admitted to the US seven law student summer associates working approach really paid in the end when the army announced that Kalsi would be accomArmy as a soldier is one of grit and gumption, at McDermott. “We put in 670 hours of pro bono attorney modated. The combined pressure was respona struggle against all odds, adversities and army red tape for years. It is also about his time equaling $194,900 in donated services,” sible for how we were able to get accommodaunflinching faith in the Guru Granth Sahib, says Amandeep Singh, an attorney at tion for Kalsi in October 2009 and one year McDermott, one of the country’s largest law later for Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a milthe Sikh faith’s holy book. When Kalsi was recruited, while still in firms that does a lot of pro bono work and itary dentist.” “I was so indescribably elated.” Kalsi says. “I medical school, he was told that Sikhs with engages over 1,000 attorneys nationwide. “It took efforts from thousands of people have always been so proud of the army as an beards and turbans had served in the US Army and he would not have to give up the coming together behind a single idea — the organization, so proud of the government, idea that Sikhs make good soldiers, and can knowing that the system works, that it reprearticles of his faith. “I felt really encouraged and looked forward serve honorably and proudly and excel even sents the hopes and the dreams of even the to joining the army as a soldier,” he says. He with their turbans and beards,” says Kalsi. smallest people like me. I could appeal to the knew that the last senior Sikh officer in the “That it is not an impediment. In fact, it is highest levels of Congress and the greatest army in the world would listen to me. It was army, Colonel G B Singh, would retire in 2009 what makes us proud of our culture.” “From a very basic level,” he adds, “it took such an empowering thing and it gave me when he was hoping to join the armed forces. Until then, he had been serving at military more than 15,000 signatures on a letter to such a great sense of pride in both the army outfits in the United States, including at the then defense secretary Robert Gates. It took and my government.” “We had lots of support from the White 50 Congressman also writing to both the army West Point Military Academy in New York. When he finished his civilian residency in and Defense Secretary Gates. It took hun- House. After I received my accommodation emergency medicine his superiors told him dreds of hours of work time with the Sikh the White House invited me, Captain Rattan that he was being given a posting despite his Coalition. It took countless hours and effort by and a few others for an afternoon reception. We got to meet President Obama. It has been beard and turban. The shock arrived a couple one of the nation’s top law firms. I am so grateful to the community, and to all a long road, but at the end of it, it is very fulof months later when he received a denial. The communication essentially said he the people who said, ‘We want you to push filling that I am serving the US Army on active duty for almost two years now.” could not be accommodated in the army on’.” “Religious freedom is what our country is McDermott Will & Emery did not file a suit because his turban and beard clashed with the against the army, but engaged in dialogue to about, and what our country stands for. Some army’s uniform policy. say it is one of the reasons why some of the “What the heck, I told myself. I have been resolve the issue. The campaign also reached out to 50 promi- first Americans came to this land. In the purwith these guys for seven or eight years. I have even served at West Point and I have been told nent US lawmakers who wrote to the army suit of that ideal, we have had so much support, and that it is actually what helped push it (my beard and turban) is OK and now these and Gates on Kalsi’s behalf. One of the reasons the accommodation was this through.” guys are saying this!” Kalsi recalls. As Kalsi spoke to India Abroad, Kabir sat He cited the long and distinguished history given in less than five months after the camof Sikhs in the military, in India, in the United paign launched was the resources invested in with his parents, grandmother and elder sister Kingdom, Canada, Europe, even in the US. the campaign, which was enormous and Maya, sometimes listening to the conversaHis superior officer put in a letter of support unprecedented for the Sikh community in the tion, sometimes playing some game along with his sister. for him and promised to bring it up with the US. As I got up to leave, I asked what he wanted The army’s chief concern was that wearing a chain of command. But nothing happened until the Sikh Coalition, who he approached, turban was not safe in a battle zone and that it to be when he grew up. Kabir looked perplexed for a few moments. Then with a smile, could jeopardize the safety of others as well. came into the picture. The attorneys’ contention was that a Sikh he said, “Like my dad.” „ The Coalition, an umbrella group of Sikhs in


M88 India Abroad June 2012

War and nostalgia in Afghanistan Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi on his deployment in Afghanistan

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or the six months that he served in then part of Afghanistan and Mota Singh al legacies from when Sikhs lived there. My Afghanistan in 2011 — he held the (during the third Anglo-Afghan war) was in ancestors have their blood in that soil. It was very interesting to go to Afghanistan to conrank of captain then — he was in the battlefield.” “During Ranjit Singh’s time there was a nect with my past.” charge of the emergency room and “I wondered what they (my ancestors) headed the disaster management very large presence of Sikhs in Afghanistan,” team. He operated from a tent hospital and says Kamaljeet Singh. “There is actually a were thinking when there were there,” he treated hundreds of patients and war vic- village called Punjab there. These are cultur- adds. “Maybe they felt the same way I was feeling. Maybe they were a little hometims, both military and civilians, includsick, maybe a little scared. But we all did ing children. what we had; we do it proudly.” Besides treating patients in AfghaniNot all his memories are pleasant. He stan, he also honed his skills as a soldier; does not want to share those memories he is an expert shooter. because they were “the most tragic Kalsi speaks of his time in Camp things” one could see in one’s life. Dwyer in Helmand with pride. “I am so “I tell my wife, ‘Please do not ask me proud of my colleagues and soldiers because it is going to haunt you for the while I was there from January till July rest of your life”,” he says. The experience 2011,” he says. “They all welcomed me in Afghanistan, he adds, was very much with open arms. There was great camalike the 1970 film MASH that showed a raderie… It has been an exceptional medical personnel unit during the experience. All soldiers within my unit Korean War. were very welcoming. Not a day goes by What gave him solace in the war zone when somebody does not come up and was music. An accomplished guitar play‘congratulate me.” er, who also dabbles with the piano, saxoHe helped train personnel to respond phone, harmonium and tabla, he would in case of mass casualties. “We did the sit outside his tent and play whenever he exercises and these helped streamline got a chance. our operation,” he says. “It was very sat“I really enjoy music. It is a part of me. isfying to see where we started off in If you want to pursue peace and perfecJanuary and how we made progress tion, the ideas of Leonardo da Vinci are over the months. Everything worked so great. He could draw, he was a scientist well in the entire unit! By the time it and he was a philosopher. He was a true was time to return I was very proud of Renaissance man. I have incorporated a the soldiers I worked with. They did an lot of that in my life.” „ exceptional job.” One day that stands out for him is Baisakhi. PARESH GANDHI — Suman Guha Mozumder Kalsi says music gave him solace in the war zone On that evening he had a little time free at the military emergency hospital. He remembered his family and friends thousands of miles away in the US as he stood outside Camp Dwyer. “I prayed and remembered my family that day. I also remembered my forefathers who had visited Afghanistan a few hundreds years before I was born. It was just a remembrance, but I felt emotional that I was standing on the same soil in Afghanistan that they had visited.” Kalsi’s father Charan Singh Kalsi, who served in the Indian Air Force, adds, “During Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s time my ancestors served in the army. Mota Singh (his great grandfather), as far as we know, was a havaldar (private).” Charan Singh, who was born in a village known as Mota Singh Wala near COURTESY: THE KALSIS Lahore, says, “Punjab was Kalsi, left, an expert shooter, with fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, a land where his forefathers had fought


M89 India Abroad June 2012

‘The strength comes from my family, my upbringing as a Sikh’ Suman Guha Mozumder meets the Kalsi family

Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi with his Bronze Star citation. His family — from left, mother Paramjeet, father Charan Singh, wife Chinar, daughter Maya, son Kabir and sister Sharon — was there for the occasion

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amaljeet Singh Kalsi’s achievements are numerous, but the military, despite his family’s legacy of serving in the defense forces, wasn’t always the Kanpur-born major’s ambition. His parents Charan Singh and Paramjeet Kalsi, who moved to the US in 1988, recall that their eldest son wanted to be a doctor. “He was perhaps nine or 10 years old and would say he would be a doctor one day,” his father recalls. To follow in his forefathers’ footsteps, Kalsi believes, was a latent ambition. “At least for four generations the Kalsi family has honorably served in the military, both the British Indian and Indian armies. I wanted to keep that tradition alive,” he says. His great grandfather served the Royal British Army, while his grandfather and father served in the Indian armed forces. “I always had this dream (to serve the defense forces), but it did not crystallize until I became a young adult,” he says. That dream took concrete shape when Kalsi went to the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine, following his bachelors degree in chemical biology from Stevens Institute of Technology and masters in biology and genetics from California State University. When army recruiters came to his medical school, Kalsi, without checking with his parents, signed up for military service.

COURTESY: THE KALSIS

“Frankly, the realization did not sink in until medical school, which was just before 9/11,” Kalsi says. “I told myself that my ambition to become a doctor was just going to be realized. This was great, but I still felt that something was missing. I felt compelled to be part of our military service; nobody was going to stop me from serving. 9/11 bolstered that resolve.” Although they were proud when Kalsi was deployed to Afghanistan, his mother and wife Chinar were anxious all the time. Prayers were all they could fall back on till Kalsi set up an Internet connection in the battlefield. “Before the Internet was set up, there were days when my mom-in-law and me would look at the wall and wonder what we would do to get in touch with him,” Chinar says. Kalsi’s family and friends raised some $15,000 to help him and fellow soldiers set up an Internet facility and cameras in the battlefield, so families of all the soldiers posted there could speak to them. Kalsi, who had studied computers, took the lead in this initiative. After the Internet was installed, not only Kalsi’s family, even his friends, would join in to speak to him. “This was something that gave all of us relief, including my children,” Chinar recalls. The family would also send packets of food — Kalsi’s favorite dish Chhole Kulche (pre-

cooked), Laddoos, cookies, cakes and chips — not just for Kalsi, but also his fellow soldiers. “My mom-in-law would think of a new way to send some favorite food to Kamal almost every week,” Chinar says. His mother and wife do not want him to be deployed at the front again, but Kalsi, who is now based at a military hospital in North Carolina, is ready to return to the battlefield whenever the call comes. “My father taught me early in childhood that if I wanted to join the services, I would have to be ready for discipline and call of duty. I believe in that principle,” he says. “My choice to join the US Army was deliberate. It has always been a dream for me to continue the tradition of my forefathers serving in the British and the Indian armies. Now I am in the American army. Serving the military has been in our blood. It is in our tradition. I feel I should maintain that. The fact that I can do it as a doctor is even better.” “The strength comes from my family, my parents and my upbringing as a Sikh,” he says. “Our beliefs and philosophy are very much aligned with the motto to serve, to defend the defenseless, to be honest and to be good people. That resonates with the army’s core values. When your family is supporting you and you have a clear picture of the ideals and goals in your life, it becomes easy to do things.” „


M90 India Abroad June 2012

‘He is a true patriot, putting his life on the line in Afghanistan’ Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, through the eyes of his family and friends

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ting the accommodation. It is f you call Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi very challenging for a member of in the morning on a weekend, the minority community to be in when he usually comes home to the US Army. By all means meet with his family in New Kamal is a model of what it Jersey, chances are that your call will means to be a Sikh in America go straight to voice mail. and to want to entrench yourself The reason for that is because the in the fabric of America and still US Army major utilizes most of his maintain his religious identity,” time on weekends to touch base with he adds. the Sikh community when he is home. “In my mind there are no ways “Most days, if he is here, he leaves you can demonstrate your comhome early to go to the gurdwaras. mitment to your country than That way he is very religious. He being willing to put your life on would listen to the katha, take the the line,” says Amandeep Singh. langar and give advice to the kids in “Kamal not only put himself on the temple,” says his proud father Chathe line, in representing the Sikh ran Singh Kalsi as his mother adds, American community by chal“He is hardly home.” lenging the army to accommoKalsi’s friends say he has become a date him, but he proved himself role model for the community. “He to be a true American, a true inspires young kids with the words patriot by putting his life on the that ‘There is nothing in the world line in Afghanistan, which many that they cannot achieve’. He encourof us would not to do.” ages them to pursue studies and really “He is a hero and he makes the gives them good education,” says Macommunity and the country ndhir Singh, who is associated with COURTESY: THE KALSIS proud of him.” „ the Bridgewater gurdwara where Kalsi went to during the Khalsa school A young Kamaljeet with his father Charan Singh Kalsi. The major takes immense pride in his heritage and utilizes most of his time on weekends — Suman Guha Mozumder graduation ceremony last week. to touch base with the Sikh community “He simply inspired the kids with his plain words of what it takes to live in the US and yet to maintain one’s faith,” Singh said about Kalsi’s speech before some 150 people, most of them children attending the school. Others like Ravi Bhalla, president of the City Council of Hoboken, who has been going to the Glenrock gurdwara in New Jersey with Kalsi for decades, says the soldier shares his stories with the children, and with all people. “Whenever people need help, or they face challenges, they seek guidance from him. He is such a role model for the next generation,” says Bhalla who is also a turbaned Sikh, “He is a resource for the community and a tremendous source of pride for us.’ Bhalla feels Kalsi has a remarkable balance between “an easy going human being and yet want to impress upon ting all that time and effort cy, or even the police; any being serious,” a person who is committed to you guys today that it’s to maintain a connection service industry. You girls his identity as an American and as a Sikh. okay to be different. with your history and cul- can do anything and every“On a personal level, he is a very affable, This country has one ture and to know who you thing that boys can do. pleasant person which is remarkable given I really want to impress of the greatest strengths in are and where you are from, the extraordinary adversity he has gone thrthe world, and the beautiful really inspires me and helps upon you kids not to fall ough for getting into the US Army. But he has thing about this country is me to go on with whatever I into any sort of cultural barwaded through all those adversities to mainriers or cultural pitfalls. You that it allows you to be dif- am doing. tain his personality,” adds Bhalla. I am not sure how much should pursue both service ferent. Others like Virginia attorney Amandeep For me it has been hard of an inspiration I am to industry and education. Singh, who took up the case of Kalsi’s accomYou have to know who doing what I have been you, but the fact that you modation in the US Army, said although he doing, but I do it happily are connecting to your tra- you are and where you codid not know Kalsi personally before the case, because I know that it is dition and culture really me from. You have to learn in all these years he has found him to be an going to make the differ- inspires me to go on with to be comfortable with who true gentleman and a genuine person. you are because this is not a ence in your lives and in the my life. “I think he is a trailblazer. You can talk All men and women are place where you can surlives of my kids in the days about how much work the Sikh Coalition did to come. That means a lot equal because that is how vive, especially in the milior I did, but it would not matter unless Kamal to me, and that’s what ins- they have been created. Eq- tary, unless you are comwas brave enough to take this case forward. ual, I say. So, I want many fortable with your skin. „ pires me. Someone in his position could have easily The fact that you are tak- girls to apply for jobs in the said. ‘I am going to give up. I am not going to ing time out to go to Khalsa army, or the FBI or even the — As told to Suman Guha put myself on the line,” points out Bhalla. school every week, and put- Central Intelligence Agen- Mozumder “The challenge for Kamal was not just get-

‘The beautiful thing about this country is that it allows you to be different’ Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi recaps his recent speech at the Khalsa school graduation ceremony

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M92 India Abroad June 2012

‘The US Army should be proud to have someone as resourceful as Kamal on their side!’ ‘He isn’t someone who would compromise on something he believes in,’ says Taronish Khajotia who attended college with Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi at the Stevens Institute of Technology 18 years ago

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t was perhaps the third day at college when I met Kamal in the dorm corridor. We’d never seen or met each other before. And quite simply, he walked up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Kam, can you help me straighten my turban?” So there I was, standing on one side of the corridor and he on the other and we were pulling the turban. When you straighten out a turban you have to keep tugging at it. After we were done, Kamal thanked me and was gone. This was how we met and became friends just like that, because of a turban! It wasn’t an uncommon sight in the dorm to see two guys on either side of the hall straightening Kamal’s turban. Kamal has always been a proud Sikh and by simply knowing him cursorily you are bound to know a lot about the tenets of Sikhism and what it is to be a good Sikh. He comes from a place where comCOURTESY THE KALSIS Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, left, meets Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, second from right, in Afghanistan munity and family values are really important, so I am not surprised he has two or not see him at all. Back in the day we compromise on something he believes in. didn’t have mobile phones so there would be Most of all, he is a proud American so I wastaken it forward. n’t really surprised when he first signed up I’ve known him since 1994 when we first no way of finding out. And yet, quite miraculously, it was the for the armed forces and when I heard about met in the dorm and he’s been the most loyal friend I’ve had. He’s always been a larger same Kamal, who after completing his edu- his battle to follow his religion. The US Army should be proud to have than life character and tremendously cation, had worked in an ER for a while resourceful person that the US Army should where he knew the value of time and the someone as resourceful as Kamal on their side! „ need to respond urgently to a situation! be proud of having. These are just two of the many sides to The funny thing about Kamal used to be Taronish Khajotia, CEO, OMCI Ship that he was never governed by time. If he Kamal who is an extremely loyal person. Kamal has always had a black and white Management Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, spoke to would promise to meet you for lunch you could expect him to be delayed by an hour or view of life and isn’t someone who would Abhishek Mande

Above left, Kalsi with his family — from left, sister Sharon, mother Paramjeet, father Charan Singh and brother Ranjeet. Above right, Kalsi at the Taj Mahal. His friends says he has always been a proud Sikh and by simply knowing him you are bound to know what it is to be a good Sikh

COURTESY: THE KALSIS


M93 India Abroad June 2012 Captain Pratima Dharm with her daughters Pooja, right, and Payal, left

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COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM

Captain Pratima Dharm created history as the first Hindu Chaplain of the US Army. Aziz Haniffa meets the winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2011


M94 India Abroad June 2012

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t’s now been a year since Captain Pratima Dharm created history by being named the first Hindu chaplain in the United States Army, and she describes the experience thus far as “extremely gratifying and humbling.” It’s been a busy year too for the Patna-born, Mumbai and Delhi-raised youngest daughter of an erstwhile Bata executive. Besides administering to soldiers and counseling them at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, which is the major responsibility of her portfolio, she has also been the catalyst and chief organizer of Hindu religious and other Indian festivals. She has celebrated everything form

From The Editors For being the first Hindu chaplain in the US Army; for providing hope and succor to battle-hardened soldiers; and for being a spiritual beacon to men in uniform.

Diwali to Holi at the hospital, not to mention introducing President Barack Obama at the White House Diwali celebration. Dharm looks back at the year and her achievements in a free-wheeling conversation in the hospital chapel where she has hosted many of the celebrations, and where Army personnel and civilians working in the hospital as well as visitors have come to understand and be educated on the Hindu and Indian culture and traditions: It has been especially gratifying seeing people who had never had the opportunity to celebrate their own events. Their events in the sense of their religious events, their cultural events, traditional events, that for years have not been celebrated. When I began to put together the celebrations of some of the main Hindu festivals and traditional events, people were very touched. I got really good feedback — a lot of support from the community. So, I have not been doing these alone. As I began this kind of a reach-out, I also had people reach out to me and other

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COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM

Chaplain Dharm preaches in a Roman Catholic Church in Zhako, Iraq, in 2008. Dharm was the first woman to preach at this church, where the service is still held in the Aramaic language

A bit of Gandhi, a bit of Christ The unique elements that make up Captain Pratima Dharm

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ratima Dharm, who immigrated to the United States in 2001, is the youngest daughter of Chandreshwar N Singh, who had joined India’s freedom struggle at age 11, and now lives in retirement with his wife Saraswati in the Bay Area in California. Dharm’s elder sisters Anita and Namita and their families also live in California. Only her brother Amitabh remains in India, in Mumbai, where he owns a placement agency. Dharm, 41, gets emotional when she speaks about her father, who undeniably is the biggest influence on her as she grew up in Mumbai and Delhi. In her first interview with India Abroad, she had said, “My father was always and extremely upright and honest man. In all his life, he was never a ‘yes man’ and that went against him in India because of the circumstances there. (But) he never compromised and he taught us to always live by our ideals and live a life that Gandhi preached. He was really sold into the Gandhi way of life.” She had spoken of how her father “gave up all of his land under the influence of Gandhi and my entire family — my grandfather and all the rest — became Gandhians. That came into play in how our lives were shaped, especially mine.” Her mother, she added, “shaped my spirituality to a large extent.” Dharm, who holds a masters degree in psychology, immigrated to the US just months before the 9/11 attacks to join her husband Dharmendran Rajendran, a software engineer and a civilian employee in the US Navy. They have two daughters, Pooja, 9, and Payal, 5. After three years in the US, working in a variety of areas, Dharm said she got her calling from God and joined a seminary. Her family, she had told India Abroad, never saw it as a conflict with being a Hindu. She had said, “To my entire family, theologically and philosophically, it is to each his own. We were always given that freedom to pursue what we want to pursue. So, I had a lot of support from my husband, as well as my parents, my siblings.” “Hinduism is very pluralistic in nature and the best way to understand it would be to be educated about it. It is to go in and understand that a lot of things in Hinduism are cultural.” Her time at the seminary opened the doors to the army, which first recruited her as a Christian chaplain in 2006, and then named her the US Army’s first Hindu chaplain in May 2011. „ — Aziz Haniffa


M95 India Abroad June 2012

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things came out of it. It’s been immensely gratifying to see that. The intention with which I did it was basically to fulfill the vision that Hinduism is an acceptable faith and one of the main religions in the United States and that a lot of people practice it, but not very openly. It has given people that opportunity to come out and be OK about what they do in a minority religion like Hinduism in the United States. (It has made people realize) that (Hindu) belief systems are not very far from the beliefs of Christ, the beliefs of Muhammad, the beliefs of the Bahai religion, Zen Buddhism, the beliefs of Buddha. That they all sort of have a very similar message, but at the same time they tend to be very distinctive, because of the cultural and the traditional elements surrounding each religion. Likewise, in terms of how people interact with each other.

The Guide Having these events has allowed people to open up, reach out, and I’ve had people from various faith groups come to these events. That has been very heartening and satisfying. The vision of education has been going strong and I am very happy and pleased about it. The educational piece is actually, I would say, a core part of my job. After a year, when I look back a lot has been done. It’s not just these events, but other things like developing writings on how Hindus grieve, because grief is very much integral to patients who come here. So, it is one of the main topics that we deal with because the paradigm has been so far mainly the majority Christian paradigm, which is wonderful and very acceptable to most Hindus,

because we are familiar with these paradigms. I went to convent schools while growing up in India and we had Muslim friends, so, we have these paradigms in place. So, it is acceptable, but at the same time, to the core of being a Hindu, certain things are linked to the traditional ways. Like the ways in which they grieve — the scriptures that bring solace to them, that opens doors for them. That has been another journey, shaping that and we a still shaping the literature that goes with it. It has also been fulfilling to simply be available to so many Hindus here. I was surprised at the number of Hindus that have become part of the congregation. They may not come to the Hindu service every Friday, but every time we do events, our congregation or the reach-out, it increases exponentially. There are almost 2,000 Hindus at Walter

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‘I am no one, and he’s the President of the United States’

Captain Pratima Dharm tells Aziz Haniffa about her encounter with her Commander-in-Chief

It was very surreal,” says Captain Pratima Dharm when asked how proud a moment it was for her when in her first year as the only Hindu chaplain in the US Armed Forces, she was called upon to introduce her Commander-inChief, President Barack Obama, at the White House Diwali last year. The White House had informed her that she would be speaking at the Diwali event, “but I was not told till the last minute that I would be introducing the President. I had no idea that I would be actually meeting him face to face. I was not at all prepared.” Dharm had to hurriedly meet with the Secret Service, prepare the introduction and then hand it over for approval. “They made no corrections to it at all and just a few minutes before the Diwali celebration, I was invited to meet President Obama along with a few other community people.” Dharm met the President in the Old Executive Building, Captain Pratima Dharm adjacent to the White House. introduces President Barack She recalls, “He was very Obama at the White House charming — not in the ‘I am a Diwali celebration last year charmer’ way, but very gracious, very polite. He seemed like he was interested in what I had to say. But I was trying to remember, I (after she had introduced him and was seatam a soldier and he is my Commander-in- ed in the audience). He asked me to stand Chief. So, I stood at the best attention possi- up and acknowledge the applause. I ble and answered all the questions he asked thought I am no one, and he’s the President of the United States, and here he is introme.” “I was very touched and honored by the ducing me. I know how ordinary I am withway he introduced me to the community out a doubt. But I was so honored.”

COURTESY: SUBODH CHANDRA

Dharm is grateful that her family was present at the event and witnessed this special moment. “I really was thankful to God because there’s nothing in me that can make me go there on my own. I said, ‘God, this has to be, because of you.’” „


M96 India Abroad June 2012

The Guide

Pratima Dharm, first row second from right, with her mother Saraswati and husband, Dharmendran Rajendran, left

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Reed, and many of them are civilians. At the same time, we also have an increasing number of Hindus within the services — within the different branches of the military — who reach out to me. Earlier, they didn’t have that option. They went to a Christian chaplain. That journey has been really gratifying — people calling me from JAG (Judge Advocate General’s Corps), and saying this is a Hindu issue, or this is a traditional issue, or this is a cultural issue, please guide us; soldiers calling from Iraq, or Afghanistan, and saying, ‘I am having this issue with my command sergeant major or drill sergeant and he or she doesn’t have an idea where I am coming from.’ Even though soldiers may not have given it in writing, there are things like dietary issues and lots of issues linked to the religion and the traditions that are rooted in Sanatan Dharm (the eternal way, referring to Hinduism). In India, even Muslims or Bahais or Christians are influenced by Sanatan Dharm. Their way of grieving, their way of joy, even their way of dying, everything is influenced by this. You have to arrive at a peace; Sanatan Dharm is very much about letting go and not always being in control. It’s an approach to life and immigrants who came to this country still continue to be influenced by it, even though they have joined the military. Those things come to play as they adapt to military life. My role as chaplain is to be that instrument for them to feel ok because it is a big adjustment — adjusting to military culture, American culture and the religions around us. After being a chaplain for six years, I know there are a lot of issues that have to do with the main command, I am very aware that it is not just a religious issue, but it’s also within the paradigm of how the command functions. I am also there to help the command — not to create an issue, but to help the soldier or the servicemen integrate better with the command. It’s ok to be very conscious of things like dietary laws. But when they seek me out, saying, ‘Chaplain, I need a letter and I need your intervention,’ I also have to make sure, that the soldier is not just creating a situation. Instead he is being a devoted part of the team because to he has learn to do that. The military and the mission come first. My approach to the Hindu soldier is that the mission comes first and he has to make some adjustments. There is a lot of stuff within Hindu scriptures that the soldier can dip into, which they are not aware of and may not read it on their base. I guide them through those scriptures, which sort of bind them to their duty. I make sure they understand that the first thing, within the Hindu or Sanatan Dharm is duty — the sense of having given your word to somebody. So, you keep your work, but at the same time, you keep your faith. There is a balance between how you integrate those two. They have to integrate and sometimes the soldier has to be reminded of that because the soldier can feel that the command is not listening to him and become difficult. The command doesn’t have the time to consider one single soldier’s needs. Of course, there are certain things that are very core to their beliefs, and then I have to educate the command, which I do. But I also try to be the peacemaker and the arbitrator. The all important, all encompassing, thing to remember is the vision that the military command has in that it is for everybody and that the US military is made up of very diverse, religious, cultural, traditional groups. They are very mindful of that. The past year has been an eye-opener, because I didn’t realize there were so many Hindus in the army. For me, in the first few years in the army, I was the only Hindu that I knew of. Even though I led a Christian life, I grew up in India and I grew up a Hindu. The second generation, third generation, Indians who have come into the military, they are even more religious than I am. I am a lot more spiritual. I would go and worship in a chapel. I can go worship

COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM

in a mosque — I can go anywhere because that has been part of my life story. But to find soldiers, for whom it is so meaningful that they worship in a temple, with these scriptures, with all the traditional scriptures that I grew up learning, was quite amazing. I see this in my children (Puja 9, and Payal, 5). In response to the broader American culture of religion that is Christianity, they have this need in them to actually hang on to their Hinduism. Or their friends, who are Muslims, they want to be devout Muslims. You will see in my generation, Muslims or Hindus, who have come out of India, they are cool; they are like ok, ‘It’s not a big deal.’ But you see that with your children, or children’s children, it tends to be more pronounced. I have seen that Hindu soldiers, Marines, sailors and other service members have this fervent hope to practice their religion and worship just the way they remember their parents practicing — that is kind of stuck in their brain. So, that’s been interesting, trying to give them perspective that it is not just about Hinduism, but it’s about other religions too and being open to that. This is important because a lot of people see me as a Hindu symbol, which I am not. I have been influenced by Howard Thurman (an African American pastor, who was a mentor to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and had visited India and met Mahatma Gandhi), who is totally Christian and yet he was open to other religions. Giving that message to the soldiers — that it’s all about keeping that balance — has been important. Another integral part of my work in recent years has been suicide prevention. It’s not educating just Hindus, but other faith groups — that there is a different way to think, a different approach to God that becomes core to my role as a Hindu chaplain. Being an inspiration and a role model It doesn’t come to my mind — it really does not. I feel very inspired by myself. That is my life story. It would be great if I am an inspiration to others, but it’s really about motivating myself for my task on hand. This is duty that I am called to do. I take the time to really motivate myself and do the right thing. As I do these events, I have met with a lot of young Hindu youth who want to know what it takes to become a chaplain. I guide them through that. I have also started a program where I offer an avenue for the youth in the community, especially in surrounding areas, but even in California and Chicago, for them to come and work with the military and the wounded warriors in different programs like taking care of the CARE packages. Also, it’s a good way for them to be studying at the university level. It’s all the spirit of seva — selfless service — and encouraging the youth to come and get involved with the military because the military is a community. It is a whole different world and since a lot of people within the Indian community have done well, they are not aware that there are so many needs that are present. We are the voices that can actually go out, reach out to the community — particularly the local community — and say this is what we

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M97 India Abroad June 2012

‘Her appointment was an expression of one of our most fundamental human values — freedom’ Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary salutes Chaplain Pratima Dharm

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t was truly an honor and privilege to launch the first Hindu Chaplain Program in the Department of Defense, with Chaplain Pratima Dharm as America’s first Hindu Chaplain. After reading an advertisement, she approached me on her own accord, conveyed her passion for the program, and impressed our team like no other. Her appointment will be remembered for years to come as an expression of one of our most fundamental human values — freedom. For Dharm, it has been a profound journey, one that is only beginning. Establishing the Hindu Chaplain Program in the Department of Defense was itself the ultimate expression of American values, and a celebration of the democratic principles we hold dear as human beings. American service members share their cultural values on a daily basis in cockpits, ships, and bunkers all over the world. When it comes down to it, it is ultimately each other that we serve on the field of battle. Like Arjuna, in sharing our most sacred cultural values, we ultimately serve humanity. And that has been Chaplain Dharm’s vision since the first day she contacted me about becoming a Hindu Chaplain. For Dharm, the words of Vivekananda ring just as true to her as the words of St Thomas Aquinas, who once said, ‘Two concepts unopposed, cannot obstruct one another.’ When she cares for the many soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and their families, she extends the loving principles of Vedanta

to people of all faiths, and no faith — and at the same time build a bridge between them. She lives the creed of her military profession, which is to be a priest to some, but a chaplain to all. While the future is bright for this young officer, she will need continued support from the community. As the numbers of Indian Americans who serve continues to rise into the thousands, so too will the need to care for their spiritual needs. The call to service starts today for our next

generation of spiritual leaders. Who will be the next chaplain to follow in her footsteps, and continue this amazing journey? America is proud of Chaplain Dharm, and we look forward to joining her on her mission of peace, tolerance, and faith. „ Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary, who commands the 317th Recruiting Squadron, was the catalyst behind Pratima Dharm’s appointment as the US Army’s first Hindu chaplain.

Lieutenant Colonel Ravi Chaudhary, left, and Captain Pratima Dharm, third from left, give the army a taste of Holi celebrations COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM

M96 need from you to help.” The youth do want to get involved, but they don’t know how to. So, I am getting them involved, starting them with these events and then opening up things like CARE packages or calling on them to help out if a military family needs a sponsor. For example, say a young soldier comes into a school and he needs some kind of a family to go to, to maybe have a meal with and simply interact with, having some of our community and their family connecting with the soldiers is a wonderful gesture. I have started these programs as well.

The Guide Having more Hindu chaplains in the army I would be careful how I put this out. It’s not just about representation or quotas or something like that, because chaplaincy is such a deep, a very intense course of study and commitment. A lot of study goes into it, a lot of practical experience. Anyone who comes and says, ‘Oh, I want to be a Hindu chaplain or a Muslim chaplain,’ that’s not the way it works. Of course, I would encourage other Hindu chaplains to come forward and be part of

this process, but I don’t want to put out the message that please come and be a Hindu chaplain. There is almost seven to eight years of training that goes into making a chaplain. It’s not just being a priest or imam or rabbi. Many chaplains get so much training about inter-faith matters, about cultural awareness. Whether you are Muslim, Hindu or Christians you have to have intense training to be able to understand different cultures. „


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ratima, Nupi to us, is like my child (she is the fourth and youngest child in the family). There is a difference of 11 years between us. I have changed her diapers and have taken care of her. She has always been a good and a curious kid. I don’t remember her giving our parents any trouble. Nupi was born in Patna, Bihar. Our parents moved to Mumbai when she was in middle school. She completed the rest of her studies in Mumbai, earning a masters degree in psychology. She married a software engineer and they moved to Boston. This was the turning point in her life. The real changes in Nupi came when she came to the US. She earned a masters in theology, and converted to Christianity. But it did not bring her peace. She had grown up a Hindu, and then adopted a religion that was very different. She did not feel at home; she did not feel welcomed. She felt a lot of discrimination. Belonging is very important. It doesn’t matter if you are a Hindu or Christian. If you go to a church every Sunday and people look at you and don’t welcome you, it doesn’t feel good.

‘She used to bring people home to feed’ Glimpses of what Pratima Dharm is today were visible all along, sister Anita Gandhi tells Ritu Jha Now she has moved back to her own religion, she is associated with the Chinmaya Mission and says she is very happy. Nobody in my family has moved to the line she has taken. I wonder how she got into a career in religion, because we were not very religious while growing up. We are Rajputs, we believed in god, but in our house we never had rituals. Nupi was always very kind and helping. She used to bring people home to feed; she used to teach special needs children before joining the army, but we did not understand

the seriousness then. What she is today — the first Hindu chaplain of the US Army — is all individual, all her. I think it’s just god’s call. Nupi has very strong opinions; you have to be very strong as a person to be able to fight and become what she has. She is very determined. Once she decides something I don’t think anybody can say anything (to change her mind). She juggles her family life and work — she has two children, she takes care of our mother — and it’s hard. She went to Iraq when her daughter was just two months old. It was very hard, but her husband is very supportive. And she is happy. She gets a lot of respect. She was at the White House to celebrate Diwali and met President Barack Obama. We are very proud of her. We feel it’s a very big achievement for her and India as well. A younger sister achieving something like this is so big. „

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‘Pratima is making my dreams come true’ Chandreshwar N Singh shares his pride in his daughter with Ritu Jha

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back to Hinduism she just came back to her roots. I am very proud of my daughter. When Pratima called me about her White House visit for Diwali, she was very calm and I was very excited. I am sure she will achieve whatever she wants in life. Children are an extension of their parents. They are our dream. What I did not achieve in life, I want my children to achieve. Pratima, step by step, is making my dreams come true. „

ratima was a beautiful child. She was good at school; her teachers were very proud of her. She was good at sports and a singer. She was outgoing and would help people. She was darling of the house. She was always special. I was always sure she would do her best. She has made me proud. All my children are spiritual, but Pratima was more inclined towards spirituality than the rest. When she converted to Christianity, I had faith in her. I knew she was mature and believed that whatever she did, she would do wholeheartedly, not for show. I am sure she converted after great thought. I never wanted to orient my children them into my way. I just wanted them to grow as human beings. They had the freedom to choose their paths. The only thing I wanted them to have was education. I am a Hindu, but I am a human being first. I respect all religions. A family portrait: Chandreshwar N Singh and Saraswati Singh with their children — from left, Namita, a 1-year-old When she converted Pratima, Amitabh and Anita

COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM


M100 India Abroad June 2012

‘She is a fantastic chaplain’ Commander Kim Macdonald Donahue, Pratima Dharm’s boss, tells Aziz Haniffa what makes the Hindu chaplain so special

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than 25 years — so I’ve met a lot of ommander Kim Macdonald chaplains in my day. Donahue, a long-time Navy The challenge that a chaplain chaplain, is Captain Pratima who represents a unique faith has Dharm’s immediate boss and is that they are often called by that supervisor. community to do special things She met Dharm “over a year-and-aand to represent their faith in a half ago when we were beginning to global context. integrate our staff together from WalSo, when there are issues that ter Reed on Georgia Avenue (in Silver come up or celebrations that come Spring, Maryland) to Walter Reed up, or unique problems that the here in Bethesda (also in Maryland), person has to deal with and needs and the two chaplains’ staff were to understand what is at work, working together to make it as seamthey will call on that chaplain to less a transition.” come and advise them (whether it A highly decorated soldier, Donabe in a hospital setting in a partichue, who has served in Iraq, spoke to ular command, whether it be in India Abroad about why she believes Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever). Pratima Dharm is unique: So, it can be very challenging to There aren’t a lot of female chapmeet the needs of the country and lains (in the US armed services). speak to and encourage people of Often, the female chaplains are assiyour own faith. But to then go to gned to separate commands and sort that next step and be able to be a of spread out. So, the idea that there chaplain to all, that’s difficult would be — in one place — two female when you have come in specializchaplains was really very appealing to ing in one’s own faith because you me. We hit it off immediately. are called on so often. Here in a (military) hospital setting, Chaplain Dharm has the advanwe are all clinicians. We work as part tage of having come in as a sort of of multi-disciplinary teams, bringing your average, common, humble spiritual peace into the healing Christian chaplain — and we are a process. dime-a-dozen. So she went throAs the senior clinician, I assign the Commander Kim Macdonald Donahue, inset, says Pratima Dharm’s ability to serve members of the military as a chaplain — without ugh the hard knocks of learning to chaplains to the different wards and specifying Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim — is wonderful be ecumenical, of ministering to make sure there is coverage conall, and facilitating to other relistantly for each ward. COURTESY: PRATIMA DHARM gions, which is what Christian (When Donahue first met which may bring them closer chaplains have to become very good at, findDharm) Captain Dharm was to their God and their under- ing those specialty chaplains and calling going through the process at that standing of God, which may them into to assist. time of becoming a Hindu chapShe did that, she learnt that, she got a be different from your own. lain — she had prior come in as a That is a very unique, com- chance to experience that. But she is such a Christian chaplain, so I found plex, aspect of being a chap- unique individual… that’s a part of her spirithat fascinating to be walking lain and because we all do tual personality. Her gifts, shall we say, are through that journey with her. hold very strong to our own that she has been given through the course We were talking about how faith and the way in which it of her life. So, she had that to come up anyimportant her cultural tradition informs and strengthens us way. But she did have that opportunity to and her faith was and as she was daily and naturally as a develop those skills before the President beginning to raise her children, human being, you want to started knocking on her door, or whoever how important it was for her to COURTESY: CHAPLAIN DONAHUE share as much as you can with else she has become very important to, share the depths of her faith — someone else of what encour- because she is very important to us. her Hindu faith — with them and She has been actually here, at the hospital, to really have a family experience of her reli- ages you and what strengthens you on a daily assigned to, if you will, the wards that have gion, and at the same time have a very deep basis. When someone is hurting and struggling, everybody — post-surgical and wounded appreciation for Christianity and for the history of Christianity and for the spirituality of the most important thing to do is to encour- warriors, encompassing injuries and illnessage them in the place where they are, and es. She has done such a great job there. Christianity. (As most of these people are in a terminal She really comes at being the first Hindu what I have seen in Chaplain Dharm is that stage of their illness) and are facing their chaplain from a very unique perspective and she is really capable of doing that. Donahue said Dharm has brought to the faith it takes a very unique person to be able her ability to serve members of the military as a chaplain — without specifying Christi- table, through her theological training, her to do that and seeing her gifts as a chaplain an, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim — is really won- Indian and Hindu upbringing and her pas- — and I have seen her as a clinician — I need sion for inter-faith interactions and under- her there. derful. The other area of specialty, and a passion (Dharm is) a fantastic chaplain. There are standing, a way of dealing and counseling many people who become very enthusiastic on very complex issues. This has been an that she has, again, is dealing with the end of about being a chaplain, and that’s wonderful invaluable asset to the services provided to life issue, is suicide prevention. She is the to see. But you are tried and tested for sure, soldiers and civilians at the Walter Reed one who helps to coordinate the training for suicide prevention throughout the comand really one of the most incredible tests is facility. I have experienced this with other, shall we mand. And she is doing it not because she is to meet with someone who is not from your particular faith background, and still be able say, minority religion chaplains through my assigned, but because it’s a passion for her. Life is sacred and that comes certainly to offer them some consolation, some guid- experience — I have been in the Navy for 15 ance, and some clarity on their faith journey, years and I have been ordained for more from the depth of her faith. „


M101 India Abroad June 2012

Sukanya Roy, the girl who bested the dictionary

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The Spellbinder

COURTESY: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/SCRIPPS NATIONAL SPELLING BEE

With the perseverance of a true champion, Sukanya Roy won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year. P Rajendran meets the winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2011


M102 India Abroad June 2012

The Spellbinder

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Defeated by ‘piqueur’ in 2009 and ‘hyleg’ in 2010, Sukanya Roy, left, won in 2011 by spelling cymotrichous

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ou see it on the side of the road just where the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast extension sweeps around before the final turn where it ends in eddies and runnels of asphalt: One small house, part of a cluster set in a rough circle, hard to see between the trees sweeping up to hills beyond which the ground tumbles down towards the city of Scranton. If you want to know where champions like Sukanya Roy, the winner of the 84th Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2011, are made, that would be one place to look. There you might find the bespectacled, raven-haired and blue-nailed Sukanya, now 15, on a garden swing, on the deck, browsing through thick blue files filled with sheaves upon sheaves of notes. Or pegging away at class work on a Toshiba computer. Or, well, whatever it is that champions do when no one is gawking. Sukanya may make spelling look easy, but she has had her share of ups and downs. Sue, as she is locally known, felt rather good when, while in the fifth grade in Abington Heights Middle School, she beat even eighth graders to win the school bee. She missed making it to the national bee that year, misspelling ‘ingenious’ (if you believe it, she said ‘i-n-g-e-n-i-u-s’) in the regional contest that the local Times-Leader

newspaper organized in Wilkes Barre. The next year, 2009, she made it to 12th place in the nationals in the sixth grade, the highest placed sixth grader in the competition, before she stumbled over ‘piqueur’ (a servant leading hounds in a hunt). Came 2010, and Sukanya was hopeful of doing even better. Alas, she came across ‘hyleg,’ (an astrological term with Persian roots) and she spelled it with the more conventional ‘i’ rather than the correct ‘y.’ She placed 20th. That must have been a low moment, but Sukanya liked words. So, despite the discouragement, was disinclined to quit. “At times it was difficult to find the motivation...” She corrects herself. “Not to find the motivation, but to stay motivated.” Some careful use of language there from someone who knows words: She had what it took; she just did not want to lose it. “I guess I just kept going,” she says, laughing with some wonder. Her parents, Abhijit and Mousumi, told her to do whatever she wanted and that they would support her.

From The Editors For being an artful master of words; for inspiring many with her achievements and for consolidating an Indian-American tradition.

COURTESY: THE ROYS

Abhijit, a professor of marketing at the University of Scranton, helped with the strategy; Mousumi, a structural engineer, who gave up teaching college-level math to be with Sukanya, quizzed her. “They never pressured me, says Sukanya. “They would always ask me, ‘Do you want to continue?’ If I had said no, I think they would have been perfectly fine with that.” Did she have moments she felt frustrated and felt the need to weep and wail? “Not exactly, she says, admitting, “but there were times things were very bleak.” For Sukanya, work, along with parental support, helped her out of her personal Slough of Despond. “Even early, I tried to maintain a pretty diligent preparation routine because there’s always the possibility that something might not turn out as expected at the regionals or even at the school level,” Sukanya says. “You never know exactly what’s going to happen. I prepared every day. I went through a normal school day, came home, finished my homework and then prepared for an hour or two maybe. I put in a little extra time on the weekends.” By eighth grade, the “extra time” had swelled to one or two hours per day every weekend. “The focus was not so much on the time as the intensity of the preparation and the

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M103 India Abroad June 2012

The Spellbinder M102

INDIA ABROAD

PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011

materials that were being studied,” she says. “When I was preparing for the school level and the regionals I still tried to study the harder words because I knew I’d have to learn them eventually if things worked out as planned. But I also tried to study the words I knew were going to be asked at the level. When the regionals rolled around, and the national-level competition approached I devoted all my focus to the toughest words.” Being careful, she rephrases that to “words I knew I would have difficulty with,” since difficulty depends on the person studying the words. For example, a native Maori would be very comfortable with ‘tuatara’ (a reptile found in New Zealand) though someone of Indian descent might not (though not her). Sukanya says she listed mostly words

that were not predictable — from languages other than Greek or Latin or French. Like Maori, or African or Native American languages. Some of the hardest words, though, were eponyms (words made from names), such as Fahrenheit. As she soldiered on, Sukanya says she never indulged in the futility of wondering why a Bee might be important. “It is something I really enjoy doing. Everyone has some form of something they’re good at. For me, it was spelling bees. I think that (preparing for) spelling bees… or going after anything with that kind of commitment teaches you a lot about dedication and also perseverance,” she says. And, as with anyone who likes words, she headed for Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged)

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‘At school they helped me keep going and stay positive’ A winner’s preparation

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taying calm and focused was hard enough at the bucolic settings of South Abington; it was harder for Sukanya Roy up on stage. While she shared a strong camaraderie with her fellow contestants, Sukanya would not listen to the answers of the others for fear it may unsettle her. “I didn’t (check out others’ words) because I didn’t want to get distracted or unnecessarily worried,” she says. She explains her point: “It is very different sitting in your seat and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I knew that word’ (from) sitting at the microphone listening to the word. Instantly you go into panic mode, thinking, ‘Oh, I think I know this word, but it might be different, but it might not.’ That focus helped when she was planning for the hard words. Besides eponyms, the words named after people that no one could really prepare for, Sukanya tried to study language patterns first in commoner languages like Greek, Latin, German and French, then in uncommon languages like Maori. She cites the odd case of Portuguese. “(It is) not as common as German and not as complex as Bantu. (But some) vowels and consonants were pronounced very differently from how they are spelled.” She thinks about it and adds, laughing nervously, “And in Dutch as well. Now I’m thinking about it it’s all coming back.” She found words with German roots a little easier, partly because she was taking German in school that year. Her current school, Wyoming Seminary, does not offer German, so she has switched to French but cannot take advantage of that because she cannot compete any more. For many technical words, she relied on her parents. Her mother, an engineer who has also taught math, helped with some structural engineering terms, her father was helpful with terms from the world of business. Academics remained important even while she was in the last lap before the nationals. “It may have become less of a top priority,” she says, before hastening to explain herself. “My performance did not suffer — but (studies were) not an issue as before.” Friends may not have helped her prepare for the Bee, but Sukanya says they really helped her relax. “At school they helped me keep going and stay positive.” „ — P Rajendran

While she shared a strong camaraderie with her fellow contestants, Sukanya Roy would not listen to the answers of the others for fear it may unsettle her

COURTESY: THE ROYS


M104 India Abroad June 2012

The Spellbinder M103

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to try and remember the 476,000 words therein. “Before I went through the dictionary, I went through a lot of lists and spelling books. I tried to find words I knew I would have trouble with. I tried to establish a pretty strong base before I went through the dictionary,” she says. But go to the dictionary she did. Is there some danger she might forget the words? “I like to think that my memory is pretty good,” she says with a soft giggle before playing it down. “I don’t think you have to have — necessarily — a really good memory to be a good speller. I mean, memory helps, but it has more to do with understanding the words. That helps you remember them better.” She agrees that when she got in it was fun at first, a game. “It became much more than that obviously,” she says. “But I started doing spelling bees in elementary school for fun... I like to read... basically anything.” Read what? COURTESY: THE ROYS “I used to prefer fiction Sukanya Roy, left, with Anamika Veeramani, winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2010 and the India Abroad Special Award for and fantasy... Perhaps it’s because of getting older, but Achievement 2010 recently I’ve started to find non-fiction inter- left standing. And then Laura came up against ‘sorites’ (a esting as well,” she says. If in her callow Abington Heights Middle form of argument). Unsure of the word but School years she thrived on the Harry Potter beguiled by the Greek roots, the girl from series, The Hunger Games and the like; now Canada finally shrugged and spelled it out in Wyoming Seminary, a college preparatory with an ‘p’ at the beginning. When the bell school in Kingston, Pennsylvania, she has rang, she jerked visibly. She was deaf to the graduated to books about behavior by standing ovation she got as she pursed her Malcolm Gladwell of Blink, Tipping Point lips in vexation. Sukanya made short work of ‘periscii’ (peoand Outliers fame and others of his ilk. She even used to write stories and poems, ple in the polar circle who, on some days, can but that happens more rarely now, she says. have their shadows fall on all points of the Certainly not in the run-up to the nationals. compass) despite going hoarse with pleasure Thanks to her work, not so miraculously, at the ‘c.’ Head judge Mary Brooks leaned over and she was there, joining a dozen other finalists to ceremonially touch the trophy before get- told Sukanya: ‘If you get the next word right, ting on with the contest. It lasted an hour we will declare you the champion,’ perhaps and a half longer than planned as Sukanya not doing much to reduce the tension. The word was ‘cymotrichous’ (wavyand four other children — Laura Newcombe, Arvind Mahankali, Joanna Ye and Dakota haired). Sukanya kept her calm, went Jones, kept going — refusing to get a word through the motions of asking the definition, origin and if she was pronouncing it correctwrong between them 21 times over. Just when people were beginning to mur- ly. Sukanya made it to the ‘t’ when she mur that perhaps the young gladiators ought to be rested and the contest declared a tie, appeared to have some trouble breathing. Dakota stumbled on ‘zanja’ (an irrigation Despite an expanding smile that defeated all ditch), spelling it ‘zangha.’ Joanna slipped up attempts to squash it, she made it through to on ‘galoubet’ (a musical instrument; she ‘o’ before she looked up with joy and hope spelled it ‘galubey’) and Arvind on ‘jugend- towards the judges and said the final letters. She has still to get over that moment stil’ (a German variation of Art Noveau; he spelled it ‘uguntschtiel’ and went off saying though there is no reason she needs to do so. Laughing as she speaks, she says, “I knew dark things about silent letters). Finally, there was just Laura and Sukanya winning was very, very very close but I want-

LETTER PERFECT Words Sukanya Roy made short work of in her final odyssey Croissant Execration Hesthogenous Amphistylar Watteau Thalassocracy Psephomancy Pyopoiesis Völkerwanderung Rapakivi Lakatoi Zwischenspiel Preux Sangsue Lekane Naumkeag Orgeat Periscii Cymotrichous ed to be sure I was saying the right letters because at that point to misspeak or to say something wrong would be ridiculous. I was thrilled, but I was trying to keep it together and stay calm and just finished the word correctly.” So, Sukanya won the championship and, thereafter, was feted on television shows and praised in newspapers, celebrated across Pennsylvania, and lauded at school, driven around in a limousine and given a police escort, extolled in the state Senate and honored at the White House. She also won $40,000 and a host of other goodies. But that was not what Sukanya was competing for. It was not even to defeat her fellow contestants who she perhaps had more in common with than the audiences who so admired her. In Sukanya’s opinion what she had really bested was the dictionary. And for a lover of words what victory could be sweeter than that? „


M105 India Abroad June 2012

Sukanya Roy holds up her trophy, presented by Richard Boehne, president and chief executive officer, E W Scripps Company

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PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 SPONSORED BY

I dream as I sleep Sukanya Roy, the poet Untitled I dream as I sleep of thousands of delicate shadows whispering in the winter wind of smooth moonlight and misty forests and the smell of the sea of life Written December 2009, when Sukanya was in the seventh grade The Beach When I go to the beach, Goa beach, with its Tiny crabs scuttling around in the mornings, And frothy waves crashing Among the rocks of distant cliffs, I feel at ease. I let my thoughts Freely flow. The water lapping at my ankles As I wade in, feeling The scales of little fish brush my feet, Tickles, and it tastes Salty and cold. The seagulls, greedy beggars that they are, Demand food from us. We chase them away, howling and screaming, And return to the ocean. We play, shrieking with laughter, Swimming, splashing, And all too soon, it’s time to go. I still remember, At nights I dream, Of my favorite place... Goa beach. Written after a trip to Goa in July 2009, when Sukanya was in the 6 th grade

MOLLY RILEY/REUTERS

‘She was not stressed out by the spelling bee’ Arvind Mahankali gives P Rajendran a competitor’s glimpse of Sukanya Roy

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ukanya Roy may appear unflappable on screen, but backstage she was chatty and outgoing, says Arvind Mahankali, one of the famous five of the 2011 Bee finals, who came in third both that year and in 2012. “She is jovial when not on stage. She is always talking to other spellers and having fun and enjoying herself. She was not stressed out by the spelling bee. She is also calm and composed. So until she won I didn’t actually detect any emotion (of stress),” he says. “You can clearly tell that she had prepared very well and she spelled a lot of hard words — like ‘zwischenspiel’ (a composition that comes between pieces, such as an interlude) and ‘preux’ (valiant) and lakatoi (a dugout double canoe used in New Guinea). She was pretty sportsman-like. She was nice to everyone. She deserved to be the champion in 2011,” Arvind, 12, says. Speaking of the 2010 Bee, where Sukanya came in 20th after coming in 12th the year before, he says, “She should not feel disappointed because ‘hyleg’ (an astrological term with Persian roots) is an extremely difficult word. I definitely could not spell it back then. It just depends on the word that you get. You could get a (very tough) word in the finals or in the semifinals. If you don’t

know that word and it’s impossible to crack then you will most likely miss it.” He says everyone was well prepared. “My competitors also spelled some extremely difficult words. Some of them I couldn’t spell either. I also got a few difficult words,” he says, and goes on to describe the different reactions he saw. “Some people were waiting for breaks because they were nervous. Others were just happy to be on stage. We were all cheering each other on.” Though the rules pitted the contestants against each other he said their personal beef was with the dictionary. “That’s the hurdle that lies between a speller and a championship. To guarantee the championship you have to master the entire dictionary. Technically, we are competing against each other, but we don’t actually hope for others to misspell. We actually feel sad when they misspell,” adds Arvind. “It is a fun event. Even if it is not completely fun, it’s fun to be there and spell words. It’s not that the only thing that matters is the winner. Winning is obviously a huge feat. Also (impressive are those) people who can crack tough words using their knowledge of patterns, even words that they don’t know. Those people are respected as well.” Clearly, Sukanya scored on both counts. „


M106 India Abroad June 2012

‘She has discipline and that worked in her favor’ P Rajendran finds proud parents Mousumi and Abhijit Roy are often astounded by Sukanya’s motivation and perfectionism

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Girls are a bit more perfectionist. She does so much work for even everyday homework. I sometimes try to tell her, ‘For everything you don’t have to do 100 percent or 120 percent.’ They put themselves under so much pressure!” That was Mousumi Roy, mother, friend and the hovering benevolent spirit in Sukanya’s life. Mousumi, a civil engineer from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, earned a master’s degree at Cooper Union before doing her doctorate in structural engineering at Columbia University. Abhijit, Sukanya’s father, studied mechanical engineering at the Regional Engineering College in Allahabad before coming to the United States in 1984 to do first an MBA, then an MS specializing in marketing research, both at the University of Arizona. It took some concerned parents and well wishers’ help organize their partially arranged marriage. “You know how the (Indian) social network Mousumi and Abhijit Roy with Sukanya works,” Abhijit says. By then, thanks to a stint at the Plymouth University in New Hampshire, Abhijit knew he liked to teach and was doing his qualifying doctoral exams at Boston University. In 2001, he went first to Loyola University in Baltimore, then to the University of Scranton, where he works now. Mousumi was an instructor in structural engineering at Johns Hopkins University from 2004 to 2006, and an instructor in calculus and statistics in the math department at the Penn State University’s WorthingtonScranton campus from 2006 to 2010. That was when she decided Sukanya needed her more and quit. “I definitely could not have been as successful without the help of my parents,” Sukanya says. “They encouraged me almost every day.” She says they quizzed her on the words she was learning so she could spell them out loud, helped her make lists of words, helped her find definitions and information she did not have for some words so that it did not COURTESY: THE ROYS take her as long to go through the lists after- Sukanya’s parents say even when she wards. lost she never wanted to give up Abhijit says Mousumi did much more than favor… Fortune favors hard work,” he adds. he did. “I have a full-time job, so I was basically the “If you work hard, you are more likely to be person who gave her the big picture — how to lucky.” Abhijit believes such self-motivation is study and how to really do this. With half-amillion words you have to have a strategy,” he common in children who win the geography says, adding that it helped that Sukanya kept bee, the math bee, the brain bee and more. He says, “Everyone’s working hard to it. I on working. “If (cricketer Sachin) Tendulkar has to be a good batsman all he has to do is am sure the parents aren’t putting pressure on the kids... The kids are much more motiput time in the nets.” He cites a quote from Malcolm Gladwell vated. Where we come in is that, (asking) that channels the work of K Anders Ericsson ‘How can we help you?’” Mousumi seconds that: “I cannot rememof Florida State University: ‘If you have to shine you need to put in 10,000 hours of ber that she wanted to give up. No, never. I cannot remember that. She has been doing work.’ “She has discipline and that worked in her spelling for a long time. Every time, she had a

COURTESY: THE ROYS

little progress. The first time she went to Scripps she was 12th. The next time she went she expected (her ranking) to be more, instead she became 20th, which was a little discouraging for her. But she knew that other people had been in that situation, but they worked their way through.” The Bee was a high point for Sukanya, says Mousumi. “The other contestants were all very friendly,” she says. “(Sukanya) said they all knew that they don’t compete against each other; they compete against the dictionary. She put it better than I could. They knew it doesn’t matter what the other person does.... They are still very young and they are very good kids. It doesn’t affect them too much. Even after (Sukanya) won everybody else was very happy for her. If anybody else had won, she would have been happy for that person, too. The relationship between them was so good.” She adds, “Winning is not everything. That is what our culture says. You just go for what you love to do and eventually you find happiness.” She laughs uncertainly before adding, “I hope.” She lists some of Sukanya’s friends at the Bee: Stuti Mishra, Sriram Hathwar, Arvind Mahankali, Nabeel Rahman and Laura Newcombe (who was the last contestant standing before Sukanya bested her). Mousumi has put together scrap books of photographs and other material from the whirlwind experience. “I sometimes look through it — all of us (do) — and remember all those memories,” Mousumi says with a faintly apologetic laugh. “She’s our first and only child and we’re kind of learning along the way,” she says, laughing again. It is not hard telling her they are doing just fine. „


M107 India Abroad June 2012

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PERSON OF THE YEAR 2011 SPONSORED BY

Dr Thomas Abraham, founder president and chairman emeritus, Global Organization for People of Indian Origin

PARESH GANDHI

Voice of the Community

Dr Thomas Abraham views the four decades he has dedicated to the Diaspora as his duty and calling. George Joseph meets the winner of the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community 2011


M108 India Abroad June 2012

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nlike early immigrants who landed in the United States with $8 in their pockets, Dr Thomas Abraham arrived at JFK with $75. “Those days the government of India used to give $8 for anyone who traveled abroad. I got special permission to get some additional dollars. I did not want to spend the money on a taxi, so I took a bus to Grand Central Station, then the subway to Times Square and entered Columbia carrying a suitcase and went to the dormitory,” he remembers. It was 1973 and the Henry Krumb School of Mines at Columbia University had offered him an assistantship. His journey began from Kozhencherry, Kerala, where Abraham’s family had been farmers. His father was a lawyer and moved to nearby Pathanamhitta to practice law. As one among eight siblings, the family could not afford to send Abraham to better schools. He started education at the only elementary school in town, the Muslim Lower Primary School, which was run by the local mosque. Seeing that many Muslims would not send their girls to school, Abraham’s father started a girls high school in Pathanamthitta in the 1950s. This government-aided school, which still runs, was just one of his father’s philanthropic projects in his home town. Raised under such influences, Abraham finished high school from the Mar Thoma High School; earned his pre-degree (now the 11th and 12th grades in India) at the Catholicate College in Pathanamthitta before joining the Malaviya Regional Engineering College (now the Malaviya National Institute of Techn-

The Honor Roll Dr Joy Cherian received the first-ever India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community. He founded the Indian American Forum for Political Education, aimed to translate the community’s increasing numbers into political power. President Ronald Reagan named him as a Commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He served six years on the EEOC from 1987 to1993, the first Asian-American member of a US administration, under President Reagan and, later, President George W Bush. For his eloquent vision, his selfless generosity, and his tireless advocacy of Indian and American causes and institutions, we honored philanthropist Sreedhar Menon with the second India Abroad Lifetime Service to the Community award in 2009. For being a refuge for South Asian women facing domestic abuse and for empowering those women to live life on their own terms, Manavi, Sakhi, Apna Ghar and Maitri received the India Abroad Lifetime Service to the Community award 2010.

From The Editors For being a tireless soldier of the Indian Diaspora; for founding and nurturing a pioneering organization for Indians abroad; and for giving voice to the community when there was none

The Family Man

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r Thomas Abraham married Dr Susy Abraham, now an internist and geriatrician at Sarah Neuman, the Westchester Campus of Jewish Home and Life Care. Their daughter Dr Nitya Elizabeth, currently chief urology resident at the New York University School of Medicine, is

expected to join a fellowship in urology at the Cleveland Clinic starting July 1. Their son Jay Thomas is a design engineer at Pratt Whitney, United Technologies, in East Hartford, Connecticut. Abraham has two brothers and three sisters back in India and two other sisters in the United Kingdom. „

Dr Thomas Abraham with his family — from left, his son Jay, wife Susy and daughter Nitya

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THOMAS ABRAHAM

It also gave Abraham his first taste of activism. Those days, in the late 1960s, engineers in India found it difficult to get jobs. It led to a demonstration by engineering colleges in front of the Indian parliament in 1968. He was among the two dozen students selected to travel to New Delhi to participate in a demonstration that influenced the government of India’s decision to provide Rs 250 as stipend for unemployed engineers. After his graduation, Abraham was offered a job as a lecturer at his alma mater, where he worked for four months before joining as a metallurgist at Alcobex Metals in Jodhpur. “This new job of managing a non-ferrous metal foundry and processing unit and supervising over 100 workers gave me management skills. Since most of the workers did not write or speak English, I was forced to read workers’ handwritten leave applications and other documents in Hindi, which made me to communicate well in Hindi,” he recalls. “Life was not easy since there weren’t hotels near the factory. One had to go home for food in the extreme summer heat on a bike and return for work. In a way, it was excellent training,” he adds. “There were fewer opportunities for engineers in India then, while the United States welcomed them. Getting a visa was as simple as going to the US consulate if you were an engineer. Coming to the US was one of the best deciDr Thomas Abraham, left, receives the Bharatvanshi Award from then Indian M110 vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat ology) in Jaipur for a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy. “The IITs were coming up. But I did not know that to get into it one needed to write an entrance examination. The REC was the other option,” he says. “When I reached Jaipur in 1966, I could not speak English or Hindi, as the medium of instruction in Kerala was Malayalam. But five years in Jaipur changed that. There were students from all over India. It gave me an opportunity to know and understand the sub-regional cultures of people from different parts of India.” He was not interested in public life except for being active in the student chapter of the Indian Institute of Metals. “Life in Jaipur was the transformation period where I could expand my horizon from being a student from Malayalam medium schools and changing over to English and Hindi,” he adds.


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Professional Legacy

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Dr Thomas Abraham receives the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from Indian President Pratibha Patil

COURTESY THOMAS ABRAHAM

Voice of the Community M108 sions I made in life.” When Abraham arrived at Columbia, it had an active Indian student association, known as the India Club of Columbia University. The club would screen Hindi films every weekend. For most Indians then, their only connection with India was Hindi films and some radio programs. A large number of people flocked to watch the films; the club earned money from these screenings. Abraham took over as president of the India Club in 1975, at a time when the club was not doing well. “I introduced changes and added other community programs, including the biggest Diwali show till that time, in 1975,” he says. It was also a time when other organizations were coming up, several at religious and regional levels. These organizations were celebrating India’s Independence Day and Republic Day under the banner of the Joint Committee of Indian Associations hosted by the India Club. Abraham, who believes that he would not have jumped into public life had he remained in India, began to realize his calling was to work for India and the Indians here. He saw the need to organize and bring the community together for common causes. But the Joint Committee under him was left with no finance. “We, four students from Columbia University, contributed $100 each to start a new account for the organization. Our first objective was to get the organization back up again and pay for the expenses of the upcoming India Independence Day Celebration in 1976,” he remembers. “We were also confronted by people who were opposed to the Emergency

in India who tried to disrupt our celebration. One major decision we took then was that whatever be the political situation in India, we as a community would not take sides. At the same time, another Indian group did not want us to have any Indian celebrations since they advocated that they were Americans only!” By 1977, under Abraham, the committee’s credibility as an umbrella organization promoting and supporting all Indian cultural and language-based groups was restored. “The next step was to get them actively involved in community issues,” he says. “The decision was made at the Joint Committee meeting in December 1977 held at Columbia University that we would incorporate a new organization, the Federation of Indian Associations, with a new constitution. It was incorporated in March 1978 in New York State.” The organization started hosting the Independence Day program since 1977 in an open area like the College Walk of Columbia University. Thousands came for the India Day Festival. During this time Abraham helped initiate FIA umbrella organizations in all major US cities. In 1980, FIA organized the First National Convention of Asian Indians in North America. The National Federation of Indian-American Associations was born at this convention; it elected Abraham as president. He served as the NFIA president from 1980 to 1988; and chairman of its board of trustees in 1988 and 1992. The foundation he laid then has today helped NFIA become the largest Indian organization in America with more than 200 Indian organizations as members. With the success of the convention in 1980 and several other activities, the FIA, helmed M111

ike in public life, Thomas Abraham has made a deep impact in his professional field. As an advanced materials scientist specializing in advanced ceramics, he came across nanoceramic powers as early as 1990s. He organized the first-ever business nanotechnology conference connecting lab technology to business in 1998 in New York. People from all over the world, including Russia and China, came to attend it. Since then he has been organizing nanotechnology conferences every year. He is passionate about nanotechnology and the way it is changing the world — cell phones, tablets, iPads, PCs and other applications. He launched The Indus Nanotechnology Association last year to help in faster commercialization of nano-enabled technologies and related fields like nano-bio convergence, nano-enabled energy generation and storage, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine and other areas. TINA, he hopes, will further collaborations between Indian-American scientists and entrepreneurs and their counterparts in India, as he is unhappy that India has not produced any notable inventions even though it is spending a sizeable amount on research and development. He is critical of the direction the top Indian science and engineering schools have taken — producing highly competent and smart graduates, but no new technologies and gadgets for global consumption. He hopes that Indian scientists and technologists will start working toward building on the scientific achievements of developed countries and conduct applied research to develop devices for commercialization. Abraham, who has worked at the University of Denver and Brookhaven National Laboratory, has written over 50 papers published in the various journals and magazines. He also served as editor of High-Tech Ceramics News for over 17 years. He served as vice president, research, Business Communications Co, a market and industry analysis company in Norwalk, Connecticut before taking up his current position as president, Innovative Research and Products, Inc, a Connecticut-based technology and market research firm. „ — George Joseph


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Dr Thomas Abraham helped build a solid base for not just the Indian-American community, but also the Indian Diaspora in other countries

Voice of the Community M110 by Sureshwar Singh, took the next step — organizing the first India Day Parade in 1981. Abraham and other community leaders were also recognizing the need to get involved in the political process as a community. In 1976, the community joined hands with other ethnic groups to celebrate the 200th anniversary of American Independence. “Since then, we joined with other Asian groups for common causes, including the campaign to declare the 1st week of May as the Asian American week. This was the beginning of our Indian community exerting pressure in legislative issues,” Abraham says. Abraham coined the term people of Indian origin in 1989, when he put together the first convention of People of Indian Origin in New York. It would lead to the founding of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, where he is currently the chairman emeritus and an executive trustee of GOPIO International Foundation. If the FIA and NFIA were founded to create a platform for Indians in the US, GOPIO was an effort to bring the Indians worldwide

together. It was found that Indians in many countries faced problems. For instance, in Fiji the army had ousted an elected government led by Indians. The support from the community in the US helped. The government of India too came forward to support the idea of GOPIO and its work. Abraham’s list of achievements is endless. In early 1980, he was invited by the Select Commission on Immigration to testify on behalf of the Indian community on the various rules governing the new immigration law. This, along with efforts by other organizations, helped preserve the family reunification clause of the new immigration laws ratified by Congress. In 1988, the NFIA, under Abraham’s leadership, testified in the Senate to stop the supply of sophisticated military equipment, including AWACS to Pakistan. In 1992, the Indian community in New York and the Indian embassy jointly decided to establish a chair for Indian studies at Columbia University. The Jagdish Bhagwati Chair for Indian Political Economy was established in 1997.

A remarkable scholar

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hen I reviewed his application for Columbia University, I could see that Thomas Abraham would be a productive member of our profession. He turned out to be a top drawer material scientist — as good or better than most IITians. He blossomed into a remarkable scholar in the area of material science. Even as a graduate student he was

active through the Columbia Club in nourishing cultural activities. If he takes up a job, he will organize it better than anyone else. He was a great support for me as a sterling activity chair of a triennial international conference for some 1,400 scientists and their guests a few years ago. He has a unique ability to serve society and simultaneously conduct distinguished

COURTESY THOMAS ABRAHAM

“After two decades of establishing it,” says Abraham, the co-chair of the organizing committee, “I see a dozen India chairs in other universities, which is very heartening.” He initiated several other community organizations: The Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center in 1993, the National Indian American Association for Senior Citizens in 1998, and the South Asian Council for Social Services in 2000. Abraham’s vision was to mobilize the community at different levels. As president of the FIA and NFIA, he organized large community meetings for visiting Indian prime ministers Morarji Desai, Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He took the initiative to organize the first Indian American Hotel and Motel Conference at the NFIA’s National Biennial Convention in 1986, which has grown in to the Asian Indian Hotel and Motel Association. The many alumni organizations in the country now can also trace their origin to the first NFIA conference in 1980. The convention provided platforms for alumni of all major institutions in India. These groups continued their alumni meetings at NFIA conventions for a few more times, before holding their own conventions. Abraham also served as national coordina-

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scholarly work. He is dedicated to the welfare of Indians abroad who faced all kinds of problems. He tirelessly spends his time and energy for society. It is well known that he constantly galvanizes the community to act to ameliorate many problems faced by Indian Americans with regard to PIO or OCI cards, visas and passports. „ — Dr P Somasundaran, La von Duddleson Krumb Professor, Columbia University


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ers and poor people. With time, Abraham helped build a solid base for not just the Indian-American community, but also the Indian Diaspora in other countries. He considers this his greatest achievement, and takes pride in the fact that he knows several people of Indian origin on M114

tor, American Committee for the Rehabilitation of Cyclone Victims in India in 1978; chairman, Committee to Honor the Prime Minister of India in 1978 and 1983; vice-president, Indo-American Council which was responsible for promoting the Festival of India in 1985-1987; and national coordinator, Asian Indians for Liberty, which collected funds for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. His role in these community organizations and initiatives was instrumental, but Abraham says what they have achieved over the years is due to the work of a large number of volunteers as a team, not an individual. “Many of the team members that joined together in the 1970s are still active. These works are purely voluntary. One has to put his/her time and money. Yet we all felt it was our duty,” he adds, recalling the time when he and the other early community leaders had to educate the mainstream Americans about India PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY THOMAS ABRAHAM not being a country of snake charm- Dr Thomas Abraham, left, with then President Ronald Reagan. He played a key role in strengthening the community’s ties with the administration

Abraham with Pope John Paul II. He traveled worldwide to set up GOPIO

Abraham, second from right — as part of a GOPIO delegation — with then Indian ambassador to the US Meera Shankar, sixth from left, and Senator Christopher Dodd, seventh from left

The vision, dedication, and perseverance of Thomas Abraham

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t Columbia University, more than 30 years ago, Thomas Abraham and I were enrolled in the doctoral program in the same department, working for different professors. From the start, I noticed Thomas’s sincerity, dedication and selflessness. He was hardworking and always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Most notably, he had a passion for connecting with anyone of Indian origin and organizing the Indian community. He was apolitical and served as an Indian students’ liaison with representatives of the Indian consulate. He took the initiative to organize community meetings with visiting Indian dignitaries. Personally, he encouraged me to get involved in the India Club of Columbia University and was a valuable advisor and confidante while I served as president of the organization. There was no chore which he was not enthused to undertake, and he encouraged and invited others to help celebrate and spread awareness about Indian culture. He has devoted unparalleled efforts to organizing the Indian community not only across the United States, but around the globe, often at personal expense and time. I cannot think of anyone else who has had the vision, dedication, and perseverance of Thomas Abraham in getting the Indian community organized and involved with mainstream IndianAmerican policies. He has been equally successful in helping Indian communities in other countries to organize and interact with local officials and communities. He is a pioneer in forging relationships among various global Indian organizations and eliciting their active engagement with policy makers. We are all proud to have him as our friend and colleague. He has tirelessly promoted the recognition and welfare of others ahead of his own interests. I would be remiss if I did not recognize the sacrifice his wife Suzy and his children have made so that Thomas could serve the Indian community. Suzy and the children’s commitment have made Thomas’s dedication possible, and above all, fruitful. He deserves our community’s highest recognition and awards, and many more. „ — Brij M Moudgil, director, Particle Engineering Research Center, Gainesville, Florida


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‘All Indians are his family’

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Dr Thomas Abraham, second from left, with his siblings, including T A George, fourth from left

Dr T A George gives Shobha Warrier insights into his brother, Dr Thomas Abraham

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hen you enter the home of Dr T A George, a retired principal of the Catholicate College, Pathanamthitta, Kerala, the first thing you notice are photographs of a man collecting awards from various presidents and prime ministers of India, adorning the walls. The same person is also seen with Presidents of the United States. He is Dr Thomas Abraham, founder president and chairman emeritus, Global Organization for People of Indian Origin. George is Abraham’s eldest brother, and lives in the family home in Kerala where the brothers grew up. Proud as he is of his little brother’s awards and felicitations for his philanthropic work, George says it has only been because of their parents. Their father K G Abraham, an advocate, was a trailblazer in public service in the Pathanamthitta area; their mother Eliamma Abraham was a homemaker. “Our father was president of the Bar Association since its inception,” George says. “He was a great philanthropist of this region. The schools you saw on both sides of the road were started by him in 1945 when girls had no separate schools in this region. At that time, parents preferred not to send girls to co-educational schools, especially in certain communities. He wanted all the girls in this region to go to school and study. He was a visionary who was instrumental in starting the

Catholicate College in Pathanamthitta in 1952, where I became principal years later. I think what my father did for the public inspired my younger brother.” Born as the seventh of eight children, Abraham was the family’s darling. George says, “He is ‘Mon’ (son) to all of us. As he was the youngest son, he was our parents’ favorite. My mother always had special prayers for him. His sisters love him a lot and he helps all of them like a true brother.” Abraham also always gave his family reasons to be proud of him. “He was a very hardworking child. He was always a topper in school and college. I must say he inherited this from our parents, both extremely hardworking,” George says. “Even when he was my student, I had no reason to be angry with him. All the teachers who taught him had only good things to say about him. As his elder brother, I was only proud of him.” Abraham’s academic work got him admission at the Regional Engineering College, Jaipur. George remembers the journey the brothers made to Jaipur for the admission. He had gone along with Thomas since he had done his post graduation and PhD in Agra and was familiar with north India and Hindi . “That was the first time he was travelling that far. Three Kerala boys had secured admission at REC, and the others left Jaipur in less than a month, as they

COURTESY T A GEORGE

‘I admire his passion for serving the community’

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admire the loyalty my father has for India, which has led him to maintain his Indian citizenship despite living in the US for more than 40 years. I appreciate that my dad always has such high expectations from my brother and me. He is an avid reader of India Abroad and regularly cuts out articles celebrating the achievements of Indian youth, which he passes on to us as inspiration for what we can accomplish. My dad is a great cook and has brought me home-made food during some of my most difficult days in medical school and residency. Dad has consistently been involved in my education, career, and personal life. In spite of his significant commitment to community work, he has always made time for me. If anything, his community involvement has broadened my mind to the needs of the larger Indian community and the importance of considering issues beyond my nuclear family. My scope of involvement with the Indian community will not be as wide as my father’s. I hope to serve the community in India by going back to share the medical skills and knowledge I have gained in the US. I admire his passion for serving the Indian community. His interest has not waned after all these years! „ — Dr Nitya Elizabeth Abraham, daughter

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‘What I admire most is his passion for helping those in need’

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is community work has helped unite Indians outside India to better themselves, their local community as well as their home country. Even though he has spent a significant amount of time doing community work he always found time to spend with family. I recall many hours he spent helping me with homework while in school.

Memorable incidents included camping together in below freezing temperatures while on father-son Boy Scouts trips and white water rafting and mountain biking together in Colorado. When the time does allow, I meet with high school students in inner city school of Hartford, Connecticut, who are interested in engineering occupations. Along with

other co-workers from my company (Pratt & Whitney), we provide guidance and share our experiences to further help students with interests in the field of engineering. What I admire most in him is his caring nature and passion for helping those in need. „ — Jay Abraham, son


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first name basis in almost any city in the world. “Wherever I go, there are people whom I know well. This relation was created over the years. I traveled worldwide to set up GOPIO in the late 1980s,” he says. “By pooling resources of the Indian Diaspora, India can achieve wonders.” Abraham points out that India has not done enough of that. He says several government initiatives have remained on paper and the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, India’s annual event to recognize the Diaspora, is losing its charm. “We need to have some new ideas to make it appealing to overseas Indians to attend this program,” he says. “It is still a good platform for India to connect with its overseas children. Many of these are experts in different fields and their talents should be used for India’s development efforts during their visit to attend PBD and other times.” He believes that India should create a mechanism for successful technologists and professionals to contribute to the growth of the country and also get the Diaspora’s help in securing a permanent United Nations Security Council seat. “The Diaspora in many countries can start a movement for it on the lines of the US-India nuclear deal,” he says. In the long years that he has dedicated to the community, Abraham has only been disillusioned on two occasions. The first was during the Ayodhya movement, when some Indians collected money for bricks to build the Ram temple. When a meeting took place in New York, he was not invited and suddenly he felt like an outsider. On another occasion, a fringe group was taking issue with the Christian community in India and attempting to make it a major issue. He was not invited to that campaign either. A follower of Gandhian principles, Abraham was pained to see the fundamentalist movements in India — the Sikh extremist movement of the 1980s, the Babri Masjid destruction and other communal riots — but is optimistic that India will not travel down that path again. He feels that new communication technologies and social media have brought in enough checks and balances within Indian society. However, Abraham is aware that the community here is currently fragmented on religious, linguistic and regional levels. “When Telugu or Bengali or Gujarati communities organize a convention thousands come together. Same is the case with reliPHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY THOMAS ABRAHAM gious organizations. But a convention of NFIA or GOPIO may attract only a few hundred people. It is sad,” he says. “But when As president of the FIA and NFIA, Abraham organized large community an issue of importance arises, we come together. Also, the second meetings for several visiting Indian leaders, including, from top, P V Narasimha Rao, generation is moving away from these divisions and they only Rajiv Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh look at the Indian identity. The divisions may be a phenomenon among the first generation. But the secular organizations are work- American community reached out to his administration with the first ing for the common good and the original goals still motivate peo- White House briefing. Closer relations with his office were created with opportunities for a few appointments by the administration. Dr ple.” India and its people, no matter which part of the world they live in, Joy Cherian was the first appointee to a sub-cabinet level position. have been Abraham’s focus for the four decades he has spent in the Since I was not a US citizen, I could not be considered for it. I have US; this deep connection with his roots is probably why he still no regrets about the lost opportunities,” he says. “I never regretted coming to the US. I never regret the work I did over the years. It was retains his Indian citizenship, a rare thing among expatriates. “When Ronald Reagan became President in 1980, the Indian- a duty and calling.” „

M113 could not adjust to life there. My brother was never a quitter. That was where he started becoming active in public life.” After working in Jodhpur for a couple of years, Abraham secured admission to do his post graduate studies at Columbia University. “That was the first time somebody from our family was going to the US,” George recalls. “My father was very happy that he was going abroad to study, as he got admission on merit.” It was in the US that Abraham’s interest in working for society flourished. He was getting more involved with the community there when his father fell ill in 1976. Abraham was in India in no time. “From

‘All Indians are his family’ the moment he reached the hospital,” George remembers, “he was at our father’s side. Our father died soon. After that, every year, my brother makes it a point to visit us either on our father’s or mother’s death anniversary.” Abraham also built on his father’s legacy of working for the people. Along with his work came recognition. He would send paper cuttings of all his achievements and George, who had become a father figure for him after their father’s death, preserved everything. “I am his godfather,” George says. “There is no doubt about it. He calls me whenever there is good news. He calls me whenever he needs my guidance.” He recalls the pride with which he read

what E K Nayanar, then the chief minister of Kerala, wrote about his younger brother in a magazine after his visit to the US. “He praised my brother for the kind of work he was doing for the Indians there,” George says. When Abraham won the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, India’s highest honor for NRIs, he was particular that George and his wife Jolly attend the event in New Delhi. “It was a very proud moment for the family, as it was the first time that someone from our family was getting an award from the president of India. Now he works not only for his family, but an extended family of thousands and thousands of Indians. For him, all Indians are his family,” George says. „

India Abroad's Person of the Year 2011  

Each year India Abroad hosts the India Abroad Person of the Year award ceremony to honor the finest Indian-American achievements of the prev...

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