Page 1

PerioDiCAL

To subscribe 1-877-INDIA-ABROAD (1-877-463-4222)

www.indiaabroad.com/subscribe

Friday, June 27, 2014 Vol. XLIV No.39

International Weekly Newspaper

$1

www.rediff.com (Nasdaq: REDF)

Chicago/Dallas

Los Angeles

NY/NJ/CT

New York

Arogyaswami J Paulraj LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

James Ivory FRIEND OF INDIA

Sheldon Pollock FRIEND OF INDIA

Deepa Iyer GOPAL RAJU AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE

Manu Prakash FACE OF THE FUTURE

Arvind Mahankali SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT

Kumar Barve LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

Mallika Dutt GOPAL RAJU AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE

Anuradha Bhagwati PUBLISHER'S AWARD FOR SPECIAL EXCELLENCE

Srikanth Srinivasan

Sathwik Karnik SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR

Presented by

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

ADVERTISEMENT


M3 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013 SRIKANTH SRINIVASAN

PARESH GANDHI

THE JUDGE


M4 JUNE 2014

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.

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INTERNATIONAL: Digital edition ONLY outside US 1 Year $10, 2 Years $18 www.indiaabroad.com/subscribe 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

THE EDITORIAL TEAM IN NEW YORK Aziz Haniffa, Editor Arthur J Pais, Editor, Features Suman Guha Mozumder, Associate Managing Editor George Joseph, P Rajendran, Deputy Managing Editors Paresh Gandhi, Chief Photographer Ritu Jha, Special Correspondent Parimal Mehta, System Manager Production: Dharmesh Chotalia, Production Supervisor Harish Kathrani David Richter, Production Controller, Editorial 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: 1-866-702-1950 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 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) Marketing & Business Development Anjali 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, Senior Associate Editor 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: indiaabroad.com

Sri Srinivasan took his oath of office as a US Circuit Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with his mother, Saroja Srinivasan, holding the Gita.

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

He personifies the best of America

Aziz Haniffa salutes Srikanth Srinivasan, the India Abroad Person of the Year 2013

W

hen India Abroad editors began brainstorming to select the awardees for the 2013 India Abroad Person of the Year slate of awards, the jury was never out when it came to reaching a unanimous decision on our choice for the India Abroad Person of the Year Award 2013. The decision was the mother of all no-brainers — Judge Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan, the first South Asian American in this community’s immigrant experience who was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate by a vote of 97-0 and then sworn in by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor as a federal judge on the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, the nation’s second highest court. Sri, as he is popularly known, was nominated by President Barack Obama June 11, 2012, nearly 10 months after the President appointed him Principal Deputy Solicitor General, replacing yet another trailblazing Indian American, Neal Kumar Katyal.

In nominating Sri, President Obama said, ‘Sri is a trailblazer who personifies the best of America,’ and noted that ‘Sri spent nearly two decades as an extraordinary litigator before serving as Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.’ ‘Now,’ Obama predicted, ‘he will serve with distinction on the federal bench,’ and pointed out, ‘Sri will in fact be the first South Asian American to serve as a circuit court judge in our history.’ Urging swift Senate confirmation at the time, the President exhorted, ‘It’s important to remember that this confirmation is the first one to this important court in seven years.’ At the time, India Abroad on the mere strength of this unprecedented and historic nomination of an Indian American tapped Sri to accept the India Abroad 2012 Publisher’s Award for Excellence. But since his nomination was pending, with the conservative Republicans in the US Senate holding up all of the President’s judicial nominations, he couldn’t accept the honor at the time. After he was confirmed by the Senate, and PAGE sworn in September 26, 2013, we were elated M6 when we informed him of our decision in October 2013 and he told India Abroad, “I’m

g


M6 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M4

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR

exceedingly humbled to be recognized by India Abroad for 2013 and for the distinct honor.” Then manifesting his quintessential humility, not to mention his signature self-deprecating sense of humor, and never giving an inkling of any presumptiveness, the judge told this correspondent, “Since the year is not yet over, you have inherent latitude to alter course in the event that either someone else emerges or present company submerges.” eiterating his gratitude for selecting him — when we were more R humbled than he was that he had

SWATI DANDEKAR (2002) Then Iowa Congresswoman SONAL SHAH (2003) Co-founder, Indicorps

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS Sri Srinivasan, standing next to Walter Dellinger, left, at the time of his first Supreme Court argument in 2002. After winning that first case he argued 25 cases before the Court, including representing the United States in opposing the Defense of Marriage Act.

He personifies the best of America

accepted the Award – he added, “I’ve been so blessed in so many respects this year — and long before — and it has been wonderful for me and my family in a year that’s had its fair share of challenges for us, and glad you’ve been able to share in much of it.” Perhaps it can be argued that Sri was on the cusp of greatness when he was a starting point guard for the Lawrence, Kansas, high school basketball team, leading his team to a state championship, though he never made it to the NBA. There is no denying that he catapulted into greatness when he created history by being the first Indian American to argue before the Supreme Court in November 2002 when he was an Assistant to the Solicitor General. It was a case about circumstances in which it is Constitutionally permissible to impose a capital sentence against a person in a retrial when the person has received a life sentence — rather than a capital sentence — in the initial trial. Sri argued, on behalf of the United States, that it was permissible to impose a capital sentence in the retrial. When he was in private practice, working for O’Melveny & Myer, Sri also represented individuals arguing against a capital sentence on a pro-bono basis. This versatility clearly were early indications that he had all of the wherewithal to be a judge — a fair judge — something that jumped out at members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly conservative Republicans, who grilled him aggressively and threw every curve ball they could at him vis-àvis his judicial temperament. When he was appointed Deputy Principal Solicitor General in 2011, Solicitor General Don Verrilli said, ‘He is one of the country’s leading advocates before the Supreme Court, and will bring to his new position both a deep knowledge of the Supreme Court and of the office and its responsibilities and traditions,’ and predicted that ‘he will be an invaluable asset to the Department of Justice and to the work we do to protect and defend the interests of the American people.’ Since 2007, Sri had been a partner in O’Melveny and Myers LLP in Washington, DC, chairing the firm’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. At O’Melveny and Myers, he argued multiple cases before the US Supreme Court spanning multiple topics, including criminal law and procedure, immigration law, banking law, education law, administrative law and federal contracting law. From 2002 to 2007, Sri served as assistant to the US Solicitor

MOHINI BHARDWAJ (2004) Captain, US Olympics Gymnastic Team & Olympic Silver Medalist BOBBY JINDAL (2005) Then United States Congressman INDRA NOOYI (2006) Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo MIRA NAIR (2007) Filmmaker

General and earlier from 1998 to 2002 did his first stint at O’Melveny and Myers. Prior to that, he served as a law clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — in the 19971998 term — and for Judge J Harvie Wilkinson III of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Sri was also a lecturer at the Harvard Law School, where he taught a course on Supreme Court and appellate advocacy and received many awards and recognitions, including being named among The National Law Journal’s 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America in 2008. An alumnus of Stanford University from where he received his bachelor’s degree, Sri went on to receive his JD from the Stanford Law School, and an MBA from the Stanford Business School. At the time Walter Dellinger, who was a colleague of Sri’s at O’Melveny, a former US Solicitor General and one of Sri’s closest friends, told India Abroad, “From the time Sri and I first worked together in the Solicitor General’s office in 1996, I have thought that he would become one of the best advocates and finest lawyers of his generation.” Dellinger, under whom Sri served when he won the coveted year-long Bristow Fellowship in the US Solicitor General’s office and who had spoken to India Abroad several years ago when Sri argued his first case before the Supreme Court, when contacted to comment on his latest position, said, “Didn’t I predict great things for Sri, and I was right wasn’t I?” “This,” he told India Abroad, “is a very exciting development for Sri,” who had by then argued a total of 17 cases before the US Supreme Court, and reiterated, “He is clearly one of the most gifted lawyers of his generation.” “Sri,” Dellinger recalled, “was on a one-year fellowship in the Solicitor General’s office during the term that I spent as Solicitor General and I thought I saw at that time he had the makings of a truly great lawyer and I must say, I am not PAGE surprised at how successful he’s been.” M7 On May 16, 2013, the US Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Srikanth

g

FAREED ZAKARIA (2008) Then Editor, Newsweek International & host, Fareed Zakaria GPS

VENKATRAMAN RAMAKRISHNAN (2009) Nobel Laureate NIKKI HALEY (2010) Governor, South Carolina

PREET BHARARA (2011) US Attorney for the Southern District of New York AMI BERA (2012) US Congressman RAJ SHAH (2012) USAID Administrator

Judge Srikanth Srinivasan For being the nation’s first Circuit Court Judge of South Asian descent; for personifying the best of America and of India; for making history.


M7 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

He personifies the best of America

f PAGE M6

Srinivasan’s nomination as judge on the US Court of Appeals, and sent it to the full Senate for a vote. Sri received the nod from all 18 Senators on the Judiciary Committee, including the ranking Republican on the panel, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who had subjected him to some tough grilling when he appeared before the committee on April 10, 2013. ardly a week later came the slam dunk — the full Senate by a vote of 97-0 confirming Sri’s nomination H and even before he could take his seat on the bench, the

buzz among legal analysts, bloggers and colleagues got even louder in that he could be President Obama’s first choice for a Supreme Court nominee whenever a vacancy opens up. In praising the Senate’s unanimous confirmation, the President said, ‘Sri is a trailblazer who personifies the best of America. Born in Chandigarh, India, and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, Sri spent nearly two decades as an extraordinary litigator before serving as Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States.’ ‘Now he will serve with distinction on the federal bench. Sri will in fact be the first South Asian American to serve as a circuit court judge in our history,’ he said. Senator Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, and one of Sri’s most ardent supporters, pointed out that ‘the enthusiastic bipartisan support he has received reflects his effective work for both Democratic and Republican administrations and numerous well respected judges.’ ‘His approval also has great significance for the IndianAmerican community, which despite an incredibly rich talent pool in the legal arena is under-represented at the highest levels of our legal system,’ he said, and predicted, ‘Sri Srinivasan is poised to change that as he continues his exceptional career.’ And, then came Sri’s big day September 26, 2013, when exactly at 5 pm, with his right hand placed on the Bhagwad Gita held by his mother Saroja Srinivasan, he was sworn in — by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — as the newest federal judge on the US Court of Appeals in a packed ceremonial courtroom at the E Barrett Prettyman US Courthouse. Over 500 guests attended the swearing-in ceremony, including scores of legal luminaries, senior Obama administration officials and friends and family of Sri, including then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur, so much so that an overflow room had to be opened, obviously a testament to the great respect, admiration and Sri’s popularity. Among several luminaries who showered kudos on Sri at

Sri Srinivasan takes his seat as judge. this investiture, Dellinger, one of his earliest bosses who went on to become one of his closest friends, predicted, as a judge, Sri would ‘engage in conversation with the advocates, conversations in which he will always be open to persuasion by coach of argument.’ ‘As a practicing lawyer,’ he noted, ‘Sri had opposing counsel, but he never had opponents, and I think that’s because he understood that all of us who engage in the processes of law are joint collaborators in a mutual enterprise.’ Dellinger recalled Sri’s passion, talking about how when he returned to O’Melveny & Myers after his stint as an assistant to the Solicitor General, ‘what he asked of the firm was a commitment that he could engage in an unusually expansive pro bono practice and, indeed, he did. He argued cases for immigrants, for indigent criminal defendants, for Latino students seeking equal access to educational opportunity and many others — and he did so with intensity and commitment.’ He also told the audience, ‘If you want to know what kind of person this new judge is, there’s a simple way — take a stroll with Sri to any of the buildings in which he’s ever worked. If you walk with him into the courthouse where he clerked or the Department of Justice or the halls of his law firm, watch the reaction of his former colleagues, including those who guard the doors and answer the phone, serve the food and clean the building.’ ‘They light up when Sri appears,’ Dellinger said, ‘and what does that tell you?’ ‘I do believe this — that somehow it has to matter that a judge is a really deeply decent human being, literally and figuratively,’ and he added, ‘Sri has come a long way since he was born 46 years ago in Chandigarh, India, and given by his father and mother the name Padmanabhan Srikanth Srinivasan.’ ‘When the future histories of this court are composed,’ Dellinger predicted, ‘I’m confident that an important part of that ongoing narrative will be the contributions of its newest member, Judge Srikanth Srinivasan.’ Chief Judge Merrick B Garland, who presided over the

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

entire ceremony, then called on ‘the stars of the show’, Sri’s 11-year-old twins Maya and Vikram, to assist in the wrapping of the robe on their dad to sustained applause that went on for several minutes. In his initial remarks, Sri provided a taste of his signature humor, saying he was humbled by the ‘honored and distinguished guests and some of my somewhat less honorable friends from my earlier years,’ but as the peals of laughter subsided, thanked them all profusely for attending the ceremony. He extended his ‘sincere and heartfelt gratitude and thanks,’ to all his mentors, and declared, ‘The overriding sensation that I feel today in a sense is of how incredibly fortunate I’ve been so far — and I can’t emphasize that more,’ and getting emotional, said, ‘My sisters Srija and Srinija, I have relied on your love from an early age and it has sustained me throughout.’ And turning to his kids, said, ‘Maya and Vikram, you two give me more love and inspiration than any parent can rightfully expect from a child.’ ‘To my mom, you’ve been with all of us at every meaningful step of the way, so it’s especially fitting that you were able to stand with me today to assist me in taking this oath of office.’ He told the sizable number of second generation Indian-American guests on hand to witness this historic swearing-in that ‘I am touched by your efforts and I am humbled by your confidence.’ Then turning to the then Indian prime minister’s wife who was seated in the first row, with her two daughters, next to Saroja Srinivasan, the newly minted judge said, ‘Mrs Gursharan Kaur, the honorable First Lady, what a terrific thing that you were able to be here with us today — essentially PAGE fresh off the plane from India.’ M12 ‘That means especially much to us given my late father’s most recent passing and the

g


M8 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the center of his universe Sri Srinivasan’s adorable twins, Vikram and Maya, in a candid chat about their father with Aziz Haniffa

N

o wonder that his twins Vikram and Maya, 12, are the center of Judge Sri Srinivasan’s universe. They are remarkable kids — poised, confident and articulate. Although Sri would tell me later how nervous they were before the interview there was not a whiff of that during our interaction. Sri, who did not want to be in on the interaction so that his kids could be as free and candid as they wanted, was asked by his kids to stay in the room and with each answer they gave, he simply swelled with pride. Despite their candor in holding nothing back in terms of their dad’s idiosyncrasies, his love for clothes and shoes, it was evident that they loved him no end and reciprocated his love and kindness and respected the discipline he brought to their lives. Is he a fun guy? Vikram: He is a very fun guy. He always likes to have fun with us, especially in sports. He likes to play basketball with us and watch sports. Maya: I think my dad is a very fun guy outside of work because I know his serious side and I know his fun side. And when he is with us he always likes to make jokes, and he loves to go outside and play basketball with us and play catch with us. Does he also discipline you when you do something that he doesn’t like? Vikram: He definitely disciplines us to the extent that we’re great kids, but he definitely does not cross the line of being a very over protective parent. But you guys know where the red line is? Vikram and Maya: Yes Maya: Yes, we know that when we argue about small things, we just start bickering or yelling at each other and he does not like yelling; that can cross the line. When you guys fight and you have a problem with each other, do you go to him to settle the dispute? Maya: Sometimes. Lots of times it’s hard for us to settle it by ourselves. It’s hard for one of us to let it go; we both always have to have the last word. Vikram: If it’s a minor thing, if it’s a minor argument we can usually settle it by ourselves, but whenever dad’s upstairs changing and we are down here watching the television or something and then we start having a fight over something as small as the remote and he starts hearing yelling, he’ll come down and he’ll stop us before it gets too bad. If you have, let’s say a major dispute, is he fair when he settles it? Does he listen to both sides? Is he a good judge? Maya: Usually, he doesn’t like to hear us talk about it. He usually just likes to tell us to stop and that’s that. He is fair. He is fair.

Sri Srinivasan, the adoring father with his babies Vikram, left, and Maya, right. And you all are generally satisfied with the verdict? Maya: Yeah. Vikram: I am generally not satisfied with the verdicts, and I am not really sure why, but you know that’s just us. He definitely does it fair, as fair as he can, you know. When we are fighting it’ll never end up good for one of us, you know. He always has to punish both of us. Do you know that he is a pretty big time judge? Do you know it’s a pretty big deal? Maya: Yes, I know it’s a big deal. I definitely know it’s a very big deal. Me personally I am not the type to just go out there and be that person with my dad. My brother maybe likes the attention a little bit more. I don’t know about me. When did you guys know? Was it at the investiture ceremony? Vikram: For me actually… (it was when) we went to a party at the White House (at the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration last year) that was when we got to meet the President. That was sort of when I realized that he was a big deal, especially at that party… There were two rooms: One was the talking room; the other room was where you got to eat. Me and my sister we enjoy to eat, so we were trying to make our way from the conversation room to where you can eat, and it was very hard to make our way because every moment, every two seconds, somebody would walk up and say, ‘Hey Judge! Judge Srinivasan! Can we take a picture with you?” Maya: Everyone loved to take a picture with him. Everyone would start pulling him aside, say, ‘Hey Judge!

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

Hey Judge! Let’s take a picture!’ And we never have our chance to talk to him. We realized it’s a big deal. Did you watch him argue in the Supreme Court? Maya: Yes, we did. We did watch him argue a few times. I have to say it’s amazing to see him get up there and argue in front of all these judges while they interrupt you and tell you and ask you questions. It will be hard for me to handle something like that. It was very hard to understand. It was tiring and I have to say it was a little bit boring, but it was (also) amazing! Were you guys impressed? Vikram: I had seen him argue in the Supreme Court and I was definitely impressed with him because I know that’s a pretty big deal. But at the same time every single time I saw him argue in the Supreme Court, after maybe five or 10 minutes or so I would find myself staring at the clock, watching the seconds go by, very bored, just waiting for it to end… Especially because of the words in the vocabulary that they are saying, I just don’t understand it with like 20-letter words. Is he sort of feisty? Is he sort of pretty cool, but makes his point? Maya: He is cool. He doesn’t raise his voice. I would be the one, if I was out PAGE there, I would be the one getting mad at M9 the judges saying stuff and I would just wanna go through it and not have inter-

g


M9 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M8 ruptions, but he is cool about it. He is very cool about it. Vikram: Yes, especially you know every single time he would argue before the Supreme Court — it was very tough for me and Maya — the week or two beforehand he was up until four in the morning just studying. That definitely helped a lot for him being cool, so he could hear the judges and he would always have a good answer for. What are some of the things he is really hopeless at? Maya and Vikram: (Thinking hard) How about cooking? Is he a great cook? Maya: No. Vikram: No, that’s one thing. Maya: We love to go out for dinner with my dad. I cannot remember the last home-made meal we had with my dad. He likes to warm things up in the microwave or get things in the freezer aisle at the grocery store, but it’s very rare that we ever have a home meal. So he is really hopeless when it comes to cooking? Vikram: It’s very surprising that he is that hopeless at cooking because our grandma, his mom, is such an amazing cook. I was going to ask you whether he can make any kind of Indian food because your grandma must be making Idli, Sambar, Vada all that. She must be fabulous. Maya: Whenever we go to California to visit her and we get off the plane she always has a nice Indian meal waiting for us at her house. Vikram: Yeah, she has basically for us a Thanksgiving feast of Indian food at her house waiting for us. It’s just surprising how great a cook she is and how bad a cook my dad is. I know sometimes it’s nice to go out, but sometimes it can be a pain also because you want to unwind, just decompress at home, but dad can’t cook so you’ve got to go out… Vikram: Definitely… I always want to watch a basketball game so sometimes it’s a little tough to stop watching some of the basketball games on Sunday night or Saturday night to go out to eat. Maya: We always argue about where one goes. It takes 10 minutes before we finally come to a decision about where we eat. Is he very particular about what you eat? Maya: No. Vikram: He is kind of strict about it. He doesn’t wanna come to a McDonald’s every day or something. But at the same time we go out to a restaurant and we see the parent right next to us making sure that the kid gets water and he gets a salad. But my dad isn’t like that; he let us have some unhealthy food. Maya: We also like to go out to dessert a lot. Is he a fast food junkie? Maya: He is not, but with us he is pretty calm about what we choose, what we get. So what are the things he does really well and what do you really enjoy doing with him? Vikram: Basketball! Basketball! Shooting hoops outside or going to the nearby open gym every once in a while. Maya: We like to go outside in the backyard to play catch, and that’s always fun. Me and my dad have a special bond with ice skating. We

At the center of his universe

Sri Srinivasan’s kids love the fact that he carried their baby socks in his pockets every time he argued before the Supreme Court. PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

have a nice duet that whenever we go ice skating we always like to perform. I go through his legs, then he lifts me up and throws me round… You guys are good at that? Maya: It’s almost a joke. We fall down a lot…. So if he was not a judge there is no way he could have joined Ice Capades? Vikram and Maya: No! Vikram: I am really bad at ice skating, so I go on the ice and I grab onto the wall. And I watch my dad try to go on the ice and dance with my sister. I am always worried that one of his blades will hit her face because he is such a bad ice skater. Why does he try to do it? Because he wants to be with you guys? Vikram and Maya: Yes. What do you sort of hate doing, but you have to do with dad? Vikram: For me (the thing) he makes me do a lot that I don’t love doing is definitely chores, like helping with the laundry, or doing the dishes. Does he entertain a lot? Maya: We go over to his friends’ houses a lot and occasionally we have friends come over here.

Vikram: See, my dad, he doesn’t actually have that many friends… Maya: Outside of work. Vikram: Yes, outside of work. Maya: He has lots of friends, just not here in Virginia outside of work. Vikram: He does not have a great amount of friends, so we end up seeing you know the same friends a lot… He’ll say we are gonna have a dinner party Friday night. We’re gonna go over and see friends, and we are like which one is it — this one, this one, or that one? Is he a kind, affectionate and caring kind of a person? Does he hug you guys all the time? Vikram: Yes! Maya: Very affectionate... Sometimes when I have not seen him for the whole day and if I don’t give him a hug and a kiss right away he will act very sad and very mad. Vikram: Sometimes we’ll be hugging for a while. I’ll have to get him off me because I have to go do something else. Does he drop you off at school or pick you all up? PAGE Maya: Yeah. He drops us off at school a M10 lot in the mornings. What are his habits that are strange and

g


M10 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M9 weird? Give me a whole list. Maya: He loves ties. He always buys new ties and clothes and shoes. It’s very hard for him to resist buying new clothes. And every night when I think he is doing work and I’ll be going to sleep he is really looking for clothes, which he just adds to his cart. I am not sure he buys them. Maya: He loves outlet malls. Vikram: Some other habits he has is that every single night before we go to bed he’ll sing a song with us to help us go to bed, even at this age. Also one of my favorite habits is that whenever he argues or argued in front of the Supreme Court he would put one of our baby socks — one of mine and one of her baby sock — in his pockets. I am not sure if he does it now when he has to sit in, but that meant a lot to me. Maya: Yeah. Even at the inauguration he pulled out those socks from his robes. Does he wash them ever so often? Maya: I don’t think he washes them… Vikram: He only has one sock from each of us, he doesn’t change it… I have heard this thing about his clothes. Tell me a little more. Maya: It’s ties, it’s suits, it’s shoes definitely … Vikram: Yeah… Once I was looking because he loves shoes and so do I — I am a big fan of sneakers — but he loves his shoes so once I was counting all the pairs of shoes he has in his closet. I think probably there are three giant cabinets full of shoes… Maya: He likes to know that he looks good. He likes to know that his hair is always good because I’ll come up to him and try to touch his hair. No, no, I can’t do that. I know I can’t do that, but I do it to bug him. Vikram: He also loves his ties. We’ll go into his closet every once in a while and we will pick out our five favorite ties of him. He really likes his ties. Tell me about how crazy he is about basketball. I remember your aunts telling me at the inauguration how he screams and shouts when he is watching it on TV and his team is losing or they miss or something. Vikram: It’s really crazy. He likes to play it a lot, but now he is getting to the age where his legs are hurting a lot and he can’t play, which I know hurts him a lot because he really wants to play. That’s definitely rubbed off on us. Kansas basketball is our favorite team. And watching Kansas basketball, we’ll be yelling at the guy — and the thing is we’ll call Kansas ‘we’ instead of ‘them’ because we’re such big fans — and he’ll say a lot of stuff. Maya: It gets very intense. I used to go to a different room… Vikram: I have heard the story, I don’t remember it. But when we were like one year olds or two years olds, we were going to bed — me and Maya — and my dad was watching a Kansas basketball game and he said a bad word and my sister was like, ‘Oh, oh! Basketball.’ But does he say I may have used some of these words but you guys are never to use them? Or it’s just the heat of the

At the center of his universe

The Srinivasans have a shared love for sports, especially basketball. moment and doesn’t even realize sometimes? Maya: I’ll start yelling at him. I’ll start saying, ‘Dad! Dad! Don’t say that. Don’t say that please! It’s not good. It’s not good for us. It’s gonna rub off on us’ and then he says, ‘Maya, Maya, stop! Maya, Maya, watch!’ Vikram: But the good thing about him saying some bad words is whenever I’ll say a bad word around the house I’ll always have a perfect excuse. I say, ‘Hey, you said it when we were watching the game the other day, so I think I am allowed to say it now.’ You guys love basketball too... Maya: I think basketball is a great sport. I love basketball. All my friends play soccer, every single one of them love soccer, but soccer is not my thing. Basketball is a great sport, and watching basketball and playing basketball is really fun. Vikram: Yeah. Is it fair to say that since your dad was a basketball player, you watched basketball, and you guys were hanging out with him and watching basketball — that probably led to you loving the sport? Maya: He is the one that pushed me into playing competitive basketball the first year, but now that’s all I do and that’s what I love. Vikram: I’ve heard my mom say that we didn’t love basketball at a young age. My favorite sport definitely used to be baseball, but now I like basketball a lot more and ended up not playing baseball anymore just to focus on basketball because it’s such an amazing sport.

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

Basketball has kind of made my life the way it is. What grade are you guys in? Vikram and Maya: Sixth. Maya: It’s middle school. Do you play for your school team? Maya: It’s hard for sixth graders to make the team. It’s very hard. It’s mostly seventh and eighth graders, but I made my team this year and a few other sixth graders made it too… It was fun, it was really fun. Does your dad come for practice? Vikram: Yeah. He’ll leave work early. Definitely for Maya’s basketball games he left work at noon or something just so he can make it in time and then he’ll go back to work after the game. He used to coach my sister’s team. He coached me for one year, but for a little, tiny team. It wasn’t a big deal and he had to leave work early and he used to make it 10 minutes early to all our practices because in his words: ‘First is basketball, second is his kids, third is his clothes, and fourth is work.’ Maya: I think first is his kids. He’s got his priorities right. Does he not have the time to coach now? Maya: He could have still coached me PAGE this year. He was hesitant, but then he M12 said, ‘You know, Maya. I’ll coach if you really want me to.’ He wanted to coach me;

g


M12 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M10 it was a lot of fun for him to do it the past three years. It was I did not have the time to do that team which he would have coached. Vikram: Also his new job as a judge… It opened him up to a lot more free time I think. He has more time this year. And was he a good coach? Maya: Yes. Vikram: Yeah. He was a great coach. And when he comes for practice does he scream and shout? Vikram: No. He is always in a good mood and fun. If one of the girls or one of us does something that you know is a little wrong he will always correct them in a nice way. Also for Maya’s team he only had one philosophy: ‘Have fun.’ It wasn’t about winning the game or about scoring a lot of points. It was about having fun, being aggressive to

At the center of his universe A snapshot from high school basketball. Sri Srinivasan was starting point guard for his high school basket ball team, leading it to a state championship.

He personifies the best of America

f PAGE M7

incredibly close relationship that the prime minister and you had with him and my mom,’ he added. ‘This kind of occasion happens and this opportunity came along,’ Sri said, ‘thanks to the decision my parents made a long, long time ago.’ He recalled how his father ‘came from the humblest of humble beginnings from India. The journey that took him from there to this country and took us all to this occasion is virtually inconceivable.’ ‘He and my mom brought me and Srija and Srinija at a very early age in search of the classic immigrant dream — in pursuit of opportunity and happiness…’ ‘I’d like to think that those aspirations have been very much been realized,’ he said. ‘My dad,’ Sri said, ‘grew to love this country because of the possibilities it gave us and this country loved us immensely back,’ and he argued, ‘There is no more sterling confirmation of that than this occasion today — what this occasion signifies and the warmth and kindness in this room.’ Three months earlier, at a felicitation reception hosted by then Indian Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao at her residence June 17, Sri had spoken emotionally and movingly of his late father who had passed away a week earlier and dedicated the celebration of his confirmation to his dad — Professor T P Srinivasan, who taught mathematics for several years at the University of California, Berkeley. He died June 8, 2013. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, when requesting for ‘just one indulgence’ to make some personal observations,’ provided a moving eulogy to his father. ‘As you know, yesterday was Father’s Day and it was an especially poignant Father’s Day for us. It’s the first Father’s Day that we’ve had without my dad.’ He described his dad as ‘a great man and he had a quintessential immigrant experience. He brought his wife, my mother, and the children — my two beautiful sisters and the ugly duckling, me, to this country at an early age seeking opportunities for us. His ambitions were our ambitions, his dreams were our dreams and I think they were fully realized.’

try to score. Maya: And just being a good team. He always wanted us to be a good team and be good team mates to each other. And when you guys shoot hoops outside with him is he still a pretty good player? Maya and Vikram: Yes. Vikram: He has a great shot. His shots are nice. Maya: Yeah. Vikram: But the one thing that I think is probably toughest for him to coach us two, especially when he is coaching us two on the same team… we always get a little out of control and he has to keep us under control and he has to keep us playing great sport with each other. Maya: Yeah. It’s hard for us to play against each other or play with each other. Vikram: It’s really hard for us to play on the same court. n

Sri noted that ‘he was in rapidly declining health by the time I was confirmed, but I am convinced — we are all convinced — that he willed himself to stay alive to see my confirmation through.’ ‘And we were very fortunate to have gone home to see him a couple of weeks ago when we knew he was in the last stages and last moments — we made it a point to go and visit him.’ Sri recalled how he had taken his children to visit ‘and we had our last moments with him and he said two things to me that I’d like to share with you tonight.’ ‘By this time, he could only speak in whispers and speak only one of two words at a time.’ Sri said, ‘The first, he whispered to me, ‘Prime Minister,’ and why would he say that? He explained the reason his father said that was because ‘Prime Minister Singh and my dad were long time friends and colleagues from the days of the faculty together in COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS India at Punjab University in Chandigarh. And that was a close collaboration they forged in those years as faculty representatives and they stayed in touch — in close touch through the ensuing years and decades and he knew that the prime minister had called to congratulate him and my mom on my confirmation.’ Sri said his dad ‘wanted to communicate what that meant to him — how important that was to him. In fact, the very last phone call that my dad received was from the prime minister and his wife and at that point he couldn’t speak, but he could listen and my mom held the phone and the receiver to his ear so that he could hear the words of encouragement, congratulations, and of sincere devotion to him, and fidelity to their friendship. And, that meant the world to him and that’s why he whispered that to me.’ The newly minted judge also said, ‘The second thing he whispered to me was 97-0 (the unanimous US Senate vote to confirm him), how did you do it? ‘That means so much to me,’ Sri said, ‘because he stayed around to witness that and understand that even though he couldn’t voice his pride, it was absolutely tangible in his facial expressions and emotions and there was no escaping that.’ But, he noted, ‘The easiest way to answer the question of my dad is, I didn’t do it. He did it — he did it — because of the opportunity he gave us when he brought us to this country, because of the example he set, and because of the values he instilled in us. He did it.’ And then turning to Rao, asked, ‘I’d like to, if I could, with the permission of the Ambassador, dedicate this night, not to me, although I know it’s to celebrate my confirmation, but I’d like to dedicate it to him because it was his example that shines though.’ It’s this humility, love for family, the unmistakable self-deprecating humor, that has permeated thus far a career of brilliance not to mention, greatness — the future chapters of what we’ve not seen yet — is why it was a no-brainer that Judge Sri Srinivasan would be the India Abroad Person of the Year 2013. n


M13 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

My son, Sri

The senior Srinivasans with baby Sri. They came to the US in 1967, months after he was born.

‘We had no doubts he would do very well — but a federal judge with unanimous Senate confirmation was an amazing achievement. How proud it made us simply can’t be put into words,’ a proud mother tells Aziz Haniffa

S

aroja Srinivasan says she could have never imagined that her son Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan could have scaled the heights that he has, and that certainly one of the joyous final moments of her ailing husband’s life before he passed on was watching on television from their Bay Area, California, home, the unanimous vote of the US Senate in confirming Sri as a federal judge. Professor T P Srinivasan, who taught mathematics for several years at the University of California, Berkeley, died June 8, 2013 in his Palo Alto home. Mrs Srinivasan, his wife of 49 years, as well as his children, Srikanth, Srija and Srinija, son-in-law Brad, and grandchildren, Akhil, Maya and Vikram, were at his side during his last days of declining health. Professor Srinivasan, 81, came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar in 1961 to UC Berkeley. He then moved to Lawrence in 1968 and served on the Kansas University Mathematics faculty for 32 years, until 2000, before he moved with his family to Northern California. In those early years, his parents had hoped that Sri with his propensity for science in high school would go on to become a physician because that’s what all Indian parents at the time wished for — that their children either become doctors or engineers. But she noted that as parents they never imposed their wishes on their children vis-à-vis their career choices, “but simply wished them well.” “Actually, from very early on,” she added, “very consciously we were very un-Indian in that respect — we encouraged them to do whatever they were interested in.” “All that we cared about and focused on was to let them explore whatever they liked — dance, or sports or music or whatever — so that they could try various things.” She noted that Sri, born in Chandigarh, “was only a couple of months old when I came to this country,” after her husband decided to move back to the US after returning to India on completing a Fulbright scholarship in 1963 to teach mathematics at the University of Punjab. “February 1967, Sri was born and by May, we were here. In fact, I joined my husband in Russia, where he was sent by the Government of India as a scientific expert, and we came from there to the US, and the next year Srija was born.” Mrs Srinivasan said that was the time, “We both agreed that we should go somewhere else because it was the late ’60s with the hippie movement and all that and we didn’t think the kids should grow up here (in California).”

She said her husband “was ready to try a small campus because he said, ‘I’ve been in this huge campus and I would love to try a small campus,’ and fortunately, somebody in Kansas in his field wanted him. He went there to give a lecture and the chairman said, ‘We want him,’ and that’s how we ended up in Lawrence.” “That is where Sri grew up and played basketball and all that — he virtually grew up on the Kansas campus.” During those early years Mrs Srinivasan said they had not detected any clues of Sri’s love for advocacy. “He was very curious, but as a kid he was naturally passionate about sports, and, of course, basketball.” “One aspect I remember very clearly is from early on, from junior high or so, he would be very empathetic to other people.” “All the children were in the same grade school and all of them excelled in academics. The teachers and parents would always hold them up as models and ask, ‘What’s with you Indian families that your children are so good academically,’ and that ‘maybe we should come and watch how you do it.’” “We felt good that they were doing well in academics and, of course, we wanted it to be the focus, but we also wanted them to be good individuals — that family and caring for people was what was most important.” She acknowledged that growing up in the small town of Lawrence “was a good atmosphere for them,” and lent itself to a more interactive environment, where everybody seemed to know each other and were always there for one another. Recalling how their wish that Sri do medicine may have gained some traction in those early years, she said, “He was more inclined toward science and his math and science was very strong. In fact, his high school teacher said he should pursue medicine, and he (Sri) said he would think about it.” “As a high school senior, he was invited for this college scholar program at Washington University in St Louis, where they invited 10 high school seniors across the board from the country to tell them that they are free to pursue whatever they want and graduate, but instill in them that they have the talent to pursue medicine.” “It’s almost like giving admission to a medicine scholarship right after they complete their undergraduate degree,” she recalled.

“My husband always wanted one of our children to go for medicine — we had a large family and we needed a doctor and that somebody should go for medicine. So, when Sri got this invitation, we were all so excited and daddy Sri was so excited.” But, Mrs Srinivasan said, “He went for the interview, but came back and said, ‘No, I don’t think so. I am not sure, I want to do medicine, even though my science teacher says so and daddy would like me to’.” “And so, we weren’t sure what he wanted to do, but then Stanford accepted him and he was thrilled because he had always said that was his number one choice.” “By his sophomore year, while he was majoring in human biology, Sri said he believed the law interested him and ‘I would like to test the law program.’ He was also interested in underprivileged people, defending COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS their rights and trying to help them in any way he could. Even in school, he would help these people with their mathematics and other science subjects, and his teachers were very impressed with his mentoring.” Of course, once this interest in law had captured his heart and mind, it was what he then pursued with all his vigor. “Then we had no doubts he would do very well — but a federal judge with unanimous Senate confirmation that, of course, was just an amazing achievement and how proud it made us, simply can’t be put into words.” Mrs Srinivasan spoke emotionally of his “wonderful relationship with his sisters — very caring, always very protective, and, of course, with his sense of humor, he was so much fun to have around and they would always hang out together.” She also noted how strongly he felt about college athletic scholarships and how once when she had dismissed the utility of such scholarships, he had argued in their favor “that it really opened my eyes.” “‘Mom,’ he said, ‘if educational institutions were only for people in academics and nothing else, some of my friends who are so strong athletically will have nowhere to go to. So, it’s great to have these athletic scholarships in an academic environment because it may give them the incentive to study.’ That’s the kind of outlook he had.” “He would never put down those people, and would always talk about individual strengths different people have.” But it was when she was asked what type of a father he was that one could sense that nothing moved her as much as this question. “Oh, my goodness!’ she exclaimed. “Thank you so much for asking.” “He’s a typical Indian man in one sense — doesn’t do much,” she said laughing. “He never did much at home, in the kitchen or anything. But, oh, he’s so devoted, so loving of the children from day one.” “He just adores those kids and he’s so involved in their lives. Even when he was so busy in the private firm — with all kinds of briefs and Supreme Court arguments and PAGE all that — he still would always find the M15 time to do something with them on the weekends and find time to vacation with

g


M14 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘In our family, Sri has the ability to make each of us laugh’ Understanding Sri Srinivasan from the perspective of his sisters, Srija and Srinija. Aziz Haniffa gets a rare glimpse

A

t Sri Srinivasan’s investiture last September, two of the toasts that were as hilarious as they were touching, evoking laughter just as much as they did poignancy, were delivered by his sisters Srija and Srinija. The speeches clearly manifested the deep love and bonding between an older brother and his sisters — one and five years his junior, respectively — and of a family that had just lost its patriarch, their father Professor T P Srinivasan, who had passed on with such glad tidings in his heart, exclaiming in reference to the Senate confirmation of his son as a federal judge, ‘Wow, 97-0. How did you do that?’ Srinija, one of Yahoo!’s first employees and now the cofounder of Loove Music, a New York-based start-up dedicated to creating and promoting a new model for the production, presentation, and equitable distribution of creative music, had introduced a sense of levity to her speech, but the flow of emotion was unmistakable. ‘I get to gush about my beloved big brother in a veritable ‘This is your life!’ gathering of his tribe — family, friends, mentors and colleagues from across time and space — from our roots in India to our childhood in Kansas through to the present day,’ she said, calling herself his Number One groupie. One who had near perfect attendance at his Supreme Court arguments: 24 for 25. Like almost everyone who spoke at the investiture ceremony, she too had basketball stories to share.  After which she added, ‘If he’s not watching the game, Sri is the coolest head I know.  He just takes things in stride. He’s not unduly affected by fleeting emotions or given to rash reactions. I don’t know if that’s what’s meant by a “judicial temperament,” but it’s that equanimity that allows Sri to cut through distracting drama, and consistently do something I’ve been witnessing my whole life — he makes it cool to do the right thing.’ Reciprocating her brother’s unabashed affection towards the sisters, Srinija had said, ‘When we were kids he was an unusually affectionate big brother to me, smothering me in hugs and kisses, often against my protests.  He actually liked me and tried to include me when he went out with his buddies.  Even I knew it wasn’t cool to have your little sister in tow when you went to the movies with your sixth grade friends!  But that didn’t stop Sri from inviting me. As a

Sri Srinivasan with sisters Srija, left, and Srinija, right. Left, always the affectionate big brother.

and giving nature.’ End result: I actually learn how to cook; Sri starts thinking that law school may be  a good fit for him.’  And as was evident by then, any description of Sri had to circle around to his priorities — his family, his professional responsibilities, and the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team.  ‘They generally fall in that order — family, job, Jayhawks — but not on every day,’ Srija said. ‘Even during the important developments in the nomination process to fill this judgeship, the turnaround time on an e-mail was actually quicker in response to the Jayhawks’ stellar recruiting than in the messages related to the next steps in the confirmation process.’ PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS She then went on to speak about the other facet that teenager, at an age when it’s so tempting to be out with made Sri so endearing — that he was such a decent human friends — anywhere but home — Sri didn’t lose sight of pribeing filled with humility made even more attractive by a oritizing time with family.  I saw this, and I remember mischievous sense of humor. thinking, “If he thinks it matters, it must be cool.”’ ‘As I think Sri would be the first to acknowledge, he has And according to Srinija, in doing so, Sri radiated the culdefinitely had a lot of luck — lucky to be born to two phetural values their parents had imparted: ‘At the heart of the nomenal parents, who left their home country of India and Bhagavad Gita on which Sri is today sworn in, lies the centheir own families to pursue greater opportunities for their tral teaching from Krishna to Arjuna that one’s karma — children, lucky to grow up in an inclusive university town one’s duty — is selfless action.  Doing the work without that had excellent public schools, lucky to have many doors attachment to the outcome. Somewhere along the line, Sri open to him professionally with the great absorbed this cultural DNA…  In this look-at-me era, Sri is advice of incredible mentors and role modunfashionably incapable of self-promotion.’ els,’ she said. ‘I also know that he has created a lot of the luck by who he is, a really smart, hardrija, director of strategic operations, San Mateo County working, humble person who cares deeply Health System, California, who was born ‘just 363 about the people and world around him, days after Sri,’ gushed about her big brother even as and has an ability to bring joy and humor recalled, as only siblings can, their squabbles. to every group of which he is a part.’ ‘From an early age,’ she recalled, ‘Sri has had an ability to ‘At his core, he is just a tremendously see an end goal to advocate for, anticipate the opposing great guy.’ arguments he might encounter and have at least one path that could lead him to the result he seeks. As a high school kid, it could go something like the following: “Srija, now hey had both said it all. But then I that you’re making yourself lunch, can you make me lunch was going to try for more anecdotes, PAGE too?  Sri, why don’t you make your own lunch?  Srija, if you more vignettes, and while Srinija gave M15 won’t make me lunch, I’m going to ask mom to, and you me the slip, I cottoned on to Srija. know, she will” — which is absolutely true given her selfless It started rather philosophically, with

S

T

g


M15 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

My son, Sri f PAGE M13

them. And, lately, he’s loved coaching the children’s basketball team and things like that.” “In fact, Maya’s friends keep telling her… ‘Please tell your dad to come back and coach us — we really love him as a coach.’” Mrs Srinivasan received a master’s degree in Sanskrit from Madras University, and refers to her husband also as ‘Sri’. “I finished first in the University, but never finished my PhD program because two years into the program, I got married and then I joined Sri (Professor Srinivasan) in Chandigarh,” she says. “I tried to continue the program there, but little Sri was born and we were coming to the United States, so I never got a chance to complete the PhD program.” But “when we moved to Kansas, I went back to school and did a master’s in the history of art and taught at the Kansas City Art Institute for a few years.” “With the children at home and Sri (Professor Srinivasan) already chairman for COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS the past couple of years, it was hard for the children — the parents not being there very Sri, center, and Srija Srinivasan, second from right, with the family — father T P Srinivasan, sister Srinija, and mother Saroja — at their graduation from Stanford. much, almost like what it is today — and we both didn’t like it... So, I gave up my teaching position in es — computer analyses — and ended up at the University A PhD in Sanskrit still beckons, but Mrs Srinivasan says Kansas City because the children needed more attention. of Kansas as a programming analyst. That’s how I retired she is done with studying and wants to enjoy her children “Then I went back and did computer programming classafter almost 20 years.” rewind, grandchildren — at every opportunity. n

f PAGE M14

Srija telling India Abroad, “Our parents were thoughtful sustainers of our Indian heritage, while also being unwavering supporters of any interest we exhibited in our childhood.” “Perhaps the roots of Sri’s diplomacy and ability to garner bipartisan support were planted in that duality — he managed to appreciate my dad’s presence at every one of his junior high and high school basketball games, even though he routinely brought a newspaper or a mathematics textbook to read during timeouts or halftime.  Maybe we should have foreseen his impressive professional trajectory as an advocate through his ability to convert our parents to become basketball fans who yelled at the referees by the time we were in college.” Srija, once again, had to speak about his humor — a facet that permeates his entire being and almost seemed as what, in the final analysis, sustains him: “It is not at all surprising that Sri’s intellect and temperament are the most-cited assets he brings to his important role on the DC Appellate Court.  As his sister, I would say that his warmth and humor are at least as impressive.  At any gathering, in any room,

‘In our family, Sri has the ability to make each of us laugh’ with any group, Sri is able to put others at ease. And, he does not take for granted the small pleasures of spending time with those who can bring out the best in each other.”  “In our family,” she said, “Sri has the ability to make each of us laugh, sometimes to the point of tears streaming down my face.  It wasn’t ideal, when he was sitting next to me in class at Stanford, but now that we have our degrees, I look forward to any occasion to hang out with my big brother.” “Even his 12-year old twins — let’s remember that adults are not the favored company of most 12-year-olds — love spending time with their dad.  And our 10-year old son is always excited to shoot hoops or have a tabla/drum contest with his uncle.” Sri’s circle of admirers was wide even in the siblings’ youth. “In high school,” Srija revealed, “he  had friends in almost every group/club that existed in a public high school of 1,800 kids that included organizations for very competitive varsity sports, several bands and an orchestra, a Latin

club, a student government and a strong Future Farmers of America group.” But she couldn’t end without a crack at her brother’s sartorial passion — nay excess — saying, “One of our most memorable trips back to India during our childhood was for Sri to complete the Hindu rituals that boys complete as they move from youth to adulthood. I don’t remember him having any difficulty in mastering the Sanskrit chanting, though he had a penchant for style even at that young age and had definite opinions of how he looked in a dhoti and that not being the most flattering attire for a rail-thin 11 year old.” Adding that she had heard that India Abroad’s Person of the Year awards gala and dinner  “was an evening of beauty and glamour, as well as heartfelt support for prominent leaders who are making their mark on the world,” she quipped, “We hope Sri can adjust to the somewhat rare occasion of not being the best dressed person in the room, given his reputation as a connoisseur of fine suits and ties.” n


M16 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Basketball and other family stories ‘It soon became clear that I had no choice but to become a Kansas basketball fan.’ Bradley Joondeph spills the beans on his B-I-L

B

‘chick magnet,’ so to radley Joondeph, Sri speak. And he and Srinivasan’s brother-inSrija shared it, meanlaw, teaches ing he often left it for Constitutional law at her empty of gas. Santa Clara University, Again, life’s details.” and knew Sri even before he met “As Sri’s son Vikram Srija, the judge’s sister. One year has attested, ‘Most of behind him as an undergraduate, the time he is but in his same law school class, not  too  late to things,’” Professor Joondeph says Sri is he added. not just a relative but his closest “Among many things buddy and confidante, second about Sri I admire, he only to his wife. is just a phenomenal “I met Sri independently of son. I have the privimeeting Srija and did not know lege of living just two they were siblings for several blocks from my months,” he said, “Thank goodMomiar (mother-inness, I was on relatively good law). She obviously behavior around Sri.” takes such great pride “We played basketball often in Sri, and of course, together as undergrads. I tried to all three of her chilplay defense and set screens. Sri dren and grandchilliked to shoot. Lots. But that was dren. But it really is a good division of labor for the amazing the tendertwo of us.” ness and thoughtful“Sri and I ran as a ‘slate’ for ness and love he shares President and Managing Editor with his mother. It is a of the Stanford Law Review  when truly wonderful qualiwe  were second year students, COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS ty.” but we  both lost.  We were quite Sri Srinivasan, left, partnered with his future brother-in-law Bradley Joondeph, second from left, at their moot court at “I would also be naïve — we did no campaigning Stanford Law where they won before a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges. remiss if I did not of any sort, and were rather mention how much I owe to Sri in terms of my professo kind, so genuinely warm, it really is an honor to be a indifferent about whether we were going to be elected.” sional advancement. It was through Sri that I got to meet part of his family.” “It was a harbinger of sorts, I guess,” he said. “Sri has Judge Deanell Tacha, for whom I clerked on the Tenth But, he confided, “Being in his family has occasionally definitely ended up in the branch of government that best Circuit Court of Appeals. And it was while Sri was clerkposed some small practical challenges. He is not the most suits his personality.” ing at the Supreme Court that I got to meet Justice planful individual, especially when it comes to travel — “Although the family put absolutely no pressure on me O’Connor, eventually garnering an interview and a clerkother than traveling to KU games. More than once, Sri to convert to Hinduism,” Joondeph reveals, “it soon ship.” has purchased plane tickets and reserved hotels for the became clear that I had no choice but to become a Kansas “Without those opportunities, I doubt I ever would have wrong days for family events, including my sister’s wedbasketball fan. One year, we purchased tickets to first and ended up where I am today in my career. I really owe ding.” second round NCAA games in Kansas City about nine most of it to him — and, of course, Srija.”  “Not a big deal, of course. But he needs occasional months in advance, long before you could have any idea “He is also a terrific brother to Srija, always there for her reminders on the minor details of life that us mere morwhich teams would be there.” if she hits any sort of rough patch. Being married to me, I tals traffic in on a daily basis. Our 10-year-old son Akhil “This was when we lived in California, Sri in Virginia. assume, requires some moral support.” still laughs when he remembers that Sri once put away Kansas was then sent to Memphis for its first and second “That is not to say he is above relying on Srija to purthe goat cheese in an unrefrigerated pantry, apparently round games. So what did we do? We flew to Kansas City chase the ‘collective’ gifts for various members of the famconfused by the paper wrapping.” Friday morning and watched the four games there that ily, for every occasion, every year. Again, logistics like that Joondeph also spoke of how “Sri and I were moot court day, then drove through the night, nine hours, to can escape Sri. But he has always been there for Srija for partners in law school, and actually prevailed as the winMemphis, and watched Kansas defeat Purdue — this was anything that really mattered.” ning team before a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges. the Paul Pierce-Raef LaFrentz team.” While Joondeph concedes he’s obviously biased, he says Sri was fantastic as an oral advocate — an indication of “Then we drove all night back to Lawrence, slept for two his b-i-l “really is a worthy recipient,” of being selected as what was to come in his career as a lawyer. I learned a ton hours; drove into Kansas City for the two second round India Abroad’s Person of the Year, but adds, “As much as I from him during that competition.” games Sunday, and then flew home. I have spent a great am proud of his professional accomplishments, I actually But what about those college days? deal of time in cars in planes with the Srinivasan family have much more admiration for him as a person.” “Sri’s car in college was affectionately known as the ‘Jet going to and from Kansas University games.” Black Rocket,’ or JBR. It certainly did not perform like a “Sri is certainly much more than a brother-in-law to me. — Aziz Haniffa jet or a rocket. It was black, though. It was not really a Aside from Srija, he is probably my dearest friend. He is


M18 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘We are so lucky as a nation to have him serve as a federal judge’ Justice Sandra Day O’Connor looks back at the time when Sri Srinivasan clerked for her and shares her elation on swearing him in as an Appeals Court Judge in the DC circuit — second in importance only to the US Supreme Court — with Aziz Haniffa

J

ustice Sandra Day O’Connor, now 84, for whom Sri Srinivasan clerked on the Supreme Court in the 1997-1998 term, perks up when I call her in her chambers to ask for her recollections about Srinivasan. “He was a superb and wonderful law clerk — one of my best and I’ve had quite a few through the years,” she says. O’Connor, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, and served till January 31, 2006. “I enjoyed his efforts the year he was with me enormously,” she added. “He provided great help and it was so nice to get to work with him so closely for that entire year,” she said, and reiterated, “I appreciated that enormously. He’s really a marvelous lawyer.” On September 26, 2013, O’Connor — who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States by President Obama on August 12, 2009 — administered the oath to Srinivasan, swearing him in as the new federal judge in the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Just  before she administered the oath, she said, ‘What a treat this is for all of us,’ and predicted that Srinivasan would ‘be a superb judge on the Court of Appeals and our nation will be enriched,’ by his assuming this office. Srinivasan, in his remarks, after putting on his robes as the new judge on the bench,  thanked  O’Connor for being on hand to administer ‘the oath as only you can do,’ and recalled that ‘you challenged me from the very first day I met for the interview for my clerkship.’ ‘You’ve challenged me over the years and you’ve challenged all of us and we are all the better for it,’ he said. In the interview with India Abroad, O’Connor, who, since her retirement has devoted much of her time and energy to the cause of judicial selection, said, “I am so thrilled that he has been selected for this honor,” when this correspondent informed her that he had been adjudged India Abroad’s Person of the Year, and added, “I liked him so much and he did a great job for me. I was so happy when the President nominated him and the Senate confirmed him so unanimously to be on the Court of Appeals on the District of Columbia.” When I told her that I was there covering Srinivasan’s investiture and had witnessed her administering the oath, she excitedly reminisced, “Wasn’t it a nice ceremony? I liked it too very much. It was very moving, very touching.” “He’s great — and I think we are so lucky as a nation to have him now serving as a federal judge,” she said. When asked if she had experienced Srinivasan’s selfdeprecating sense of humor, O’Connor said, “He does

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor administers the oath of justice to Sri Srinivasan — who she calls one of her best law clerks and a marvelous lawyer — at his investiture ceremony. Bottom, Srinivasan and Justice O’Connor in the early years of their acquaintance.

PARESH GANDHI

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

have a great sense of humor and I so enjoyed having him as one of my law clerks.” She also spoke of his humility and noted, “He’s such a down-to-earth person and, of course, so knowledgeable — that’s the main thing that I like. He’s such a good writer and a good thinker.” O’Connor acknowledged that she had strongly endorsed his nomination by President Obama and said her unstinted support was “because I knew him well — he worked for me for a year. I knew his work, I knew his capability, and I had nothing but good things to say.” “When the President nominated him,” she added, “I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was such a good choice. I was so honored to be there to swear him in. It was such a wonderful ceremony — it was great.” n


M19 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘I’ve always referred to Sri as a bridge over troubled waters’

At Sri Srinivasan’s investiture ceremony, Judge J Harvie Wilkinson III showed off a T-shirt he received from his former law clerk.

Judge J Harvie Wilkinson III salutes his former law clerk

I

t seems like just yesterday to me when the eminent Stanford constitutional law professor, Gerald Gunther, called me to recommend Sri Srinivasan for a clerkship in my chambers. I remember the conversation very well. Professor Gunther’s point was that Sri had been of immeasurable help to him on a project he had just completed, a biography of Judge Learned Hand. Since Sri was his student assistant, I asked him, ‘‘Did Mr Srinivasan do a good job with the proofreading?’ and he said, ‘No, you misunderstand. Mr Srinivasan supplied seminal insights into Judge Hand’s judicial service.’ Wow, I said to myself. Gunther and Hand: That was quite a one-two punch, the Ruth and Gehrig of American Constitutional Law. I better take a look at this Mr Srinivasan. And when somebody so well-credentialed walks into your office for an interview — a clerkship interview — I always look for those disqualifying traits of arrogance. And I suspect the kind of interview that all judges want is one that makes you feel like you have known — that it’s not an interview at all, but that you’ve known the applicant for years. And that’s the way this interview went. I felt like I had known Sri practically all my life, and at the end of our talk, I extended an offer and made one of the best decisions of my life. Sri has been inducted into all sorts of places these days. I think you should know that this Saturday (in September 2013), he will become a member of the Lawrence, Kansas, High School Hall of Fame. I’ll leave it to Sri to tell us which is the higher honor, this occasion today or the one at Lawrence on Saturday. Anyway, therein lies a little story. Sri is a great basketball fan, but he loves Kansas basketball in particular. In fact, the only time I’ve ever seen him lose his judicial temperament was when the legendary Kansas coach, Roy Williams, left the Jayhawks to return to his alma mater, North Carolina. I tried to console Sri by saying, ‘Look at it this way, Sri: The coach is simply returning to the Fourth Circuit. He’s coming home.’ Wrong. Sri would have absolutely none of it, and I soon began to understand why. Every now and then, a law clerk will send me a T-shirt of their favorite team to wear on my jogs and runs, and most of them have perfectly acceptable messages. ‘Go Terps,’ ‘Go Heels,’ ‘Go Irish,’ and the like. Sri’s T-shirt was unfortunately not so subdued. It had a giant picture of a basketball and a jayhawk festooned with the huge words ‘Kansas basketball is life; the rest is details.’ So you can take comfort in the fact that this young gen-

tleman enters upon his judicial career with his priorities straight. And Judge Garland (the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit), I know that exhibits are not recommended for appellate arguments but… I did bring this Tshirt. You can see it. I’m not kidding. I would ask you to come up and take a look at it, but it’s sweaty after all these many miles. People will stop me on the track and say, ‘J, I didn’t know you were a Kansas basketball fan,’ and I’ll say, ‘I didn’t know I was one, either — but I’m wearing this T-shirt under pain of banishment,’ and then we’ll begin to talk about Sri. I think all of you know just how much affection and admiration Sri has for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and what a special year he spent as a clerk in her chambers, but it must be admitted that things got off to a bit of a rocky start. Sri had, unbeknownst to me and unbeknownst to anyone, called Justice O’Connor’s chambers to ask if a scheduled Friday clerkship interview could be postponed to the following Monday because of, get this, a longstanding social engagement. So I found Justice O’Connor suddenly on the other end of the phone. And she was not in a happy mood. This is going nowhere good, I told myself as Justice O’Connor asked: ‘Does this Mr Srinivasan care at all about the law, or is it all about his social life?’ I didn’t even know what was going on. But I blurted out, ‘Oh, Justice O’ Connor, Sri just lives and breathes the law!’ ‘‘Nothing else even matters to him! In fact, Sri gets up thinking about the law even before he brushes his teeth!’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you know who has the burden of proof on that point when he arrives in chambers on Monday.’ Eventually, after a probing interview with Justice O’Connor, Sri got the clerkship, but only after sinking a putt on the carpet of the Justice’s chambers. No putt, no clerkship. Well, the putt sank, the rest is history, and it has come to be known as The Putt Heard Around The World. Now, all of us judges expect our law clerks to out earn us almost as soon as they get their hands on the bonus, but we don’t necessarily expect our clerks to outrank us as well, so you can imagine how a provincial feels when he comes to visit the second highest court in the land. I’m not completely sure of the protocol, but as a member of the second highest court in the land, Sri, I know I’m

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

supposed to salute you — but it’s the genuflection that I want to get exactly right. We’re a southern circuit down here in the Fourth — as you know, Sri — and we put a great deal of stock in etiquette. All kidding aside, I just want to spend a final moment talking about this absolutely wonderful judge and the great court he’s joined. I would say to my friends on the DC Circuit that they could not have a better colleague. Sri is lightning smart and super dedicated, but he’s never believed he has all the answers, and he will help revive the lost art of listening. Public life is all too polarized, but certain special people have a unique capacity to bring the rest of us together, and that’s why I’ve always referred to Sri as a bridge over troubled waters in a turbulent day and time. Perhaps people define judicial temperament in many different ways, but perhaps the ideal judicial temperament rivals the serenity of the treetops on a beautiful summer evening. But in the heat of battle, understandably, none of us ever reach that state of affairs. Some do come closer than others to getting there, and Sri will be among the very closest of all. And Sri, I would say to you that you’re about to join a most distinguished court. I have known many of its members for quite some decades, and I count on the bench of the DC Circuit a great many good friends. My daughter Porter had a splendid year clerking on this court for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and my own time on the bench has led me to profound respect for the professional quality and the personal decency of the members of the DC Circuit. The nicest occasions are always those that celebrate happy unions, so it is when a great judge unites with a great court. Some crystal balls are cloudy, but not this one. Sri Srinivasan will become a superb and much admired judge. He will at all times reflect credit upon the federal judiciary and upon this magnificent tribunal. It is a pleasure to be present at the start of the journey. It shall please each of us always to remember this day. n Judge J Harvie Wilkinson joined the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1984, serving as Chief Judge from 1996 until 2003. Judge Sri Srinivasan clerked for Judge Wilkinson during the 1995-96 court term. Excerpted, with kind permission, from his speech at Judge Srinivasan’s investiture ceremony.


M20 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Expect more amazing things from him, one of which will make American history’ Preet Bharara and Neal Katyal, ardent admirers of Sri Srinivasan, speak to Aziz Haniffa

N

ot since I asked Jersey boy Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who grew up in Monmouth County — about his idol Bruce Springsteen has he gushed as much as he did when I called to interview him about Sri Srinivasan. He said he had gotten to know Srinivasan quite recently during the latter’s tenure as Principal Deputy Solicitor General and also in connection when his nomination for a federal judgeship came up for confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee — one that Bharara served on in an earlier incarnation as a senior staffer —and it had quickly blossomed “into a collegial, friendly relationship.” From that day on, Bharara said, “I am a huge admirer of his,” and noted that even in his recent speech to the graduating class of Harvard Law School, “the important point I make is people should be humble and have humility, and he (Srinivasan) certainly does.” “He’s a person who’s so smart and so accomplished, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. He’s a regular person, and humility as I often say, is a very under-represented quality in the law, especially on the part of people as successful and credentialed as Sri.” “The fact that he’s down to earth and at the same time a brilliant lawyer and a successful one,” Bharara added, “speaks volumes about what kind of a person he is.” Another highly attractive quality, he felt, was Srinivasan’s self-deprecating humor. “I am a big fan of people who can make fun of themselves and I don’t think people do it enough. So, overall, he’s a great lawyer and a successful person, but more importantly, he is a down to earth and humble person, which is why people like him and respect him so much.” Bharara, who witnessed Srinivasan testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was highly impressed by his performance, especially how he countered the many curve balls thrown by the more conservative Republican Senators, who for months had been blocking President Obama’s federal judge nominations, but after listening to Srinivasan confirmed him unanimously — as did the full Senate later by a vote of 97-0 — after they found him to be a straight-shooter, not to mention endearing. “When you look at his record and you look at his temperament, it’s hard to oppose someone as genuine and talented as Sri is. And I think they saw that,” Bharara said. There was no indication whatsoever from his record or his answers where he could be perceived as a potential political activist judge, Bharara acknowledged. “He’s a guy who does his job and is straightforward,” he said, irrespective of which President, Democrat or Republican, had

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus members, from right, US representatives, from right, Judy Chu, Ami Bera, Grace Meng and Mike Honda at the Senate Judiciary Hearing for Sri Srinivasan, third from left. nominated him. In his interactions with Srinivasan on judicial matters and its nuances, Bharara said he had found him “incredibly careful, rigorous, prepared and measured. He has the perfect temperament, not only for the Circuit Court, but perhaps in the future for the Supreme Court.” He pointed out that Srinivasan had “achieved much more than anyone else in the judicial field for someone with South Asian origins.” Despite these unprecedented achievements and heights he had climbed in this country’s legal area, Bharara argued it did not preclude people “aspiring further for him” in rationalizing the constant buzz that if a Supreme Court vacancy crops up anytime soon, Srinivasan would be a strong contender. Asked how he would rate Srinivasan as a role model not only for young Indian-American or South Asian American lawyers, but also for the broader mainstream stable of young attorneys, he said, “I don’t know how much I believe in people being role models for specific ethnic groups, but Sri is a role model for every aspiring lawyer — not just aspiring lawyers, but for every public servant. Do your job, do it well, without any fanfare and self-aggrandizement, and it shows how far you can go if you are just smart and diligent, work hard, stick to the facts, and get the job done.” “I am a big fan of Sri,” Bharara reiterated, “and I want to make sure I am on the record.”

E

choing similar sentiments is Neal Katyal — the former Principal Deputy Solicitor General and erstwhile Professor of Law at Georgetown University

COURTESY: CAPAC-CHU.HOUSE.GOV

who successfully defended Osama bin Laden’s chauffeur in the US Supreme Court. “Sri and I found ourselves in the Summer of 1994 in the Solicitor General’s Office — probably the first two Indians to ever serve in that Office, even as interns.” “We were constantly being confused for one another by the good folks in the Office,” Katyal said, adding, “This was odd  because I look nothing like Sri,” and quipped, “fortunately.” But, he noted, “in all seriousness, Sri struck me then — as he strikes me now — as a brilliant man, a gentle soul, a caring individual.  We became friends then and never lost touch.” “When I came into the Solicitor General’s Office as the Deputy Solicitor General, it was Sri I turned to for advice, because he had been a remarkable line attorney in that Office years before.  Sri did more than give me advice: He literally gave me the coat off his back.” “Solicitor General lawyers must wear a formal morning coat, something that I didn’t own,” Katyal explained, “But Sri did, and he lent it to me.  I wore it for two years, at every argument I gave at the Supreme Court.” “But the circle returns itself,” he said, “When I left the Solicitor General’s Office, I told the Attorney General that there was one person who should replace me — Sri Srinivasan.  Sri got that job. And he got his coat back.” “Sri is a remarkable man,” Katyal declared.  “It has been my privilege, as a fellow lawyer and a friend, to watch him blossom and yet stay true to the man he has always been.” “I expect we will be seeing some more amazing things from him in the years to come, at least one of which will make American history.” n


M21 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Incredibly accomplished, incredibly brilliant’ ‘There are very few people who achieve this kind of stature in life who you still can connect with at that very immediate level as a human being,’ human rights lawyer-activist Amrit Singh, winner of the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2012, tells Aziz Haniffa

Sri Srinivasan, second from left, and his sister Srinija, right, with Amrit Singh, second from right, and Gursharan Kaur, left, then the first lady of India. The friendship between the two families goes back to the time when former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the late Professor T P Srinivasan were colleagues at the University of Punjab.

We are family friends and we go back a long way. Our families have known each other since we’ve been children,” says Amrit Singh, the senior legal officer for national security and counter-terrorism at the Open Society Justice Initiative of the Open Society Foundations. She was the winner of the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2012. Singh has known Srinivasan the longest outside of his family, since her dad, former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Srinivasan’s father, the late Professor T P Srinivasan, were colleagues at the University of Punjab in Chandigarh. “My earliest recollection of Sri was really in the context of when their family visited us in Delhi — we must have been about seven or something — and I remember he left behind this toothpaste, which was a blue gel and we’d never seen a toothpaste like that before. But, that’s my earliest recollection of Sri — the bright blue toothpaste that he and his family used.” “Our parents have enormous affection for each other. I remember aunty and Srinivasan uncle and the three kids who were so well-behaved. Then years later we would always hear of how illustrious all three children were — all of them now frankly are geniuses,” adds Singh. More than her, following those early interactions, she said the parents had kept in touch, although “we all heard about how well they were doing – Sri is doing this, Srinija is doing that and so on.” “All of them being so incredibly accomplished, all of them are also so incredibly humble,” she added. “Saroja aunty and my mother always continued to be in touch — they talked regularly and my dad would also speak to Srinivasan uncle.” Her next interaction with Sri, after those early visits by the Srinivasans to Delhi, “was in DC — we had a common friend and that’s how we came into contact quite by chance.” “What strikes me about Sri is that’s he’s somebody who

PARESH GANDHI

really knows who he is. He’s very comfortable with himself, and so he doesn’t need to pretend to be anything other than himself.” “That I think allows him to have genuine interactions with people, despite the fact that he obviously is incredibly accomplished, incredibly brilliant,” she added. “But when he relates to you, he relates to you as a normal human being, which is how it should be, and that’s what is so wonderful about him.” “He’s a very warm, very compassionate person. At the same time, he has this obvious intellectual brilliance that’s apparent. So, it’s so nice to see that in a person who’s achieved so much, but still remains so incredibly grounded.” Her interactions with him thus far, she said, had been wholly personal and not professional. “I’ve known him essentially as a family friend and so our paths have not crossed professionally. We have a personal connection and don’t really talk about work. It’s a very, very old friendship that his parents had with my parents and we often talk

about family stuff.” Singh wasn’t done in emphasizing the perfect package that is Sri Srinivasan. “He has all of the qualities that we should all aspire to — the best of the Indian and the best of the American are embodied by Sri,” she said. “It’s so clear that he really knows who he is. There are very few people who achieve this kind of stature in life who you still can connect with at that very immediate level as a human being, and I think that’s a wonderful quality about him.” “He inspires so much pride among people around him,” Singh said. “You were there at the investiture where it was so apparent at the number of people and the things they said about him.” “Some of these people who got so emotional talking about him — that’s such a rare sight,” she noted. “That’s the kind of person he is, a very genuine person. He inspires that in other people and you are able to connect very instinctively with a warm person such as he is.” n


M22 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He always keeps an open mind’ ‘Sri is so fair as a professional and that’s why he’s got the kind of respect he’s gotten from not just the legal community, but also from our community,’ Arunima Bhargava tells Aziz Haniffa

A

nurima Bhargava considers Sri Srinivasan an older brother. She often gets emotional, especially when pointing out the several instances where he would be so encouraging and so scrupulous in introducing the likes of her and other up and coming young attorneys to the powers that be. He wouldn’t ever ignore any one of them despite the heights he’d achieved and the powerful and influential legal circles in which he moved; he was always humble and never let it affect him. Her association with Srinivasan began in 2008, “when we were working on a Supreme Court case together. Sri was at the law firm (O’Melveny) and I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and it was a case pertaining to services for English language learners and it was a case out of Arizona.” “Sri ended up arguing the case, so we worked closely. That’s when I first met him and at a lunch just after the argument, I met his mom and his sisters. Now, Srinija and I have become very close friends. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time with the family, and, of course, Sri and myself, became very close friends after that lunch. We’re family now and it’s been lovely.” “My parents have spent time with them and we’ve had a wonderful relationship,” Bhargava added. Asked what qualities endeared him to her, she said, “I can give a speech about that for hours. The thing about him that is amazing is that he has always welcomed me and others, who are young lawyers, particularly young South Asian lawyers, with open arms and a lot of advice.” “First of all, he’s a brilliant lawyer and advocate and someone, I can learn a lot from — and from that process when we worked together on that case, I learned a lot from him.” “Second, this lunch I told you about after this argument, he said, no ifs and buts, you have to join us for lunch and there was nothing but a sort of a sense of naturalness about that,” Bhargava added. “People know him as this guy who ended up becoming a DC Circuit Court judge, but I know him as this guy with whom I’ve had coffee, had lunch, who invited me — a young lawyer — that first time without even as much as giving it a second thought. And, most of the people who’ve had coffee with him or lunch with him at some point in those early years, he’s always continued to take their calls.” “Obviously now,” Bhargava acknowledged, “it’s a very different situation and he can’t do it like he used to, but he still does it and remains accessible. And that’s what’s great about him — that there’s this humble accessibility that you don’t really find with a lot of folks in the kind of position he’s been in and now is in an even higher position.” “He speaks with honesty and candor and calm about all the kind of work that we are doing — us young lawyers — and those are all the things that endeared me to him. In many ways, I think of him as an older brother and that’s the way in which that interaction occurs.”

Sri Srinivasan with his father T P Srinivasan during his Supreme Court clerkship year. Arunima Bhargava remembers the day Judge Sri was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last year she walked into his office expecting a celebration and found him alone thinking about his father, who was then in fragile health but had seen the vote.

COURTESY: THE SRINIVASANS

“He’s not someone who doesn’t understand that people have difficulties along the way to getting to where they are. So, he hasn’t forgotten that.” “I also thoroughly enjoy the fact that the things that make him incredibly crazy and passionate is basketball because that’s the kind of way in which he is human — in the way that we should all strive for — which is that basketball is as important as a Supreme Court case where we must give it our all.” “You were at the investiture, and it was so momentous for all of us, but there was something magical about what happened in that room that day and in the toast from everyone, including his sisters, the toast from Irv (Irving L Gornstein, Executive Director, Supreme Court Institute) was so emotional too — about what it felt to have not only a personal connection with someone, but a deeply personal one. And, those are all the kinds of things that are so meaningful.” “Sri is so fair as a professional and that’s why he’s got the kind of respect he’s gotten from not just the legal community, but also from our community. You cannot label him — he’s not a raging Democrat, he’s not a Republican.” “It’s really heartening that he always keeps an open mind and will always hear all sides.” “His  relationship with his kids, Vikram and Maya, the extent to which that is the most important thing to him, I hope that in this world, that’s something we all aspire to.” “I want to see frankly, fathers, Indian fathers, who are professionally successful, who care so deeply about their children, who are so proud of them for all the things that

they do.” Getting emotional once again, she spoke of how “Sri is such a kindred spirit to me and so many others and our families are front and center for him. And, to have that be true and be professionally successful in this climate and at that level is really remarkable.” “I know you already know this because you’ve been with him and written so much about him, but any profile of him has to start with the fact that that’s the core of it.” “I remember walking to his office after the Senate vote and I would think he would have 20, 25 people at least in his office and everybody would be celebrating,” Bhargava recalled. “But he’s standing there on his own and he’s just gotten a call from his mom, saying that his father was awake for the vote, and for him that’s all that matters.” “He was just standing there thinking about his father and that’s it.” “He wears his father, he wears his family, he wears his upbringing in Lawrence, Kansas, he wears all of that without fanfare, but with deep love and commitment and grace.” Then she lightened up, pulled herself together and suggested, “You should absolutely talk to him about his sense of style and fashion —he’s at the top of fashion.” “He a very fashionable guy and I won’t say anything about how many shoes or clothes he has as it will get me in a lot of trouble,” she said laughing. “But I will say, the passions of his life are probably basketball and fashion, which most people wouldn’t know. You should talk to him about his fashion sense, which is quite amazing.” n


M24 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Sri’s brilliance is rivaled only by his character’

Republican Senators flung curve balls at him in an obvious attempt to test any alleged liberal bias he may have politically, because he was nominated by President Obama, a Democratic President. These Senators were left in awe of his judicial temperament and unanimously voted in favor of his confirmation. “He understands what the oath means and is loyal to the law and its principles,” Mayorkas said. When this correspondent referred to their colleague Irving L Gornstein’s emotional remarks at Sri’s investiture, Mayorkas was visibly moved and said, “I know he enjoys that kind of relationship with a number of people.” “He is an extraordinarily honest, decent and heartfelt person and so his friends confide in him and he confides in them — those are the bonds that he forms in life,” he said. Gornstein and Sri first met in 2002 at the Solicitor General’s Office and then they continued to work together when they both moved to O’Melveny & Myers. Gornstein’s remarks, Mayorkas said, were “so beautiful. I thought, of all the speakers (at the investiture) — and all spoke so well — Irv moved me the most.” Gornstein, now Executive Director of the Supreme Court Institute and a visiting professor at Georgetown Law Center, in his remarks said, ‘The last thing I want to tell you about is our friendship.’ ‘We have been friends for a good, long time and there’s nothing quite like having Sri as a friend. And I could talk about our endless discussions on how to answer a particularly hard question that we thought would come up at argument, or how we both like to dissect the way Rafael Nadal plays tennis, or how we both enjoy nothing more than a meal at Rasika or Sichuan Pavilion, or how we both like to share the trials and triumphs of our kids.’ ‘And I could also talk about how we both follow and admire Justice Kagan’s questioning at oral arguments, how we both marvel at the wisdom of Walter Dellinger, or how we take our cues on how to combine being a great lawyer with a great person from Don Verrilli.’ But, Gornstein said, ‘The story I want to tell begins with a diagnosis of a rare sarcoma, and the person diagnosed was me, and the doctors were uncertain whether the sarcoma had spread. And, of course, I told my wife CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES first, but the second person I went to was Sri.’ ‘I remember going into his office, breaking down completely, as I’m about to do now, and talking for 2013, believes, “Sri’s brilliance is rivaled only by his charwho knows how long. I don’t remember exactly what he acter, which is one of not only humility, but dignity.” said, but I know what he said was filled with compassion “And both his brilliance and his character is surpassed and optimism that mark his character, and I know I left only by his devotion to family,” he added. that office with an unexpected calm, renewed hope, and When this correspondent reminded him that he may certain knowledge that I would face the challenges ahead have inadvertently omitted Sri’s passion for basketball, with my friend Sri in my corner.’ Mayorkas immediately exclaimed, “Excuse me!” and corGornstein in closing, recalled how ‘I was discussing Sri rected himself, “Surpassed only by his devotion to this with a friend of mine recently and was extolling his family and the Kansas Jayhawks.” virtues, as I so often do, and this friend of mine said to He acknowledged that he tries to interact with Sri as me, ‘Sri’s great, but you are biased because you love him,’ much as their schedules permit, adding, “I love him as a and all I could reply was, ‘Yeah, I do.’ dear friend and so does my family.” ‘So Sri, I could not be happier for you. The country Mayorkas pointed out how professionally scrupulous Sri could not be luckier to have you as a judge on this court, is manifested itself during his confirmation before the and I have only this advice to offer: Keep on being you.’ n Senate Judiciary Committee when several conservative

Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, tell Aziz Haniffa what it means to have Sri Srinivasan as a friend

Sri Srinivasan, second from right, visits with, from left, Senator Mark Warner, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator Tim Kaine in Washington, DC last year.

A

lejandro ‘Ali’ Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security — the number two person in the Department — first met Sri Srinivasan when both were in private practice at O’Melveny & Myers. They were then colleagues in government service in the Solicitor General’s Office. “He is,” said Mayorkas, “an extraordinarily deserving recipient” of the India Abroad Person of the Year Award. While working at O’Melveny, he recalled, “We had the opportunity to work together on a numbers of matters.” Sri and he, Mayorkas added, formed “not only our working relationship, but also our close friendship.” Mayorkas, erstwhile Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services who was confirmed by the US Senate as Deputy Secretary of the DHS December 20,


M25 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Sri has a great lawyer’s mind’

very uncomfortable, trying to make it out as if the government was being outrageous. He again had this great clarity and was very responsive, but absolutely stood his ground and had a lot of thoughtful things to say about why the government was doing what it was doing in this case. He handled it miraculously; I can’t imagine anyone doing it better. It was a very tough spot to be in. He always maintains his cool. Sri has a great lawyer’s mind. He’s a very clear thinker; he’s very creative in coming up with proper analogies when figuring out hard legal problems. He’s very understated, with a quiet confidence that I think wins him a lot of admirers in the court room. He’s extremely fair-minded — he is not a partisan and he doesri and I clerked together with n’t always think whatever side Judge (Harvie) Wilkinson (III) he’s on has no flaws. He always on the Fourth Circuit in sees every side of an issue, which Charlottesville, Virginia, but is obviously going to serve him we have a connection that’s well as a judge. actually deeper than that: He grew up And everybody loves him. in Lawrence, Kansas, and so did my They’re rooting for him to suchusband, and his father and my fatherceed because they like him so in-law were in the same mathematics much. It’s a happy story that he department at the University of Kansas does so well because everybody for 30+ years. has such great respect for him I didn’t learn that until we were copersonally as well professionally. clerks and I got a letter from the judge He’s a deeply decent person and saying who my co-clerk was and my a great friend, kind and sincere. husband said, ‘That must be Professor When he gets to know people, Srinivasan’s son.’ he really gets to know them. He So our continued Lawrence conneccares about others and he would tion is also our shared love of the always do the right thing if he Jayhawks. were confronted with a hard We hit it off immediately when we question — he has that confistarted clerking together — it’s a very dence about his character. small setting, just one judge and three He’s also just very fun to talk clerks — and we worked together very to: He’s had interesting life expewell from the start. I had and have riences and reads and travels a great admiration for his capacities as a lot; and he’s also charming about lawyer. He’s a very fine lawyer, and a his passions, like his loyalty to lovely human being as well, fun to be the Jayhawks. around and just a decent, wonderful He’s very devoted to his family. person. I have personal and professionI think these are all features of al admiration for him and that began Sri that are all important parts basically as soon as we started working of the package that makes him together, which was in the summer of ART LIEN/REUTERS who he is. 1995. A courtroom sketch of Sri Srinivasan, then Principal Deputy Solicitor General, arguing about the constitutionality of the I don’t know if I’ve seen Sri go We stayed in touch over the years; I’d Defense of Marriage Act before the US Supreme Court. Elizabeth Magill admires his clear thinking and creativity in coming through any particularly large chalvisit him in Washington and he’d come up with proper analogies when figuring out hard legal problems. lenges because he’s such a star. I’m down to Charlottesville, where I lived. sure he’s had them, as we all have, And then we were in Washington for a but he has been recognized as terrific at what he does makes sense of the argument in this very clear way that’s period at the same time when I was clerking for the from the start of his career, and any disappointments he extremely difficult to do. And he makes it look effortless. Supreme Court and he was in the government. I know his has had, he hasn’t lingered over. I think he spends more The second ability he has is that he’s remarkably family. And now I’m at Stanford and he’s a Stanford Law time focused on how he happy he is in what he has been responsive to the justices, so they have concerns that are School graduate. We’ve just maintained our connection in able to do. behind what they’re asking the advocate and they’re pepthese various ways for a long time. I always thought he was going to do great things, so it pering the advocate with questions, and he knows exactly I think he’s an incredible lawyer, thinker, and person. didn’t surprise me all that much when he was nominated what they’re asking and he gives a highly efficient and I’ve seen Sri argue in the Supreme Court a couple of (to be a judge) in the first instance, and it’s hard to get lucid answer. He exhibited those things in that argument. times, and though I haven’t seen him on the bench, I have confirmed, but even that didn’t surprise me. I have one other example — it’s not something I saw, no doubt that he’s already a fine judge. He’s not someone who wears these kinds of things as if but I listened to him arguing the Defense of Marriage Act One of the times, I saw him argue a case while he was at they are the most important aspect about him. I can’t case when he was at the Solicitor General’s office. In that O’Melveny & Meyers involving civil procedures in the think of anyone more deserving to get recognized by the case he was defending a really difficult position, which is Supreme Court, which is kind of how courts operate. A community — it couldn’t happen to a greater guy. hard to explain, but it was a position where the United sort of basic question arose that was surprising, but hadIt’s a sign that good things are happening in the world States Government seemed to be being inconsistent. It n’t been decided, and he was just the model of a great when he’s being recognized for his talents. n was refusing to defend the constitutionality of the statute, Supreme Court advocate. the Defense of Marriage Act while enforcing a judgment I would say that has two components: One is he does Elizabeth Magill is the Richard E Lang Professor of Law that arose out of the statute. what all public advocates do, which is that he makes and Dean of the Stanford Law School. So the justices, who were skeptical of the government, something seem deceptively simple, something that’s She spoke to Chaya Babu. were really attacking him on this and trying to make him actually really complex; he boils it down to its essence and

Elizabeth Magill met Sri Srinivasan as a fellow law clerk, but their connection goes deeper. She shares all the features that are important parts of the package that makes her friend who he is

S


M26 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘His humility is his number one trait’ ‘He is incredibly unassuming, so incredibly self-deprecating,’ neighbor and crusading lawyer Vanita Gupta, winner of the first India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence, tells Aziz Haniffa

V

anita Gupta, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice, lives down  the same street as Sri Srinivasan, in Arlington, Virginia. “We both knew of each other and each other’s work, but I really got to know him through Amrit’s (Amrit Singh, senior legal officer for national security and counter-terrorism at the Open Society Justice Initiative of the Open Society Foundations) friendship with him and got to know him better.” “From the first day we met, we immediately struck a very good friendship. He has just been absolutely marvelous, and we became such close friends,” says Gupta, winner of the first India Abroad Publisher’s Award for Excellence 2004. “It is so wonderful to be in the company of someone who is such an authentic, brilliant person, who occupies this incredibly important position in the country.” “For somebody who has achieved what he has achieved,” says Gupta, a trail-blazing civil rights lawyer herself, “it’s really extraordinary to see someone who is basically himself in every setting. He doesn’t have airs, doesn’t put on any airs, is modest, humble, exceedingly kind.” “It’s incredibly extraordinary to see someone or be around someone who is the same person, regardless of whether he’s talking to a Supreme Court Justice or a random friend from his childhood,” she adds. “I think that that is very genuine. He’s a very genuine and authentic person. I believe a lot of that has to do with his upbringing and where he grew up (in Lawrence, Kansas).” “He’s a tried and true mid-Westerner,” she adds, “and his mid-Western sensibilities come out in all of his social interactions.” “He is one of the most genuinely authentic people that I know and it’s a very attractive quality because in DC, as you know, Aziz. having covered the scene for years — you can miss that characteristic in a lot of people.” “He’s got a really warm personality. He cares so much about family, he is so attached to his family and kids. His kids have come over to our place and they are hilarious. They are really amazing.” Gupta has seen first hand how close he is to his sisters and his mother. “Then last year, with his father’s passing, he had so much happen in one year and you could see how much of a loss this was to him since he adored him.” As a neighbor she has seen “Sri in action as a father. He’s so giving. His kids are the center of his universe. They are really remarkable kids and he, despite how busy he is, makes time to go to their games, their performances… they really come first for him. It’s such a lovely and endearing quality about him.” “It’s important for South Asians, it’s important for Americans and it’s a testament to him that he got confirmed unanimously,” Gupta says. “The fact that he is a very authentic and genuine person is why people are so taken by him and everyone makes that comment when they talk about him.”

Vanita Gupta with Sri Srinivasan. “While people admire the ascent of a career to that position, I believe what people really admire about Sri getting that position is that he is incredibly unassuming, so incredibly self-deprecating and just has a very — I am trying to think of a word that doesn’t sound trite… he’s fun, he’s easy to be around, he has no airs about him and so, he’s somebody, regardless of all his legal career, many of us would want to naturally hang out with anyway.” “He’s a basketball player, he loves his kids, he really enjoys being around fun people, and he’s a really good friend. His humility is his number one trait.” Even though they are neighbors, she says they don’t get together as often as they would like to, but notes, “My older kid is going to go to the same school as his kids, and it’s really nice to share this connection.” “Of all the people, I’ve met in DC, he’s one of the folks

COURTESY: VANITA GUPTA

Chinh (Le, her husband) and I’d want to hang out with because we really enjoy his company. I wish our lives are not all so busy, but we try to see each other when we can.” “When I told you earlier about where he grew up and where he comes from, which is what makes him so unassuming, so open, and so kind, I also want to tell you that as a South Asian person growing up in Kansas and a person of color, it’s really clear that he learned how to be able to get along and connect with a lot of people, while still trying to be authentic and true to what he is.” “He had some hard times in the course of that, but I think that’s the kind of upbringing he had. But, of course, his reaction to that was to be able to figure out what connected him to all kinds of different people who were different to him, while still being true to himself — that’s something that really speaks out about him.” n


M27 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

PARESH GANDHI

THE INNOVATOR

INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT 2013 AROGYASWAMI J PAULRAJ


M28 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the heart of 21st Century communication

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Arogyaswami J Paulraj’s breakthrough ideas are the basis of today’s Wi-Fi and 4G systems. His array of breathtaking original ideas in a long and illustrious career have made the former Indian naval officer a global star in the world of wireless technology. P Rajendran profiles the winner of the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Achievement 2013

SALMAN RUSHDIE (2006) Novelist

PADMA DESAI, JAGDISH BHAGWATI (2007) Economists ZUBIN MEHTA (2008) Conductor

SONNY MEHTA (2009) Publisher

MADHUR JAFFREY (2010) Actress ANITA DESAI (2011) Novelist

NATWAR GANDHI (2012) Then District of Columbia CFO ROMESH WADHWANI (2012) Billionaire Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

Arogyaswami J Paulraj For his many services to the Indian nation; for revolutionizing wireless technology; for his pioneering contribution to Wi-Fi and 4G systems; for changing the way we live.

Professor A J Paulraj’s company Beceem did a good job of competing with Intel and Samsung.

I

t was the abstruse idea of ‘spatial multiplexing’ that made Arogyaswami J Paulraj, then 48, a star in the techie firmament. That accomplishment, which has redefined wireless communication — both Wi-Fi and LTE — gave Dr Paulraj fame. For he had been churning out ideas of breathtaking originality for decades, though news of his achievement had been muted while traversing the secret military world he occupied while in India. Dr Paulraj, now 70, is a tall man a little shy of six feet, spare of hair and an unassuming presence, and a slightly sad smile. Perhaps a legacy of his service background, he tends to dress formally. He favors his right leg, which has an artificial knee, over his tender left. When speaking, at times, he repeats the last phrase or word meditatively, using splayed fingers to stress a point — but never insistently.

COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ

He is known for transforming the Indian Navy’s sonar system; founding or being on the founding team of three top Indian laboratories; discovering a system the US military uses for surveillance; and coming up with the idea of splitting and bringing together data to make wireless more cost and energy effective. After immigrating to the US after retirement from the Indian Navy, he set up two companies — which he sold to Intel and Broadcom, respectively — and bagged the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal (2011) and the Marconi Prize (2014). Ah yes, he has a bagful of military decorations from the Indian Navy, is on a host of Indian government committees (which, he concedes, rarely meet), and gives lectures in universities around the world. All this, despite facing insistent hostility, rejection and ridicule for a large part of his career.

Born in 1944, Paulraj was one of six children of Sinappan Arogyaswami and Rose, Tamilian Catholics who decided the family ought to stay put in their native Coimbatore while the father worked in the Indian Navy. When 11, he was sent to Montfort School in Yercaud near Salem, an Anglo-Indian school that emphasized sports over academics. Paulraj was mild-mannered, retiring and of an academic bent, and he had some difficulty with things like the long jump, which called for careful coordination. He participated in cricket, athletics, football and hockey, and even liked boxing a bit, but his

g

PAGE M30


M30 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the heart of 21st Century communication f PAGE M28 heart clearly lay in other things. “I started teaching myself math,” he said. Given the paucity of suitable material in the library, he began learning from the supplementary Clark’s Tables which, along with logarithmic tables, also tossed in a few formulae at the back. “I was clearly the academics guy. I was obviously considered way beyond the normal,” he says, adding that when the Russians sent up Sputnik in 1957, classmates joked that he would be kidnapped either by the Russians or the Americans to give themselves and edge in the space race. fter he topped the state exam in the sciences, Paulraj’s father suggested he go A into the Indian Navy. Neither of them knew

of the Indian Institutes of Technology, though there already was a campus at When 11, A J Paulraj was sent to Montfort School near Salem, Tamil Nadu, a school that Kharagpur and the one coming up in Madras. emphasized sports over academics. He had begun studying at Loyola College in involved, and got the IIT senate to approve Paulraj’s inducChennai, but left in four months after his admission to the tion into the program. National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, Maharashtra, “After I joined, immediately (Professor Indiresan) felt I came through. That was in December 1960. should do a PhD. He said, you already seem to know everyHe had no reason to dread the hazing that was commonthing at the MTech level … Originally, the navy was begging place in the academy then. the IIT to take me.” Now Professor Indiresan was request“I escaped much of the punishment by doing the homeing the navy to let Paulraj do a PhD. work for my seniors,” he says, with the characteristic low “The navy immediately said, no, we don’t want scientists laugh. People often told him he was not a good fit for the in the navy,” said Paulraj, describing how things were like navy. then, and adding that even he thought a PhD was not a “Those days I was not aware what the world offered so I very good fit in a naval unit. thought I was OK,” he says. Then, in the NDA he got inter“It went up to the vice-chief of naval staff (Vice-Admiral N ested in horse riding and thought he ought to join the army. Krishnan) and... He famously wrote in the file: We don’t “The armored corps,” his wife Nirmala interjects. want scientists in the Indian Navy.” “Armored corps,” he repeats, adding that it was his father Paulraj finds it funny now and laughs outright. who pointed out that the armored corps offered no Professor Indiresan would not let up, and wrote back, prospects to someone with his interests. The navy did. ‘You’ll never regret letting him do his PhD.’ Paulraj graduated from the NDA in December 1963 at the Finally, the navy said that since they had already given top of his class, was a cadet on the INS Tir for a year spendPaulraj two years to do his MTech, he could do whatever ing two-and-a-half years at the Naval Engineering College else he could in that period. in Lonavala, where he got to learn some advanced math. So Professor Indiresan responded that Paulraj would There were “textbooks in advanced calculus and advanced complete his PhD in two years. algebra. I remember the words ‘Boolean algebra (and) It was during his time in Delhi that Dr Thomas Kailath, a analysis-limit functions,’” he says, but there was no degree professor at Stanford, visited the campus and gave a talk on at the end of it all. He went to electrical school in Jamnagar, his area of research. Paulraj based his work on Kailath’s Gujarat, where he learned about radars and sonars and work, addressing ways to extract the best signal possible guns. from a mixture of signal and random noise. Clearly looking ahead to a career in maintenance, he “Most use standard math but when things are not began work on the INS Darshak, a survey ship that used straightforward,” says Paulraj, sometimes advanced math is echo-sounding to map underwater areas for India’s Oil and called for, and then tosses around terms like stochaistic calNatural Gas Commission. culus and diffusion theory. Soon the navy gathered that Paulraj would be more useful “My PhD thesis was at 50,000 feet high. It was very hard with a higher education and decided to send him for an for anyone to read unless they knew a lot of advanced MTech at IIT-Delhi. The institute was reluctant at first, but math,” he says. Professor P V Indiresan (later the Director, IIT-Madras) got

When the two years were done, he still had to submit his thesis, and asked the navy to keep him in Delhi till that was done. While he was still there, India and Pakistan went to war. And on December 9, 1971, the night the INS Khukri, the ship with India’s most advanced sonar at the time, was sunk by a Pakistani submarine, the navy called him back. “I was taken to Bombay (and told) we’ve just lost our top anti-submarine ship, INS Khukri. Sonar couldn’t detect (the submarine that sank it),” Paulraj says. “I went back to IIT-Delhi to do a project that was completely practical, nothing to do with mathematical theory.” Because no other advanced nation would share its sonar with India, he was given the job of coming up with a good one. Sonar works on the argument that one can judge the distance and shape of COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ objects from the sounds bouncing off them. But Paulraj had multiple problems to resolve before he could get all of the navy’s ships refitted to handle another such attack. One issue involved the Doppler effect — which, as one notices when a train is coming or going away from you, can result in sounds rising and dropping in pitch, respectively. The effect came into play if sonar operators were not aware of the motion or direction of their vessel. The standard solution — making the receiver really wide — also meant dealing with extraneous noise that could obscure signals bouncing off enemy vessels. Then there was the problem of enough sound bouncing back from the surrounding water making signals bouncing off the target hard to find. Among other things, Paulraj tried to improve the location of the target by two methods: He allowed for his own vessel’s motion in the calculations, thus correcting for the Doppler shift. This helped make the receiver bandwidth narrower. This also reduced the extraneous noise, making the sound bouncing off the enemy submarine stand out in the generated images. The next problem was reverberation: The sound pulses from his own vessel bouncing back from irregularities in the surrounding water, a phenomenon known as backscattering, which obscures the submarine echo. If the submarine is moving at all, he reasoned, there would be a Doppler shift, changing the pitch of the sounds coming back from it and making it stand out in a background of echoes that showed no such shift. With some math, that contrast could be emphasized and the submarine seen far more clearly. PAGE To find submarines lying low, figuratively M31 or literally, Paulraj divested himself of the old British sonar, which a used single sound

g


M31 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the heart of 21st Century communication

f PAGE M30

frequency, so that the sound changed in pitch over time throughout the transmission. Because of this, there was more even reverberation from the water, allowing the slightly stronger submarine echo to stand out. While doing this work with a colleague at IIT-Delhi he also collected his PhD. aulraj’s ideas were put into practice — and Bharat Dynamics Limited, a defense company, put it into proP duction for inclusion on all naval ships. At the time the idea

went into production, Paulraj headed to England for a year to work on a sonar project at Loughborough University. “In 1974, everything was imported. If even the smallest thing failed, we had to get it from England or Russia. So we had no self-reliance at all,” says Paulraj. When he suggested to his navy colleagues that in the United Kingdom he could get ideas to improve systems, they told him to forget it and go and have a good time instead. “I had modified sonar, but the navy had gone out to buy the best available sonar for future ships from France and England,” Paulraj says. Naval headquarters suggested that he go over and see what the foreign sonar companies were building. Paulraj went around the installations and found them wanting, even in one case having to set right a firm that had hopelessly missed out some basic elements of sonar-marking. All of this was recorded in the Indian Navy’s official history of that period. And while having “lots of fun” building a minicomputer, Paulraj also concluded that India had no need to outsource work on sonar. “I felt it was do-able ourselves,” he says, adding that his superiors were initially skeptical, and worried by the fact of the effects of playing with sonar, a very large — and undoubtedly the costliest — item on a ship. The Russian sonar came in 38 cabinets of electronics, filling the space of two large rooms and cost hundreds of millions of rupees. “Vice-Admiral (Gulab Mohanlal) Hiranandani (then director, combat policy and tactics and, later, the Indian Navy’s official historian), backed me,” Paulraj remembers, “but said, ‘Paul, you’re playing with fire. We back you and you don’t deliver, we’ll be left high and dry. We’ll be left with ships without sonar… like a person without eyes’.” Paulraj began work at Kochi but India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, which ran things there, was not sure if he was up to do some real science. “DRDO saw service officers as bringing a service viewpoint… not to be scientists,” he says. “So when I went there I wasn’t given any technical responsibility. I think I was made library officer. Even though I had a PhD and had built a sonar it was hard for them to (accept me).” As he spent more time joining them, and after he fixed a damaged computer that had come in from the US, the DRDO officials concluded there may be more to the retiring young man with horn-rimmed glasses. In 1976, he was put in charge of the Naval Physical Oceanographic Laboratories to put together the Advanced Panoramic Sonar Hull mounted sonar.

A J Paulraj trained at the National Defence Academy in Maharashtra before entering the Indian Navy. COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ

“We had some contact with the Americans, who had top sonar (equipment). They said, Paul, it’s not easy to build this system... Will you have the team to build this?” He did. “When in (the early ’80s) we first went out to sea with that sonar, it was probably the most advanced (ship-based) sonar in the world in that class. It was far ahead of anything the Russians or the Europeans had; there was no question about that... My opinion was that it was ahead of the Americans,” Paulraj says quietly. He points out that while money was poured into top talent and equipment in sonar companies in the US, “We, with incredibly little money, managed to at least equal them, if not exceed them.” He sees the six years he spent working on APSOH — not the more famous projects that made his name later — as his best work. “It wasn’t one idea like MIMO, which took off and became a big fire. That was hundreds of ideas almost every day,” he laughs with remembered pleasure, “but nobody knows about it. It’s probably still secret.” “...After that the Indian Navy never had to import sonar technology. The group that I built became the core and APSOH… has remained the backbone of the Indian Navy. If you ask anybody in the navy (about) sonar, they’ll say, we’re self-sufficient. That is the only area we are world-class and self-sufficient.” Paulraj’s scientific supervisor was then DRDO chief V S

Arunachalam, who helped him where he could to tide over some of the problems he faced. He laughs as he describes the many political issues between Bharat Engineering Limited, the producing agency; the DRDO, the design agency; and the Indian Navy, the user. Given his success with sonar, Arunachalam suggested Paulraj ought to head India’s Light Combat Aircraft project but differences between the directors of the program saw to it that he finally did not. According to Admiral R H Tahiliani, writing in Quarterdeck, a magazine for retired Indian Navy personnel, ‘Dr Arunachalam was keen to get Paulraj to co-lead the LCA program, but Paulraj‘s suggestions for a less cumbersome administrative structure did not get the final approval and Paulraj moved on...’ He even had begun studying flying to be better prepared and Arunachalam suggested that he take a sabbatical. “(He said) no more sonar. You can do bigger things,” Paulraj remembers. When the navy seconded that view, he thought of Dr Kailath, whose work he had expanded upon during his PhD. But he was still intimidated by Kailath’s reputation. “Going to Stanford was out of question. Here was I, a naval officer, with (a PhD from) IIT-Delhi, which in the world rankings (stands) very low. So (I thought) nobody will take me there,” says Paulraj, but Arunachalam asked him to try, nonetheless. “I wrote to Professor Kailath. He immediately said no. He was the external examiner for my thesis. He was very impressed by my thesis but he knew I was doing engineering work building sonars — nothing mathematical. He said you’re a real engineer and out of touch with all this (theoretical) stuff I do here. I wrote a third time, saying, I’m free. He didn’t have to pay me. All I need is a desk in his office. Finally, he said, come along.” That was in 1984. At Stanford, the engineer switched back to pure theory, extending his work on sonar to see how to better use a group of antennas to locate the direction of signals coming at it. The methods in use were not as effective. While at office at 2 am — a common time for Paulraj to be there — he came up with ESPRIT (Estimation of Signal Parameters by Rotational Invariance Technique), a way to mathematically string together a graph of the arriving signals in which the peaks would provide observers with the best estimate of the direction of arrival. When he came back (later to Toronto) to a conference, there were six parallel sessions on ESPRIT. In 1986, back in the Indian Navy, he was asked to take over DLRL (electronics warfare). Advisers said there would be a lot of bureaucracy there — he was just 42 and could not take on the entrenched seniors. Arunachalam asked him to do something on his own. So he started the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in Bengaluru. He PAGE was also on the governing board of the M32 Pune-based Center for Development of Advanced Computing and worked on the

g


M32 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the heart of 21st Century communication

f PAGE M31

software end there. He liked both because then they were startup labs. But it was his work at BEL’s Central Research Labs that actually made it untenable for him to stay in India. Paulraj says the trouble began when he failed to get someone selected for job at the request of someone more powerful on the board. “When things didn’t work out he grew “unbelievably hostile, with even threat of bodily harm — which is when I wrote to Professor Kailath asking, ‘Can I come back?’” n 1991, he finally left the Indian Navy. Kailath, always the dream mentor, got him a job with math professor Gene IGolub on finding ways to better differentiate between two

calls from phones located next to each other. The problem was of interest to the air force, where reconnaissance aircraft at about 70,000 feet try to locate the direction of different radio signals despite the loss during propagation through air. All the signals could look equally powerful, but since they come in at different angles to the set of multiple antennas they can be separated — because they have different spatial and temporal signatures. There were problems in doing this though since the algorithms often failed, so Paulraj was asked to work out a better algorithm. Because of his practical bent, Paulraj bought a few 900 MHz phones, put them on the same channel, and tested them outdoors. As expected, far apart, the signals were distinct, but overlapped when they got too close to each other. “If two phones are together the signals coming in may be just a quarter degree apart. The signature is virtually similar,” he says. “But one day it was raining and we moved it into the lobby,” says Paulraj. “This time, we found two guys with phones walking next to each other we could separate now. Theory said it was not possible. Then we realized it was hitting the walls of the building and coming back, and that created the ability to separate.” He realized he would not have come upon this phenomenon if the team had not done the test indoors. “Within 10 minutes I knew exactly what was going on: this scattering (off the walls of the lobby was creating this ability to distinguish the two signals),” he says. “But if they hit the wall and came back, there was about 60 to 70 degrees’ difference in phase shift. Now the signals were very different. In presence of scattering, the signatures become random and different.” It was while having a haircut at the barber’s two days later, that he realized he could put two antennas on a phone that would send out different data streams. And why not more to send more data while also making the signals even more distinct? He knew, though, that sending data wirelessly was not always easy. “With one antenna, I can send 1 MB through; if I want to send 10 MB, then watts (a unit of power) needed go from one to one million,” he says. But if the data was split, and then emitted and collected by antenna arrays at both ends,

PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ

Left, A J Paulraj receives the Silver Medal from then Indian defense minister Y B Chavan at the National Defence Academy passing out parade in 1963 for ranking first in the Order of Merit in academic and service subjects. Right, he receives the Ati Vishist Seva Medal of the Indian military in 1983 from then Indian president Giani Zail Singh. the same work could be done with just with 10 watts. That, in essence, was MIMO spatial multiplexing. The idea really did not address the air force’s problem. Still, Paulraj was excited enough about it and went on to tell experts that while they were working on sending two sets of radio waves at right angles to each other, merely to double information (called a QAM: quadrature amplitude modulation), his gizmo could shoot over a million times that information. “People then were talking of going from 4 to 6 or 8 QAM… And here was some naval officer talking of a million QAM. They walked out of the hall,” he says, particularly remembering someone say, “He must be crazy.” At this Paulraj laughs. Other professors also suggested he may have been a little optimistic. “Today chips have 16 million QAM, and are going to a billion,” Paulraj says, but rationalizing that while he is sure of what he saw, he should have spent more time convincing people that his idea had merit if they only took the time to check it out. “Maybe I didn’t do a sufficiently good job of that,” he says. Despite applying for a patent in 1992, Paulraj was discouraged enough by the pushback to leave the mathematical proof to others. “I began to de-emphasize this (work),” he says, adding that it was finally another researcher, Emre Teletar, who came up with the theoretical model in 1998. The same year, Paulraj, instead of working on PR strate-

gies to convince people, started Gigabit Wireless, which developed the technology that became the basis for all WiFi and LTE, now standard in a host of electronic devices. In 2000, realizing Gigabit was being used in a variety of contexts, the name was changed to Iospan Wireless. But WiFi and 4G as standards were well over the temporal horizon, and so Intel bought Iospan in 2004, reputedly for a song. The next year, Paulraj was back in business, with Beceem, which developed technologies involving WiMAX and LTE. In 2010, Broadcom bought the company, reportedly for $316 million. A Marconi award press release describes John Cioffi, inventor of DSL, who too faced ridicule early on saying: ‘What impresses me most is how Paul endured the tremendous, pressure, turmoil and stress of people saying his ideas weren’t going to work, and persevered until he found success. Such people are pretty rare.’ Paulraj is grateful for the opportunities he got in this country. “The environment for research, innovation, technology is so much better in the United States from every point of view – culture, resources, talent,” he says. “I always say that the best thing that happened to me PAGE was coming to Stanford University.” M34 While coming away from a garden populated by Rodin’s statues, he says of the

g


M34 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

At the heart of 21st Century communication

f PAGE M32

opportunities his family got at Stanford: “We still pinch ourselves all the time.” And yet he cannot forget how it used to be. “Some people here don’t like it when I say it, but the most creative time in my life in terms of ideas was actually in India when I built the sonar system. That was really a stunning achievement in India. But when I grew senior in the navy (he smiles wryly) things didn’t work out the way I wanted.” He still sees his time at NPOL as his most productive phase. y real achievement was in APSOH. NPOL a very small lab — in defense (terms), one of the smallest... M We made a world-beating sonar. Something must have

been right.” He believes that besides people trusting his judgment, he is also not very harsh, never having fired anyone and using everyone’s skill to pull together a team. “I am able to carry people with me,” he says. “People stick with me through ups and downs and anybody who’s worked with me before (if I say) come and join me, they’ll come and join me.” When he left, the navy feared the team would fall apart — but the fact that it did not suggests that, despite his contributions, he had built a team that could hold together on its own. With APSOH, he says, “I was the edge of the arrow — I was driving it (laughs self-consciously. Now) I take a more background role, am more a mentor...” “If you look at my students, we are more friends. One of my main jobs today is to promote — in the broad, not the narrow sense — the wellbeing and the careers of my students and see them grow up and become big. (In the groups I’ve worked with) the people who worked with me have become the leaders and I’ve gone into the background,” he says. Though a man given to describing a variety of “good people,” he is a little critical of one lab he worked at: CDAC. In India, WIPRO and ECIL used to build computers earlier. In the 1960s, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Sciences built TIFRAC (TIFR Automatic Computer), under Dr Homi Bhabha, which was competitive with the world, and which had a lot of new ideas included in it, Paulraj says. “Today, we import everything. Nothing is made in India,” he says, adding that he wants CDAC to get involved in something more real instead of building large machines that are put in a room where VIPs can admire them. “This is not a PR job,” he says. One of his passions is the development of high technology in India. His fingers finally come together as he lists the areas: Aerospace, commercial electronics and computers, communication technologies including wireless, modern pharmaceuticals and precision instruments (CAT scans, MRIs) among other things. “We need a skilled work force, need investment,” he says,

Professor A J Paulraj, center, won the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal for his ‘development of multiple antenna system for wireless communications, which helped bring the power of the Internet to mobile devices. adding that the business is risky, highly competitive, and usually involves taking on global monopolies, like Intel. “In India, we’ve done a good job of pharma manufacturing. But discovery of fundamental chemicals, no. We don’t have the R&D for that. (We have) nothing in commercial jets, in terms of ICT. We were doing something 20 years ago, but now it’s all gone away. We’re importing everything now,” Paulraj says, pointing out that India needs to see how China and other countries have gone ahead in these areas. “The thing is, our universities have dropped very badly. Today, even the top research institute — IISc, Bangalore — itself ranks only 300th in the world. Our academic research and our scientific research have not kept pace with the phenomenal growth that has happened in the West, in China… Singapore. We have not grown very well there.” India has an advantage when it comes to industry, believes Paulraj, who is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian honor. “There, we are better off because all these multinationals — Qualcomm, Broadcom, Intel — have huge R&D outfits in India and they recognize the value of Indian talent,” Paulraj argues. “These (employees) are very well trained. So we have a lot of people in India who are at the cutting edge of technology — chips and a variety of things — working for multinational companies.” But there were other areas that concern him. “Research run at the university level is not great. But once these people have an opportunity to work in these compa-

COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ

nies they grow rapidly, become leaders.... We’ve not created our own brand names.” His hand comes together in a fist, punching gently but insistently down. “We don’t have an Intel, we don’t have a Microsoft, we don’t have a Qualcomm or a Broadcomm. And I think (those are) important, too. If you’re only doing a back-end job for somebody, you don’t control lots of issues. We may get some salaries but the real pay-offs come from holding equity and founding companies. All those we don’t get in India.” Away from work, he has a few pleasures to keep him occupied: Western classical music he was brought up with – “Beethoven, Bach, Wagner. Opera’s a bit heavy for me.” He prefers instrumental classical music, orchestral music, symphonies or chamber music. And then there’s Carnatic music and the dance forms of South India. “I am not an expert, but music is a big part of my relaxation,” he says. Though he likes a variety of food, he prefers Indian food, particularly at the local Amber restaurant. He avoids heavy reading, preferring to stick to biographies of politicians and scientists. “Human interest stories about them grabs me,” he says. And then there are books on development economies — discussing how countries grow. Now 70, with people still hounding him to start companies, Arogyaswami J Paulraj appears as happy as his countenance permits. “I have kind of had the best of both worlds, but I’m proud of both,” he says. n


M35 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He’s very good at going out and making friends’

world would give (India) any technology. He had a group, but he had to read the literature himself because I don’t think there was anybody else in the group who could follow the mathematics,” adds Kailath. “Paul read the literature on his own, by and large because it was a classified lab. But there’s a difference between having an idea on paper, in theory, and actually putting together a system. You have to get specs for the equipment that you need, find the suppliers, negotiate with them. Things don’t quite work, then you have to do trials. So you get a lot of real-world experience. Very few academics have that. Paul has that advantage and he has put it to good use.” “That, with the theoretical background (Paulraj) had picked up himself, was a very powerful combination. (Then) he started Gigabit Wireless.” Kailath, who had guided the younger man past a variety of possible pitfalls, could not prepare him for this situation though. “The VC (venture capitalist) could see I was rather critical so didn’t put n 1970, Dr P V Indiresan at IIT-Delhi me on the board,” says Kailath, who (later director, IIT-Madras) invited remained a small-scale investor and Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath to who still believes that it was the give a series of lectures on estimation board that let Paulraj down, leading theory, an abstruse area of mathematto the ultimate demise of the compaical research. ny. “I said it’s somewhat mathematical. I Among other ideas, Paulraj came don’t think anybody understood — except up with a plan to triple the 6 MHz Paulraj — what I was talking,” Kailath bandwidth terrestrial stations prolaughs. vided for TV by splitting 18 MHz of Paulraj did his PhD thesis on work bandwidth and sending each set in Kailath had covered in his lectures. And from different stations. They Kailath, who was one of the signatories on licensed the technology — the early his thesis, had a high opinion of his intellecstages of MIMO. tual protege. Traditional TV required 6MHz. “I thought (Paulraj) was a very bright guy HDTV required 18 MHz. MIT because, all by himself, he learned abstract helped compress the 18 MHz in 6. mathematics and math that was quite relePaulraj suggested 6 MHz be sent vant.” from three TV stations and recomHe learned later that in the wake of the bine them. This way, without changsinking of the INS Khukri in the 1971 war ing any of the systems people have, with Pakistan, Paulraj had moved to you can get high-definition televiBombay to work on improving India’s sonar. sion. HDTV never really took off but “Then I lost track of him. Suddenly, in in the patent they said that the 1983, I got a long letter in longhand from PARESH GANDHI antennae need not be separated, Paul, saying that he would like to come and Professor Thomas Kailath helped A J Paulraj — in the face of much opposition — to get a post as a professor. they could be together. work in (my) group. I didn’t reply, but he He made friends at Intel including believed in redundancy,” says Kailath, tonguePat Kelsinger, the CTO. They put a group to work on the John Cioffi, who invented DSL, also got pooh-poohed by in-cheek, “so he had copied that letter — there was no same project. his former employers before doing his PhD under Kailath Xerox in those days — and a second letter came. I wrote “(Paulraj is) very good at going out and making friends. and doing the work that made him an industry legend. back to him. I said, I remember you. You wrote a good theHe knows more Indian entrepreneurs in the Valley than I Kailath was more confident about helping Paulraj sis but, from what you tell me, you’ve been working essendo. It’s a very good skill,” says Kailath. because at the time he had enough research money to fund tially in development for so many years. My group is mathTwo of those entrepreneurs pushed him him. In 1992, Paulraj began work on MIMO. ematical so it may not be appropriate for you.” to start another company. After a couple of years, Kailath helped him, in the face of But Kailath finally acquiesced. “At Beceem, the new entity, Paulraj was much opposition, to get a post as professor, research, a post “(My team) had moved into a new area — called smart the CTO. (It) did a good job competing that lacked tenure, and for which Paulraj was expected to antennas. And Paul began to get into that and, after a year with Intel and Samsung. Intel has not sucraise 90 percent of his own salary. or so, came up with the idea called ESPRIT. That was near ceeded in that market, and WiMAX got After being supported for more than two years, Paulraj the end of his stay.” replaced by LTE, which then got picked up started finding sources for his funds. “After two years, I said, you can stay on. We can get you a by Qualcomm, a Goliath in the field,” adds “We started a research seminar called Smart Antenna position of some kind here. But he wanted to go back to Kailath. Research Group, which he ran because my interests were India.” Kailath laughs quietly at the irony. Ultimately, Beceem was bought over by moving to another field (he was getting into semiconductor Fortunately, he says, Paulraj had a mentor in Bharat Broadcom. manufacturing),” Kailath says. Electronics Limited, (Captain Subburao Prabhala), who Kailath speaks of how much Paulraj What impressed him was that Paulraj was very bright. gave him a free hand to set up a lab and do things his way. learned on his own, and his wife Anu “The (Indian) navy recognized that — everyone recognized But Paulraj was finally no match for the more political eleMaitra interjects to describe the case of that. He was always interested in mathematical topics, ments and so wrote to Kailath again, asking if he could Martin Gardner, who wrote the which he studied on his own. But (he is impressive) mostly come back. PAGE Mathematical Games column in Scientific because of his work in the navy, where he was given this Kailath had seen what Paulraj could do — and he knew M40 American and who learned the math as he project to develop a sonar at a time when nobody in the how to get the best out of a team member.

‘There’s a difference between having an idea on paper, in theory, and actually putting together a system. Very few academics have that. Paul has that advantage and he has put it to good use,’ Professor Thomas Kailath, Dr Paulraj’s mentor, tells P Rajendran

I

g


M36 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He created something tremendously impactful’

He is a brilliant scholar who has profound creativity, deep knowledge, and deep insight into how to apply these to come up with breakthroughs in wireless technology, Professor Andrea Goldsmith tells P Rajendran

Professor A J Paulraj in his office at Stanford University.

W

hile working for a defense company on direction finding, Andrea Goldsmith chanced upon papers by Arogyaswami J Paulraj. “(I realized), first of all, these are really brilliant papers, and, secondly, I don’t have the knowledge to understand them at the level of depth that I need to implement them,” she says. “I think I need to go back to graduate school.” Goldsmith, now a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, says, “To some extent, his work inspired me to go on to graduate school and, to some degree, led me to where I am today.” She was still a young professor at Caltech when one of Paulraj’s students, Robert Heath, called her to ask if she could give a talk on her research in wireless systems. Paulraj was working on MIMO, his most famous contribution, and Goldsmith had some interesting discussions about new ideas to implement using multiple antenna systems. She also knew a team at Bell Labs — where she had worked while still a graduate student — that had begun work on MIMO. “So from my perspective, MIMO was very exciting at the

PARESH GANDHI

time I first met Paul,” she says. When she joined Stanford in 1999 she knew a lot of what was going on in Paulraj’s lab. Given the similar areas their teams covered, many of his PhD students took her wireless class, and her students, his. She had good reason to move to Stanford, given that her husband Arturo Salz had been a PhD student at the university and ran a startup there. Besides, she, too, was an entrepreneur. By 2007, she, Paulraj and three others had literally written the book on their pet subject: MIMO Wireless Communications. Though they have not written joint papers, she has been on the dissertation committee of several of his students, including Robert Heath. “When we worked together on the book, I was impressed with how easy it was to work together, how helpful and generous he was with his time, with his ideas. And he’s also a very good friend,” Goldsmith says. “Paulraj is a brilliant scholar,” she says. “He’s someone who has come up with revolutionary ideas. What characterizes him is profound creativity, deep knowledge, and

deep insight into how to apply these things to come up with breakthroughs in wireless technology.” “At first I was a bit intimidated by him because he’s just so accomplished and, at this point, well accoladed. But the more I got to know him the more I realized how generous he was with his ideas, with his time, how much he reaches out to help junior people — colleagues, students. His students have had tremendous success in their own right. Just having him as a mentor and a role model has been very rewarding.” While she knew of his work in the US, she had little idea of what he had done in India. “(The) sonar (story) predates my interaction with him. But when I’ve talked to him about work he did back in India, it appears he developed revolutionary sonar technology that was a game-changer.” Asked about how she saw him as a person, she says that she was so used to seeing him dressing well that she had a small shock when she saw him chilling out during a workshop in Hawaii. “I see him as this always well-dressed, proper professor. So in Hawaii he was there with his grandkids and I remember seeing him in a Hawaiian shirt with this little kid jumping all over him. It’s not quite the same image that I’m used to with Paulraj. He was just as dignified as a person can be – in a Hawaiian shirt with a kid jumping all over him,” Goldsmith says. “He is a quiet, reserved guy, until you get to know him,” she says. “The longer I’ve gotten to know him the more I’ve seen him (get) a little looser... For people who know him well, he’s a warm and good friend.” She also recalled a celebratory dinner the authors of the book they co-wrote got together for at the high-end Michael Mina restaurant in San Francisco. “Though Paulraj likes his food and wine, his preference seems to be Indian — and his wife is an unbelievable cook. He gets very spoiled at home in terms of food. This was a very fancy, expensive dinner. And I don’t think he appreciated it quite as much as he appreciates his wife’s cooking.” Speaking of his work, Goldsmith says, “The invention of MIMIO created a whole new dimension for wireless systems. There’s increased capacity. It’s made them more robust. It’s rare in a field that’s so advanced as wireless is to create something truly new. And he created something not only truly new, but tremendously impactful on the theory and practice of wireless. To some extent, all the high-performance systems we have today have been influenced by his work.” She said she also admired his quiet tenacity. “He’s got a great job here (at Stanford),” she points out. “He did a startup (Iospan) that didn’t work out as he had anticipated. To go and do another one (Beceem) and say, OK, it didn’t work out the first time, but I still have this great idea which I think is going to be commercially successful and I’m going to do it again, takes a special person who isn’t deterred by failure...” “If he hadn’t done that, who knows how successful MIMO would have been? Even if WiMAX is not as successful, LTE (Long Term Evolution) would not have been as fast if it hadn’t been (competing with WiMAX). WiMAX started to get traction and people started to realize that the LTE standard looks a lot like WiMAX. It served a very important purpose in the evolution of wireless technology.” “If Paul had not done Beceem, who knows if WiMax would have got the traction that it did? There are many things about his experience, probably going all the way back to India, that shaped what he was able to accomplish later on.” n


M38 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He is the pioneer’

Sriram Viswanathan, who helped Intel buy IoSpan, Dr Arogyaswami J Paulraj’s first company, and invested in his second company, Beceem, tells P Rajendran why he has tremendous respect for the scientist’s ability

W

hen Intel wanted to raise the stakes in its wireless gamble, it went shopping for companies already developing promising technologies. One of its intrepid scouts at the time was Sriram Viswanathan, then managing director, eHome & Broadband Sectors. Serendipitously, Viswanathan had been an intern at the Indian Institute of ScienceBangalore, during the short time that Dr Arogyaswami J Paulraj headed it. Viswanathan was no stranger to Dr Paulraj’s reputation for brilliance, quality, and integrity — and so felt more confident about Dr Paulraj’s Iospan than others did. Viswanathan had taken a circuitous route to Intel — working at Wipro on Motorola’s TCP IP, and working as a consultant for IBM, Chrysler and Ford, before joining Intel in 1993. Intel decided to opt for the 802.11 standard (which later became WiFi) over the Home RF technology, primarily because the former was an IEEE standard and was using the unlicensed 2.4 GHz spectrum. That decision, combined with launching of Centrino laptops in 2003, drove the adoption of WiFi. Viswanathan, part of the core team looking at the market and business development of WiFi, studied various technologies and concluded that Iospan’s MIMO technology was closer to what Intel thought was relevant. “It so happens, at Intel... we valued the technology. We had tremendous faith in what he was building, and we acquired that company and used that technology to build other things,” Viswanathan says.

Given that Iospan was not doing too well and that many experts had rejected it, Intel could acquire it cheaply. “In large part,” Viswanathan says, “you have to take a bet.” “And we did due diligence on the subject,” he says, pointing out how Intel was trying to increase the information that could pass through wireless. “The constraint in the early days was with what wireless could provide; now the bottleneck lies in the wired access. The shift has much to do with Dr Paulraj’s technology,” he says. “I’d seen what Dr Paulraj had done in his old career. He is the guy who did the Indian sonar in the Indian Navy. Given my history with him, I had a tremendous deal of respect for his technical capability,” Viswanathan says. But he recognizes the innovator’s limitations. “I don’t credit Dr Paulraj with the ability to build a business, but any day I trust him as being the man who knows how wireless technology works. Iospan, his brainchild, which had his most amazing technology, went bankrupt... Literally ran out of money.” But he had confidence in what Dr Paulraj had to provide. “I was also an (early) investor in Paulraj’s second company, Beceem, which was doing chipsets for taking 4G technology forward,” Viswanathan says. “Dr Paulraj always has a tremendous grasp — he is the pioneer — of wireless technology,” he says. “When the right things line up, and when the right sort of support comes behind that, that can be industry changing.” n

PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU

Professor A J Paulraj receives the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian honors, from then Indian president Pratibha Patil in 2010.

‘A tough and committed scientist’ ‘I would rank Dr Paulraj as one of top 10, 15 scientists in the world in wireless technology,’ says Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras

I

don’t even remember when I first met Dr Paulraj; I think I probably know him forever. Perhaps it was the early ’90s, I think he was still in the Indian Navy when I and Bhaskar Ramamurthi (professor of mechanical engineering at IIT-Madras) met him. Since then, he has been one of our closest friends and advisers. He was a person who always encouraged us, believed in India and Indian technology. He also believed that telecom could make a huge difference in India. He wanted every village in India to have telephony and the Internet. In that sense, we were totally allied as that was also our mission. At that time, we had started working on Digital Signal

Processing and Digital Answering Machine and started talking about wireless. He had come to the Indian Institute of Technology and from that day, he has been a constant guide, all the time encouraging us; in fact, almost adopting us as youngsters who could do something for the country. He gave us the cushion; backed us in our highs and lows and gave us the confidence to move ahead. When we were criticized, he would come and meet us and boost our confidence with his words. He was a part of us and was there when we needed him. He then went to Stanford and started working on MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), but we were in constant touch throughout. Dr Indiresan (former director, IITMadras) and him were the two people who wanted telecom

and broadband and IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) to happen in India. The whole concept of a Center for Excellence in Wireless Technology emerged from his thoughts. He may not have played a direct role in it, but he was instrumental in it happening in India. 4G is what it is with him playing a major role. If he has gone to the US and worked there, it is India’s loss. But he has also contributed immensely from there. So in some sense, we never lost him, he has always been there for us. He is the person who said India should not be just a user of technology, but an owner of the IPR. We used to meet at least 10 times a year or even more. Once he went to the US, we could meet once or twice a year or some-

g

PAGE M39


M39 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He’s a patriot... His departure is a loss for India’

R

When A J Paulraj served in the Indian Navy, P K Menon thought he would be the admiral commanding it one day

oasting is the mark of the real coffee guy,” says P K Menon, a friend of Dr Arogyaswami J Paulraj from the time he first worked at Stanford. And by that measure, Paulraj is certainly one of them, he says. “He loves coffee. He makes a fantastic cup of coffee. He grinds his own beans and roasts them,” Menon says. Menon also describes Dr Paulraj — who, during a shifting conversation, he called Professor Paulraj, Paulraj and Paul — as a serious and retiring type, reluctant to talk about himself, but someone who could make “very, very interesting presentations” with a keen sense of history, including the history of technology, about which he was much more quick to talk. Menon and his wife Prasanna first met Paulraj and his wife Nirmala at an event Stanford Professor Thomas Kailath has organized. When it turned out that one of Prasanna’s friends had been a good friend of Nirmala while growing up, the ice was broken. “I was impressed with Professor Paulraj for many reasons. He was in the Navy — a uniformed person. He was very young at the time and he was already a commodore. A commodore (there),” explains Menon, “here in the US would be a Rear Admiral Lower (half), RADML... It’s a one-star admiral in the United States. And he has this advanced degree, a PhD.” “I was more impressed because he actually came from the NDA (National Defence Academy). Normally National Defence Academy individuals are not known for any academic achievement... Their focus is different: (to try and) To create officers who are basically going to command squadrons, not go and do research.” To encounter someone like Paulraj, then, was a revelation. “Here was this very unique individual who was in uniform (but) could also do scientific work — advanced scientific work, research. I found out later he was able to go through a PhD program at IIT, Delhi. I have never met anybody like that. Right from the get-go it was clear to me he was very unique... Most people in uniform (in the Indian Navy) stop at a master’s degree... or they go to (the Defence Services) Staff College and get advanced qualification in administration.” Given Paulraj’s achievements and rank then, Menon had expected the naval officer to do particularly well.

f PAGE M38 times even four times. He played a large role in advocating India’s need to have its own IPR, and broadband in every village. He even took the leadership role and said that he would work with the government to achieve that. He became a forceful person saying India had the capability and could do it. He gave us the understanding about how to move from science and technology, from research and development, to what happens

“In the meantime, something happened in India — I don’t know what happened — and I find Paulraj back in the Bay Area,” he says. He describes Paulraj as a person who gained much from his diverse experience, as “a guy who can combine pencil-paper work with hardware. Because he worked in the naval laboratories he has a deep understanding of communication systems and communications theory. He also understands the practical aspects of the problem,” Menon says. When the MIMO breakthrough came, the floodgates opened up for a lot of new technology, says Menon. “Nobody sees spectrum bandwidth as a limitation any more. The starting ball was from Professor Paulraj. In the case of Paul, everything just kind of lined up,” he says, adding that, he did not believe Paulraj could have come up with MIMO in India. Speaking of Iospan, Paulraj’s first company, Menon says Paulraj could have sold his COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ company early on — when the dot.com and Professor A J Paulraj, center left, with then Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan and wireless booms were both on. Commandant National Defense Academy — now Admiral and Chief of the “At that time if Paul had cashed out his company he’d have been a billionaire. He was Naval Staff — after delivering a lecture to cadets in 2008. offered $500 to 600 million for his company,” Menon guesses. But the window of opportunity quickly “I always thought that he would be the admiral comswung shut and Iospan was left with just intellectual propmanding the Indian Navy because he had the ability, he had erty, which Intel gratefully took over. the education, he had the stature, background, skills and Talking about Paulraj’s relationship with India, Menon everything,” Menon says. said, Paulraj was “not in the right time at the right place.” “Typically a commodore, at 48 will definitely become the “He’s a patriot... (His departure) is a loss for the country,” admiral of the navy by the time he’s 55, which is the retiresays Menon. “Maybe it’s our gain (in the US) because we’re ment age for an admiral. If a man like that becomes the able to have MIMO, WiMAX and so on and so forth. chief of the navy, then the navy will improve, the quality will Looking back, you can say these things happen all for the go up automatically. He has leadership abilities: He gets best, but at that time it didn’t look like that — a senior along with people, he knows how to form groups and leadnaval officer had to retire before he could become an admiers and so on.” Menon lost touch with Paulraj when he moved to Georgia ral.” n to teach at Georgia Tech, but soon returned when his wife — P Rajendran began pursuing a residency at Stanford University.

‘A tough and committed scientist’ when it goes to standards, IPR, and the royalty inflow-outflow. He was behind many policy decisions from the government. He was part of many of the government committees and was a chairman of quite a few and we used to go along with him to meet the government secretaries. He made our task easier and it would have been tougher without him. I would describe him as a very nice person, soft spoken but a tough and committed scientist. He knows how to take science and

technology all the way to the products. If we had adapted WiMAX technology, we would have been far more advanced and ahead in the world. He was very keen that we adapt WiMAX. Even at this age, he is full of energy. I remember once Bhaskar and I wanted him to review our department, which meant he had to come here from the US and review it. We were not sure whether he would agree to it, but he was very prompt in telling us that he would. The way he did it

by talking to so many faculty and students and making a review at this age is worth mentioning. I would call him one of the best scientists in India, and rank him as one of the top 10, 15 scientists in the world in wireless technology. n Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT-Madras. He spoke to Shobha Warrier.


M40 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Through the eyes of someone who knows him best Nirmala Paulraj tells P Rajendran what Dr Paulraj is like outside his lab

D

r Arogyaswami J Paulraj may appear quiet yet inscrutable to many people, but his wife Nirmala always knew exactly when things went very wrong at work. “Whenever he is stressed he gets physical problems,” she says. “His knees gave out. He doesn’t show emotion — get angry — (but) it shows in his body. Every time he has a serious (problem) I know because something goes really wrong in his body. (Laughs) His immune system shows what is going on in his (points at the head).” Nirmala, who is more outgoing, does not mind much. “I’m used to it,” she says, describing how her father, Brigadier R A Rajan, was compelled by service rules never to discuss work issues at home. Professor A J Pauraj with his wife Nirmala. Paulraj and Nirmala met at social occasions was why she was in Delhi. in Delhi, since they were from the same tiny group of Paulraj and Nirmala were married February 5, 1973, in Tamil Catholics, and because he was at IIT-Delhi and she Secunderabad, with relatives taking expensive flights over was studying at the Lady Sriram College there. to avoid their trains being waylaid by Communist guerrilBut the marriage was decided by their families. The la groups active in the area. father of one of Paulraj’s relatives who had married At IIT, she was impressed that her husband’s uniform Nirmala’s uncle thought the match would work. Her earned him a respect mere students could not get. And as father wanted someone from the armed forces for his two time passed, she got used to his quiet nature, workagirls. So Paulraj fit the bill. The second daughter, Hema, holism and absent-mindedness. went on to marry an officer in the Madras Sappers. She discusses a story about him preparing to go off for a Her father also insisted that every girl ought to get a meeting on his trusty Lambretta scooter. bachelor’s degree in education or go for medicine, particuHe put on his helmet, went downstairs and then came larly if they were going to marry service officers, which

right back up to ask for his keys, which he had a tendency to lose. After hunting desperately he was in despair about how he would make the appointment. Until he thought of looking in the helmet — where he’d kept the keys to avoid losing them. She said they had a nice social life, especially while they were based at the Southern Naval Command in Kochi. But Paulraj did tend to say goodbye to the hosts and then ride off alone, leaving her behind. “I learned early on to do things on my own,” she says and jokes about the time when a Telugu couple saw them, the woman told her husband in their native tongue, not realizing Nirmala was a South Indian, too, ‘This is the lady who comes and sits alone for movies.’ “He’d drop me at the movie and go to the lab. He’d finish and pick me up,” she says with a shrug, palms upward. “I don’t mind. It became part of my life. (But) for them it was: COURTESY: A J PAULRAJ ‘No lady goes alone for a movie’.” Nirmala cites what Dr Sanjay Gupta said on CNN about the long hours he keeps: ‘I steal from my family.’ Usually navy families would be back home together by 2 pm. “(While other) couples sat on the verandah drinking tea, he would be out (at the lab),” she says. But that wasn’t an issue for her. “I didn’t make him feel guilty.” She laughs and turns to Dr Paulraj: “Isn’t that true?” She says, “As you grow older you have more expectations. If you are young, (you accept things as they are, say) this is the life, and you carry on.” n

‘He’s very good at going out and making friends’

f PAGE M35

went along. For all his achievements, back in school Kailath himself used to only squeak by in math, though he excelled in other subjects. For a change to come about, it took the presence of a tyrant of a math teacher, who told him rather signifi-

cantly at the beginning of a year that he looked forward to working with Kailath because he was the first in class. “I worked very hard and began to like math,” says Kailath, now a giant in the business, and, correspondingly raising the stock of some tyrant math teachers at least. Kailath also has been known to promote his team relentlessly for academic honors, Maitra points out. That push, along with Paulraj’s own efforts, helped him get elected to the National Academy of Engineering after just 14 years of being fulltime in the US. Usually, admission

depends on 20 to 30 years of high-quality work. Kailath describes Paulraj as a very serious workaholic, and as a kind and good-hearted person who goes out of his way to help colleagues and friends. Paulraj has become far more relaxed in the last few years, he says, perhaps a result of a mix of being vindicated, feted by people who actually understand how he works, or being called on by industry leaders to start new endeavors. For a man of 70 who relied more on work than networking skills to get ahead, that must be particularly gratifying. n


M41 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD PUBLISHERÊS SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE 2013 ANURADHA BHAGWATI

Courtesy: sWAN

SEMPER FIDELIS


M42 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD PUBLISHERÊS SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

VANITA GUPTA (2004) Lawyer

She witnessed daily sexism, harassment, homophobia and racism, all a betrayal of the supposed values of the military. Anuradha Bhagwati tells Arthur J Pais that she just couldn’t sit still when she saw injustice. The fascinating story of the former Marine who embodies Semper Fidelis and is the winner of the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2013.

ANURAG KASHYAP, ALIYA DERI, SAMIR SUDHIR SHAH, RAJIV TARIGOPULA (2005) spelling Bee stars SUNITA WILLIAMS (2006) Astronaut

RENU KHATOR (2007) President and Chancellor, university of Houston JHUMPA LAHIRI (2008) Pulitzer Prize winner and Novelist

MADHULIKA SIKKA (2009) executive Producer, NPr RAJU NARISETTI (2009) then Managing editor, the Washington Post ABHIJAT JOSHI (2009) screenwriter

Courtesy: sWAN

Anu Bhagwati, right, become a captain in the Marine Corps and the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts program instructor training school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. she left the Marines in 2004 with an honorable discharge after being in the Corps for five years

W

hen Anuradha K Bhagwati joined Yale University to study English literature some friends and family thought she was going to follow in her parents footsteps into academics. She surprised them, and surely her parents — Columbia University Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai — by joining the United States Marine Corps. She went on to become a captain, the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts program instructor training school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. People who did not know the turmoil she was undergoing in the Marines and her frustration and anger at not being able to get justice for the women victims of sexual harassment and assault thought she was going to be serving in the military for some more years — or even seek a full-time career. But in 2004 Bhagwati, better known by her shortened name Anu, got an honorable discharge after being in the Marines for five years and began to study at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, focusing on international human rights policy. Perhaps, some might have thought, she was thinking of running for Congress or preparing for a key position in the government. She surprised many by turning to activism, and taking on, with

the help of her newly floated organization, Service Women’s Action Network, the most powerful military in the world. SWAN had many big battles on its hands. It sought to heal veterans through a helpline and legal sources. Bhagwati would not only speak on behalf of harassed, battered and sexually exploited women, she would also teach them yoga and offer her own narration — of being healed physically and emotionally through yoga after she quit the Marines. Her interest in helping military service members who have survived sexual assault comes from her first-hand experience of the problem in the Marine Corps. At the time, there were few places where Bhagwati — or the many women and men in the same situation — could turn. But now she is waging a fierce war from outside the armed forces The Marines are responsible for the seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and other land operations. They develop tactics, technique, and equipment used by amphibious landing forces in PAGE coordination with the Army, Navy and Air Force. M43 Bhagwati was one of the more than 200,000 women in the active-duty military, including 69

g

SHEENA IYENGAR (2010) s t Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division, Columbia Business school SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE (2010) Pulitzer Prize winner and Assistant Professor of Medicine, Columbia university  VIJAY IYER (2010) Grammy-nominated jazz musician NEERA TANDEN (2011) President, Center for American Progress AMRIT SINGH (2012) Human rights Lawyer

Anuradha Bhagwati For being a forceful voice for women in uniform; for spearheading reform to end sexual violence and discrimination in the armed forces; for being an agent for change for a better military.


M43 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M42

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

generals and admirals. A quick look at women in the military, according to Pentagon figures, recently quoted by CNN: About 203,000 in 2011, or 14.5 percent of the active duty force of nearly 1.4 million, that number comprises about 74,000 in the Army, 53,000 in the Navy, 62,000 in the Air Force and 14,000 in the Marine Corps. hanks to the fight a handful of people like Bhagwati started against sexual assault in the armed forces, and T their success in taking the fight to Congress, major newspa-

pers and television stations have been running stories and reporting court cases against the government. The military, as films like The Invisible War  and articles in Rolling Stone magazine show, has a rape problem of epidemic proportions. It is estimated that one in three military women are raped by fellow defense personnel, twice the number of their civilian counterparts. One survivor of multiple rapes quoted in a Rolling Stone article calls the military a ‘giant rape cult.’ In 2010, the Department of Defense found that 19,000 service members were sexually assaulted. Of those a paltry 3,100, or 13.5 percent, were reported, and of those only 17 percent were prosecuted. All too often, critics of military justice say the attackers receive a slap on the wrist while their victims lose their careers and their futures, sometimes falling into homelessness, despair and suicidal thoughts. Bhagwati and other activists say that thousands of men and women who are the victims of sexual assault do not report their humiliation, trauma, physical injuries and fears because of this. Bhagwati’s fight is backed by a handful of members of Congress who have initiated efforts to curb the widespread abuse. Though her efforts failed, United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will be remembered for introducing legislation to change the way the military handles allegations of sexual assault. She believed — and Bhagwati backed her efforts — the military action against erring sexual predators and assaulters in the armed forces should be “more parallel to the civilian system.” As her proposal was making rounds, the Pentagon said that 26,000 troops last year  claimed anonymously to be sex assault victims (up from 19,000 in 2011). ‘Sexual violence in the military is not new. And it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long,’ Gillibrand had announced. ‘Congress would be derelict in its duty of oversight if we just shrugged our shoulders at these 26,000 sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and did nothing. We simply have to do better by them.’ Thanks to the fight mounted by Bhagwati, Gillibrand and some others, we now hear the voices of the victims in the mainstream media. Bhagwati, who details in the interview below her fight against sexual assault and harassment, which she started while serving the Marine Corps, has spoken at length about her experience to the media. She understands people like Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry, who spoke of some of her experiences in Iraq to the BBC: ‘Everybody’s supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers — that’s so you don’t get raped by one of the men on your own side. But because I was the only female there, I didn’t have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.’ Bhagwati testified in Congress on behalf of sexual victims.

Courtesy: sWAN

Anu Bhagwati marches with sWAN at the Veterans Day Parade in New york in 2011. sWAN has raised attention about issues affecting women in the military. With a small staff and a modest office in New York, she sought to engage policy makers to bring about positive change in the military. Her work began getting the attention of America’s most powerful media, especially when SWAN joined like-minded organizations and sued the government. A lawsuit on behalf of 16 military rape survivors, filed in 2011 against the Department of Defense for not only failing to prevent rape and sexual assault, but also of mishandling cases brought it attention. She said it ‘really rocked the system.’ She had also told Nobel Women’s Initiative, ‘It was the first time that the Department of Defense in the United States ever responded in the proper way, not making excuses for itself, finally recognizing that it has a lot of work to do.’ Recently, SWAN and another veterans groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming VA experts make it far tougher for military rape victims to prove their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms were caused by sex assaults suffered in the ranks. Like PTSD victims, Bhagwati too underwent emotional disturbance and physical injury. She knows what it means to feel like one’s life or the lives of others are in danger, or that one has no control over what was happening, some of the symptoms of PTSD. VA officials regularly impose a higher burden on military rape survivors than they do all other Veterans when it comes to verifying their reports of post-traumatic stress disorder, per the lawsuit. That disparity was a form of ‘discrimination,’ the advocates asserted, and violated the Fifth Amendment.

‘There’s the devastation that happens with the military from that horrible (sexual) violation,’ she was then quoted as saying in the media. ‘There’s another betrayal that often happens when their commander or your fellow service members don’t believe you. And there’s the third betrayal from the VA … The Veterans Benefits Administration is really where hope goes to die.’ She has not only spoken of harassment of women in the armed forces and their victimization but has also discussed domestic violence in the Marines. Asked by a reporter about men facing sexual harassment in the Marines, she did not hesitate to admit that men too faced sexual harassment, and if their numbers were big, she said, it was because of the larger number of men in the services. She will readily acknowledge that SWAN is putting up an uphill fight, but she has no plans to slow down. She has spoken to thousands on challenges faced by military women, including access to combat assignments, military sexual violence, the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, reproductive justice and the VA health care and benefits system. A regular contributor to the media, she has been featured widely in mainstream media as well as the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War. And she is seeing results. ‘You get calls, PAGE the e-mails; you get to know that people are M44 healing through this sort of acknowledgement,’ she told Nobel Women’s Initiative

g


M44 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M43

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

some time ago. ‘That our advocacy work is healing people is the greatest reward that you can get.’ Bhagwati still believes in the Marine motto of being always faithful, Semper Fidelis. But that also includes being faithful to the idea of a moral fighting force, of an institution without sexism, racism, male supremacy, and a culture of sexual harassment and assault. What is your typical week like? I don’t have a typical week. That’s one of the special things about our organization. We’re ready to respond to multiple needs. We do a lot of advocacy work on Capitol Hill. We do daily media work. We have reporters calling us everyday, sometimes several times an hour, asking for responses on breaking news. We’ve managed over the years to get a lot of attention raised to the issues of women in the military and it’s taken several years of really knocking on and breaking down doors in Washington to get people to care about these issues, and I think they finally care. (Whether or not they care for the right reasons, I don’t know. But they care, certainly, for their own electoral future. So, that’s saying something.) And so we are, several times a week, commenting in the press, about issues related to sexual violence, to issues pertaining to women in combat, to how women are treated by the Veterans Affairs Department, whether or not they’re getting their VA benefits approved by the government after they serve the country. Just this week (the interview was conducted May 2), we sued the government and we were talking to Pentagon officials about their annual sexual assault report (released in May). We were telling them what they did right and what they did wrong. We were all over the press talking about our lawsuit. We sued the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs for sex discrimination when it comes to how VA claims disability claims are awarded. We’ve been doing years of research with our attorneys at Yale Law School. We’ve banded together with another major veterans organization, Vietnam Veterans of America, to sue the government over these claims. We’re usually representing very traumatized veterans, veterans who have been betrayed in uniform, who have served their country and they’re not getting the recognition that they deserve either in the form of awards, or benefits or health care. These are mostly women who really loved wearing the uniform, really wanted to serve their country and they were betrayed in some way by the government. That’s the need that we fulfill. It requires a lot of courage to stand up to the military and sue the government. Where do you get your courage from? I think I get my courage from my mother. I didn’t really realize how much she had done in her own life until maybe 10 or 15 years ago. But she was quite the fighter. I remember experiences when I was in my early teens and I was a very shy and quiet person and so my mother was my main drill sergeant back then and really get me to conquer my fears — in a compassionate way, not like a drill sergeant actually does! No, my mother is not a tiger mother at all. But, she’s fierce, she’s fierce. She’s overcome a lot of obstacles over the years. She’s faced down demons in terms of abusive rela-

PAresH GANDHi

Anu Bhagwati, center, with her father Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, left; mother Professor Padma Desai, second from left; novelist salman rushdie, second from right, and tabla artist suphala at the india Abroad Person of the year celebrations in 2008. tionships, in terms of parental pressure, in terms of immigrating to this country and starting her own life and being one of the first women to earn a PhD in her field and so on and so forth. She is fierce. Even the way she cultivates younger women, that’s a huge responsibility. She never let me give up; she never let me let my fears take over. She especially cultivated my skills in the area of speaking out loud and being heard. She didn’t want me to let the boys in my class dominate the conversation. If I had something to say, she wanted to make sure I learned how to say it. When the thought came to my head, she made sure I learned how to raise my hand and not be afraid to speak. So, I get special joy in trying to help other young women and girls in doing what my mother helped me with. People sometimes meet me and assume I came out of the womb with a complete lack of fear. I wasn’t like this when I was a young girl. I was shy; I was scared; I was quiet. I have really had to work at it. You studied literature, right? Did you think at that time that you would go into this kind of work? I studied English at Yale. When I was growing up, a teenager, a young person, I was always interested in issues of equality and justice. But I didn’t really know what that meant. It hurt me when other people were hurting. That was a part of me even when I was a kid. It can be a blessing and a curse to always feel what people are feeling. Well, I think I feel people’s pain; it is empathy. Empathy can be a blessing and a curse because it weighs on you. But my military experience is really a place where I cultivated a sense of what it meant to speak truth to power because there was so much that was happening around me and to me on an hourly basis that was really wrong, that

really went against the code, the culture, that the military told us it was cultivating, or the traditions that it upheld. There was really so much hypocrisy. And having cultivated the ability to speak up when I saw things were wrong, I started speaking truth to power. It is a very risky place to be speaking truth to power within. But it needed to be done. I always felt a little bit like an outsider because I don’t look like the average soldier, obviously. In multiple ways I’m not the average soldier. So, I think that helped me cultivate the ability to speak frankly to people who had much more authority in the military than I did. It was very unusual for them to hear that. It was risky for my career every time I did it, but it had to be done. I don’t think I would have done it any other way. What did do you within the system to fight for justice? Well, it’s not like everyday that I opened my mouth and spoke up. There’s a great deal of indoctrination and cultivation of skills that help you survive in a military context that are antithetical to doing the right thing in a social justice context. Group-think is definitely cultivated. It can be a powerful tool when you need to follow orders. But summoning up the courage to speak out when your commander is telling rape jokes or when your fellow service member who has barged into a room and starts sexually assaulting your room mate — these are the things that happened to me early on, and those are just two of dozens of examples that I think off the top of my PAGE head. M45 You have to choose your words carefully. I attempted to speak to various people and

g


M45 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M44 was shut down, and so I was trying to navigate what it meant to witness abuse or witness inappropriate behavior or criminal behavior and to be shut down. It was really normalized, so that the act of speaking out is like an act of whistle blowing every time you speak. I remember I was in a room filled with lieutenants, very early on. I was about six months in my service. There was a guest speaker and I raised my hand and asked a question that was on my mind just like my mother had taught me. I asked when women would be allowed to serve on submarines and the entire room started booing and hissing. These were my fellow lieutenants. These are the guys I serve with. I just kind of stood there and took it and sat down, and I don’t remember what the guest speaker said. It was certainly wasn’t another decade or so (ago) until that happened, in part thanks to advocacy work like ours. It was a very hostile work environment. Being a woman in the Marine Corps is an act of survival, there’s no question about it. There’s so few of us, so we’re scrutinized, we’re sexualized, we’re exploited. It’s a very hostile environment. How did you survive those years? There is some amount of despair that grew inside of me because there was a lot that was wrong and I was feeling it, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Every time I spoke out I was not treated well. I don’t know. Maybe in 40 years I’ll know. (Pausing to contemplate) There’s some sense that there is something more important than this uniform; there’s something more important than the name Marine; there’s something more important than the words I’m required to say because I wear the uniform or the orders I’m required to follow. It’s deep stuff. You’re really indoctrinated on a cellular level. I think your DNA changes when you’re in uniform. You really don’t respond to normal human circumstances in the same way, after you get out. And I don’t think there’s really a good understanding of that. I was really going through a hard, lengthy experience with sexual harassment in my unit. There was an officer sexually harassing all of the women in my unit and I was supervising him. My commander was punishing me for raising the issue. So I ended up filing this huge outside investigation, raising a stink and I knew this was a career ender and all this... but it’s something I had to do. It was just absurd. There was a huge cover up, and I went all the way to the top of the Marine Corps. Frankly, I think I shocked the hell out of everybody in the entire organization. It’s a small organization, the Marine Corps. Yeah, I went out with a bang. It’s a miracle I got an honorable discharge. There was so much hostility against me among the higher brass for exposing this lieutenant for what he was doing. It took about 10 years… I just found out last year that basically what I did stunted his career. It didn’t get him kicked out, but he would have much more rank at this point, much more power, much more influence had I not spoken up. I think he absolutely did continue his abuse. There’s no question of that. But the authority that he wielded was a little bit less because I spoke up. He could have had command of a battalion by now, if I hadn’t spoken up. But that never would have happened because he was not promoted. What helped you when you were going through this despair? I think this is human courage stuff. There’s no god I

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

Courtesy: sWAN

A stunning moment of symbolism as the military top brass watch Anu Bhagwati testify at the senate Armed services Committee’s Personnel subcommittee hearing on Military sexual Assault in 2013. turned to. Family didn’t understand; they had no idea what I was doing or what I was going through. It was the hardest time I experienced in my life at that point. You know, just keeping yourself together. I was a commander, so I was in charge of my entire unit at the same time that I was going through all this. I had to keep it together. So, I was not about to break down in front of my troops. How many soldiers were under you? How many of them were women? About 450 were under me. It (number of women and men) differed month to month when we were training. More than gender, at that point, those kids were so young, 17 or 18 and straight out of high school. They saw me as kind of a god. When you’re an 18-year-old private in the Marine Corps, you look at a captain and think he or she is some kind of deity. We command fear, just based on rank. And you felt more despair because they looked up to you, and you could only do so much? It was my staff I was most concerned about: The women sergeants, the corporals, the 20-something year olds who were in charge of all these kids. They were the ones being harassed, these sergeants and corporals, by this predatory lieutenant. They were the future leaders of the Marine Corps and they were being harassed by this god awful lieutenant (the same lieutenant she mentioned earlier) who was given a lot of leeway because he was a lieutenant and was also considered at that point a war hero because he came back from Iraq with a lot of medals. So, the brass was protecting him. They were also protecting themselves from a public scandal. He had a lot of issues with women that I found out about. The idea that he worked for me was probably the biggest

insult he had ever faced at that point. To be an infantry officer working for a woman, just imagine his horror. You had many more things going against you apart from your gender. You came from a minority community and there were hardly anyone like you in the Marines. I was probably considered a freak of nature. There was a kind of running joke in some of the units I was in; people thought I was a spy because somebody like me would never have otherwise joined the Marine Corps, I was told regularly. Because I did not talk like other Marines, I think I inspired some contempt among a lot of guys that I served. So, it was an experience! Then, of course, I served when 9/11 happened. I started seeing some pretty awful things among my peers. Racism quickly rises to the surface. I think it would have been a little different if I were a man serving at that time in uniform. I know some of my peers who were Arab American, Muslim American — they got a lot of heat, faced a lot of racism from other folks in the ranks. When Abu Ghraib happened, that was a hard moment, that was a hard moment. People did not hide their racism well; not that I want anybody to hide their racism. I prefer that they weren’t racist. But, things changed and that’s the kind of thing I saw, that’s the kind of thing I would try to check, wouldn’t let pass. I would speak out against that. But, it got to be a lot. Did you as yourself at that time why you got into this? What was that you liked about PAGE being in the Marines? M48 I loved what I was doing. I loved commanding troops. I was very good at my job.

g


Response Feature

M46

SANKARA NETHRALAYA Dr. SS Badrinath

orld-renowned ophthalmologist, Dr. SS Badrinath is the driving force behind the many accomplishments of the Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai, a charitable not-for-profit eye hospital. It was his vision and leadership that was responsible for the tremendous growth of the hospital from its humble beginnings in 1978. With a staff of just three consultants at its inception, the hospital has now grown into a multi specialty institute for ophthalmic care with 80 consultants and over 1200 employees. For over three decades, Dr Badrinath strived relentlessly to provide quality ophthalmic care to the underprivileged. And today the hospital serves over 1500 patients a day from both India and abroad. More than 100 surgeries are performed every day and of these 40% are done free of cost. Dr. Badrinath has been honored with innumerable Awards including the prestigious Padma Sri and Padma Bhushan for his tireless efforts. At 74, Dr Badrinath, the Chairman Emeritus of Sankara Nethralaya, is still an integral part of the organization. In this interview with India Abroad, Dr Badrinath tells us how it all started, the dayto-day running of the hospital, the Research Foundation and their hugely successful pioneering programs to provide mobile eye care to the rural population.

W

Tell us a bit about how it all started? After I graduated from Madras Medical College in 1963, I went to the United States to do my internship at the Glasslands Hospital, New York. Following this, I applied for a fellowship program with the legendary Dr. Charles Schepens in a specialty called the vitreoretinal surgery at the Retina Service of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, Massachusetts. But one of the conditions under which they accepted me was that I

promise to return to India. Keeping my promise, I returned to India in 1970. I started my own private practice in Chennai and was doing quite well. In 1974, I had the opportunity to perform a small surgery on Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekerendra Saraswathi Swamigal, the 68th Peetathipathi of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. The surgery went on well and Swamiji blessed me saying that I would do well in life. In 1975, one year later, the present Peetathipathi, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi called a group of doctors in Chennai city and spoke to us about the need to create a hospital with a missionary spirit. At that time, it was extremely difficult to mobilize doctors of various specialties to start a General Hospital. So in 1978, I took the initiative and along with a group of philanthropists founded the Medical & Vision Research Foundations, of which the Sankara Nethralaya is the Hospital Unit. The people who made it happen. I did not have money and could not have started this by myself. Over the years, there have been many who have helped us. The great Nani Palkhivala (eminent jurist) called me one day from Bombay and was very surprised to learn that all the consultants at the Institute worked for a salary. He was deeply moved and wanted to support us. In the first year he gave us all the stocks he owned, the following year he gave us all the ready cash he had, and eventually donated his entire property to Sankara Netralaya. He was very encouraging and supportive and because of him a lot of other people from Bombay too came forward to help us. One other patron, we are forever indebted to is C U Shah, a businessman from Bombay, who donated 10 lakh. 10 lakh was a huge amount back in 1978. We named our post graduate medical department after him; it is called the C U Shah

India Abroad June 27, 2014

Ophthalmic Postgraduate Training Center. Do you feel you have done what you set out to achieve in 1978? Sankara Netralaya has seen a phenomenal growth since its inception in 1978 and this is only due to the blessings of Swami Jayendra Saraswathi. Our institution is a blessed institution; Swamiji had said that as long as the Sun and Moon shine, our institution would do well. Being a charitable hospital, how do you keep up with the ever-changing technology? We call our institution ‘an organization for the public and by the public’. Sankara Nethralaya requires all the help and support from the community that it can get, especially when we need to expand or buy new equipments. We need to keep up with the latest in technology and most of the equipments are very expensive and need to be imported. We welcome all levels of donation. In fact, even in America, we have a registered society called Sankara Nethralaya Ophthalmic Mission Trust, which has 100% IRS exemption. But we do make some profit from the paying patients, and that money is not taken away by the doctors, or shareholders or board members. The entire money is pumped right back into the organization. The Medical Research Foundation. At Sankara Nethralaya we started doing research right from the beginning. Our institution is actually registered as Medical Research Foundation. . We created Vision Research Foundation as a sister organization of the Medical Research Foundation. We have been given an income tax exemption by the government, our organizations qualifies for deductions to the tune of 175%, which is passed to the donor. This has worked very well for us and we have been able to collect a large amount of donation. We have slowly created a separate building for the research, which is known as Kamalnayan Bajaj Institute for research in vision and ophthalmology. All the various departments of Research such as genetics, histopathology, molecular biology and ocular pathology are located here. The Teaching and Training programs undertaken at Sankara Nethralaya. Our institution is recognized by The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University and right from its inception, we have been offering Fellowship programmes in Vitreo-Retinal Surgery, Cornea, Oculoplasty, Glaucoma, Uvea and General Ophthalmology to Postgraduates and Diploma holders in the field of Ophthalmology. At any given time, about 90 postgraduate students are working in our institution. They do clinical work, help with the patients and also assist in surgeries. In the year or two that they spend with us, they get exposure in every aspect of running a hospital. Tell us about your pioneering projects like India’s first Mobile Refraction Van and the Mobile Eye Surgical Unit. The Mobile Surgical Unit is an interesting concept, which we developed in association with IIT Madras. About 10 years ago, the government of India had made it mandatory that all cataract operations have to be done only in big hospitals. No surgery was permitted in camps like school buildings or marriage halls etc. A very good reason for this was to safeguard the interest of

the patients and to provide quality care. But a large number of people in India live in distant remote villages and tribal areas, which do not have access to such well equipped hospitals. So we designed these specially equipped vans, where the doctor could perform the surgery in a perfectly safe environment using the latest equipments. This is extremely cost effective and the patients love it. We also provide postoperative care. In the last two years, since we started, we have done about 900 operations in various villages in Tamil Nadu. Sankara Nethralaya has proved to the local people and also the government of India that it is possible to perform cataract surgery in villages too by using the Mobile Ophthalmology Theater. Patients can undergo complete comprehensive eye examination at our Mobile Refraction Van, which is one of our very successful pioneering projects. This project was started at a small village called Bellur, Karnataka, in honor of B. K. S. Iyengar, a world renowned Yoga Master. The results of the examination are beamed to our main Hospital in Chennai via satellite. This is what we call as Teleophthalmology. The person who performs the examination is not a doctor, we do not have too many doctors available in India, but we do have people trained in the examination process. We examine them and tell them what to do. The patient can also talk to the doctor in the city and get their questions answered. This Van is also a boon to those who require glasses. We are able to provide about 60 glasses per day. What is your future vision and strategy for the hospital? We started a branch in Kolkata, where we see about 500 patients a day, but the demand is very high in Kolkata, so we decided to open another branch. Work has already started and the building is likely to be inaugurated in March 2015. Research is another department we plan to concentrate on. At the Vision Research Foundation, we are committed to a lot of new research. We are researching tumors, such as, Retinoblastoma (a malignant tumor of the eye affecting children) and Melanoma. We also plan to start a center in Chennai for performing Modified osteo-odontokeratoprosthesis (MOOKP) surgery for corneal blindness.


M48 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M45 But for me, I think, there was always a higher calling. I love taking care of people, I love serving them. There were just some phenomenal young people that I’ve met, a lot of people that I learned from; talented, selfless people that I wouldn’t have met had I just stayed doing what I was doing before the Marine Corps. I was really humbled serving in the Marine Corps. I met a lot of decent, hardworking human beings. Give me a few examples of decent human beings…. There were a lot of great Americans from other parts of the country that I probably never would have met in school, never would have met in NYC, or anywhere really. Americans with good old-fashioned values, you know. They were people who believed in kindness and family and doing the right thing: Not in showing off, or earning accolades. They were just good people trying to lend a hand. Some of the folks who inspired me the most were young enlisted women. You could just see them leading these young kids around. They could do anything in their lives. They had this incredible leadership potential. That was the biggest joy, seeing that happen. Yeah, women leading others. Women are always undervalued, always underestimated. At the time that I was serving, I was serving in a billet, which only men had really held before me. I always tried to serve in the billets, in the job assignments that were off limits to women. Now, some of those assignments that were off limits are finally open to women, thankfully. It took some of SWAN’s work and our partners’ work to make that happen. So these women were pushing the envelope and then these infantry guys — the infantry makes up the heart and soul of the Marine Corps; they are considered the Navy Seals of the Marines — they were really shocked and impressed. And they were shocked that they were impressed. Wow! She’d make a good grunt, which means a good infantryman. These women were working their asses off — they didn’t complain; they made the guys work harder because the guys feared being outperformed by the women. It’s really, really amazing to see that kind of talent. What would you tell young women and men who want to join the Marines? The answer to that question is always evolving. I would say to young women that if this is the thing what you really want to do, do it with your eyes wide open. Go in there, well-trained physically, outperform the guys and be ready to face a whole lot of bullshit, because you will. You will face things you should not have to face and there are doors that have not yet opened and it will probably drive you crazy because you deserve to have them opened, you deserve the right to qualify for any job that the guys have. That’s the kind of thing that drove me crazy. The military doesn’t know how to manage its own people. Why would it limit people’s potential so much by closing these jobs to women who are qualified? The answer to men: I feel that a lot of men join the military to explore their masculinity, to have something that’s missing in them validated. I think it’s a risky business. There is a lot of courage in joining the military, but I feel today’s military is entrenched in sexist attitudes. I really don’t want to see another genera-

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

Anu Bhagwati speaks to West Point cadets at the Margaret Corbin Forum in New york. she tells young women that if they enter the military they must do it with their eyes wide open: “Go in there, well-trained physically, outperform the guys and be ready to face a whole lot of bullshit, because you will.” tion of men indoctrinated in those attitudes anywhere, frankly. I didn’t meet enough men who challenged those attitudes inside the military. I think men who are willing to speak up and do the right thing are increasing. But the military still cultivates and condones those attitudes. It’s a sad thing because veterans put a lot on the line and it’s hard to kind of gain back that sort of sense of compassion for one’s fellow human beings and respect for women. It’s a whole another world of hyper-masculinity and aggression and I do feel that people often join to fill some kind of void or emptiness in them, or to cover up or heal some kind of wound. That goes for men as well as women who join. But I believe that people should follow their dreams. People are so young when they join the military for the most part. And the military is not an institution that’s particularly open minded. So, what you get when you are 18 may just stick for a while. What you are indoctrinated with at 18 gets wrapped in a lot of bravado, in a lot of pride. You start believing in it. It’s a whole paradox for me. I can’t speak for others. For me, loving what the institution represents while recognizing everything that’s wrong with it is completely paradoxical. It’s a lot to integrate. It’s the work of a life time, really. To be indoctrinated in violence and to work toward compassion at the same time is hard work. I don’t know how the human psyche integrates these two worlds. These are some of the themes I wrestle with as I study yoga and practice meditation. What did you do once you left the Marines? How did SWAN come to be born? I went to grad school at Harvard University. But like many veterans, I was dealing with unresolved feelings and experiences from the Marine Corps. So, I wasn’t really present in grad school, the Kennedy School for Public Policy, even though I was in grad school.

Courtesy: sWAN

Like all things, and like with all human experience, if you don’t resolve things, they’re going to come to the surface eventually. I finished Grad School, but I was still very angry, still very upset and hurt, still dealing with all of these feelings of betrayal from the Marine Corps. So, I met some other women veterans and realized that they were feeling very similarly, not necessarily for the same reasons, but they were feeling the kind of betrayal and double standards and the denial that their service meant anything and was as worthy as men’s service. That kind of thing. So a few of us banded together and SWAN came out of these gatherings of women who wanted to support women. When I took over, I really wanted to attack the problem at its root, rather than just deal with traumas and inevitable effect or impact of service. If women are traumatized because they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted or they’ve been discriminated against, why not stop the discrimination at the root, instead of serving them after they get out. So, we organized and strategized and took our fight to Washington DC. That really had never been effectively (done), not for women in the military. Did anyone tell you it can’t be done? You know it’s interesting. From the women veterans community itself there was so much antagonism, initially, in terms of what we were doing. I think many of them felt very nervous and conflicted about us calling attention to abuse of women in the military. Women in the military don’t want to be seen as different. They don’t want to draw PAGE attention to themselves. They certainly M49 don’t want to be seen as victims. So there is, again, this inherent paradox of wanting to

g


M49 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M48

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

call attention to the strength of women who hippies. He was such a fun-loving, warm serve in the military and recognizing at the and joyful guy, apparently. I never met him. same time that many of them may be victimI think I was drawn to his school because ized. I came out of the Marine Corps. And, there Both of these things are true at the same are some very dogmatic schools of yoga time. That’s a lot to swallow for anyone and here; there are yoga drill instructors and so we took on these issues knowing full well boot camp styles of yoga. that we may not have support of an entire Of course, there’s some good debate out community of women in the military or there about whether that’s “real” yoga. But I women veterans. But that there were enough said, I don’t want that, I don’t need that. I women who were impacted by these issues, just came from that. I don’t need to do including us, that this was worth pursuing. pushups and break myself. So, we took on the most controversial issues. I have done all that and then some and We took on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ during the guess what, it worked: I’m really injured time when it was not okay among the comnow and wounded from a bunch of things. munity of military members or veterans that It’s time to cultivate the stuff that has nothgay people would serve in the military. ing to do with the body. We took on the issue of women being And so, Satchidananda’s school is known denied combat positions; even though they as Integral Yoga. It has a very heartful, comwere being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, passionate feel to it. You come as you are, they were not being allowed to officially serve and cultivate how to create more ease in in certain combat units. So, women in the your life. This is good stuff… military, also women veterans were very kind I do not need to know how to do a perfect of gun shy of taking on that issue. Courtesy: sWAN downward dog. I don’t care. How does that I think it’s symptomatic of many oppressed Anu Bhagwati not only speaks on behalf of harassed, battered and sexually exploited women, she also make me a more peaceful human being, or populations to not want to be seen as victims happy human being? The truth is it doesn’t, but particularly for women in all-male institu- teaches them yoga and offers her own narration — of being healed physically and emotionally through not for me. tions or mostly-male institutions, you really yoga after she quit the Marines. And I had so many injuries. I was in the don’t want to be isolated or be seen as asking for Marine Corps and I was doing some crazy stuff, a closeagree with that, but I’ve seen far too much proof of it. more than you deserve. We did not have a lot of support, I combat program. I was injuring everything, left, right and Moral leadership still requires an act of whistle blowing, realize, in the beginning. We had to convince people that center. I can’t really run anymore. I can’t do a lot of things far too often. That means putting your neck out there. this stuff mattered. that normal people can do. So I ended up being forced to Your piece in the Huffington Post talked about the probThe biggest issue of all for us has been sexual assault in do these very slow, meditative things. Honestly, it was like lem of acknowledging being gay in the armed forces. the military. I cannot tell you how many people I have torture at first. You can’t run away from your problems as I knew gay people serving in uniform. My best friend was talked to over the years, when I first started this, who were much when you literally can’t run. gay. The whole thing was so odd to me that these incredible saying … Oh this is grossly exaggerated. This is not really To be forced to do something slow and meditative is quite service members lived in terror of being seen holding hands happening. an irony for the culture we live in... If we are not doing out in town. It was a horrible system. I’m glad that some of I’m talking about women who have served denying the something fast, something’s wrong with us. So, I’ve cultivatthat is over. prevalence of this crime. Some of these women were even ed a restorative yoga practice. B K S Iyengar really was the Tell us about how yoga has helped you overcome the physisexual assault survivors. You just look at them (and wonfather of that. cal injuries and emotional scars. der) what’s going on here? But that’s also a symptom of It’s so interesting because I have many identities when I For me, all of the work of letting go of wounds that have trauma and denial and wanting to belong. And the trauma practice and teach yoga because I am of Indian origin. happened in the military and wounds that have happened runs so deep. There are still so few women in the military; There are things I see and notice that might not be as obvibefore the military, that’s the real work of being alive. it’s hard for women to support women in the military. So ous to the American yoga community. Transformational work is when we change our own minds there’s a lot as with other populations that are marginalized Meditation is really one of the greatest gifts human — literally, our thought patterns — about how we treat ouror are in small numbers. It’s hard to support one another, beings have. I have never witnessed a more powerful tool selves and one another, that’s the real work for all of us. sometimes. for true, true self improvement and self I still teach yoga to veterans in New York City. They’re an We would not let that stop us… You sort of have this realization and self awareness. It is the waramazing group of students. instinct that you are not going to be supported by the rior path; it is the work of real warriors. It When I was a lieutenant and I had a few weeks (off from) majority. The whole idea is that you’ve got to change peois the hardest thing I’ve ever done. training, I went to the Sivananda Ashram in upstate New ple’s mind. In mindfulness, you get at the root of York; I was curious about yoga. I think I had some distant It took us about 5 years and here we are and all of these everything. The things you really don’t relatives who practiced yoga in India but no one I knew issues have been tackled head on. Have they been resolved? want to get at the root of, you get at the really well. It certainly didn’t come from immediate family. Not yet. root of. It’s the real mirror. It’s hard work. The ashram was run by a bunch of American dudes. It’s What SWAN did on these issues was speak up without So I sit with these Veterans, we talk about an interesting thing, experiencing American yoga as an apologizing. The military cultivates a lot of deferential attilife, we do these practices and life comes Indian-American. I’m an American kid, I’m Indian too. So, tudes. It’s how the chain of command operates. You take up, and trauma comes up, and pain comes it has been such a bizarre experience. orders; you’re not supposed to question authority. That up, and stubbornness and anger, everything Regarding yoga in the West, some of my teachers are works really well on the battlefield, but it does not work comes up and that’s our little laboratory for white American swamis; but they are ascetics just like ascewell when it comes to issues of civil rights or what I call improving our lives. tics anywhere in the world. The first swamis who came over moral leadership. PAGE How much have you healed? in the ’60s, there were a handful in the yoga community. I told the White House that the military teaches battleM52 I see a lot of things I didn’t used to see in One of Sivananda’s disciples, Satchidananda, spoke at the field leadership really, really well, but it does not teach myself. I think healing is work for a lifeWoodstock Festival. He indoctrinated a whole generation of moral leadership well at all. I think the military will not

g


M50 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She remains steadfastly committed to the fight’ Anu Bhagwati is there on the front lines, leading the charge on behalf of countless men, women and families, says US Representative Niki Tsongas

W

hen I first began working on the issue of military sexual assault almost seven years ago, it was not a well-known problem and the voices of those affected were but a whisper. Too many soldiers feared for their own safety and too many survivors feared retaliation if they came forward. I attended a luncheon at which a female soldier, who herself had never been assaulted, admitted to carrying a concealed knife with her on base because, as she said, she was more afraid of her own soldiers than she was of the enemy. But in recent years an intense public spotlight has been turned upon the military sexual assault epidemic. This is the result of tireless efforts on the part of numerous parties, from government to military to survivor organizations to survivors themselves. And Anu Bhagwati has been at the forefront of it all. Anu is a powerful leader who has helped amplify the voices of the brave survivors who have come forward to tell their stories. She has been instrumental in catching the attention of key decision makers and forcing them to look at the hard truths surrounding this crisis. Her efforts have helped lead significant reform on behalf of the men, women and families impacted by these terrible crimes. Through her own experiences as a former captain and company commander, Anu brings an informed voice to the conversation about military sexual violence and the place of women in our armed forces. She is a passionate advocate for improving the position of women in the military and ending sexual violence within the ranks of the armed services. She is an experienced, powerful speaker who recognizes the wholesale changes that must be made to our military with immediacy. In order to address sexual violence within the armed services, we need to transform the culture throughout the military. Meaningful and substantial reform that eradicates sexual violence from the armed services is only possible through persistent education and raising awareness of the issue. As one of the organization’s co-founders, Anu’s leadership at the Service Women’s Action Network has consistently helped bring important issues affecting military women and survivors of sexual violence and assault into the national discussion. Public awareness of the challenges facing today’s military will lead to informed discourse and put pressure on Congress and the military to enact meaningful reforms. As a co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus and author of several bills that combat sexual assault, I have had the pleasure of working with Anu to address this important issue. I have seen Anu’s work up close, and we have stood together to pass tough new laws focused on prevention and survivor support. Anu has been supportive of our bipartisan efforts in Congress to address the way the armed services handle issues of sexual violence, assault, and rape. She has always given her honest input, keeping the needs of survivors far ahead of politics.

Left, Anu Bhagwati with us representative Niki tsongas. Above, Bhagwati with us senator kirsten Gillibrand. Courtesy: CoNGressWoMAN Niki tsoNGAs’s oFFiCe

Anu and SWAN stood by us in 2011 when we passed the Defense STRONG Act, which included provisions that grant victims the right to a base transfer, the right to legal assistance, and the right to confidentiality when seeking assistance from an advocate. Over the years we have built on those protections through the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The 2014 NDAA made unprecedented changes to commander authority by removing the ability to overturn a jury verdict. The legislation also ensures that every military victim of sexual assault gets an attorney. These major steps forward would not have been possible without the unyielding advocacy of Anu, SWAN and others who have been so passionate about enacting positive change. Department of Defense reports over the past several years have highlighted the widespread and deep-rooted prevalence of sexual assault, perpetrated at every level and rank in our armed forces. This year, the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office found a rise in incident reporting, which possibly signals that legislative and military changes from recent years are having a positive impact. But it does not obviate the simple fact that these heinous crimes continue to occur at an alarming rate, to both men and women. This is not just an issue of personal safety, but has an impact on our national security. Our work on this issue is far from over. We must continue to fight this battle on all fronts, from prevention to prosecution to fostering an environment where men and women can come forward without fear of retaliation or repercussion. It is heartening to know that Anu remains steadfastly committed to the fight and is there on the front lines, leading the charge on behalf of the countless men, women and families impacted by these crimes. n US Representative Niki Tsongas, who become the first woman in 25 years to serve in Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when she was elected in 2007, represents the Massachusetts Third District. She also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Military Personnel Subcommittee.

Courtesy: sWAN

Anu has earned this award through her advocacy. she has taken on the issue of sexual assault in the us military and has taken it directly to the chain of command. she has advocated on behalf of victims, men and women who were subjected to the worst kind of violence, to make sure that justice is possible. she has advocated for reforms such as taking the decision making of whether or not to proceed to trial out of the chain of command and giving it directly to trained military prosecutors. she knows that until there is transparency and accountability justice can’t be done and she believes that these men and women who serve in our military deserve justice.

— Kirsten Gillibrand the us senator from New york had introduced the Military Justice improvement Act of 2013, a bill that would remove responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the military’s chain of command.


M51 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘The armed forces and the country need more people like Anu’ No one has been to articulate the issue of sexual harassment in the armed forces the way Anu Bhagwati does, Lawrence J Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, tells Arthur J Pais

Anu Bhagwati speaks with Major General Gary Patton, then director of the sexual Assault Prevention and response office, in March 2013. Lawrence korb, a former Assistant secretary of Defense, has said while many people have joined the discussion about sexual harassment in the armed forces, they have not been able to articulate issues the way Bhagwati does.

O

ver 10 years ago, Lawrence J Korb, a former naval officer and former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Ronald Reagan administration who was then serving as a senior fellow and director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, got a call from another member of the Council, a distinguished economist who was also a professor at Columbia University. “He said his daughter was thinking of joining the Marines,” Korb said of Professor Jagdish Bhagwati. “He wanted my thoughts on it. I said it was wonderful to hear that she would be serving her country as a Marine. I also said that among the armed forces, the Marines had the least number of women and it was tough for women to make progress there.” “Nevertheless, I also thought with her academic background, her intellect and her analytical thinking, she would make an excellent Marine, and I applauded her for her willingness to serve her country,” Korb recalled. Little did he know that a decade later, he would join former Marine captain Anu Bhagwati in the fight against sexual abuse in the American armed forces. Bhagwati is joined by a number of organizations, including American Civil Liberties Union, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Center for American Progress, where Korb is now a senior fellow. Two years ago, Bhagwati and Korb wrote a much-discussed op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, outlining their views on the problem of military sexual assault and suggesting solutions. This op-ed was reprinted many times, and continues to reverberate today. ‘Being sexually assaulted in the military is a unique experience; a victim cannot quit his or her job,’ they wrote. ‘You are forced to obey orders, even from your perpetrator, if he outranks you. The vast majority of victims are junior enlisted. They have very little freedom of movement, barely any privacy, and little authority to fight a system based on respecting rank and following orders.’ ‘Women and men who have been assaulted frequently say that they do not feel safe reporting their assault. Many have a well-founded fear of retaliation by their perpetrators, by their peers, and often by their own commanders. Survivors are often punished after reporting, including being forced to work with their perpetrators; charged for

MCNAMee/Getty iMAGes

“fraternization,” “adultery” or “conduct unbecoming;” demoted or denied promotions and awards; or discharged from service with a false mental health diagnosis.’ ‘Many survivors rightly perceive reporting (sexual assault) as a career-ender, whereas sex offenders thrive in this low-reporting, victim-hostile climate; they can target their victims and commit their crimes knowing that the chances of being caught and convicted are slim.’ Many people have joined the discussion about sexual harassment and related problems in the armed forces, Korb said, “but they have not been able to articulate the issues the way Bhagwati does. She also brings up her own experiences in witnessing this harassment and her ability to understand the problem.” It is never easy to speak out against these problems and fight them in the courts, but Bhagwati, he added, “has been raising awareness of military sexual assault and advancing solutions by allying with like-minded organizations and a few Congressional leaders, like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.” As Korb said during his address before the Service Women’s Action Network’s Truth and Justice Summit, he had realized even during his service in the Reagan administration that ‘without women it was clear we were not going to have the quality of volunteer military we needed.’ When Bhagwati wanted to join the Marines, Korb had the same thought. He sounded frustrated as he spoke

about the need to include more women in the higher levels of military. He was a participant in an effort to compile a list of qualified women who were subsequently passed over for promotion to general and flag officer positions, including a female Air Force officer who was also an astronaut, General Suzanne Helms. Korb pointed to his admiration of people like Bhagwati, and her dedicated work to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy against gays and lesbians in the armed forces: “When the government does not change its stand, when you don’t get satisfactory action from the executive branch of the government we take the recourse to the courts and ask them to interfere and Bhagwati has done that.” “The nature of the military is such,” he added, “that when you join it, you give up some of your rights, including the right to publicly condemn the actions of your superiors. Yet some people, like Bhagwati, had the courage to speak out about the wrongs they observed, even though it could result in disciplinary action. He also admires Bhagwati’s courage for beginning to fight military sexual assault while she on active duty in the Marine Corps and for continuing to fight vigorously through SWAN once she left the Corps, rather than pursuing more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. “The armed forces and the country need more people like Anu,” he said. n


M52 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013 Vietnam Veteran Marsha Tansey Four tells Arthur J Pais about fighting a very different fight alongside Anu Bhagwati

M

arsha Tansey Four, a Vietnam veteran and chair of the Women Veterans Committee, Vietnam Veterans of America, remembers seeing Anu Bhagwati nearly four years ago at a roundtable on women veterans hosted by then US Representative Bob Filner (Democrat from California). “I wondered why I had not her seen before,” Four — who was recognized by the White House as a ‘Champion of Change’ for women veterans last year and a

f PAGE M49

Sisters in arms Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Hall of Fame inductee — tells India Abroad. “Then I came to know that SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network) was a newer organization, but I also realized that Anu was fighting very hard to make it serve the women veterans. I also noticed she had real empathy, empathy and not sympathy, for the veterans’ plight, and she wanted to bring around real changes. We began our association talking about our shared experiences. I found her commitment and courage admirable and her love for humanity was inspiring.” Four, who has worked on a number of issues pertaining to the veterans, especially those who had become homeless and served them for 25 years, bonded quickly

time. I really do. And processing experiences are the work of a lifetime. Joy, and compassion, all of these things make themselves known more fully as you practice and cultivate them. These aren’t material “goals” you can achieve overnight. I came from a very Type A, go get them, go-accumulateyour degrees type of upbringing. I’m in a very different place now. I love the journey, it’s very fascinating, very provocative, learning and studying these practices. What are the books and films that have influenced you the most and in what way? BOOKS: Water Dancer by Jennifer Levin, about a marathon swimmer who overcomes her biggest fears — it still brings me comfort and inspiration; the poetry of the great feminist Robin Morgan; Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd about her work to end the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in New York City made me feel like I was not alone and that I too had a story to share;  The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which shook me to the core way back in high school; J D Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut — it’s probably not a coincidence that both of them were military veterans. Few fiction writers have connected with me on this level. TV SHOWS:  Scandal  by Shonda Rhimes, which is some of the greatest writing I have ever witnessed, and which makes me believe anything is possible in America; also  Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon, because Buffy and Willow still make me want to kick ass every day; and West Wing by Aaron Sorkin, because I am a crazy sort of policy wonk and idealist, and who doesn’t love C J Cregg? FILMS: Woody Allen’s films were a huge part of my life, because they helped explain the neurosis within my family and culture, but now you couldn’t pay me enough to see one of his movies. I had to tear down one of his movie posters in my apartment because I was so upset about his daughter’s allega-

with Bhagwati who was at least two decades younger to her. “We have built a sisterhood, a strong coalition between our associations,” she continues, “and Anu has played an important role in the process. There are times we wonder if we have the capacity to fulfill our responsibilities and duties towards the veterans. In those moments, we get quite a bit of strength from this sisterhood and sister organizations like the one Anu leads.” Bhagwati, Four says, subscribes fully to the idea that military sexual assault is a multi-generational issue and for decades, it has been swept under the rug. The problem affected men and women; of the 26,000 service members who reported unwanted sexual contact in 2011-2012, 52

percent were men. These assaults often result in devastating, long-term psychological injuries most notably post-traumatic stress disorder; sexual violence correlates with PTSD more highly than any other trauma, including combat, according to SWAN and VVA. Bhagwati has highlighted PTSD and the alleged reluctance by the Veterans Affair to deal with victims of the syndrome. A few months ago SWAN joined VVA in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs ‘for ignoring a petition on behalf of the thousands of veterans suffering from PTSD related to Military Sexual Trauma caused by military rape, harassment, and/or assault.’ “Anu and I share our journeys,” Four adds. “We learn from each other, we learn from our mistakes and we learn from our success. And we always know that we are there for each other, and make this world a better place for the veterans.”

‘The military teaches battlefield leadership really well, but does not teach moral leadership well’

Courtesy: sWAN

sWAN’s Veteran Day 5k swim Fundraiser. Anu Bhagwati, who started open water swimming a few years ago, loves swimming in the Hudson and in the ocean at Coney island.

tions of sexual assault and his terribly cruel response in The New York Times. No father who truly loves his daughter would have written that op-ed. Who are some of the leaders (and even ordinary men and

women, soldiers included) that have inspired you the most? Melissa Harris-Perry, who is hands down the most talented and thought-provoking news host on television today; Hillary Clinton, who has survived and risen above all of the challenges in her life and is still a force of nature; Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian writer and feminist who is still rabble rousing in Cairo; the television writer Shonda Rhimes, who dares to show us the inclusive America we can be; Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, the first AfricanAmerican female 4-star general officer in the US Armed Forces, who also commanded the ship that overtook Somali pirates; Allyson Robinson, a former Army officer who is an indomitable advocate for transgender rights both in and out of the military; former Sergeant Miranda Hamby, a kind soul and fearless Marine who really and truly was head and shoulders above her male counterparts. What gives you joy? I would say children, animals and old people. People at the beginning and the end of their lifetimes really say things as they are. I really appreciate authenticity. In our work at SWAN we deal with a lot of unauthentic people… working with the government, and media, and exploitation, it can be pretty toxic. So when I see very young and very old people putting their truth out there because that’s the way it is, it makes me hopeful. Indoctrination hasn’t yet taken hold of little people, and older people have gone beyond indoctrination and often come back to a place of truthfulness in the face of mortality; these people are in a place of real connection to what matters. And, I love the ocean. I started open water swimming a few years ago. Swimming in the Hudson is one of the most incredible things I have ever done, because you are just nothing out there next to the giant ships, and out at Coney Island you are just a little body in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s awesome!


M53 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She’s at her best when she has to step up, stand alone and be confrontational’ ‘She doesn’t take any guff from anybody regardless of how many stars they have on their shoulders. She’s incredibly strong, incredibly courageous and will go head to head with anybody to make sure that policies and legislation that can help, actually gets passed,’ SWAN’s Greg Jacob tells Arthur J Pais

G

reg Jacob, Policy Director, Service Women’s Action Network, served in the Marines for 10 years as an infantry man. He was stationed in Okinawa at about the same time as Anu Bhagwati.  They did not know each other then.  He didn’t meet her until later.  Jacob, who has been with SWAN for a little more than three years, came to it part time at first from a corporate job. “Anu had just taken over the organization a couple of years earlier and was interested in turning it into something that was a force for change, an agent for change within the military,” he says. “My experience in the military as a male and as an infantry man was different to hers largely because women are not allowed to serve in the infantry, which is something that we’ve been working hard to overturn.  And we’re actually well on our way to making that happen.” Jacob describes his job at SWAN as pushing the policy and advocacy work done in Washington, DC in working towards reforms for the military and the Veterans Administration. “Trying to make them better, safer, places for women to serve and to make sure that they are fair and honest when it comes to giving women the benefits that they have earned and that they deserve as Veterans,” says Jacob. “The systematic discrimination, harassments, racism, gender issues, misogyny — all those kinds of things Anu experienced head on while she was in the Marines and as a part of that institution, as part of the male patriarchy within that institution… I could definitely see that a lot of what she went through was difficult, it was unfair and it shaped a lot of where my feelings are on these issues.” So, when he had the opportunity “to come to work for SWAN, to come to work for Anu, go down to Washington, DC with her, talk to members of Congress, and push reforms through the Pentagon,” he continues, “it was a huge opportunity.” “Anu brings with her a tremendous amount of experience, credibility, a tremendous voice for women and for other

Courtesy: sWAN

the sWAN team — including Greg Jacob, right, and Anu Bhagwati, second from right — met Valerie Jarrett, second from left, senior advisor to President Barack obama, in June 2013. According to sWAN, they discussed transforming military culture, and focused on why the President should support military justice reform. under-represented members of the armed forces,” says Jacob, an imposing man with a preacher’s voice. “She advocates very hard for them.  She doesn’t take any guff from anybody regardless of how many stars they have on their shoulders.  She’s incredibly strong, incredibly courageous and will go head to head with anybody to make sure that policies and legislation that can help, actually gets passed.  That’s really been where I have seen her at her best, I think, (her best) is when she is in a situation that requires her to step up, stand alone and to be confrontational, to push these agendas and to push these issues forward.” “Because if somebody isn’t there making a fuss,” he continues, “then the change won’t happen — and, Anu is definitely not afraid to make a fuss about these issues.” Just to join the Marines is a pretty courageous act, he muses.  “To remain in the institution in the face of such discrimination, such sometimes outright hatred and disdain takes a lot of nerve and a lot of guts,” he adds.    “Then when she got out (of the Marines), it was very clear, especially to a person from the military, that it is very difficult to change the institution from the inside.  It’s almost impossible to change it from within. The best way to effect change is to change from the outside.  That’s what she did.” When Bhagwati left the military, “she stayed committed to seeing the institution become better because, ultimately, what’s going to make the military better is for it to be a

place where people can serve safely, can explore the limits of their creativity, their abilities and for the military to really truly become a meritocracy where people can advance on the basis of their own merits outside of all of these unfair and unequal types of policies.” How did she overcome the biggest odds against her? “There are a couple of things (that we must understand). The military is rooted in tradition and that tradition extends to a time when women had no freedoms and no choices in this country,” says Jacob. “It goes all the way back to the founding of this country.  There’s a lot of institutional tradition and institutional inertia.  The military doesn’t like change because it is afraid to change for the most part.  They’re afraid that in order to change they’re going to have to sacrifice certain aspects of their institution that have been proven to be effective over the years.” “I think what Anu’s unique perspective is is that she’s looking to improve the military.  She’s not looking to eliminate it.  She’s not looking for it to stop doing what it’s doing.  She’s wants the military to be a better place, a more effective institution and the way to do that is to tap into the talents, abilities and skills of every person whether they be a man or a woman.  For her, her motivation is not adversarial in reforming the military.  She wants to partner with them and make the military a better place.” n


M54 JuNe 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She says things that are very difficult to say and difficult to hear’ When you really love an institution, you want it to be its best self and you want it to change for the better. I think she’s very unafraid to make that happen,’ says Lauren Gray

L

auren Gray, who was the Communications Director at SWAN till recently, had heard about Anu Bhagwati’s work before she met her. “I followed her in the media,” she said, referring to the stories on Bhagwati’s advocacy in mainstream media. “I worked for a human rights organization in Philadelphia and was just very wowed by what a dynamic presence she was on the human rights scene,” Gray said recently, “Her ability to tell truth about institutions of power was very innovative and very brave!” You hear that refrain about Bhagwati’s bravery as an advocate again and again from the handful of people who work in her crowded, modest, office in Manhattan. Why did Gray think it was courageous for Anu Bhagwati

natural fit for her there which is amazing! “But I think that also, those same qualities led her to challenge the institution to be its best self and that sometimes institutions are resistant to change. She is very unafraid of change. She challenges us at the office every day to be our best selves. And, sometimes it’s very hard and very hard work. But that leads to an office environment where we are very proud of one another and work as a very strong team.” When Gray met service members or veterans, particularly women service members or veterans who found out that she worked with Bhagwati, “they were thrilled and amazed by the work that she does!” What are some of the things Bhagwati is most admired for in the veterans’ community or even in the Service ranks? “They find it very, very, important to have a central voice speaking on behalf of a lot of these issues,” Gray says, “She does an excellent job of representing them and making sure that when she does speak she is speaking for a plurality of voices within the military; not just from her own perspective but really also on behalf of what other Service women and women Veterans think.” The very first time Gray read about Bhagwati was in Courtesy: sWAN a very small magazine that was focused on women’s Anu Bhagwati addresses a sexual violence rally in New york City. the refrain about her bravery as an advocate for change and justice is heard again and human rights issues. “I remember finding her very compelling because she says things that are very difficult to again among her colleagues. say and difficult to hear and she says them anyway,” Gray adds with a smile. to join the Marines? “When you really love an institution, you want it to be its “There are very few women of color represented in the best self and you want it to change for the better. And I Marines,” Gray offered. “She is a natural leader and sought a leadership position in the Marines because that’s just part think she’s very unafraid to make that happen.” n of her nature. She challenges herself to take on physical as — Arthur J Pais. well as intellectual challenges and it was a very good and

‘Her clarity of expression is amazing’ Janet Samuels views Anu Bhagwati’s work from the perspective of a colleague and the mother of a veteran

W

hen I first met Anu (Bhagwati), several years ago, I was working for another non-profit organization and SWAN needed office space. They joined us and shared office space, and I came to know about her and the work that she was doing at that time.  I was so impressed with it.  It was also a world that I knew less about than I would wish to.  I learnt a great deal from her and her colleagues there before we parted ways and went to different offices. This past summer I spoke with Anu about coming to work with her at SWAN, and I decided to do so.  I have been on staff only since this summer.  I came to work here as the parent of a veteran and not as a veteran myself. At the time I met her (Anu), my son was on active duty on the first of what became two tours to Afghanistan. It was very helpful to me to understand the context in which he was serving and also some of the information that he was sharing with me at that time.  When he became a veteran, I

found an opportunity to begin to act on some of the things that I had learnt from him, which I thought were very important both as an American citizen and as a parent. I believe that we can have a better military in this country. Better in the sense, not necessarily in its ultimate performance in the field, but in its performance as an institution, which will then improve its performance in the field. I am a feminist, I’m a lifelong feminist, and I would like to create an institution in the military in this country that reflects those values as well. My son is working elsewhere assisting veterans in another manner.  But the way in which he most greatly helped me was in introducing me to women who were his colleagues and giving me an understanding of what it was like to be an enlisted person in the armed services of this country, which I did not know as much about.    My family had a military background, but that was somewhat distanced from me in age.  So, this was new to me through him.  But more importantly for me was as a woman, I believe that our military institution will be greatly improved by having an increased number of women in the military.  To do so, I believe we will have to create an unequivocal field of equality in which people can compete. In the way Bhagwati does her work, her clarity of expression — both spoken and written — are amazing. Her intellectual rigor with which she approaches any problem and the fairness with which she approaches that analysis and

her integrity as a human being in all this. She has a sense of humor, absolutely! I will say that my son’s background helped me get more at the jokes.  In fact, one of our jokes you see is directly behind me: We have a collection of little rubber ducks: One that is dressed in an army dress, one that is dressed as a Marine, one that is dressed as a navy person and one that is dressed as the air force.  I thought they were fun.  That’s the first joke. In the next five years, I believe we will be able to increase the areas in which we have been most strong, which is to educate the public and people in power about these issues, about these problems and help them understand that there are ways to make this better and the pathways through which they may do so.    I also hope very much that we will be able to engage many more members of the women veterans’ community in coming forward and doing this work and having their own voices as well and that is something SWAN is very interested in fostering in the future. There are obstacles and there have been obstacles and I believe that Anu would do two things: She would look to the past and see what achievements have been made during the period of time that she has been doing this work and there have been many.  I also think she will look to the present and our continuing close contact with members of the women veterans’ community and be inspired by them and continue to go forward.  I think those are two things that would help her. n Janet Samuels is Deputy Executive Director, Service Women’s Action Network. She spoke to Arthur J Pais.


M55 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD FACE OF THE FUTURE AWARD 2013 MANU PRAKASH

A BEAUTIFUL MIND

P rajendran


M56 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Such an awesome journey

Manu Prakash has been a tinkerer all his life. P Rajendran meets the inventor of the 50 cent microscope, the Foldscope, and the winner of the India Abroad Face of the Future Award 2013

W

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD FACE OF THE FUTURE AWARD MANJUL BHARGAVA (2008) r Brandon Fradd Professor of mathematics, Princeton university PRIYAMVADA NATARAJAN (2009) Professor, department of astronomy and Physics, yale university

hen Manu Prakash comes upon a bug, he NAVEEN SELVADURAI (2010) may do a variety Co-founder, Foursquare of things. He might pick it up and study it, he SHWETAK PATEL (2011) may have it skate across a plate macarthur Fellow and associate Professor, while he films how it works, find Computer science and ways to get it to light up in differengineering and electrical ent colors, see how much force it takes to suck up water, give it the engineering, university of Washington,  equivalent of human sweat to quaff its thirst... Or, if curiosity RAJ CHETTY (2012) overcomes caution, bite into it. macarthur Fellow and William Henry Bloomberg Manu is a scientist at Stanford Professor of economics, Harvard university University’s Department of Bioengineering who lives, breathes and, as mentioned, eats science. He recently gained fame for his revolutionary foldscope — a 50 cent microscope that has a Manu Prakash resolution equivalent to many in Courtesy: FoldsCoPe team For being a passionate laboratory and can fit in a child’s manu Prakash demonstrates a Foldscope. pocket. inventor; for his crusading average... But I spent a lot of time outdoors doing stuff. Drawing from origami, polymer science and acoustics, commitment to bringing new Then we moved to Rampur and then I think I got better in besides microscopy, the unit also makes it easy for health school as well.” care workers to get more accurate measures of samples technology to global health; for It was also in Rampur that Anurag and he found both the under the lens. And if you see videos of Manu stomping being a brilliant physicist friends who thought like them, and the opportunity to do down on it, rest assured he’s only showing how durable it is. with a child-like curiosity. weird things. But he is also interested in fluid motion in a plant cell, Given their fascination with fire, they came up with a drawn to children’s art, charmed by algal blooms, drawn to project which, he admits now, “was kind of stupid.... We robotics, captivated by cartoons, fascinated by insect metawent and collected every non-exploded cracker (left over morphosis, and pulled in so many directions by so many from a Diwali celebration). We brought them home, things that one lifetime may be insufficient for him to do William Sound, Alaska. But adding a touch that history has removed the powder, and made a giant pile. We just wanteverything he wants to. Though, of course, he’s trying.... not recorded, they set it alight. ed to see from a context of how … flammable it is, without a Manu has remained a tinkerer throughout his life though “We got people scared, but it was not out of control,” he container...” Then he went over and lighted it from up close. he did not bend his mind to academics a little later than says. He explains how things work in such cases: “The powder most. The experiments were not limited to setting things alight. catches fire and shoots up like a miniature nuclear exploHe was born March 6, 1980, in Mawana, a small town in He and his friend Himanshu Joshi decidsion.” Of course, he suffered collateral damage. Uttar Pradesh that relies on the bounty of the Ganges, ed they ought to build a 3-D skeleton of a “I burned my hand,” he admits, adding that experience about eight miles away, to be home to the sixth-largest prirabbit. made him a little more careful around fire. vate sector sugar manufacturer in India. Manu remembers Already canny, they decided to work out With his brother and another child, he had also built a seeing a Mawana Sugars office during a trip to London. the details using frogs first. They had heard complete Ravan before Dussehra. This, before he was in the His parents decided that the children, Anurag and Manu, that if they buried a frog for a month in fifth grade. needed a better education and so the family pulled roots salt, the flesh would go away, leaving just It was a 10-foot creature with a wire mesh skeleton and and moved to Delhi. the bones behind. stuffed with crackers and explosive powder. They had to figManu went to the Prabhu Dayal Public School there “We didn’t have the time to wait,” he says ure out a way for the whole thing not to explode in one when his mother Sushma Rani found a faculty position in now. bang, so they ran animated strings of Diwali lights through political science in the Uttar Pradesh state education sysSo, the children experimented with ways it, the only difference being that some of the lamps were tem. His father Brij Pal Singh, who was in the real estate to strip a frog’s flesh until they felt they had broken so that when it sparked it would light the powder. It business, traveled a lot, leaving the children with their the technique right. took some planning. mother. Once ready, they bought a rabbit from the But by the time he was in high school, the fires became Manu was not great at school. PAGE butcher’s. Most of the flesh became lunch more controlled and yet more spectacular. “I was OK. For many years, I was terrible,” he says “In M58 (“But we were careful not to destroy a single They built a model of the Exxon Valdez, a ship that ran Delhi (in elementary school), I was probably pretty bad. If I bone”); the bones they boiled in hydrogen aground on March 24, 1989, on Bligh Reef at Prince was to be ranked, I’d be maybe 20th out of 50 kids. So just

g


M58 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M56

Such an awesome journey

peroxide to get rid of the remaining flesh and cartilage. “For the three days we boiled that thing, it was nasty, but then you get these perfect (bones),” he says. They relied on books that only depicted the skeletons of other mammals. “The problem that was not anticipated was that it has almost 200 or so bones — as much as humans do. So after the technique worked so well, we got all the little fingers — everything... some of them as small as a grain,” he says. It took them six months to put the entire 3-D structure together, with the positions of the 46 vertebrae being especially challenging. They gifted it to their school, the Dayawati Modi Academy, Rampur. They went junk-diving in the waste pile of the photocopying machine factory near their school. “We used to scavenge things out of that,” he says, admitting, “I still have a lot of scavenged parts in my lab.” He learned more from doing things than poring through a school book. think it taught me something about working hard and perseverance. Projects don’t work like a problem set or I a chapter that you’re told to read. You read (those) and it’s

done. When you’re doing a project, it (sometimes) just doesn’t work. You can do everything and it just doesn’t work. And that is just so fascinating to learn,” says Manu, who says that he always enjoyed bending rules. When in the eighth grade, he and his friend came up with a project involving them going to scenic Nainital. “Teachers said this is crazy but, in the end, we ended up at the solar observatory in Nainital,” he says. “We lived in a gurdwara because we didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel. We ate in the gurdwara, we slept in the gurdwara, and every day we basically hung out at the solar observatory. They have these fantastic telescopes to actually observe solar flares.... It was tremendously exciting because even though initially it was a joke to go to the mountains, it taught me the outdoors is so important to do science in.” He did not learn much from books, museums and formal places of learning. “Even in Delhi, I don’t remember visiting a museum,” he says. “Many of the places we found incredible science were at common day-to-day places.” Doordarshan had this fascinating program by an astrophysicist with white hair — Yashpal... But we had TV only for a short time — only in the later periods. I don’t think I had access to books that much.” He particularly remembers how his friend Nishant figured out a way to enter a cinema hall in Rampur. But for Manu the movie was not as attractive as what put it out there. “All the optics that goes into projecting a movie and all the complications of running this film — how mechanical it was — is so beautiful. That’s where real science happens. That’s when you realize, wow, look at this machine. You have to change tapes... There’s chemistry on the tape.” In the midst of all these experiments he also destroyed a television just so he could find out how the electron gun worked. And then there was the crystal radio he and his friend Abhishek built from scratch. Wherever he was, he would spend time at the radio repair shops, learning from the unsung experts who ran them and

Courtesy: susHma rani singH

manu Prakash, center, wins a prize at the dayawati modi academy in rampur where he studied from the sixth grade to the 11th grade. were full of words of practical wisdom. hen he was in the 11th grade, his mother was transferred to Bareilly. While he found most formal exams W boring, his brother’s experience had chastened him.

“He didn’t study because we were having too much fun. But (studying is) what we should have been doing to begin with.... He didn’t get into IIT and he went to another regional college in UP. I spoke to him (later) and he kind of told me that he was unhappy in the choice that he made... The surroundings (at the new college) were really tough … and there was a lot of other (non-academic) stuff happening. That kind of inspired me to kind of say, OK, I can keep doing (stuff), but if I really love what I do I really need to hunker down and then I did actually really study very hard. I think that’s probably the hardest I’ve worked in my entire life.” He snorts with laughter. “I was ranked 420 — and I was very proud of it because it is char sau bees (an allusion to the Indian Penal Code number dealing with cheating),” he says. “The day the result came out, my friends, who had not even prepared for IIT but had seen me work so hard, came in the early morning and took me on their bikes and we went around and looked for newspapers. Yeah, we were very happy...” He did well in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and National Defense Academy exams. In the latter, he was a shoo-in for the air force, but his father vetoed the plan, telling him he was more cut out for research. At IIT, he chose the mechanical engineering stream. “There, I got top grades, which is kind of ironic because I never got good grades all my life,” The grades were so good

that he was given the option of changing his major if he so desired. So he did — to computer science. “Even though I’m a tinkerer and I make stuff, my bachelor’s degree is in computer science,” Manu says. “It was not a mistake. It was a fun, different direction for me and it has influenced the type of science that I do.” He spent time in a robotics/mechanical engineering lab and his bachelor’s thesis was about computer programs that could build machines automatically, combining the idea of computer science with mechanisms and machines. “The fun thing about that project was that it generated mechanisms using Lego blocks, so that the mechanism you generated you could actually build,” he says. He and another friend started a socially relevant program that took them out of the campus, and helped them do something that was not all esoteric engineering. Called BRiCS (Build Robots, Create Science), they got IIT students to run workshops where kids would make robots out of junk. BRiCS is still running and is bigger, with 25, 30 students running the workshops, he says. “There is this need in IITs for social engagement because IITs are about isolation,” Manu argues. “IIT-Kanpur is in the middle of a village called Nankari and PAGE nobody visits the village. There is a big wall M59 around (the IIT). When I was there, it wasn’t (open).”

g


M59 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M58

Such an awesome journey

Another project he was involved in was how children first learned to draw. “The idea came about because I wanted to work with kids at that time,” he says. “Clearly, I had no training in psychology. It ended up being a really interesting project because then I came up with a whole bunch of rules from these drawings. I still have the collection of those drawings … and they are somewhere online as well (home.iitk.ac.in/~amit/courses/768/00/manup/report.html ).” He saw that different kids take completely different approaches to drawing a shape, before they’re told how to draw. He recorded “a whole bunch of those things” and wrote a program that made drawings in a way similar to that of a child. “(When children draw) there’s a certain ambiguity; the path-planning is different. I was trying to capture that process in the way of writing a computer program that will draw like a kid.”

manu Prakash, standing third from left, in nigeria. While many developed countries have tremendous scientific output, he points out that when you make that map of research output india shrivels up and africa completely shrinks. it is a gap he wants to bridge with his frugal science.

etting out of IIT made him re-evaluate his priorities. G “Thing I realized when I passed out of IIT (in 2002 is that)... I’m a tinkerer, and it’s important for me not to sit in

front of a computer. So, at the graduate schools I applied to, I applied in physics departments. That’s kind of weird because I didn’t officially have a physics degree from IIT. I was lucky enough to find a physicist who wanted to work with me (Neil Gershenfeld at MIT).” “That was a big transition for me, which I was happy about,” he says, adding that he did a fellowship at Harvard in biophysics. At Manu’s current lab, among other things, he is trying to bring chemistry back into the hands of children. “We’ve gone overboard — specially in the US and most developed countries, where people are so risk-averse in terms of exploration,” he says, describing growing up with all types of electronics and chemical gear readily available. “Now hands-on, physical tinkering is not that common. If I learned anything, I learned to tinker,” he says. When given the dangerous example of a curious child who tried to make nitroglycerine at home, and fortunately failed, he responds, “Those are examples that are commonly given, but there is an immense amount of chemistry you can do without blowing everything up... Frankly, I did a lot of blowing stuff up.” Early on, that gave you lesson of how to be careful. You kind of understand the power of nature. It’s all the more fascinating... You have a tiny amount of something and how much energy is stored (in it). The energy density of oil is so high; immediately you think that, you know, all the bonds that I make, that’s an immense amount of energy. That really makes you think.” He also argues for more openness in science, particularly when it comes to publishing. “We pay thousands of dollars to get access to pieces of work paid for by tax dollars,” Manu complains. Talking about open-source journals and how that area is being infiltrated by unscrupulous publishers putting out dubious research papers, he takes the conversation to a more spiritual plane. “It’s very sad. Science is also pure. You cannot bring impurity into science...” He also argues for the potential of the developing world. “If you look at scientific output, many developed countries have a tremendous output. When you make that map

Courtesy: tWitter.Com/PrakasHlaB

(of research output), India kind of shrivels up; Africa completely shrinks out. And this is where the majority of kids are growing up.” He believes that the problems affecting developing countries are quite different from that in the developed kind. “Those problems (of the developing world) get zero traction,” Manu argues, slumped in his chair and twisting the cord on his sweatshirt. “Nobody is really working on them. They are intellectually fascinating, they are very important for the world to survive, and they are very context-dependent,” he says, adding, “If we just make the best institutes in the world and have them do science for a small group of people, we will not be able to solve problems because, frankly, most of the time we haven’t even heard of those problems.” One such urgent problem is that of water quality, which Manu’s lab is addressing with a punch-card based mechanical chemistry kit that a child — or a health care worker — can use. “You put all the chemicals on the chip.... Punch in the protocol you need (and) you can do very complex protocols anywhere in the world,” he says. He points out how inexpensive computers have changed things for a lot of people. This is his way to make things as cheap when it comes to physical things. The gizmo tests for nitrates, phosphates, pH, ammonia, heavy metals, pollutants like PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl). He spoke of a mail he got the day before from an organization that supports science education for farmers. It told him that farmers walked more than 9 miles with a soil sample from their farm, depositing it somewhere, and heard from the facility — if at all it replied — after a month. By which time, a bad crop would have failed.”

“I think we’ve made it sound like science is very hard and that only people who can read all these books should do science,” Manu says. “What we’re trying to do in our lab is flip that around and say, to hook people to science you need to just give them the tools and get yourself out of the way. Don’t make it feel like a club. Once people are hooked they will actually pick up the scientific knowledge that they

need to become better.” But then, science is a bit of a club. He agrees. “Ignorance can be cured by bringing information out but we went to a point that we told the world that to do science there is only one model,” he says. “That’s not fair. It’s perfectly OK for people to really engage in science broadly and use that as a platform to then learn more.” “Top-down science is not the only way science should be done. There ought to be a bottoms-up sense of science. Anything that’s on a planet scale, it’s important to engage this broad group of people.... Because we have these global indicators that are telling us that the planet is not happy. But we’re going to have to go down and ask how are we going to do science at that scale?” Manu is a big proponent of intuition — his personal fount of novel wisdom. “Without intuition there wouldn’t be anything,” he says, rounding that up with the Zen-like statement: “Most of the time we’re teaching things that we know; we should be teaching things we don’t know.” He says the frugal science that his lab works on is meant for people around the world with the opportunity to bring up their own doubts about science. “Not the questions that we framed, the questions that they framed for themselves,” he says. Half his lab works on biophysics, the other half on ‘frugal science.’ PAGE “You can think of them as very applied — M60 the frugal science. That’s really about solving problems. And the other half is very

g


M60 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M59 curiosity-driven, big questions in biology. And then he’s on a roll.

T

Such an awesome journey manu at work. He calls the Prakash lab a ‘cabinet of curiosity.’

hings like... how do insects go through metamorphosis… 95 percent of the cells are killed and they are born from scratch. Why would something like that happen to begin with? The pupal stage is literally a sitting duck: It’s food for a lot of other things. It cannot move. It just sits there. Sometimes (metamorphosis) takes a few days. Sometimes (like in cicadas and other things) it could take years.” And there’s work on marine organisms — squids, cnidarians. In squids he wants to know what controls the patterns the animal uses for camouflage — the neural control of their color cells, the chromatophores. He says his biggest focus in biophysics is what happens when you let go of complexity in simple multi-cellular animals such as sponges or comb jellies. “We would like to understand simple animals completely as a physicist, just like what we did with the E coli (in biology). We are searching for an E coli for multi-cellular animals. Many animals like Caenorhabditis elegans (a kind of roundworm) or flies are way too complex...” “You can go from physics to life in one shot. Physics to behavior is what we think about a lot in the lab. We write down equations that could actually calculate behavior in very quantitative terms.” “The lab does not rely on just statistical probability,” he says, arguing that their predictions are intended to be unambiguous. “That’s why we work on simpler animals — (so) that you can actually come up with a deterministic (prediction of behavior). It’s not with the goal of saying that, OK, when you can do that you can do that for a human or something.… What we’re trying to say is that it is very important to understand that complex biology in its entirety.” As a physicist he believes that there is not enough detailed information about free will and similar conundrums. He also has no time for people who use the cutting edge of science to argue their personal flavor of theological philosophy. “There’s a lot of crap,” he says. “Basically, when you don’t understand something, you throw (in) something else that you don’t understand — and say, aha, these (things are connected).” When Deepak Chopra is mentioned, he just sails on: “Bullshit has no place in science. Understanding is something very deep for scientists. It’s perfectly OK to say that we don’t understand.” “That’s exactly what we’re trying to rid off in science,” he says, and then segues to a discussion about jargon: “Let’s not hide behind jargon; let’s just do the science.”

anu complains about doctors in India who tell you to take their tablets, but will not explain what the probM lem is. In the US, he says, doctors communicate their sci-

ence without jargon, without hiding behind that jargon. Physicist Richard Feynman has this famous quote, right? ‘If you can’t explain it to your grandmother you don’t know it.’ He says it is harder to inform people, but it needs to be

P rajendran

done and is not an impossible task. He admits that this is harder to communicate about work at the cutting edge of science, when people are still working hard on the topic – or in abstruse mathematics. Asked if that wasn’t very difficult to do at the realms of science where the physical laws people are used to fall away, he says, “True, but that just means we’ve not built intuition completely... Frankly, there is a lot of stuff that the people who truly understand can formulate it in ways (that can be easily understood).” Clearly, you can’t ask somebody to cram this concept (and give it) to me in less than 10 seconds, which is what science has become now. You have to have the passion for it. You have to dedicate time.” Asked about dealing with failure, he laughs: “I fail every day.” Addressing a deeper meaning of failure, he says, “The whole idea of working in the space of global health is that it’s such a big challenge... Look at the number of people who, at this very moment, need the types of breakthroughs. At this very moment, it could be a difference between life and death. You have to live with this thing every day.” “As a pure scientist, you sometimes try to ignore that and just say, hey, keep building and at some point this will make an impact in people’s lives. And you think, why can’t I do it now...” “The reason I started working in this space (of global health) is that intellectually it’s very exciting. But it’s really driven by this giant gap we’ve created ourselves, and that in itself is a failure. Why have we not been able to excite scientists and scientific thinking in such an important aspect of people’s life all around the world? Why is that other physicists are not thinking about global health?”

Physicists are known to make tools. But I go to these meetings and I only meet epidemiologists who’ve done a fantastic job of documenting how problems arise. There are very few people who are actually changing fields and going out and trying to implement things in the space. There is a kind of urgency in what we do but we have to take baby steps. Science always moves in baby steps. It’s all just slog and baby steps.” “I don’t like big failures. What I end up doing is that I fail small very, very quickly. At the lab, there are 20 or so projects going in different directions. Are all of them going to succeed? Maybe not. Some of them will have different types of impacts.” He quotes Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling: ‘The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.’ “I think I definitely follow something like that,” he says. “The cost of trying things is low now … Especially while you’re working on frugal things you just try things.” etting away from the philosophy of science, Manu discusses the Foldscope, G the creation that brought him fame.

He says it can change the teaching of biology if all children in the world have microscopes in their pockets. The first set of lenses in the microscopes are just glass beads. The next set will be aspherical to both increase magnification and reduce fringe color. The larger magnification also ensures that malarial parasites — which can be just 600 nanometers wide — are also visible.

g

PAGE M61


M61 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

He has always wanted to know ‘Why?’ Anurag Prakash, on his brother and fellow science adventurer Manu Prakash

I

t began with a simple question: If a grasshopper can jump up to many times its size, why can’t we? That’s one of the questions my brother had asked. Unable to get an answer, he would start his experiments. We studied together at the Dayawati Modi Academy in Rampur (Manu from grade 6 to 11 and Anurag from grade 7 to 12) and did a few projects together, from making the skeleton of a rabbit to simulating oil spills.  He has always been a very hard worker and always wanted to know ‘Why?’ He has always been curious about how things worked and why they were the way they were, and he has always been passionate about what he believes in.  I remember a trip to a trade fair in Delhi where he was really amused by how a missile fuse system worked. The next day he was ready with his own mechanical fuse system made of match sticks, and that must have been around the time when we were in fifth grade.  The first real challenge he had was his IIT exams. When he was preparing for his IIT entrance exams, he would work on problems in mathematics and physics throughout the night. Instead of gaining theoretical understanding he always tried to gain an understanding by solving problems, not just reading about them. That would require him to sometimes spend double the time, but he was driven.  It’s his passion and focus that drives him. 

f PAGE M60

A drop of UV acrylate, a plastic, is placed in an aperture and an acoustic field — a set of sounds — causes the drop to vibrate and shift from a spherical shape. “If you care about every kid having an instrument, should they have it in their hand or should they have access to it only for 10, 15 minutes in the lab,” he asks. The children can build their own instruments, some of which have light-emitting diodes, along with condensers and diffusers. The kind made for health-care workers include a Vernier callipers to make calibration easier. Usually making aspherical lenses is not easy. It takes

manu Prakash, second from right, and his brother anurag, second from left, enjoy a game of soccer with friends from dayawati modi academy. Both brothers played on the school team.

ferent things is probably why he did not join a career in Computer Sciences, which was his chosen stream of study. The choices in his earlier life were mostly driven by family and simply by our society. My brother and I always wanted to go into the science stream and we chose the same (Anurag Prakash is a now a principal engineer in the optical communications division of Ciena India Pvt Ltd). However, once he went into undergraduate studies his interests lay far ahead of merely getting a high-salary job — which, as a computer science under grad from IIT-Kanpur, was easy for him. He chose to do research. I believe it’s in this phase that he started making his own choices and deciding to do what he wanted.  MIT gave him a great platform to build upon his interests in physical sciences and the capability to implement natural laws with simple tools. That was probably a turning point in his career where he could launch himself towards his interests. But all that came with great effort, judging by the amount of time he used to spend in the lab there. A couple of times when I visited him, he would come back early in the morning.  The best thing about all my interactions with him is he never complains, ever!  Courtesy: susHma rani singH Manu has always been focused and During his undergraduate course at IIT-Kanpur, he never been bothered about how others perpicked up some projects like BRiCS (Build Robots Create ceive him. What mattered to him was what his efforts could Science) where he developed a handheld printer to help achieve.  craftsmen develop their own designs on a computer and get Currently, he is driven by the fact that he missed a lot of them printed on clothes instead of paying fortunes (for opportunities in his school/undergrad years due to lack of small craftsmen) in the making of dyes. resources in the Indian education system. He wants to It was not only developing things of that nature, but he make a difference there be it education or health.  And he would even go and attend the NGO sessions for craftsmen has already begun the process by showing that creativity and showcase to them various uses of such instruments.  has no boundaries (geographical or virtual); it’s limited only Bringing the capabilities he learnt to use for making difby the barriers you build around you. n

Such an awesome journey machining, grinding and so forth. In Manu’s model, it is just sound that jiggles the lens into the right shape, with the UV setting it. “Science education is one aspect of it; global health is the other. In science education, we want the microscopes to be everywhere, immediately available; with the health care side, we need to be very careful and take small steps, make sure we do all the validation studies in the field, peer review and publish those.” Because we don’t want anybody randomly just getting a hand on a microscope and pretending they know how to

diagnose diseases — you need to also understand what you’re seeing — even though the instruments look very similar, the health-care instruments will be available only to health-care professionals. There is a training program. On the science (education) side, it’s microscopy for everyone. “We have a vision where we want this to go. And that vision is as important as the technology. There’s sometimes a scenario where the technology is preserved and the vision is not. That’s what we’re trying to deal with: it’s very important for us to essentially direct it in the right place at the right price point at the right audience. Right? n


M62 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘His mind, his imagination, his passion took him there’ Manu Prakash’s parents Dr Sushma Rani and Brij Pal Singh tell Monali Sarkar about their son’s incredible journey from small town India to being one of America’s most inspirational young scientists

manu Prakash with his parents dr sushma rani and Brij Pal singh on a vacation in london.

T

he Prakash Lab at Stanford University is a fascinating place to be in. Ideas — unfeasible, wild, weird, inspiring — reign supreme under Dr Manu Prakash. It is a ‘cabinet of curiosity’ that holds the Foldscope, the $5 chemistry set, and other wonders. And while it is true that it is the United States that allowed Manu’s ideas to soar, the root of those ideas is firmly planted in a house in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh — home to his parents Dr Sushma Rani and Brij Pal Singh. Manu, a curious and creative child, had the good fortune of being born to parents who put their two children’s education before everything else; every life choice they made after the birth of their sons was dictated by that ultimate goal. At the time of Manu’s birth the family lived in Shamli, UP — though his birth place is Meerut, also in UP — and his parents were unhappy with the choice of schools there. “Our only aim in life was to give our sons a good education,” his mother, a professor of political science, tells India Abroad over piping hot cups of Chai, proudly placed on Stanford University coasters. “We were worried that it would not be possible in a small town like Shamli. So we decided to move to Delhi.” His father, a retired businessman, says, “There were no good schools there. Coming to Delhi cost a lot. Spending Rs 4 lakh to Rs 5 lakh (Rs 400,000 to Rs 500,000) on our kids in those days (1983) was a huge deal, but I wanted to give them a good education.” He relocated his business to Delhi and the family moved there. But the years there were difficult. In addition to the cost of relocation and schooling, Manu’s father met with an accident that led to losses in the business. His mother, who had finished her PhD by then, stepped in so that the children’s education could continue in the manner they had dreamed of. The job, which she got in 1987, was at a college in Baraut, about two hours away from Delhi, which meant about four hours on the road every day for the next three years. “But it never occurred to me to pull them out of the school in Delhi (and move to Baraut),” she says. “I wanted a strong foundation for my sons. Had I moved my children to Baraut, they

might not have been where they are today.” “The education in Delhi,” Manu’s father adds, “gave them an academic foundation that has held them in good stead all their lives.” By 1990, his mother had cleared the Public Service Commission inteviews and been selected to teach at a college in Rampur, UP. But the parents were not about to make the move without confirming one crucial thing — the availability of good schools there. They found the Dayawati Modi Academy a good fit for both sons. And they did something that was fairly unheard of in India of that time. Manu’s mother moved to Rampur in 1990 alone with the two children. Manu was in grade 6, his brother Anurag in grade 7. It then fell to her to single-handedly parent the boys. “I lived with the kids in Rampur for six years. He (Manu’s father) used to live in Shamli then,” she says. “I made sure there was discipline in their lives. I was particular about who they hung out with. I would closely monitor them for they were at a tender age where they could easily be influenced. Had they gotten spoilt then, there wouldn’t have been much I could have done to change the situation.” She recounts how close a watch she kept on them: “I would give them an hour for football (soccer, both sons enjoyed the sport). If they would be delayed even by 10 minutes I would drop anything I was doing, even washing utensils or sweeping the floors, and go out to fetch them. I was very particular about punctuality, be it play time, party time or time to study.” She makes her responsibilities in those years sound matter of fact, but it couldn’t possibly have been. Though both boys performed well academically they were also extraordinarily curious and innovative and always up to something.

When 9-year old Manu heard of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident of 1989 he decided to demonstrate the need for a better way to control oil spills. He built a model tanker filled with oil and blew it up in a pool, a fact he hadn’t shared with his parents. “All the teachers at DMA used to call him a ‘problem creator,’ his mother recalls. “His Hindi teacher didn’t understand or like him. She told me that he would always keep asking questions and embarrass her. Either she didn’t have the answers to his queries or she couldn’t handle his curiosity.” “But his chemistry teacher used to tell him that he would one day Courtesy: susHma rani singH be written about in newspapers.” While the school months were filled with working on projects under an encouraging school principal, Manu’s vacations at his maternal grandparents’ home in Mawana, Meerut, were inspiring too. They were days spent exploring with cousins and being influenced by bright minds around him. His mother, who is the oldest of six sisters and a brother, says, “All my sisters are professors. My brother is a professor, my father too. My mother gave a lot of importance to education. It was inspiring because whenever he visited there Manu would feel that the quest for knowledge was a great thing.” It is clear by now that Manu takes after his mother in much more than the way he looks. His father promptly agrees to the role she played in the children’s upbringing when he wasn’t around: “After Delhi, I got to spend very little time with my children. We never sent them for tuitions outside school other than for maths from ninth grade to 12th grade (for the crucial 10th and 12th grades of the Indian education system). She monitored them. She set them onto the path of a disciplined study routine.” But she is taken aback at the suggestion that she inspired Manu. “I don’t think I was an inspiration,” she says. “It was he who wanted to invent, to do something new. In fact, he tells me that you were a professor and you had us educated, PAGE but you could have done so much more M64 than that. He keeps telling me that. When he sees me doing a lot of extra work at col-

g


M64 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M62 lege, attending conferences, reading papers, he likes that and encourages that.”

‘His mind, his imagination, his passion took him there’

manu Prakash, second from left, with his cousins. the vacations he spent with his cousins at his maternal grandparents’ home were inspirational for him.

S

he is unconvinced that she could be his biggest inspiration and insists Manu’s achievements are inspired entirely by his own self: “Right from the start he has said he wanted to achieve something. And after the ninth and 10th grades I never needed to urge him to study. He would be studying 17 to 18 hours a day, what more could I do?” Both parents also credit Anurag’s presence. “Manu was very close to his brother,” his mother says. “They are just two years apart. That was another reason I never had to say much. The two of them would work on science models together.” Plus, his father adds, Anurag was even better than Manu at academics. Manu, however, was extraordinarily hard working, they say, pulling out memories — like the time in 10th grade when Manu worked through some 100 pages of maths sums in a night. By the time Manu finished 11th grade, his mother was transferred again. This time, to Bareilly. Anurag had finished the graduating 12th grade by then and made it to the Kamla Nehru Institute of Technology, Sultanpur, UP, but Manu had to move to Bareilly and he hated the idea of a switch in a crucial year. Despite Manu insisting he remain in Rampur, the school’s principal offering to act as his guardian and the school offering a scholarship for the year, as the parents recall, there was no question of leaving their son behind and alone. They wanted to be there as a support system, and his father says, “take care of his health” while he prepared for his 12th grade. They moved him to the Army Public School, Bareilly Cantonment, where he finished his 12th grade as the topper in the area, setting a record for the school then.

I

nterestingly at this time Manu had dabbled with the idea of being an Air Force pilot. “He was selected for the Services Selection Board (for the Indian armed forces),” his father recalls. “Usually entire teams get washed out in the SSB, but three people, including Manu, were selected from the team he led. He wanted to go into it. He was drawn by the adventure. But I told him to keep studying till he could. This was just after the 12th. His education might have stopped if he had pursued that path. I told him you have not seen anything of life yet. There is much more to the world and that he should keep studying till he could.” It was advice that Manu took to heart, also probably knowing by then that while the adventure of flying planes was tempting, science was even more adventurous for him. And it was an adventure he lived to the hilt at IITKanpur, shifting streams from mechanical engineering to computer science engineering, practically living in the labs, but brushing away attractive job offers. His mother says, “He has always been stubborn about his aims. Once he decides what he wants, he is not bothered

on work, exploring, and creating. “When he was at IIT and we would go to visit him, sometimes he would promise to have dinner with us,” his mother says. “We would look forward to those 15, 20 minutes with him because in those four years he didn’t come home for a single vacation; he would take off for advanced courses during every vacation. This one time I kept waiting for him. His father had gone off to sleep after a while, but I was worried and stayed up all night waiting.” “Finally, around 6 am, I went to his friend to ask where Manu could possibly be. His friend asked me to look in the lab. When I reached the lab Manu was just shutting down. He is still like that. Even now when we visit him we keep waiting. He returns at odd Courtesy: susHma rani singH hours of the night and leaves early in the morning. Since we are asleep then we don’t even know when he comes and goes.” about what we say or others say.” “Let me tell you about one more incident,” she adds. She cites how in his third year at IIT, Manu received a job “Once I had to go to college for an exam from 3 pm. It was offer with a hefty pay packet and rejected it because he after 2 by then and very hot, so I asked Manu, who was knew by then that he wanted to study at MIT and do studying, to drive me to the college on our scooter. It would research. have taken him only a few minutes, but he refused to stop “I was worried that he would be studying for another 10 studying. He told me, ‘Those few minutes will interrupt my years. But he told me not to be like other mothers and ask tempo for the entire day.’ He refused to budge. His father him to chase money. He said we just needed enough money often tells me I encouraged his stubbornness, but I didn’t. to sustain ourselves and that I could ask him to think about His stubbornness is what makes him who he is.” money the day I saw that changing.” She looks around the room and adds with pride, “All of this is a result of our hard work.” t was that stubbornness that brough Manu to the US for His father says, “We have never expected anything for the first time, changing the course of his life. In his third ourselves from them. We only wanted to give them a good year at IIT, he received an offer to work on a project at education and let them fly.” Montana University for three months. But just before he “To be honest,” his mother adds, “we had never imagined was to leave he came down with very high fever. Both parthat our child would become a professor at Stanford ents pleaded with him not to go, but he refused. University. We had only dreamed that he would go to a “His father was so angry he refused to go good college and get a good job. But his dreams, his goals see him off or give his blessings to the trip,” were different. It was his mind, his imagination, his passion his mother recalls. “Manu told me, ‘Please that took him there. We only supported him in whatever see me off; I just need your support. I don’t way we could.” even need papa’s support.’ What could I do? Much of that support during Manu’s time at IIT would I gathered my courage and gave him my have to be monetary for his experiments. approval to leave even though he was ill. I “Manu’s father would chide me for sending so much went to see him off. I still remember those money for his experiments, for not sending as much money three months of worrying, but sometimes a to our older son,” she said. “But I told him not to stop Manu mother just has to be strong. That trip from doing his experiments. He always loved tinkering with opened his path to MIT and kick-started things, exploring them. I still have so many of his projects, his career. He tells me had I stopped him wires, batteries etc. He is still like that.” then, he would not be where he is today.” “Money,” his father says, “is not a consideration to him at “He has always been like that,” she says. PAGE all.” “His work is his passion. He has just wantM68 Money or other aspects of living have always found very ed to do research and he brings all his paslittle space in Manu’s mind, which is almost always focused sion and dedication to it. He is not distract-

I

g


M65 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Manu can talk about science anyplace, anytime’ Sophie Dumont introduces P Rajendran to her brilliant and forgetful husband

M

anu Prakash is willing to tear away at the unknown for hours, ripping through it with a bewildering array of creative mental tools. But remembering where he parked a bike can overwhelm him. Which is why he now does not have one, explains Sophie Dumont, his wife and an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Like most people around Manu, she is interested in really getting into the real nitty-gritty of how things work. In her case, it is the details of how a cell avoids errors when separating its chromosomes during division. But she worked on condensed matter at Oxford before she decided her interests lay in biology, and then transferred to UC, Berkeley, to study the mechanics of simple molecules. Manu impressed Dumont when she met him first at Harvard. “I thought he was a very smart guy and very creative,” she says, adding that, more importantly, he was “a very good, humble, simple person.” Though she’s very curious, too, she admits she was bewildered by the variety of topics he ranged over. “I could not quite comprehend that. I guess I hadn’t met scientists like that before. He has such a wide range,” she says, laughing quietly. The scale she addresses in her research falls between that of Zev Bryant (Manu’s colleague who Dumont knew at Berkeley and who works on tinier mechanisms) and Manu, who looks at things at the tissue and organismal level. “Manu also has an interest in things at the smaller scale — because he’s interested in everything,” she says, laughing. “Manu has published papers in physics to fluid mechanics to organismal biology... That’s what’s very rare. What’s interesting about Manu is not (just) that he has a wide range, but that he does actually very serious work — academic work – in a broad range of disciplines.” What about the beetle that he got interested in? “Is this the click beetle — the headlight beetle?” No, the beetle he saw running over water in Massachusetts. “Oh yeah, yes, the other beetle. He actually saw that beetle on a pond in Massachusetts. He brought it back to my house and he first filmed this beetle (on a dinner plate filled with water) with a high-speed camera on my dining table.” That led him to discover that it uses its wings to generate power to move, and hooks to hold the water as it moved. Then there’s the story of the click beetle he found in Costa

manu Prakash and wife sophie dumont. the couple enjoys traveling almost as much as they enjoy their work.

Courtesy: susHma rani singH

Rica. “He basically fell in love with that beetle while on a family vacation,” Dumont says. “He was extremely excited about this bug, which can emit enough light to basically read a book in the forest. He brought back the beetle — not to the US — but to the house we were staying in.” She says Manu enjoyed a kind of vacation study program while making movies of it. “So while my brothers were in the pool, Manu was making movies of this beetle,” she says, laughing. Manu discovered that that beetle could emit light in two colors and found out which stimuli got the beetle to light up in each. He also found the control system the beetle used while controlling the intensity of light. “People would go to sleep at night — and Manu would go into the forest to find his beetles and bring them back,” Dumont says. “He has a high-speed camera. He had a microscope.” It was harder for them to find faculty positions in the same area, because they were working in such specialized areas. When the offers came, Stanford and San Francisco were close enough for them to decide to move there. “We’re both scientists and neither of us is particularly domestic. Life at home is pretty minimal for us. He spends all his time in (his) lab. I spend all my time in (my) lab. And then on the weekends we spend time together,” Dumont says. “We talk about science,” she says. “Manu can talk about science — anything, anyplace, anytime. If we go to a restau-

rant and there’s some kind of swirls in the coffee he will go into some explanation about why the coffee is swirling. We talk about our research groups, labs, family, travel...” Manu and Dumont met in 2009, and decided to get married in summer 2011. In August they were engaged, and married in March 2012. The marriage was to happen in New Delhi, which had the kind of hotel that could address the needs of Dumont’s ailing mother. Manu realized that he was far behind on a grant proposal — and given that their funds were already tight — told her to go off alone. And so Dumont landed up in Delhi, all ready to be married, while 7,700 miles away the groom-tobe dreamed up novel ways he could loosen a research committee’s purse strings. From her family, 25 people went to Delhi for the wedding, which lasted two days. There were the haldi, mehndi and sangeet ceremonies on the first day, the marriage itself on the second. “It was great. My family loved it. Manu’s family also loved it,” Dumont says. Then another grant-related situation and the cautiousness of the Iranian consulate also shortened their honeymoon. But, among other places, they got to visit Tehran, Shiraz and Persepolis, and enjoyed the company of the local Iranians, who she described as “superfriendly.” Travel, which they both love, is particularly easy because neither of them are picky about food. “We love eating out so we try out restaurants from all kinds of countries,” Dumont says, adding that Manu probably prefers Indian food the most. While very comfortable with the complex and the arcane, Manu has a problem with everyday challenges — like paying income tax, checking if there is food in the house or mold in the bathroom or booking an air ticket. “Manu, on a routine basis, buys plane tickets for the wrong day, or for the wrong location. Most recently, he managed both at once,” she says, with a laugh she tries to suppress without much success. “The wrong date and the wrong location.” His child-like approach to things used to exasperate her a bit at one time, but — she laughs — “I just kind of gave up.” She gives the example of how, when she went for a conference in Europe, he decided to do the family laundry but forgot to take the clothes out of the washer. When she returned, she found them covered in mold in a variety of brilliant colors. “Well, I just washed them again,” she laughs yet again. She also speaks about how Manu nearly couldn’t graduate without first negotiating a large library fine. Though they were not a couple at the time, he came to her for help. But given the enormous sum involved, she didn’t have enough either. Finally, they borrowed it from her brother Charles. “He loves books — and reads massively,” she says of Manu. Of course, in this case the cost was rather high. Manu never has a dollar in his wallet, Dumont says, and adds that her husband is more absent-minded than most people. “He gets no-parking fines. He’ll forget the car somewhere. He’d forget a bike somewhere and they’d get stolen. So now he doesn’t have a bike any more,” she says, explaining that while he’s very creative and absorbed in science, other things don’t matter. He is very fond of children, though. “He’s amazing with kids,” Dumont says. “At family parties, all the kids gravitate to him even if, at times, they don’t share the language (as in her family),” she says. “Even at a Christmas party, Manu can be found somewhere in a bathroom, the lights down, showing a kid on a microscope something... He’s a kid magnet.” n


M66 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He would move the system to meet his goals’ Professor Amitabha Mukerjee recalls Manu Prakash as one of the most creative students he has encountered

W

e get two kinds of students who clear JEE (Joint Entrance Examination). One is the ghiso pito kind, who have slugged it out through all kinds of coaching, and the other is students who manage to clear the JEE with a little less intensive coaching. Manu Prakash was definitely in the second group. These students are actually some of the brightest and most creative students in IIT, and Manu was definitely one of the most creative people I have encountered. Manu took a couple of courses from me; one was in artificial intelligence. Among his peers we had an active robotics group and we wanted to do something societal and change things a bit. We wanted to use robotics in schools to enable kids to build something with their hands. The program was called BRiCS, Build Robots Create Science. We did workshops in probably 500 schools (while elite schools would pay for the workshops, the team would use that money to offset costs of taking the workshop to underprivileged schools in the area) around the country where we got kids enthused on the theme of robotics; we used to use Lego kits. Manu was very involved in this. There was a group of four or five core people and Manu was definitely one of the leaders. A majority of our kids come from upper-class backgrounds. When we were doing these workshops we met a lot of poor people. If you take a kid from the slums and say, ‘Build something,’ he is going to say, ‘I’ll do whatever you tell me.’ You have to work with them. You have to tease the idea out. And say, ‘The things we are saying are not important. What you are saying is important.’ Manu really felt this and said this was a very serious problem. He really liked working with children. One thing that was very openly discussed when Manu was at IIT was the sad status of our education system and how the competitive pressures, the quota culture, and the coaching culture really destroys childhood. The most brilliant people in India are doing things they have no interest in due to which India as a country is not able to meet its human potential. We had been discussing this for a long time and Manu was a key change agent in this process. Unfortunately, he has gone to the US. If he were in India he could do a lot more of this kind of thing because he has a lot of capacity to get people involved and build teams. We really need to do something where children discover themselves and not textbooks. This is what we were trying to do. One of the big ideas we had was these toys (used initially in the BRiCS program) were very Western oriented and we needed to relate it to the children and their stories and lives. In this context we ran a contest in 2002 called Robot Ramayan where people built all kinds of things, from the origins of the universe to Draupadi’s swayamvar. We also had something called Programmable BRiCS,

Professor amitabha mukerjee shares a video of manu Prakash demonstrating a tank tread climber during his iit-kanpur years. the idea is that you are programming these robots by writing a program on a computer using a visible metaphor, which kids can use and download to a machine. This was originally Manu’s idea. Manu also has good artistic sense and had even collaborated with another artist and brought out a lot of cartoons of how to make toys. In fact, we had a patent filed in 2002 and granted in 2010 for programmable assembly for puppets. It is related to Digital Kathputli (puppet). These kind of programs were things Manu was very actively involved in when he was at IIT. I am very happy that I was able to work with Manu in that period. The thing about Manu is that he is very passionate. One tenet of creativity is that you do not stop if something is impossible, you do not totally reject it straight away. Manu had this in very high measure. He would perceive all kinds of weird things that were not obviously feasible. But sometimes some things would turn out to be feasible. That is the real power of creativity that Manu has, which lot of students in IIT don’t have because they come through this pipeline (coaching). What happens now is we pressure kids so much that we don’t get kids like Manu coming very often. Manu was that kind of a kid who if he wanted to do something would pursue it even if it seemed very obvious that it wasn’t working. So, out of 10, 15 ideas maybe two would work, but that’s OK. That is enough. He didn’t have anything that you would consider a successful student — he didn’t have publications, he didn’t have CPI (Cumulative Performance Index) — but he had these ideas. He was an inventor. He was interested in getting the invention out. He would bend systems. If he needed to get something built and there was a machine shop that he

HitesH HarisingHani

needed to work with he would badger them. Ultimately he would get the thing done. He would work, influencing the system rather than work beyond or within. You cannot work outside the system so he would move the system to meet his goals and this is true of many creative people. These kind of people are change agents. We really need people like Manu to do these things. (Usually) you have no idea where these kids can go. The most creative guy may suddenly go and join the IAS (Indian Administrative Services). But Manu, I thought, would be going to academics. But I wasn’t too sure that academics would be able to manage with him. I am glad he has been doing well. There are many other things Manu has done before the Foldscope that I have followed to some extent. If you look at the Foldscope idea it is not completely a new idea. But to make it and package it this way is Manu’s particular thing. But invention is not the only solution. We need people to adopt it. The Foldscope can penetrate, but it needs somebody to take over who is an entrepreneur not an inventor… Manu is good at many of these things himself — he is one of the most creative guys who have come out of IIT in recent years — but to get this thing to penetrate the market we need more than creativity. We also need a lot of social penetration. If these things happen, the Foldscope will really do well, because the idea is brilliant. I would really like to see Manu get more involved in reaching these inventions to the masses. n Dr Amitabha Mukerjee is a professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT-Kanpur. He spoke to Monali Sarkar.


M67 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He’s the most curious person I’ve ever met’ ‘He’s extremely open to all sorts of ideas — and extremely encouraging to pursuing different things,’ Grad Student George Korir tells P Rajendran.

I

f George Korir ever thinks of a particularly crazy idea, he knows which professor to go to.

His mentor Manu Prakash will always run over an outlandish-sounding idea thoroughly before deeming it unviable. “He’ll be open to it and be able to engage in a very excited way,” says Korir, who remembers how Manu turned what he had deemed a liability in a mechanism into an asset. “Once I went to him with a problem because my device was not working the way it should. Just from his curiosity about the way it was working, we ended up using (the changed behavior) as a feature — and it turns out to be the best feature we have in that device,” Korir says. Like his lab mates, Korir has an impressive resume. Son of subsistence farmers in Kenya, he was sponsored for an education at the Harvey Mudd College,

to see if a patient’s lung had collapsed, and then to find ways to gauge if cancer treatment was indeed working. He had been deciding whether he ought to begin a career immediately or do a stint in graduate school. His positive experiences with research made him opt for a PhD. He came up with a choice between an MITHarvard medical engineering program, and the Stanford one. After meeting and interacting with Manu, he thought that his lab would be a very good fit for his interests. He recalls Manu telling him then, ‘As you evaluate your options, think also about the person you want to work with. I think it matters.’ “We have a lot of commonalities. I really enjoy being here,” says Korir, who is also Courtesy: youtuBe getting two years of george korir demonstrates one of the newest creations coming medical school trainout of Prakash lab, a $5 chemistry set. inspired by a music box, ing on the side. it won the top prize at the sPark competition. “I could see he was interested a lot in what I’d done,” he said, where he earned an engineering describing Manu as asking about his expedegree. After studying the propriences in Kenya and the field work the lab erties of dyes there, he worked does. for his sponsors on a Defense PAGE “That was very attractive to me because I Advanced Research Projects M70 always wanted to implement (ideas),” says Agency prosthetics program. Korir. He then went on to do a feasiThough he was not on recent field trips bility study on ways to use light

g

‘Analytically brilliant and extremely creative’ The first line he said was, “Do science like you're an eight year old.” I think that's what drives everything in this lab,’ Grad Student Haripriya Mukundarajan tells P Rajendran

W

hen Haripriya Mukundarajan first joined Manu Prakash’s lab, she wondered why on earth would she need to check the volume and contents of bug spit. The kind of work that each student does in the lab also gives observers an insight into their mentor’s long-term vision. Before she came to the lab, moving over from a product design program at Stanford, the IIT grad had helped put together a few inventions in India — a satellite called Pratham, that is still to be launched; a $100 incubator for newborns made from local material, and a cold water jacket for milk cans. In the bug spit case, Mukundarajan concluded that

it was far better to have mosquitoes leave their disease-bearing load in sterile samples than in human volunteers. She takes the example of dengue. “(When) a person gets bitten by a mosquito, we have no idea how many bites it takes to make somebody fall sick, and how many virus particles come out in each bite, and what is the minimum load of virions that make them fall sick (the number is called the infectious dose). You have no idea what is going in with the saliva.” Since 70 percent of the infected show no symptoms, and those who do exhibit them after a week, assessing spread by counting the patients at a hospi-

tal would not be very effective. The Manu Prakash lab solution to getting more information with little danger to humans, involved making mosquitoes bite into bubbles of distilled water given the odor and warmth of human sweat so that they left behind saliva that could be measured for pathogens. The samples are on cards that are directly mailable through the postal system after the mosquitoes have done their business in these little spittoons. “I think I’ve started liking to tell my friends that my adviser is the guy who licked a slug on a bet,” Mukundarajan says, and laughs. “I always feel like I would like to be like Manu, except for this one thing,” she says, adding, with emphasis: “I... would never... want... to lick a slug.” Mukundarajan, a vegetarian who hopes to be vegan, had some reservations about Manu’s diet. “We used to have these crazy insect things that used to be handed around and people used to eat. And he used to keep saying that insects are super tasty.”

g

PAGE M68


M68 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M67

‘Analytically brilliant and extremely creative’

So Mukundarajan decided to help out. “I bought him a lollipop with a scorpion inside because I thought he might like it. But then he didn’t eat it. But he did eat one with a larva inside.” espite seeing that, and watching him take a meal at lab get-togethers, she says, “I’m not sure Manu eats very D often. It’s a running lab joke that he absorbs nutrition intradermally from the air. Because he gets these sandwiches and they sit on his desk. He’s so super busy all the time and we don’t see them get eaten. He still has ridiculously high energy levels. We think that’s partially because he drinks a lot of coffee that is less coffee and more coffee-flavored sugar. But on a daily basis, yeah, it’s like a joke that the boss lives on air.” She really likes the lab trips he organizes. “It’s like the most atypical lab trips ever. Other labs maybe go to an amusement park or something like that, but our lab goes tide-pooling. We went and looked at anemones and starfish and crabs and stuff. “We go to Monterey from time to time, which is super fun because our lab trips — or retreats — become more like marine life foraging with a lot of fun and food.” And when going kayaking, she describes how Manu is torn between enjoying the experience in the single-seater and recording it on video for future generations. “He kept getting left behind because he couldn’t row and record,” Mukundarajan says, describing how everyone else had to wait for him to catch up. Having Manu as an adviser, she says, is particularly inspiring for personal reasons. “It kind of gives me hope that even people who get easily distracted, and who are kind of all over the place, and who are really interested in everything, and don’t want to focus on any one particular thing, still have the potential to become super-successful.” And then there’s art. “Manu is a really good cartoonist,” Mukundarajan says.

f PAGE M64

ed by what people say, he is not distracted by normal things like working hours, clothes, or even food when he is working on something.” “Yes,” his father says, “we are a little worried about the fact that he has no interest in money.” “He doesn’t shave, doesn’t cut his hair, wears shabby or torn clothes,” his mother adds. “If I ask him to shave, he tells me, ‘Is that even a thing to bring up? Ask me to do something constructive, ask me to find or create something new’.” Like Arjun,” she adds, “he can only see the eye of the fish (a reference to a challenge in the Mahabharata where “Arjun had to shoot a fish through its eye by looking into its

reflection in water). He doesn’t care about what his parents, friends or others say. He doesn’t worry about failing — he knows he will fail too — but he wants to keep trying.” “He keeps telling me that we should leave something valuable behind for the world. He is not worried about his life, his health, but he is very worried about global health.”

Haripriya mukundarajan with a cartoon sketched by manu Prakash. “That’s why, for me, it’s like I ended up in the perfect place because I, too, want to be a part-time science cartoonist. Manu is the perfect person who will encourage stuff like that.” The lab once gifted him a mug with a picture of something he sketched on it. Mukundarajan still has a book of his sketches. “He keeps saying he should take this back from me, but he keeps forgetting.” Since she and the book are located less than 20 feet from his office, perhaps she just forgets to return it. “I think it’s the best lab ever because this is a place I never ever thought I could find. In a place like this, I can work on bugs, and I can work on useful things like infectious disease transmission, and I can work on cool stuff like how algae

make very pretty pictures, how insects can water-ski, and how bubbles freeze into really beautiful patterns. I really like the range of both fun stuff and serious stuff that I can do.” She describes a class she took under Manu. “The first line he said was, ‘Do science like you’re an eight-year-old.’ I think that’s what drives everything in this lab. I’d like to be like Manu in a lot of things, except there are a couple of really outrageous things he does that I could never ever want to do. I don’t think I ever want to be a kind of person who licks a slug, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking it’s extremely cool.” “One thing I really like about Manu’s work is the diversity of it. He’s not afraid to jump into any field or tackle a problem, no matter how strange it might be or whether he has a background in it or not. I think that’s really awesome and admirable. Because it’s really P rajendran the question that matters to him, and not whether he has the tools in his toolbox to produce an answer.” “The culture in the lab has also been that: it’s the problem that is really important, and the tools are something you learn on the way. I think most of us in the lab admire how much Manu has learned over the years — and I’m always thinking, my God, I’m three years into my PhD and I don’t feel one-fourth of the way to where he is right now.” “That way, I think he’s an absolutely fantastic example of how you can be analytically brilliant and extremely creative, and do both really good theoretical work and be extremely hands-on. I think this all-round excellence is what sets Manu apart.” In his lab, Mukundarjan says, “It’s OK to be really, really stupid — as long as you’re not really, really stupid for very long, you’re willing to do something about it.” n

‘His mind, his imagination, his passion took him there’ anu has traveled through almost 25 countries in 10 years, many of them in Africa, taking stock of the M health of children in those countries. Whenever he visits

India, the last time was in August 2013, he makes the time to meet underprivileged children, take stock of their health, find out which diseases afflict them, what can be done to improve their health. “He feels very sad about the conditions here,” his father adds. “He gets upset over the fact that though India has so much as a country, there is so little improvement.” “He wants his inventions — a Foldscope, a chemistry set or the smartphone that detects cancer — in everyone’s pockets,” his mother says, “He wants to give the patent to somebody for commercial production,” his father adds, “but he wants to ensure that it will be cheap and widely accessible. He is not interested in

making too much money out of it.” When it comes to work, Manu is single minded, but that has in no way precluded him from having other interests, other adventures. Those who know him best say he is always up for a new experience. “He loves traveling,” his mother says. “Whenever he gets a few days he likes to travel to a new country, a new city and explore its culture, its people, its politics. Even when he Skypes with us he wants to know about the political situation here, about the Aam Aadmi Party, about Arvind Kejriwal (the AAP leader). He insisted I show him my inked finger after voting (this year).” “He has a restless soul,” his father says. The other constants in his life have been soccer and family. And he remains close to both. “Whenever he comes here,” his mother says, “he gets in touch with all his aunts and uncles. He makes sure the family comes together like we did when he was a child. He is especially interested in all the kids in the family. While all the adults keep hoping to speak to him, he will be caught up with the kids, finding out who is doing what, what their aspirations are.” n


M69 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013 Fellow scientist Zev Bryant, who is constantly amazed at Manu Prakash’s child-like curiosity, shares with P Rajendran the curious tale of When Manu Licked A Slug “

‘a #labselfie’ in monterey Bay by manu Prakash. His colleague Zev Bryant says he picks up ideas and looks at them in the same way that he picks up bugs on the street and examines them.

anu is interested in many different things — and he refuses to choose between them, right?” M Zev Bryant, an assistant professor of bioengineering and

structural biology at Stanford, laughs as he asks the rhetorical question while describing his colleague Manu Prakash. “He refuses to choose between the basic physics of biology and applications. He refuses to choose between the laboratory and the field. Naturally, when you are keeping so many things going, there’s going to be some amount of chaos,” he says. Bryant does some fun work himself — such as on DNA gyrase, which is involved in DNA coiling, and the behavior of myosins, which along with actin, plays a starring role in all the sinews that the muscle-bound exhibit. While Bryant works at the molecular scale, Manu works at a larger one — involving physical biology at the organism level. “Having Manu here has been an exciting opportunity for us to think about interfaces between those scales, and we talk often on long train rides home to the city (San Francisco, where they both live) about the ways we can combine the different engineering technologies.” For the first time, he says, they also have a student, Toly Rinberg, working between our groups. Manu and Zev have not worked together yet on a research project. “One thing we’ve designed together is the shared space in the new bioengineering building,” says Bryant. “It’s been great already for my students to have exposure to the way people in his group work and vice versa.” Bryant agrees that the way Manu’s group works is interactive and chaotic. “(Manu) behaves like a child,” he says with a laugh. “I mean it in the nicest way possible. If you go for walk with Manu in the woods or in the park or even on the street, you’ll see he’s constantly doing things that many of us stopped doing when we were eight years old.” (Laughs.) “He’s constantly picking up bugs and slugs and worms and figuring out how things work — stopping at spider webs and trying to figure out where all the bunch of little spiders are. He brings that kind of child-like curiosity to everything he does. You can see the way he picks up ideas and looks at them and turns them over in the same way that he’ll pick up bugs on the street and look at them and turn them over.” He laughs again. “It’s become a cliché to talk about scientists having a child-like curiosity, but I can’t think of anyone for whom that would be a more apt description than it is for Manu.” He then describes the famous lab story: When Manu Licked A Slug. “That came about because Nicholas Kristof (the New York Times columnist) had written this article … deploring the fact that American kids these days no longer know

Courtesy: tWitter.Com/PrakasHlaB

‘Manu behaves like a child’ what happens when you lick the bottom of a banana slug. Conceptually, he’s deploring the idea that we’ve lost this visceral connection with nature...” “As scientists, all of us are fascinated and inspired by the complexity we see in nature and that is, after all, what we’re trying to explain, the thing that’s driving us. But many of us can lose that visceral connection with nature as well.” “We were talking about that column when we were out walking in Santa Cruz … There was a banana slug there that Manu picked up and was playing with for quite a while and, of course, he wanted to check if Kristof had said was true (that) it is supposed to make your tongue numb.” “His version of the experiment was that he licked the slug. He immediately had to (leave to) get on a flight to India that day. Nothing happened very fast” — Bryant laughs — “but halfway through the flight his face got quite swollen and his tongue was quite numb indeed. He now definitively knows the answer to that question about what happens when you lick the bottom of a (banana) slug...” “Not as a kid — no. As a 30-year-old adult.” Bryant and Manu are working together on a proposal for a new project. “We come to the same problem from opposite ends. We realize that while I’ve come from this very narrow focus on molecular mechanisms, and how molecular entities can do their work, Manu has come from the perspective of saying, well, I see this overall large process inside a cell or inside an organism. And I don’t understand how that works. You look inside a plant and you see streaming; you look inside a cytoplasm and you see... streaming motion. It’s a sort of macroscopic thing...’ “Manu starts there … and he starts to dissect it in terms of the fluid. But fundamentally in these complex biological contexts you have these phenomena that arise from

molecular processes. So I start from the molecules and I’m thinking of that, and we talk to each other and we realize we’ve been thinking of the same problem but from opposite ends.” He has observed the obsessed way in which Manu and his group do things. “I have watched the way his team works on these global health projects and the development of this paper microscope, which, as an outside observer, it’s been fascinating watching develop,” he said, laughing as he describes the prototypes of those constantly littered all over the floor. Bryant says his daughter, Navia, 7, was one of the early testers of the paper microscope. According to him, “At home, as at work, (Manu) is a constant fountain of ideas. Both me and my family tremendously enjoy our time with Manu.” He remembers a short visit to Manu’s flat in a basement of a place on the edge of a lake, when Manu was still in Boston. “It was a kind of home perfectly suited for Manu,” Bryant says with a laugh. “Those 30 minutes (or a little longer) were like hours — not just because we had great conversation and (because) Manu cooked for us. We managed to find some worms and a fishing line and go fishing in the lake. So my daughter learned about fishing, I think, for the first time there. She learned about fluids from Manu. We had this amazing 30 minutes of peace before going back to whatever function we were going to next.” Bryant’s daughter, like most other children, really go for Manu. “Manu is constantly showing her bugs and other pieces of nature. He’s always giving her toys that explain how fluids work,” Bryant says. “Navia would rather hang out with Manu than with me.” He does not seem to mind all that much. n


M70 june 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He’s in the game all the time’ ‘He is into all kinds of unrelated things that somehow he synthesizes together in a brilliant way,’ Stanford Professor Paul Yock tells P Rajendran

W

hat’s distinctive about his inventions is this: They pull from areas that wouldn’t normally connect,” Professor Paul Yock says about Manu Prakash. “He has a very unusual creative process,” says Professor Yock. “It is very lateral. He pulls ideas from far outside his own areas. So I think he is — even for an academician — very thirsty for knowledge outside his area. He really likes to learn about things and he sets his focus very wide.” Dr Yock, the Martha Meier Weiland Professor of Medicine and Director of Biodesign at Stanford, is a bit of a tinkerer himself. “Inventing is a kind of hobby of mine,” he says. “I pay attention to it. I pay attention to inventors and the way they think. What’s fun about his inventing process is that his leaps forward are drawing from areas that are way out of his zone.” He takes the example of the Foldscope, Manu’s answer to the need to get microscopy for anybody who cared. “The concept of an inexpensive ‘scope has been around forever. … And he just went completely lateral and had this origami concept somehow floating around in his head, and pulled in a completely different manufacturing technique for lenses — blowing little bubbles for the lenses in very high volume very, very inexpensively. (It’s) not a technique, he should know about, right?” Professor Yock asks as he snorts in amusement. “Why in the world would this guy know of this methodology?” Then he answers his own question: “It goes back, I think... He did some work on birds that create little droplets. I think that may have been connected in his mind. These wild connections, you know!” Professor Yock explains that the connection is that the birds spit out little droplets that harden up into spheres.

f PAGE M67

to Nigeria and Uganda to test ways to collect mosquito saliva, Korir says, “I want to work on medical technologies for developing countries because ultimately I want to go back home.” One of Korir’s projects is a chemistry kit that relies on a microfluidic chip that uses no external power source. Usage does not call for much training — and the first model was fashioned from music box parts. Useful in a variety of health-care situations, it is also a good educational tool for

“Now, the way people do it is they send volunteers to be (bitten) and the volunteers catch the mosquito. The new technique allows one to put cards outside for a week, then mail them in. What you have is a very early warning system. Like if West Nile is spreading into the Bay Area, you would know about it. We’ve never been able to do that.” While interesting scientifically, Professor Yock says it is much more interesting from a public health standpoint. “This is a little bit like chip manufacturing,” he says. Somehow he pulled that idea and married it with the idea of vector screening for mosquitoes.” Professor Yock directs programs that evaluate projects for funding where Manu brings up questions. “I do interact with him in the bioengineering department, where we deal with issues about teaching and hiring and so on,” he says. “There, too, I would say what characterizes his approach is (that) he really has a very lively intelligence... You just have this feeling that his headlights are always on the topic that you’re talking about. He is very likely to have an interesting insight or challenge what somebody’s saying. He’s in the game all the time.” But Manu’s persistent questioning raises no hackles, says Professor Yock. “No, he’s a pretty sweet guy, actually. (Henry) Kissinger had this line that people in universities are so nasty because the stakes are so low, meaning they fight over little things. Manu is a gentle creature. He is not as blatantly ambitious or aggressive as a lot of people with his talent.” “I think part of the reason he’s a fit for global health type things is that he has a genuinely — this sounds a litP rajendran tle sappy — but he has a really caring personality. He’s a manu Prakash at stanford university. What’s fun about his inventing really decent guy.” process, his colleagues say, is that he draws from areas that are way And then there is Manu’s team. out of his zone. “His students are extremely fond of him. He’s a character. In the way he talks and conducts himself he’s easy, he’s Manu used a similar idea to make lenses. loose, he’s a little bit … whatever the opposite of buttoned“Then the idea of origami was something floating around down is,” Professor Yock says. in his head — and he put all those things together,” he says He remembers meeting Manu at the airport when he and then goes on. came in for his first interview for the Stanford job. “Another example — a project I really love of his — He expected the conversation would last half an hour, but (involves) a mosquito vector. (It’s) a little postcard that has it went on for one-and-a-half hours. a jillion little bubbles that have a mosquito attractant. The “It was the most interesting, wide-ranging (conversation). mosquito comes and stings the bubble because it has an We didn’t talk about the job, but I wound up learning” — attractant. That captures both the DNA of the mosquito he speaks through laughter — “a whole lot of wild things, itself, so you can characterize the mosquito — and whatever from nature to technology to politics. He’s got a lively intel(pathogen) that it’s carrying: Malaria, dengue... The reason lect. He’s into all kinds of unrelated things that somehow he for the postcard is, you want to be able to track epidemics — West Nile for example... It’s again really brilliant.” synthesizes together in a brilliant way.” n

‘He’s the most curious person I’ve ever met’ children. escribing Manu, Korir says, “He’s the most curious person I’ve ever met. He’s D just curious about everything. I remember,

once he was pushing a cart and it was making a noise he did not understand. He just stopped and started asking all these questions about that cart, and why it was making those noises.” He admits that sometimes, that can come

in the way of work. “I think the concept of time for him is very fluid. Initially, I was very exasperated. Now I’m learning to manage it and just be flexible as well. Because when he’s present with someone, he’s totally present; he loses track of time.” Korir laughs. “So if you’re next in line, that could be a challenge.” He sees Manu as being very engaged — and helpful to a lot of people. Korir speaks of a visitor from Kenya who

Manu went out of his way to introduce to many people in the Bay Area. “(The visitor) went back with suitcases full of gifts and equipment. It showed me a side of Manu — as (someone) very kind to others. Just being open to helping others,” he says. “He’s extremely open to all sorts of ideas – and extremely encouraging to pursuing different things,” he adds. “As a graduate student, I find that very useful, very helpful.” n


M71 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY 2013 Kumar Barve

Courtesy: Kumar Barve

A PARADIGM OF SERVICE


M72 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘They felt it was impossible for somebody with a name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve to win an election’

But not only did he become the first Indian-American state legislator, he is also now the longest serving Indian-American lawmaker. Kumar Barve, winner of the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community 2013, in conversation with Aziz Haniffa

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

Joy Cherian (2007) Founder, Indian american Forum for Political education Sreedhar Menon (2009) Philanthropist Manavi, Sakhi, Apna Ghar and Maitri (2010) For being a refuge for south asian women facing domestic abuse and for empowering those women Thomas Abraham (2011) Founder, GoPIo

Sambhu Banik (2012) Pioneering Community Leader

Kumar Barve For being the first Indian-American state legislator; for his innumerable contributions to public service; for being a political pioneer and role model.

Kumar Barve with his father, the late Prabhakar raghunath Barve, who hailed from tarapur, maharashtra, and his mother, neera Barve, now 88, who has lived in the us since childhood.

PHotoGraPHs Courtesy: Kumar Barve

K

Kumar Barve’s mother’s family, circa 1927. the lawmaker’s grandfather shankar L Gokhale, sitting left, who came to the us in 1911 to work with Ge, and grandmother uma, sitting right, with Kumar’s mother neera (on her father’s lap) and her twin sudhakar (on his mother’s lap). also in the picture are Kumar Barve’s uncle madhu, and aunts sharayu Gokhale and mohak.

umar Prabhakar Barve, 55, born in Schenectady, New York, is today the dean of Indian-American legislators, being first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1990. Ever since he has been a shoo-in to the state’s District 17 in Montgomery Country — which has a population of over 110,000 and incorporates the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, the major high tech centers in

Maryland. He was the first Indian American to be elected to a state legislature and 24 years later is the longest-serving Indian-American lawmaker. He perhaps has the record for the number of legislative awards he has won for introducing and successfully enacting some landmark legislation affecting the lives of millions of Marylanders — from health care to high tech and being instrumental in the creation of the Technology Development Corporation in Maryland. Barve’s father, the late Prabhakar Raghunath Barve, who hailed from Tarapur, Maharashtra, left India just after Independence and went to England where he was an

architect and got a job with the Ministry of Works, renovating bombed out facilities from World War II in London. His mother, Neera Barve, 88, who now lives in an assisted living facility, had joined her father Shankar Lakshman Gokhale — who had first come to the US in 1911 — and mother, years after along with her siblings. Barve’s maternal grandfather had come to the US as a research scientist for GE, and lived in Schenectady, after a teaching career and serving as principal of the Holkar Science College in Madhya Pradesh. His grandfather, Kumar Barve says, had first gone to Edinburgh, Scotland, where “he ran into Charles Proteus Steinmetz (an electrical engineering pioneer), who was chief science officer at GE, who invited him to go to Schenectady for work for the GE facility there.” His parents first met in England, says Barve, adding, “it wasn’t exactly an arranged marriage, but was sort of because she was introduced to my dad

g

PAGE M74


India Abroad June 27, 2014

M73


M74 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘They felt it was impossible for somebody with a name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve to win an election’

f PAGE M72

it would be completely impossible for Hindus and Muslims to win elections in the United States. I sat there quietly listening to him and the few students who knew who I was, were looking at me, but I told them don’t say by family members and then decided to get maranything. When he said, are there any quesried.” tions, I raised my hand and he called on me The wedding ceremony was performed by his first, and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Kumar maternal grandfather in Schenectady as Barve Prabhakar Barve, and I was just recently quips, “He was apparently the only Brahmin elected to the Maryland House of Delegates around!” in a district that is predominantly white “Then my mom moved back to London and and African American, and there are lived there for about a year, till she became pregalmost no Asians whatsoever.’ nant. Then they (his parents) decided that I I just sat down and let the silence just setshould be born in the US because I’d have more tle in. opportunities in the US, and she moved back I guess the next person to run after you, here.” but that was years later, was Satveer Barve, an only child, says, “Papa had to stay in Chaudhary from minnesota, who was electEngland, wrapping up his affairs and didn’t come ed a state Senator, but after serving a couple to the US till early 1959. I was then four months of terms lost his seat. old.” That’s right, and when he first decided to “My father, when he first came to this country, run, I sat down and talked to him, and if I found work in Reading, Pennsylvania, as an archiremember correctly, he actually came to my tect and then eventually found work in DC and town house in Gaithersburg and I just laid eventually, again, he got a job with the Veterans out all my sheets and how I pounded the Administration. We moved to the Washington, DC doors, how I put up signs… the whole way I suburbs because the school system was good in did the campaign. Montgomery Country, and I went to elementary, Courtesy: Kumar Barve He had a fairly decent, extensive backjunior high (Tacoma Park Junior High) and high Kumar Barve’s parents encouraged him to be involved in activities like student ground in political organizing himself with school (Paint Branch High School), all in government at a time when most Indian americans looked down upon their kids getting involved in it. the unions at the time. So, he was pretty up Montgomery County.” the first campaign he worked on was in 1974, as a 10th grader. to speed. But I emphasized to him the His father worked for VA for 24 years before knocking on doors, and since then, I’ve talked to a lot of retiring while his mother worked for the India Supply to congratulate me and invited me to have lunch. people. Mission — an appendage of the Indian embassy. What made you so interested in politics to the extent you It was neat, having Sam Arora, who was a volunteer on The Barve residence, unlike most Indian-American began to volunteer in a campaign at such a young age? my campaign, run for office. It was also really neat having homes of that time, was politically active and aware — We always talked about politics at home. Again, unlike three South Asian elected members of our legislature (himBarve joked that his father would have “appreciated the Indians at the time, they always voted in elections. My self, Arora and Aruna Miller), which Governor (Martin) date he died (September 30, 2011) because it was the last father was sponsored for citizenship by the Veterans O’Malley bragged about everywhere he went, particularly at year of the federal fiscal year — so when Kumar chose poliAdministration… I remember following the NixonIndian-American events. It was a positive experience for tics as a career, his parents were very supportive. Humphrey election in 1968 as a 10 year old. me. The longtime Maryland lawmaker shares his life story. Besides being the first-ever Indian-american state legislaOne of the problems now is that so many Indian tor, you are also now the longest-serving Indian-american Americans are too successful in their professions and busilawmaker. How does it feel to be ‘The Dean’ or ‘The t’s been nearly 30 years, in 1986, since you met Lalit ness to take time out to really campaign — Godfather’ among Indian-american legislators? Gadhia and told him of your intent to run for the it’s really hard for anybody. But I think, It’s great. But I wish there were more of us... maryland State assembly from montgomery County and more and more, you are going to see more Ramesh Kapur — he gave me my first big campaign conasked for his support and to introduce you to the maryland people (Indian Americans) elected. When I tribution, a check of $500; I’d never seen a check that big at Democratic political establishment. What brought about started, most Indians felt it was an impossithe time — said, listen Kumar, the only thing I want is, this decision? bility for somebody who looks like me with when you win, I want you to travel around the country, I’ve always wanted to run for office. I was involved in stua name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve, to talking to young Indian-American kids to encourage them dent government. And, unlike most Indian parents, my parwin an election. to run for political office. ents encouraged me to be involved in activities like student Years after your election, and re-election So, I won, and I said, you know Ramesh, I don’t have any government. Most Indian Americans in the ’60s and ’70s after re-election to the state legislature, money to travel, but if you can pay my expenses, I will go looked down upon their kids getting involved in sports or we’ve had Bobby Jindal run for Congress anywhere. Pretty soon, within the first three years of my civic stuff or student government. My parents weren’t like and win and then go on and give a second being elected, pretty much any Indian-American organizathat. gubernatorial shot and be elected Governor tion would fly me out to one place or another. So, I would So, it was just a natural evolution for you? of Louisiana. We also had another go to all these places and one was kind of funny. Yes. In fact, the first campaign I worked on was in 1974, republican, Nikki Haley win her gubernaI went to an Indian student association meeting where I when I was in the 10th grade, for a guy running for the PAGE torial race in South Carolina. was going to speak. But before I spoke, there was a seminar House of Delegates — Bob Hacken. We knocked on doors M75 How come a veteran like you never made a about political involvement. So, they had this NYU profesand did all the things you do in campaigns, and ironically, run for the uS Congress, which many sor standing up and the whole basis of his speech was how when I won in 1990, he was in his 80s and he called me up

I

g


M75 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘They felt it was impossible for somebody with a name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve to win an election’ f

One of my favorite books is Warrior Politics by Robert Kaplan where he talks about some of the most important ancient virtues in politics and one of them is just working hard, in addition to the virtues of loyalty, not just taking things for granted because that’s how you lose elections. But not only that, if you take things for granted, you don’t deserve to win the elecIndian americans and South asian americans who tion. have supported you through the years have been Let me tell you something. I bet you, if I went into a eagerly encouraging you to do? coma today and re-emerged on the 25th (June), I’ll A lot of these races are like musical chairs — probably win. But if I start taking these things for when the music stops, you have to put your butt on granted, I don’t think I deserve to be in elective office. an open seat, and the last time an opportunity arose I really believe that to be entitled to this office, you was 2002. That was when I was trying to get (then have to work for it, just as a matter of virtue. Maryland Governor) Parris Glendening to draw up How integral is grass-roots activism, which is somea Congressional district that would take half of thing I believe you consider even more important than Montgomery County and go into western the fundraising efforts, etc? Maryland. I was going to run for that seat. Absolutely central, but that’s the problem that in And the other seat, Chris Van Hollen and Mark Courtesy: Kumar Barve Kumar Barve considers his work towards the Patient access act, American politics it’s no longer important with Shriver, were going to run against each other. Now, the uniform Computer Information transactions act, the technology Development respect to fundraising. Fundraising now has become I have to tell you in that race between Chris Van an activity which is divorced from actual politics. I Hollen and Mark Shriver, there wasn’t enough oxyCorporation of maryland, the Greenhouse Gas reduction act, and the renewable mean, there are two campaigns — there is the gen in that tent for me. energy Portfolio some of his most important work in the state of maryland. fundraising campaign and there is the grass-roots Back in those days, I couldn’t have raised a milcampaign. am the only accountant in the room. So, a lot of times they lion dollars. Today, I can. Maybe, there was a time in American politics, where the turn their head and say, ‘What do you think makes sense?’ The irony is, now we have this district, which is similar to two were closely linked. There was a time in politics, when I’ve had a real input into helping to run the finances of the what I wanted Parris to draw up and there was a rumor most of the money you got, you got from business-people state of Maryland — and it’s a successfully run state. that Congressman John Delaney, who is a Democrat, was who lived in or near the district in which you lived. Now, To rewind, since you spoke of how ramesh Kapur gave you thinking of running for Governor. especially in Congress, there is no connection between your first big campaign contribution, who were some of your If he had, I’d be running for Congress right now — I’d be where the money comes from and where the votes come early supporters in the Indian-american community? running for that seat. So, a lot of that has to do with opporfrom, and that’s a real problem today in American politics. I hate to say this, but it is such a small list, it’s easy to keep tunity. What would you say have been some of the most important track of them. Bobby Jindal ran for governor and lost and then ran for legislative proposals that you’ve introduced and have been Lalit Gadhia; Dr Suresh C Gupta, who later became the Congress and then after a term-and-a-half, ran for governor enacted into law? head of the Physicians Regulatory Board; and, of course, again because he was in a unique position of being the head Number one, in 1995, the Patient Access Act, which was Ramesh Kapur, Krishna Srinivasa, down in Georgia; and of the health department of Louisiana, which was one of the first serious law in America to regulate HMOs (health there were others like Dr Sambhu Banik, who was an early the rottenest in America and he really straightened it out. maintenance organizations) and to basically guarantee that supporter even though he was a Republican, and Dr Joy He has political skills. He was then able to get the support you could see the doctor of your choice — that the HMO Cherian, a great guy and a big supporter of mine too. of the then Republican governor, and he didn’t quite make couldn’t put a gag rule on your physician and that you have But, in this area, most Indian Americans were very dubiit the first time. But the thing is, a lot of this is opportunity the ability to have greater choice. HMOs fought it furiously, ous… I mean, if they lived in the district, for most part, they and (Hurricane) Katrina took down the governor but we passed the law and it was copied by about 30 other voted, but not all of them. They were very dubious and it (Democrat Kathleen Blanco) because Blanco was seen as states. was a sort of act of faith when Suresh Gupta made the decibeing ineffective at that time, which I believe was an unfair The next bill was the Uniform Computer sion to get the medical board of the Prince George’s County characterization, but that’s the way it worked out. Information Transactions Act, which was a Medical Society, of which he was the president, give me a But on the other hand, it is more important — and pervery complicated consumer protection elec$500 check. haps makes more sense — to be an influential state lawmaktronic commerce law, which I introduced It was such an act of faith because I can imagine him er than be a first-time junior uS Congressman, who for all when I was chair of the Science and going into a bunch of Prince George’s doctors saying we got intents and purposes has not much clout and unless he or Technology Subcommittee — and Anthony to elect this guy in Rockville and them saying, but he’s in she has gotten an important committee assignment like in Brown, the Lieutenant Governor of Montgomery County. But Suresh went to bat for me and he Ways and means or Government appropriations, probably Maryland, who is running for Governor was one of those early supporters, along with the handful of wouldn’t ever be heard? now, was one of the top two people who others I mentioned. Of course, it absolutely makes a whole lot of more sense. helped me write that law. I find that you never rest on your laurels. Here I am interRight now, the fiscal leadership in the state of Maryland is Then there was the Technology viewing you in annapolis and you are between your cammade up of nine people, and I am one of those nine people. Development Corporation of Maryland, paigning and door knocking for your primary that’s coming You have the Governor, you have four people on the which has kind of become the prototype of up just a few days after our India abroad Person of the Year House side and four people on the Senate side, which how you use a quasi-development entity to awards event. means on the House side, it’s the Speaker and three people encourage high technology business develWhy is it that you still do all of this sustained campaigning and I am one of those three. On the Senate side, the Senate PAGE opment. when you’ve always been re-elected for the past two decades president and three of his top people. M76 And, most recently in 2009, I passed the so comfortably? Is it because it’s something that you can’t So, whenever a difficult decision has to be made on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which is just take for granted? finances of the state, I am in the room, and often times, I

PAGE M74

g


M76 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘They felt it was impossible for somebody with a name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve to win an election’ f PAGE M75

one of the toughest greenhouse laws on the books anywhere. The only place, where it is more strict is California. Then also, although it is not legislation, I was also the motive force behind the Renewable Energy Portfolio, which basically says that at the end of the day 20 percent of all electricity sold in Maryland has to be from a renewable source. That’s a good way to reduce greenhouse gases without having to regulate every device in state. It’s simpler to require that 20 percent of the electrons come from renewable sources. How would you say these pieces of legislation have helped your constituents, including the large Indian-american constituency today in montgomery County of doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, IT people, small business-people, etc, and how, more generally, have you been an asset to the Indian-american community? Actually, it’s very easy serving my Indian-American constituents because they are middle to upper middle class, and my non-Indian-American constituents are also middle to upper middle class. So, when I strengthen the school system, when I strengthen the university system in Maryland, the interests of Indian Americans and non-Indian Americans coincide very, very clearly. Of course, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus in America have been subjected to discrimination at times, and when 9/11 occurred, I was able to get on the phone to Doug Duncan, who was then County Executive and say, mosques and gurdwaras need police protection. There’s nothing wrong with the police agencies, but they don’t want to be stretched too thin and they said if something happens, we’ll be there to help you. I explained to Doug Duncan that we can’t wait for something to happen — the mosques and gurdwaras need police protection now. And Duncan called up the police and said, yes, we are going to do it and we are going to do it now. There were no incidents in Montgomery County. I like to use that as an example of why its important for Indian Americans to be in elected office because more than a campaign contributor, more than a business person, an elected official has the ability to pick up the phone and call a colleague. I strongly believe that there has to be a South Asian in every state legislature in America that has a South Asian population. There has to be 10 or 15 members in Congress or two or three US Senators because you need people at the table. Indians, because of India, I believe have a very warped view of what’s important in politics — they see it as all money, money, money. Of course, money is important, but having your people at the table is much more important. You’ve always been a mentor to Indian americans who’ve run for local, state and even national office and ami Bera is a great example, as have the likes of Sam arora, aruna miller. Why do you believe being a mentor is integral to the community if it wants to be politically empowered?

Kumar Barve flanked by fellow maryland delegates aruna miller and sam arora. He has supported and mentored both of them just as he supported Indian americans running for office elsewhere in the country.

Courtesy: Kumar Barve

If you look at American history, we are atypical. I know there are a lot of working class and poor South Asians, but for the most part, we came here as middle class and upper middle class people, and rather than going into our own ghettos, where we had to build our own political identity, we went into the suburbs and spread out. It is a feature of American civilization that decisions are made in legislative bodies — I mean, if you live in India, or China, or Africa or Europe, there are ancient, cultural mechanisms for decision making. America has none of those; we have elected legislatures. You either are a member of it and you have a say or you are not a member of it and you have no say — it’s as simple as that. So, I believe that Indian Americans should contribute to people in office, but there’s nothing more important than contributing to Indian Americans and getting Indian Americans and South Asian Americans — I should say South Asian Americans and not say just Indian Americans, and I include Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankans, Nepalis — elected. The point I am making is just as I wouldn’t deserve to be in office if I didn’t work hard at it, if our community doesn’t support people like (US Congressman) Ami Bera, we won’t deserve to have somebody in Congress — it will be as simple as that. It won’t be just a matter of losing; it will be losing because we didn’t deserve to win. You’ve also put your money where your mouth is and always sent a campaign contribution to all Indian americans who run for office, from the likes of Bera to Swati Dandekar,

and everyone else? Why do you believe it’s important to do so? Yes, the ones who I believe are worthy of it. There was a time when I would contribute to all of them, but I have to be a little more discriminating now. It’s important because we have to show them that we are there for them and even a small contribution from a guy like me who’s been in office for several years, could be a source of such encouragement and that kind of a boost is just so important. What has been your sort of raison d’être when it comes to being House majority Leader? It’s my job to make sure that we have a majority of votes on the floor when we have to pass a piece of legislation. It’s my job to get the votes, working with my whip, and win the floor fight — that’s it. I am a mechanic. So, that means negotiating, compromising, working with the other side, etc? It’s everything from making compromises to getting votes, standing on the floor and making the argument — it’s a soup to nuts thing. It’s all about convincing 71 votes to be with the Speaker. You were also instrumental in getting a Hindu chaplain for the first time to deliver the invocation at the convening of the General assembly a few years ago? Why was PAGE it so important to you to do so? Was it simM77 ply symbolism or did it go beyond symbolism?

g


M77 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He had the whole package. I was instantly attracted to him’ He is a politician; she is a judge. But Maureen Quinn and Kumar Barve make it work. She shares what keeps them going with Aziz Haniffa

into my own life.” Quinn acknowledges that both of them being political junkies was catalytic for their relationship: “Absolutely, yes, yes. I am very political — I can talk politics, breakfast, lunch and dinner and so, yes, that made it a very easy fit for both of us personality-wise. I see a lot of (political) spouses, who truly despise politics. They don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to go to anything, and I thought that’s unfortunate. I had been helping Parris Glendening (former Maryland governor) raise money among women lawyers and so, I aureen Quinn, a Maryland judge and was becoming really active at the state level, right a commissioner on the Maryland about the time I met Kumar.” Workers’ Compensation Quinn does not campaign with Barve although she Commission, says it was a love of may attend fundraising dinners and other events with politics in all of its facets that him, because they have to be scrupulously cautious instantly attracted her to Kumar Barve after they that there is no perception of a conflict of interest. first met. “I am somewhat limited in my ability to do that “We met in 1998, when I was a practicing lawyer, because of my judgeship,” she says. “It’s not flatly prodoing a little bit of lobbying and we had a mutual hibited, but it can raise questions about impartiality friend, Michael Gordon, and we met through him at and so on, and so, I appear at things and all that as his a political fundraiser, and we clicked immediately,” wife, but that’s the extent of it. Of course, I love to sit she says. and talk strategy at a breakfast table or anywhere else, Quinn, an alumnus of American University in but in terms of being out there campaigning or doing Washington, DC and Temple University’s School of any kind of fundraising for him, I don’t do that.” Law in Philadelphia, engaged in private practice as Asked how supportive Barve is in terms of the work an attorney from 1987 to 2002, establishing her own she does vis-à-vis women and children who are victims law firm in 1995 where her primary focus was on of rape, and domestic abuse or if he is similarly general civil litigation. She is also an adjunct profeslimited,  she says, “Yes, he’s limited too, and it’s actually sor at the University of Maryland University College, kind of funny because we are both little rock stars in teaching business ethics. our world, and when he comes with me to events Asked what it was about Barve that made her not where I am the judge and all the lawyers are flocking only one of his most ardent supporters but also to me, he loves that.” marry him six years later, she says, laughing, “He But Quinn says her husband doesn’t accept camhad the whole package. I was instantly attracted to Courtesy: Kumar Barve paign contributions from lawyers who have practiced him. He has a very beautiful voice, he is very smart, Kumar Barve with wife maureen Quinn. before her “and that’s another way we try to make sure we but not in an arrogant way, and funny as hell. So, are scrupulous in not giving any perception at all of a conyou know, a lot of it really is just chemistry.” flict of interest. I don’t use my position to help him raise “The Indian part of him is also so attractive and I’ve just so much from him. I am an aspiring vegetarian now, and money, because if I want to, they’ll all be giving him money. come to love that more and more over the years,” she adds. there are so many things about him and India and Indians “Indian people are so peaceable and patient, and I’ve learnt I’ve learnt through him and I’ve tried to bring as much of it We are much more scrupulous than most people are.” n

M

f PAGE M76

It is symbolism, but to me it’s important that everybody be included and that we are part of that. You have to have a seat at the table and that’s the way America works. To say, we are American — that’s the bottom line. And, people want to see that by the way. This isn’t like some other countries. Here, people accept and understand that differences of prayer, culture, etc are all part of being American — that’s the way Americans behave. If you are not prepared to do that, then you don’t deserve to be listened to.

‘They felt it was impossible for somebody with a name like Kumar Prabhakar Barve to win an election’ A lot of people will say you have to work hard to achieve an end, but you also have to work hard to deserve the end. So, this kind of symbolism is also important because there’s no substitute to having your own people at the table and it helps in the sense of a broader acceptance. So, in a sense, this was also a way of getting it across that we are here, Indian americans have arrived and here’s a part of that culture and heritage? Here’s the thing. If you want to influence the President of the United States, there is

no better way to do that than to have a member of Congress as your advocate, because while most members of Congress meet the President only once or twice, they all have a vote. So, if Ami Bera calls up President Obama’s White House and says I have an issue that has to do with my community, President Obama and his staff have to respect that. They just can’t blow him off. It’s true. But to get the attention of a President you have to raise hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars. To get the attention of a Congressman, not that much

money, or you can be a volunteer on his or her campaign, or you can be a prominent person in their district. There is no substitute for having the ear of a member of Congress or of the State legislature or of the County Council, because if you make them into an advocate, then people up the line have to respect that. If your objective is to influence American policy with a campaign contribution, you are going to fail because American public policy is determined by so many different authors that on your very best day, you can get 20 percent accomplished of what you set out to accomplish, and to do that, you have to have a really good advocate, whether in the Congress, the state assembly or the county or city council depending on the policy. n


M80 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Pioneer, trailblazer, are all fitting descriptions of Kumar Barve’ US Congressman Christopher Van Hollen, Jr tells Aziz Haniffa about Kumar Barve’s contribution to Maryland over the past two decades

U

nited States Congressman Christopher ‘Chris’ Van Hollen, Jr, who served with Kumar Barve in the Maryland State legislature before being elected to the US House of Representatives in 2002 and remains a close friend of the longestserving Indian American lawmaker, believes Barve’s leadership and contributions to Montgomery County and the state have been invaluable. “Kumar and I first met as part of a small group of younger Democrats. Kumar was one of the founders of our group called MCDAC — Montgomery County Democratic Activists Club — and it was a group that was formed, again, by younger Democrats (as a forum for new ideas in the Montgomery County and the Maryland Democratic Party),” said Van Hollen. “That’s when we first met, in the late ’80s and then we both decided to run for the state legislature in 1990. And then we found ourselves sitting next to each other in the Maryland General Assembly.” The Karachi-born, Kodaikanal International School (in south India)-educated Van Hollen, son of the late diplomats Ambassador Christopher Van Hollen and Eliza Van Hollen, who did several stints in South Asia, would often joke that he’d spent more time in South Asia and India than Barve. “I would say, ‘Only in America could you have two people sitting next to each other in the General Assembly, where one person who was not Indian American had spent more time in India than the person of Indian-American descent. We worked very closely together and built up an even closer friendship than had preceded our election to the General Assembly.” Van Hollen is now the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, erstwhile chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, one of the most influential Democratic lawmakers, a close confidant of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and considered a potential future Presidential candidate. When informed of the constant refrain by the IndianAmerican community that Barve should have also been a US Congressman or US Senator, he said, “The community should know the tremendous difference that Kumar is making in the Maryland General Assembly as the Democratic Leader. He has made his mark as a great Maryland leader and legislator and it’s important that people pay attention to the important difference he’s making in the lives of millions of Marylanders.” “Of course, he’s also served as a great role model for other aspiring Indian-American public servants as well as those

Kumar Barve on the floor at the maryland House of Delegates. us Congressman Christopher van Hollen, Jr (not pictured) says the community should know the tremendous difference that Kumar is making as a legislator in maryland.

legislation that established the Technology Development Corporation and that has been part of Maryland’s successful effort to encourage more technology investment and development.” Besides being the first-ever Indian American state legislator and the longest-serving Indian-American lawmaker, Van Hollen said Barve was also personally aware of the number of young Indian Americans desirous of running for public office and those who had run and won and others who’d come close to winning Congressional elections, and informed him of these potential candidates, particularly when he (Van Hollen) was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “So, pioneer, trailblazer, are all fitting descriptions of Kumar, because like I said and have seen, he’s had a huge impact in several ways — he’s a role model, a mentor, and he’s well-respected from both political parties from Maryland and around the country,” Van Hollen said. “Again, if you look at his record, you find somebody who’s made a huge difference. The fact that he’s the longest-serving Indian American legislator is testament to the confidence that people of Maryland have in his leadership skills.” “Ever since I got to know him, I also have a sense of his deep caring about people — and Courtesy: FaCeBooK.Com/KumarBarve that’s what drives him in terms of legislation. His view is that everybody has the potential to contribute in beyond the Indian-American community… in Montgomery our community and he wants to make sure that everybody County. He’s really been a pioneer and a trailblazer in terms has an opportunity to realize their full potential. That’s why of breaking down some of the barriers that were there. It’s he’s focused on these issues and he’s been such a leader.” important for people to understand that he’s made and Van Hollen spoke of how during their times in Annapolis, continues to make his mark in a very unique way and in a “we had opportunities to get together many times — onevery important way.” on-one and in smaller groups — and share our experiences Barve, Van Hollen said, had introduced some landmark and really get to know the personal side of Kumar Barve.” pieces of legislation and pushed for them to be enacted “Kumar has a great sense of humor as everybody knows,” “that has impacted positively the lives of all Marylanders, he added. “That’s one of his trademarks. He’s always got a including Indian Americans. He has been recognized as quip and a tremendous sense of repartee. So, we always did one of the key leaders on health-care legislation, and have a back and forth with Kumar.” legislation dealing with science and technology, and you “Kumar is somebody who does inspire others in many can imagine how this has had such a positive impact on ways to public service and obviously, he has a special role even the large number of Indian-American health-care within the Indian-American community. But, I also think professionals and information technology and other high it’s important to emphasize that he’s a role model to the technology professionals and entrepreneurs in Montgomery entire community with his leadership efforts. Kumar is a County and Maryland, especially the high tech I-270 star in the state of Maryland. He’s been an important role corridor. You can just look around Montgomery County model to Indian Americans and others nationally. We are and Maryland and see the huge impact that Kumar Barve all very proud of his accomplishments and I am so glad that has made.” India Abroad has made the perfect choice for this award.”  “For example,” he added, “He was the sponsor of


M81 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013 maryland Governor martin o malley, left, pays attention to Kumar Barve’s view point at a climate change summit last year.

‘When he rises to speak, everyone listens’

From the Governor to legislators, Maryland’s lawmakers share their admiration for Kumar Barve with Aziz Haniffa

M

aryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Kumar Barve’s colleagues in the state legislature in effusive encomiums spoke of him as “a dear friend,” to “one of my closest confidantes” and “mentor” to making “being Indian American relevant.” O’Malley, in an exclusive message prepared for India Abroad, called Barve “a colleague and dear friend.” “As our first Indian-American state legislator and the longest serving, Kumar is a paradigm of public service,” he said. “Over the last two decades, Kumar has dedicated his life to making Maryland a better place to live, work and play, all while mentoring the rising generations of new leaders coming up through the legislature here in Annapolis.” Barve, the Governor said, had been instrumental in helping Maryland reduce crime to 30-year levels, and thanked the legislator for his support towards “the record investments we have made together in our public schools to make them the best in America,” and his work to improve the health of the bay and strengthen the state’s relationship with India.” “And for all that you’ve done in our state as a leader, as an entrepreneur and innovator,” he said, “the people of Maryland are thankful as well.” For Barve’s leadership, he added, “Maryland is a safe and better place.”

ichael Busch, Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, told India Abroad, “Kumar has been one of M my closest confidantes throughout my time as Speaker. He

brings an important voice to the House of Delegates leadership team, both from the perspective of a leader in the Indian-American community and a leader in Montgomery County.” “His natural ability to quickly understand an issue — both from the political and substantive policy perspective — have earned him the confidence of the House Democratic Caucus and the entire House of Delegates.” Busch highlighted Kumar’s work as a member of the Ways & Means Committee: “Kumar can always dissect complex tax policies. I rely on him during debates of the most important issues facing us and his ability to communicate with legislators and the general public is second to

Courtesy: Kumar Barve

none.” am Arora, a colleague of Barve’s in the General Assembly, said, “I have had the privilege to have Kumar S as a mentor, a friend, and most recently as a colleague in

the Maryland House of Delegates.” He first met Barve about 12 years ago, when he participated in the Washington Leadership Program, which provides scholarships for Indian-American college students interning on Capitol Hill, and was one of India Abroad founder and former publisher Gopal Raju’s pet projects. “When he spoke to our class of interns,” Arora recalled, “I was impressed by his combination of intelligence, experience, and approachability. After his talk, I introduced myself and told him I was embarking upon a career in public service.  He invited me to help out on his 2002 re-election campaign, where I began to see glimpses of Kumar’s passion for public service, uncommon candor, and his wonderful sense of humor.” “I think I once heard Kumar shift topics between the philosophy of America’s Founding Fathers, Lok Sabha politics, his hairline, and Seinfeld, all in one conversation.” “Over the intervening years, through successes and trials,” Arora added, “we would get together.  He offered counsel and encouragement on my life and career, and in later years I would try to do the same. It has been such a joy to see him rise to Majority Leader and — even more impressively — convince Maureen to marry him.  While he was pretty happy about the former, it was the latter that has made him far happier.” When Arora thought about running for the Maryland House in 2009, it was natural that he would seek Kumar’s advice. “Though some in Maryland political circles told me that I didn’t have the right connections — or, according to

some, the right skin color — to win,” he recalled, “Kumar said, unequivocally and repeatedly, ‘You can and will win this.’” “The day after my victory, he called me to congratulate me and to remind me of that he told me so. I look forward to returning the favor the day after he wins a seat in Congress.” As a colleague in the House of Delegates — or having “Kumar as a bhaiyaa (brother)-in-arms” — Arora finds him charismatic, “orating deftly and wryly at crucial moments of complex legislative debate.” He considers it a privilege to have worked with him and watched him: “When he rises to speak, everyone listens.”  “It is not merely that Kumar was the first IndianAmerican state legislator that merits his recognition as the  (winner of the) India Abroad  Award for Lifetime Service to the Community — it is his body of work as an outstanding legislator and his efforts to help more Indian Americans achieve the same.” runa Miller, another colleague of Barve’s in the state legislature, A described how his election to Maryland’s

state assembly made India and Indian Americans relevant with an analogy. “In the 1960s, The Beatles visited India and almost overnight, the world came to know India’s music and philosophy,” she said. “The Beatles made being an Indian cool. Thirty years later, Kumar Barve became the first Indian American in the nation to be elected to a state legislature, and Kumar made being an Indian American relevant.” “Kumar,” Miller said, “paved the way for

g

PAGE M82


M82 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Over and above all my expectations’ Lalit Gadhia speaks to Aziz Haniffa from the unique perspective of being Kumar Barve’s first supporter

I

n the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Lalit Gadhia, a Baltimore, Maryland, attorney, was a leading Democratic Party activist with significant influence with the political establishment in the state, particularly the African-American community and the likes of Parren Mitchell, Judge Joseph Howard and others, with whom he was actively involved in civil rights issues. Gadhia was one of the key players in the winning campaigns of Mitchell, the first African American from Maryland to be elected to the United States Congress, and Howard, the first African American elected to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City — as it was known then. He was also close to the likes of Governor Donald Schaefer and then County Executive of Prince George’s County Parris Glendening, who would later go on to be elected Governor and in whose administration Gadhia would serve. In 1984, Gadhia also founded an organization called STEP-IN (Society of Technologists, Entrepreneurs and Professional from India), and under the auspices of this group invited almost every significant player in Maryland, both elected and appointed, to interact with the Indian community and hear of their concerns and issues. Gadhia was a rainmaker and the first person Kumar Barve contacted in 1986, when he wanted to get politically involved after he had graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and had

just started working, but was evidently bitten, and bitten hard by the public service bug. In an interview with India Abroad, Gadhia recalled how at an event at the Hindu temple in Montgomery County in 1986, Barve, having researched Gadhia’s influence, had introduced himself and told him that he wanted to get involved in the political process. After giving Barve a few pointers, Gadhia recalled two years passed before Barve called him and said he wanted to run for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 17 in Montgomery County and asked if he would help him. “I told him to come down to Baltimore so that we could talk about it, because I generally like to support people after I talk to them and make an assessment that they have some political strengths going in,” Gadhia said. “So he came down to Baltimore and we sat down for a couple of hours and I sought out his political strengths because you can’t build on anything unless you have a very base level of involvement in local issues.” Recalling this meeting and always acknowledging that Gadhia was the first person he had gone to for support when he decided to run for political office, Barve told India Abroad, “Lalit really grilled me for over two hours to make sure I had the wherewithal to make a viable run for office.” “When I was convinced, he had been involved in local issues — from schools to roads to all of those issues that form the core of constituents concerns — and that he also had the zeal and dedication to pursue public office and that he was willing to do the leg work, because to me it’s important to do door-to-door leg work,” Gadhia recalled,  “I decided to support him as much as I could.” “For the next two years, we started structuring and working on it and in 1990, after this very important two-year head-start, Kumar was prepared for his run for office.” Once Kumar won the primary, Gadhia arranged for him to meet Governor Schaefer, Senator Harry McGuirk and

the other key players and arranged fundraisers for him. “Harry, a state Senator, was a very important player in the state legislature and the right hand man to Governor Schaefer and I took Kumar to the state House to meet with them, so that he would know how to go about doing things,” he said. “Harry was a master at that and he and I were good friends and he was also from Baltimore, and all of this helped Kumar to win the general election in November 1990.” The rest, it could be argued was history, as Barve became the first Indian American to be elected to a state legislature and just four years after being elected and re-elected, went on to become chair of the Montgomery County delegation to the General Assembly and then become House Majority Leader in 2002. When asked about some disappointment among Barve’s ardent supporters about him not having made a run for the US Congress years ago, Gadhia said, “Kumar and I have talked about this over the years. But every time, Kumar and I looked at the possibilities, the scenario didn’t look good because there were already people who had declared they were running with substantial amounts of money and so, had a huge financial advantage. They were either very wealthy people or they were coming with so much support from very wealthy donors that would not be easy to overcome.” “We have to make that assessment every time — and we have been looking at this for quite some time — but we haven’t found the right opening.” But, he argued, Barve, now as Majority Leader, “has so much seniority, so much clout in the House, there is no point giving that up unless you have a really good opportunity to move up.” Barve, he added, “has come through so beautifully and achieved and contributed so much over and above all of my expectations.” n

‘When he rises to speak, everyone listens’

f PAGE M81

Indian Americans in the political area where our voices could be heard. As the Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, he has been the lead speaker during floor debates on some of the most contentious issues. His voice, advocacy and leadership helped advance progressive policies for the people of Maryland, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to Kumar.” Miller serves with Barve on the Ways and Means Committee and is thankful for his

“guidance, leadership and friendship,” and admires his ability “to reach across the aisle and work with member of the opposite party.” “He is an effective leader who is highly respected.” She also referred to Barve’s sartorial elegance: “Kumar is a man who has not forgotten about the little things in life that matter — like the pocket square. He knows that it’s more important to mix than match, that one must perfect the flat fold and because of this, he is one of the best-dressed legislators in the Maryland General Assembly. That fuchsia tie… a minor detail with major impact.” n

Courtesy: Kumar Barve

Kumar Barve, second from right, joins maryland Governor martin o malley, third from right, as part of a trade mission to India, which met maharashtra Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, second from left.


M84 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He possessed a vast reservoir of political prowess to lift the Indian-american community’ Indian-American community leaders, who have been politically active, reminisce about Kumar Barve with Aziz Haniffa Dr SureSH C GuPTa

I

am delighted to learn that Kumar has been chosen to receive the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community Service, because I can’t think of anyone more deserving for all he’s done for the community since he was first elected in 1990. Ever since he was elected the first Indian American to any state assembly and re-elected several times over he has made all of us Indian Americans in Maryland and all across the country proud and vindicated the faith we had in him when he first declared his intent to run for office in Montgomery County where I live. I first met Kumar at a fundraiser for him in 1990 and after hearing him speak and spell out his vision for Montgomery County, I was so impressed by his vision and energy that I Courtesy: suresH C GuPta was able to convince the Prince George’s From left, maureen Quinn, Kumar Barve, his mother neera Barve, Dr suresh Gupta and his wife adarsh. Medical PAC (political action committee) to vating young Indian Americans to contest elections in Kumar had already told the Senator that the reception cut him a large check at a time when it was very difficult their states, and he’s always there to  guide them through would be held at my home without even talking to me to raise money. the process. first. Soon after his election, he attended my inauguration I have heard several Maryland Governors tell me that That started our long family friendship and journey, ball when I became the first Indian American elected Kumar is their eyes and ears when it comes to any legislawhich my wife Adarsh and I will always cherish, and led president of the Prince Georges County Medical Society, tion to be passed in the assembly. to my family developing close relations with the Senator, attended by Maryland State Senators, Delegates and Besides Kumar having benefited all of us in the Indianso much that the Senator has attended all of my children’s County Executives, and I was so proud to introduce him American physicians community and the graduations, engagements, weddings and my 70th birthas the first Indian-American legislator in the state of community in general, he is a deeply carday recently. Maryland and any state in the US. ing person in the way he takes care of his Kumar attends all our community functions,  and has It did not take Kumar long to deliver on his promises. I aged 88-year-old mother, who he has always encouraged us Indian Americans to get involved in had just been appointed by then Maryland Governor made comfortable in an assisted living the political process. The fact that Maryland has the Donald Schaffer, as the first international medical gradufacility, which he visits however busy he largest number of (Indian- American) delegates in the ate to Maryland’s Board of  Physicians, when I requested may be. state legislature is all because of Kumar; he’s the one that him to introduce a bill to maintain the post graduate A time will come soon when an opporencouraged and mentored Sam Arora and Aruna Miller to training requirements for a Maryland medical license for tunity will arise for Kumar to be elected run. They both got elected because of Kumar’s help and US medical graduates and international medical graduto the United States Congress, and when guidance and on his recommendations, several Indian ates to one year (to counter the proposal introduced by that time comes, you bet we will be there Americans have been appointed to state boards and comMaryland in concert with the Maryland Board of to root for him both financially and with missions by governors from the time of Parris Glendening Physicians to increase post-graduate training requireto current governor Martin O’Malley. ments for international graduates from one to three out votes. n Kumar pushed then Governor Glendening to appoint years). PAGE Dr Suresh C Gupta of Potomac, me as the first IMG Chairman of Maryland’s Board of When then US Senator from Maryland Paul Sarbanes M85 maryland, is a longtime fundraiser for the Physicians from 1996 to 1999. wanted to meet the Indian-American community after his Democratic Party. I have personally watched how he takes pride in motifirst official visit to India, I was happy to learn that

g


M85 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He possessed a vast reservoir of political prowess to lift the Indian-american community’

f PAGE M84

Dr JOY CHerIaN

I

vividly remember Kumar’s first telephone call in the early part of 1990. He introduced himself and told me he was calling me per his father’s advice to get my support for his campaign efforts. Kumar was not sure how me, a Republican Presidential appointee, would support  a Democratic candidate in the Maryland State Assembly election. He  did not know I was a registered independent and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to assume a nonRepublican position at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He thought that I was a  Republican activist. But his father knew well about my independent political philosophy and past community activities in  support of  any candidate with class and character irrespective of his/her party affiliation. Further, he was well aware that I was always advocating for Indian Americans and other Asian Americans to get involved with political activities as part of their own civic responsibility performance.

Kumar Barve, along with Indian-american legislators sam arora and aruna miller, delivers Diwali wishes at an official celebration. Diwali or getting a Hindu chaplain to deliver the invocation at the convening of the maryland General assembly, Barve says, is not limited to symbolism. It is about having a seat at the table when it comes to how america works.

Courtesy: PromILa BanIK

From left, Dr sambhu n Banik, Kumar Barve, Helen Kim (of the erstwhile us-asia Foundation), Gopal raju (the late founder and publisher of India abroad), Francis vaz (the late minister political in the Indian embassy) and Debasish mishra (then director of India abroad Center for Political awareness) at a Diaspora event. I assured Kumar I would support him if he could promise me that he would impartially represent all the people in Montgomery County in the State of Maryland. He promised me he would do it.  I always wanted an Indian-American elected official  in my state assembly to bring a new sensitivity for the benefit of all immigrants. So, without much delay, I contacted a few active IndianAmerican leaders  and requested them to raise money for Kumar’s campaign. In one of the fundraising gatherings, in Montgomery County, then US Senator Paul Sarbanes mentioned that he was pleased to see a Republican Presidential appointee standing with a Democratic candidate… Kumar, the first Indian-American state level legislator  in the United States, has inspired a number of IndianAmerican youngsters to take part in various local and state level elections. Today, we have several  Indian-American legislators elected around the country, and I  salute Kumar for his history making and inspiring leadership initiatives. I have also noticed his admirable leadership initiatives  in legislative committees dealing with the  health-care reform. In addition, among other things, he has successfully supported  legislative  efforts  for the development of Maryland’s science and technology programs, and it is these  leadership skills that eventually led him to become the House Majority Leader in Maryland. While he is very busy with his professional work and legislative responsibilities, he has always found time to extend a helping hand to assist Indian-American community members. He is willing to participate in the  community meetings as a speaker in order to inspire fellow Indian Americans, and further,  he has helped  many  community efforts  relating to the business development  and trade mission projects. I hope that in coming years, he will assume higher statewide government positions and eventually be elected to the US Congress representing the state of Maryland. n

was so impressed by his sincerity of purpose to serve all of the people of Montgomery County, irrespective of party affiliations or any other reason. Over the years, he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that sincerity, openness, hard work and honesty pay off in the long run. I knew from the very first meeting that this young man possessed a vast reservoir of political prowess to lift the voices of the Indian-American community. District 17 of the Montgomery County that he represents has a very limited number of Indian Americans who are eligible to vote, but still he was able to win in 1990. He won because he was savvy enough and not just smart, but politically mature and sophisticated enough to develop coalitions with other ethnic groups such as Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans, African Americans, Hispanics as well as the majority to be part of his winning strategy. Thanks to Kumar, the stature of India and Indian Americans has increased exponentially and this has been largely because of his exemplary services to his district and the state of Maryland. I can say with great deal of confidence that one day soon, he will occupy the Governor’s Mansion in Annapolis. Kumar is a torch bearer and a beacon of hope for the next generations of Indian-American political aspirants. As last year’s winner of the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the community,  I applaud the editors for selecting Kumar. He’s a deserving candidate. n

Dr Joy Cherian is the founder of the Indian american Forum for Political education, the oldest Indian-american political organization.

Dr Sambhu N Banik of Bethesda, maryland, a community leader and registered republican, has supported Kumar Barve for over two decades.

Dr SamBHu N BaNIK

I


M86 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013 Kumar Barve’s ability to poke fun at himself has kept him a well-grounded human being, says friend Subodh Chandra

B

ack in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there weren’t very many young Indian Americans active in Democratic politics. You could pretty much count them on two hands. So Kumar P Barve and I somehow found each other. I had worked on many campaigns and for three Democratic governors. Kumar had just been elected to the Maryland’s House of Delegates. When I learned about Kumar’s election (in India Abroad, I believe!), I was overjoyed. Here was an Indian American who had not only made history, but he had persuaded his constituents — most of whom did not look like him or have names like his — that he was ready to serve them. As someone who had grown up in America’s Bible Belt, the achievement at that time (which we all now take for granted) seemed remarkable, almost dreamlike. ‘When Kumar Barve was elected, we were all accepted,’ I would tell people. (I used to utter rhymes like that long before O J Simpson’s lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, made it fashionable.) Kumar and I talked on the phone quite frequently in those days, and began meeting in person at various Indian-American and political conferences where we would often speak on panels together, and on my occasional trips to the Washington, DC area. Kumar was the admired hub at the center of an emerging network of aspiring public servants who are now well established in their careers. While many people know Kumar to be the successful politician and policy wonk of almost a quarter century whose achievements are historic — the first to push through health insurance reform and climate-change legislation for example — I would like to share some things about Kumar you may not know. First of all, Kumar is funny. I mean really funny. Kumar is a great mimic. His regular performance at Maryland’s legislative follies of the old Johnny-Carson-in-a-turban routine Carnac the Magnificent as Kumar the Magnificent always has his fellow legislators in stitches. Once I was driving Kumar across Southern California from event to event, and we became amused by the road sign for ‘Sepulveda’ Boulevard (which is pronounced by locals as Suh-PUHL-vuh-duh). Somehow, he and I started chanting the word as more of a Vedic mantra: ‘Seh-poolVEDA! Seh-pool-VEDA!’ Kumar’s sense of humor — and in particular his ability to poke good-natured fun at himself — has kept him a well-grounded human being despite his tremendous accomplishments. Second, Kumar Barve is proud of his heritage. This is all the more amazing given that he is essentially a thirdgeneration Indian American who grew up with virtually no Indian-American friends. While Kumar’s father, like mine, had been born in India, Kumar’s Indian-American mother was, like me, born in America to Indian immigrant parents. Yet despite the isolation Kumar sometimes felt as a

Kumar Barve was selected to serve as the president of the maryland electoral College for the last Presidential election.

‘Kumar has opened countless doors for the rest of us’ child, ethnically and religiously, he has remained true, embracing the ideal that America is for all of us and that we don’t have to change who we are to belong or aspire to lead. Kumar has shared stories about his immigrant grandfather, who was president of Holkar College in Madhya Pradesh. A proud Hindu — and in sharp contrast with certain other notable Indian-American politicians — he never changed either his name or his faith to ‘fit in’ politically or socially. Instead, Kumar has always — without a trace of shame or embarrassment — smiled as he patiently educates others how to pronounce his name, and what it means to him to be a Hindu. When Kumar first started serving in Maryland’s House of Delegates, he had to win over a redneck committee chairman, and he did so with so by discussing his heritage openly and finding commonality. As Kumar puts it, he was able to turn his unusual name electorally ‘into a big plus because it’s easy to remember.’ And by winning others over, Kumar has opened countless doors for the rest of us. Consequently, one of my disappointments has been how relatively few Indian Americans have provided financial support to Kumar’s campaign committee during his political career, including so far in this election year. Third, just by being there, Kumar has made a difference for all of us. For example, in the immediate ‘backlash’ of 9/11, Kumar’s stature as an elected official enabled him to arrange police protection for gurudwaras, temples, and

mosques in his state. Fourth, Kumar has mentored and inspired countless young Indian Americans who have aspired to public service. While other Indian Americans could be petty and resentful of others’ success — smiling to your face while stabbing you in the back — Kumar has always been there for aspiring elected officials and political appointees, congressional staffers, and campaign volunteers across America. I could fill pages with the names of people Kumar has mentored and assisted and to whom he has written checks despite his humble means as a public servant. I have 10-year-old triplet sons — third-generation Americans — who have been living their lives filled with endless possibility in part because the Honorable Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar P Barve forged the path for them. When I see what Kumar has accomplished and contributed, I smile knowing that the future for thirdgeneration Indian Americans is bright indeed. For that, we all owe Kumar Barve a debt of gratitude. n Subodh Chandra is the managing partner of The Chandra Law Firm LLC, a civil-rights, white-collarcriminal-defense, and business-litigation law firm based in Cleveland, Ohio with a national practice. He has served as law director of the City of Cleveland and as a federal prosecutor, and was a candidate for Ohio attorney general in 2006, winning most major newspaper endorsements.


M87 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD GOPAL RAJU AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE 2013 DEEPA IYER

SHE SPEAKS TRUTH TO POWER

PARESH GANDHI


M88 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘All Americans must see hate violence as part of a history of racism and xenophobia in our country’ She built bridges between communities of color, created spaces of belonging for those on the margins, and is the winner of the India Abroad Gopal Raju Award for Community Service 2013. Deepa Iyer in conversation with Arthur J Pais

HONOR ROLL INDIAN ABROAD GOPAL RAJU AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE SWADESH CHATTERJEE (2006, then called the India Abroad Community Leader of the Year Award) NAVIN SHAH (2007, then called the India Abroad Award for Community Service)

DAVE KUMAR, DINO TEPPARA, HRISHI KARTHIKEYAN, TOBY CHAUDHURI, VARUN NIKORE (2008, rechristened to its current title, to honor the memory of Gopal Raju, the founder of India Abroad) SUDHA ACHARYA (2009) VALARIE KAUR (2012)

Deepa Iyer For being a champion of immigrant rights; for her commitment to South Asian communities; for working towards creating a just and more welcoming America. Deepa Iyer, facing the camera second from left, leads a coalition of Asian-American groups at a meeting with President Barack Obama to urge him to support family reunification in the new comprehensive immigration reform bill.

T

he biographical language about me contains some highfalutin signifiers: MacArthur, Harvard, jazz,’ said musician and Harvard University professor Vijay Iyer, his gaze on Deepa Iyer. ‘But to be honest I feel dwarfed by the presence of all of you here today, the real activists and organizers who bring your unique strengths to the trenches, changing America for the better.’ The event was last year’s farewell party to Iyer, who was stepping down after nurturing and galvanizing the pioneering civil rights organization South Asian Americans Leading Together. SAALT is the only staffed, national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering civic and political engagement by South Asian communities in the United States. And Deepa Iyer, an advocate of civil and immigrant rights for over a decade and the chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans for two years, had served as SAALT’s executive director for nearly a decade, drawing a

swath of second-generation activists. Vijay Iyer had reminisced about the release of his third album, Panoptic Modes in 2011, with an original composition, Invocation, dedicated to Rishi Maharaj, an IndoCaribbean man who had been nearly beaten to death by a group of white men with baseball bats chanting racist and xenophobic insults in Queens in the late ’90s. ‘My intent with this piece of music was to suggest to our own community, in case anyone was listening, that this young man was one of us; that we, as South Asian Americans, should embrace all of our massive Diaspora, regardless of national identity or historical circumstance,’ Vijay Iyer had said. ‘Because community isn’t just about common roots; it is about parallel experiences, a shared predicament, a common cause. It is about the fact that what happens to this young brown man could, and indeed often does, happen to any or all of us.’ But he had never imagined that this little piece of instrumental music might do any more than highlight the fact

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

that ‘stuff happens’ in America. So, he was ‘floored’ when he received an e-mail from a young lawyer named Deepa Iyer, Esquire, who had connected with Rishi Maharaj. She put him in touch with Maharaj, who sent him ‘a heartfelt, frank and devastating message about his life’s journey after the attack:’ He had moved to Alaska to put as much distance as possible between himself and the experience; he confessed he didn’t know what he was going to do next. ‘The hate crime had thoroughly disrupted the delicate sense of rootedness and belonging that he and his family, like all of our families, had begun to cultivate in this country,’ Vijay Iyer said. ‘But Deepa’s work PAGE helped rekindle a sense of connectedness M90 for him and his family.’ For Deepa, who was the executive pro-

g


M90 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘All Americans must see hate violence as part of a history of racism and xenophobia in our country’

f PAGE M88

English, but decided to pursue law school. Why did you go into law? I went to law school without a wellformed idea of why I should. At the time, I didn’t know many lawyers and I wasn’t altogether sure of what lawyers did. But I ducer of a 26-minute documentary about enjoyed writing and communicating, and I bias and hate crimes before and after 9/11, was eager to learn practical skills. rekindling that feeling in Maharaj and othIt was during law school that I began to ers like him was what her endeavors were formulate a clearer understanding of what about. being a lawyer could mean. I was particularShe understood, as Vijay Iyer noted, that ly interested in classes on constitutional law we had to embrace our own religious and and immigration, as well as being part of an cultural diversity as well as other communiimmigration legal clinic. I veered towards ties of color ‘because of a common predicaaspects of the law that were relevant for ment, a common cause, a common atmosimmigrants and minority communities. phere of fear, surveillance, suspicion, and What was your tenure in the Justice paranoia, and the persistence of inequality.’ Department like? She was not only against discrimination Even in law school, I had aspired to work against South Asians — running workshops at the Department of Justice, and so, it was about bullying, supporting voter registration a privilege to be able to join the Civil Rights — but also marched in Washington, DC and Division as a trial attorney. I enjoyed my elsewhere for common causes with African work very much because I could both help Americans and Latinos. people individually as well as take part in The farewell party had also heard from a COURTESY: DEEPA IYER policy matters. number of activists and organizers who From left, Manju Kulkarni of South Asian Network, Pramila Jayapal of One America, Seema Being at the Justice Department was also praised Deepa Iyer’s vision, her capacity to Agnani of Chhaya CDC and Deepa Iyer at the National South Asian Summit last year. Iyer headed the important when 9/11 occurred, because I embrace the cause of various South Asian pioneering civil rights organization South Asian Americans Leading Together. could help to connect South Asians facing communities, and personally inspire people. discrimination and backlash with the right agencies who I was 12 when I came to America from Trivandrum with One activist with little children had confessed that she could assist them. my parents and younger brother. We were not in New York had felt frustrated being an activist and a mom, but when Did you become an activist seriously after 9/11? or Chicago or Los Angeles where there were hundreds of she looked at Iyer, a mother of a three-and-half-year old (at I had been working at several Asian-American organizaIndian families, but in Louisville, Kentucky, which had a the time of the farewell), she felt encouraged to fight on. tions for many years before 9/11. But 9/11 was a defining small Indian community at the time. Deepa Iyer is among a small but growing number of moment for me. I knew that it was important for me to It did not take long to find out I was on the margins, that South Asians — either born in this country or migrated take on leadership at that time to help community memI was not mainstream. In the mid-80s in Kentucky, people here when they were young — who have taken the road less bers who were experiencing backlash in the wake of 9/11. were used to a black or white racial paradigm. People like traveled. They might have gone to top schools in America, I did some of that work at DOJ and some of it at SAALT, me fit neither. I definitely had my share of experiencing but chose not to pursue conventional paths. But only a few which was a very new organization when 9/11 occurred. some bullying and harassment at school, which shaped my like Deepa have started or strengthened organizations like What is the biggest challenge for SAALT? sense of being different. SAALT and brought them to the forefront for civic and SAALT opened our first office in 2004. I was the first hire How did you handle bullying? racial justice. as the executive director, and a few months later, I was able I kept it mostly to myself at the time, although I did have A former attorney with the Justice Department, and now to hire a second staff person. In those initial years, the chalsome friends and teachers whom I could rely on for supa mom, activist and prolific commentator on race relations lenges were related to building our own internal infrastrucport. Like many immigrant children, I tried to figure out and the challenges for American society in dealing with ture while also dealing with the tremenwhat I could hold onto from my culture (for me, this was immigrants and justice and fairness at large, Iyer is one of dous needs facing our communities in a Indian classical dance) and what I could learn from my the most visible and active community leaders anywhere in post 9/11 world. adopted one. America. She might have stepped down from SAALT, but As SAALT began to grow and get crediIn recent years, there is a lot of consciousness about bullyshe is as busy as ever. bility, we entered the second phase of the ing and much pro-active work to stop it. Even SAALT has She readily admits balancing home life — she is married organization, which was focused on buildorganized anti-bullying campaigns. What would you tell parto Parag Rajendra Khandhar, a clinical fellow in law at the ing a national network of South Asian ents and young people today? University of Baltimore, and lives near DC in an environorganizations that connected with each There are more resources today that children and parents ment very different from the one she grew up in a mediumother and united under shared principles. can turn to, as well as a more open and honest dialogue sized city in Kentucky with her professor father and homeNow, the organization — which has an about the impact of bullying on self-esteem. Some stratemaker mother — and her social calling is a daily challenge. office in DC with six staff members and a gies that can be used are for children to feel safe enough to But as she prepares for a new life devoted to writing and $1 million budget — is strengthening our talk about what they are enduring, and training for teachers teaching, she says she will continue fighting for an inclusive partnerships with other communities. As and parents to spot bullying when it happens. America. America becomes more diverse, we seek to What did you want to do while studying for a college Iyer sits down for a chat with India Abroad on a visit to help build a more just and inclusive society degree? New York, partly on business, and partly to see her brother. PAGE for all. I got my bachelor’s degree in English, but was able to take Part of the interview was in person and part of it was conM91 What are some of the highlights of your a lot of classes in communications and political science. I ducted on e-mail. work? applied to both law schools and master’s programs in What were your school years like?

g


M91 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘All Americans must see hate violence as part of a history of racism and xenophobia in our country’ f PAGE M92

Some of the highlights for me have been the creation of our national network of 50 South Asian groups; the national South Asian Summit, a conference we hold in DC every two years where people have a chance to meet directly with their Congressional members; a meeting I was able to facilitate between Asian American leaders and President Obama in May 2012; and my connections with people who have been struggling for justice — the Indian guest workers from New Orleans, undocumented South Asian youth, the families who lost loved ones in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, after the massacre at the Sikh gurdwara there in August 2012. I believe your activism started when you were studying at Vanderbilt. What were some of the causes you fought for and what were the outcomes? I helped to start the university’s first Indian Student Association. I also worked with others on building political awareness around recruiting faculty of color and gaining more classes in the curriculum that reflected the diversity of the student body. What kind of books have influenced you most as an activist and how? I am inspired by writings of people like Vijay Prashad, Michelle Alexander, Rinku Sen, as well as the life stories told by immigrants and people of color today. When did you start feeling you could belong here? What made you feel so? I began to feel that I could create spaces of belonging — whether that was with the Indian Student Association in college to SAALT, I think that I have tried to help create a sense of community where not only I, but many others, can belong, shape, and create together. When did you become an American citizen and what were your thoughts on that day? Our family was naturalized in the late ’90s. For me, it was a special moment also because the judge that I had clerked for in Louisville, Kentucky, administered the oath of citizenship. I think I felt American well before I became naturalized. I think that citizenship status, and the process of acquiring it, can be long and painful for so many people. Since I have been fortunate to go through that process, I am interested in advocating for those who cannot get on that path. If a few years from now you were to offer your son some of the lessons from your years in the movement… To listen to others. To not take yourself too seriously. To know that there is a lot you do not know. To assess your privilege and the amount of space you are occupying. To ask yourself why you are part of a cause or a campaign or a movement. To let others lead. What do you tell your 4 year old about life and diversity?

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

Deepa Iyer, center, was 12 when she came to America in the mid-1980s and faced bullying and harassment at school. In dealing with it, she tried to figure out what she could hold onto from her culture. For her that was Indian classical dance. Like the children of his age, he is very curious about life and asks a lot of questions. We are fortunate to live in a part of Maryland where Ahi meets children in school and in the playground of different backgrounds. For him, it is more commonplace to be surrounded by diversity — and hopefully, we can help him to understand what that means as he grows up. You have said despite common perceptions, Asian Americans are neither newcomers nor bystanders in the struggle for equality of immigrants... Often, Asian Americans are not part of the conversations or campaigns around immigrant rights because people aren’t aware of the history of struggle our communities have had with immigration policy. Part of my work has been to show the commonalities of struggle between Asian Americans and other communities of color. What did taking part in the immigrant rights rally in Washington, DC recently mean to you? It was significant to make the point that Asians and South Asians had a lot at stake when it came to immigration reform. Often, immigration is framed and perceived as an issue that only affects Latinos. It is important to have

Asian-American spokespersons to show that the issue affects many other communities too. How different are the civil right challenges today than they were 10 years ago? Thanks to the tremendous efforts of civil rights pioneers in our country, we now have laws and policies that address discrimination. We also have a more open dialogue about race in various settings. What is different is that as our country becomes more diverse, we will need to address the complexities of race and race relations differently. How can we reach not just diversity, but equity and equality? How can we build relationships between communities of color? These are the questions that await the America of the future in my opinion. You were in Oak Creek to mark the first anniversary of the gurdwara killings and have written and spoken movingly about the life lessons and programs to fight for justice and honor for the victims of racial killings not only in Oak Creek but elsewhere. I attended the memorial service after the hate crimes at the Oak Creek gurdwara in August 2012 and also the one-year anniverPAGE sary events in August 2013. I believe that M92 we need to find concrete solutions to address the surge of hate violence in this

g


M92 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘All Americans must see hate violence as part of a history of racism and xenophobia in our country’ f PAGE M91

country. Even though we are not seeing the dramatic numbers of hate crimes that followed the events of 9/11, we still continue to see acts of bullying, harassment, and violence around the country. I believe that this is the result of three trends: Racial anxiety related to the changing demographics in our country; negative sentiments towards immigrants; and the post 9/11 environment in which people from certain communities are targeted as being suspicious or disloyal. The South Asian, Muslim and Sikh communities have become caught in the midst of these three trends. There is much we can do to turn the tide of these trends. We can start by recognizing and acknowledging the broader climate of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that leads to hate violence in this country. We can hold elected leaders and public officials accountable for engaging in xenophobic and racist rhetoric, which sends the message that it is perfectly acceptable to use negative words and images to describe people of color and immigrants. Let’s enact strong policies that prohibit racial and religious profiling, such as the End Racial Profiling Act pending in Congress, while eliminating harsh state laws such as Stand Your Ground, taking inspiration from the Dream Defenders in Florida. Let’s call upon the federal government to institute a taskforce to address the epidemic of hate violence, which includes victim and witness services, enforcement and investigation, outreach and prevention plans, and coordination with state and local agencies. And, let’s build bridges with one another by understanding how our own points of entry into racial consciousness, race-based privilege, and encounters with injustice have strands that connect and interweave with one another. This is how we can continue to honor the memories of people like Satwant Singh Kaleka, Ranjit Singh, Sita Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Sing Khattra and Paramjit Kaur, the six innocent men and women killed at the Oak Creek gurdwara The first wave of immigrants from South Asia that started coming here after the immigration laws were changed in the 1960s hardly had time for fighting for racial justice and civil liberties. But that has changed a lot in the last two decades. You began to think a lot of creating ‘safe communities’ when a friend posted this on her Facebook feed many months ago: ‘This warning is to everyone but more specifically my hijab/niqab-wearing sisters — please be careful, don’t stand too close to the train tracks, we need to be on high alert.’ My friend’s warning was related to the gruesome death of a 46-year-old Indian, Hindu, man who was shoved onto the path of an oncoming train at a subway stop in New York City at the end of 2012.

Part of Deepa Iyer’s work has been to show the commonalities of struggle between Asian Americans and other communities of color.

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

According to authorities, the woman held in custody for pushing Sunando Sen said, ‘I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers...’ My friend’s response is one that many of us who are South Asian, Arab American, Muslim or Sikh can understand. We say, ‘Be safe’ to each other, with the silent understanding that those words, when spoken to our Sikh brother, our Muslim sister, our brown-skinned father, carry the weight of over a decade of profiling, hate crimes, deportations, and school bullying. ‘Be safe,’ we say, because it is possible that you will get harassed or hurt out there. In our country, we have a tendency to condemn racist sentiment and actions, but then often leave it to others to confront it — usually, the racial or ethnic group that is at the receiving end. But all the organizing and advocacy within the so-called post-9/11 affected communities can only go so far in changing the climate in our country. Rather, all Americans must see hate violence as part of a history, past and present, of racism and xenophobia in our country, and make it clear that we cannot and should not tolerate in any shape or form. We must see the connections between the ongoing harassment of African-Americans on our streets and the profiling of Arab-Americans at our airports. We must see the link between the mistreatment of undocumented Mexican immigrants and the detentions of hundreds of thousands of people from South Asian and Middle

Eastern countries. We must see the connection between the violence that is sadly becoming commonplace from Newtown to Aurora to Oak Creek — and call for an end to all of it. Tell us about a new generation of Americans, the children of immigrants, who are changing their landscape. The second generation of South Asians are different from their parents when it comes to their understanding of racial identity (which is often hyphenated, including both their countries of origin and American identity) and their interest in engaging civically and politically with the world around them. I look up to many South Asians who are part of the social change movements in America, to improve the conditions of people who are working class or poor, who do not have access to the American dream, and who are struggling from day to day. These include people like Bhairavi Desai, who coordinates the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and organizes a multiracial coalition of taxi drivers who seek better benefits and conditions, or Rinku Sen who is the director of Race Forward, an organization that changes the media narratives around race, or the women who lead PAGE South Asian domestic violence organizaM97 tions like Aparna Bhattacharyya at Raksha, Neha Gill at Apna Ghar, and Tiloma

g


M93 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

F

The little Deepa Iyer with her grandparents and extended family in Kerala. Her family moved to the US in 1985.

or everyone in Deepa Iyer’s family there was a lot to learn when they arrived in the Midwest in 1985. Mother Padma, a homemaker, had to maintain an Indian home with Indian traditions as she encouraged her children, including her younger child Gopa, to make friends with American classmates. Deepa was 12 when she arrived in America; Gopa was six. “Like so many of us who migrated in those years, we also thought we would go back after a year or two,” Padma Iyer says. “But as it became clear we were staying on, I told the children they will have a good future here.” She remembers her daughter feeling insecure and lonely soon after she arrived from India. “But soon she was making new friends,” the mother adds. “And she was a voracious reader. She would spend many hours writing essays and her thoughts.” Father Vasudeva Iyer, a neurologist trained in India who would practice and also lecture, was not only learning a lot about new techniques in treating neurological problems, but also about human care. “A good physician here had also to know a lot about a patient, including their financial options for a treatment and other areas of a patient’s life,” he says. The family drew some cultural comfort from the small but growing Indian community. “There were also some doctors my father knew in his medical school in India who had migrated around the same time he did,” says Deepa’s younger brother Dr Gopa Iyer, an oncology researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “But essentially, it was just the four of us for the good part and that brought us even closer.” Though he made friends with American kids at school, Gopa says there were certain “small” barriers his friends could not overcome. “They could not understand simple things like our custom of keeping the shoes and footwear outside the home entrance,” says Gopa. “I could not share my love for certain kinds of Indian music or films.” He also grew up in a Hindu vegetarian household and in a state where hefty steaks are the mainstay of many meals, the contrasting lifestyle must have seemed odd to many people over three decades ago. He called his older sister by her first name. “I don’t think I ever called her Akka,” he adds. Was there any sibling rivalry? “Never,” he says. “I more or less did what she wanted me to do.” Deepa has said the adjustment period that she had and some of the experiences that the family and she faced shaped her future. “These were not unusual or traumatic experiences, but there were times when my family felt marginalized and isolated in the community.” Gopa fondly remembers his first day in class, how Deepa made sure he was in the right class, and how she waited for him at the end of the day to make sure he was on the right school bus.

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

We are family

“She is still encouraging me to do it (read Indian authors).” Watching Deepa blossom into a community activist offered her father and her brother life lessons. Both use the word myopic in describing their worldview before her work and her reading added to their consciousness. “I used to think that I could do good by helping patients fight their diseases and going beyond the call of duty,” the senior Iyer says. “She showed me there are many other ways of helping the communities.” What Gopa admires most is the way Deepa made her journey as a civil rights leader, calling it a “stupendous” achievement. “She has been to the White House, has addressed thousands of people about the civil rights movement and the need for a more inclusive America,” he adds. He was not surprised that his sister turned out to be what she is today. “It was very clear to me in childhood that she would excel in whatever she chose to do,” he says. “And still I was surprised and very impressed when she executive produced a 26-minute documentary (Raising Our Voices) about bias and hate crimes before and after 9/11. I was very well aware that she was fighting for the civil rights of our communities, but to take the avenue of making a film was quite unexpected. I found it amazing.” PAGE The family has no history of activists, says M98 Dr Vasudeva Iyer. “But Deepa must have

Deepa Iyer’s parents and brother speak about their family’s pride to Arthur J Pais

“She was always the more extrovert of us,” he says. “It helped me a lot that she would set out to be my big sister in every sense of the word...” The bond between the siblings grew stronger while they visited India once in two years. “When we went to a city, be it Mumbai or Delhi, Deepa would always insist we visit certain historical monuments or sites. It broadened my knowledge. I also learned a lot about Indian culture because of her.” She also made him feel like his own man. “I would have ended up listening to every word my father said and having a myopic approach,” he says, “and trying to excel in sciences and math. But Deepa got me to read a variety of literature. I had learned to play the harmonium, but with her I also learned to play the piano.” The books and magazines on his shelf in his Manhattan home range from history to medical history to medical journals. “I think she is a bit disappointed that I do not have much by way of Indian writers,” he says with a smile, though he has read Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of Maladies and keeps a copy at home.

g


M94 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘We wanted our union to have resonance beyond our own lives’ Deepa Iyer and Parag Khandhar used their wedding to raise money for charity. They share their story before and after that with Arthur J Pais

D

eepa Iyer and Parag Khandhar had been dating for some time, but when he suddenly popped the question on a Greenwich Village Street on a balmy and beautiful day in New York City, she says she was completely surprised. The engagement was followed by a simple and elegant wedding on a beautiful summer’s day in Central Park and since both Iyer and Khandhar had chosen to be community activists, they decided to use their special day as an opportunity to raise donations for the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, where Iyer was the legal director then. Deepa Iyer with her husband Parag Khandhar and son Ahi. Along with registering for traditional gifts, He joined the faculty at the Community Development they also created a Donation Registry allowing guests to Clinic, University of Baltimore as a full-time professor make donations in their name. Through their registries, two years ago. “Teaching has been part of our family trathe couple raised over $500 for APALRC. dition in India and here,” he says; his mother was a “It was not a huge amount,” Khandhar, who had also teacher too. worked for APALRC, tells India Abroad. “But we wanted The Community Development Clinic offers free, non-litto express our support for a nonprofit.” igation legal services to Baltimore-area community devel“We also wanted our union to have resonance beyond opment organizations; advises on a range of business law, our own lives and our families and friends,” Iyer adds. “By non-profit and legislative matters; helps clients structure hosting a charitable wedding, we know that our coming and form non-profit organizations, corporations, partnertogether had a much bigger impact.” ships, and LLCs; and counsels boards and staff on legal Not long after their wedding, Khandhar — who had duties and best practices. begun to look at the larger immigrant and minority com“We help communities help themselves by supporting munities during his college days and then worked for 10 non-profits, small businesses located in underserved years in New York City in community arts and service neighborhoods, groups promoting affordable housing, projects, post-9/11 relief and advocacy efforts, and other community associations, and other locally-based organinonprofit organizations — asked Iyer, an attorney, what zations,” Khandhar, who directs upper-level law students she thought of him pursing a law degree. work directly with clients, says. Her first reaction was, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ “It is also about empowering people. “The law students But she knew he was serious about his new goal and here also provide training for groups on specific areas of would use it for community work. the law, and advocates for changes in the law itself.” Khandhar, who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and in His interest in serving communities also was sharpened the Hudson Valley in New York, had studied biology, literduring his law studies; he was a public interest/public ature and public administration in school, and Asian service scholar at the Washington College of Law, where American and South Asian American arts, activism, and he founded a student advocacy collective that pushed for communities at the State University of New York, Albany. better public interest programs and support in the law He got his JD from American University Washington school. College of Law six years ago.

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

He has since worked as a staff attorney with the APALRC in Washington, DC and in Maryland, providing free legal services and representation to poor and limitedEnglish proficient immigrant clients and client groups, including tenant associations, mutual aid organizations and start-up nonprofits. Given Khandhar’s passion for community development work, he says, it was not a surprise to him that he was drawn to Iyer. “Did you know that she had thought of becoming a journalist?” he asks, noting that she would not have gone for any kind of journalism but investigative reporting. “She has been doing a similar thing at SAALT. She investigates and examines the social issues and then does something about it and gets others to act too.” Iyer and Khandhar have now been married for 11 years and have a four-year-old son, Ahi. His love for pasta and new American cooking, and hers for traditional Indian vegetarian fare notwithstanding, the years have been full of their shared interests in community work, cooking, colorful stories for their son (both are good storytellers), and traveling. “We love to travel,” Khandhar, who describes himself “as a father, writer, and dreamer,” says. “If we don’t have the time to go to a far off place, we explore something nearby, like an island in Virginia which is reached in less than hour from our home.” n


M96 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘It is in her DNA to work for the community’ ‘We always wanted a stronger voice in Washington that we could trust and she created that voice for us.’ Coworkers and compatriots speak to Arthur J Pais about Deepa Iyer’s fierce commitment to a more just America

Deepa Iyer addresses a rally. Her colleagues say she has drawn diverse leaders like a magnet, brought younger and older associates to SAALT and mentored them with passion.

M

anar Waheed may wonder at times if she would have become the policy director at South Asian Americans Leading Together if not for her passion for karaoke. After several rounds of phone interviews with SAALT workers, the Brooklyn Law School graduate with years of community service, landed an interview in person at the organization’s Takoma Park, Maryland, office. She had filled in some 20 pages of answers, including the response to the question on the last page that asked what she did for fun. “I had never thought Deepa Iyer would be into karaoke,” she said the other day as she spoke in her office about SAALT and Deepa Iyer. “But, of course, we had different favorites. My favorite is Pink and she is fanatical about Bruce Springsteen. But together we have karaoked both singers.” Waheed is among a dozen SAALT staffers and parttimers. She came to the organization after working with the Legal Services of New York City where she provided direct services to domestic violence survivors who were primarily from immigrant communities. Additionally, she co-taught a seminar at Wagner College on domestic violence and legal intervention, which included the impact of media and television on violence. From 2009 to 2012, she served on the board of the Muslim Bar Association of New York City. Waheed, who is from Pakistan, is an example of staffers of diverse backgrounds that Iyer drew to SAALT over the decade. Like the other staffers, she has seen the lighter and more serious side of Iyer. “We have had many karaoke nights with other staff members and some movie nights too.” Have they watched any Bollywood movies together and cried on each other’s shoulders? “I used to watch a lot of them in New York,” she says. “But it is not easy to watch them here.” While working in New York, Waheed had heard of Iyer and would soon discover from first-hand experience how “intense and driven” she is. “I had also known that she had left the Department of Justice to help South Asian communities,” Waheed adds. Waheed had also worked for the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, providing technical assistance on cases where battered women were charged with crimes, and had long admired how SAALT, under Iyer’s leadership, had tackled issues like school and college bullying and status of abused working women. On many mornings, Waheed would find some 50 e-mails from Iyer. “Some would be articles on subjects such as

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

immigration and voting rights,” she explains. “And then it could be an op-ed piece Deepa has written and wanted my quick assessment. There could also be a memo or two.” She also admires Iyer’s strategic skills. “Having worked with the government, Deepa has known how to get the attention of the policy and lawmakers,” she adds. “She knows when to let things go and when to push them, what is a right moment and decides quickly on the more important issues.” uman Raghunathan succeeded Iyer, who stepped down after being executive director of SAALT for nearly 10 S years. “I have known Deepa for so long,” she says,” I cannot honestly pinpoint when I first heard of her.” Like Iyer and most of the SAALT staff over the years, Raghunathan too is a product of American schools. She received her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University and has a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy in New York City. “I have known Deepa’s fierce commitment to South Asian communities for over a decade,” she adds, “and I have watched her amazing journey with this critical, forward looking organization.” Perhaps she met Iyer for the first time in 2006 when the latter “orchestrated” a seminar that was yet another example of SAALT shaping into “a comprehensive community organization.’ Even as she was eager to join SAALT, Raghunathan readily admits she felt “it was not easy to fill Deepa’s very big shoes.” Raghunathan gained experience in leading non-profit organizations, having first served as interim executive director and then as a long-time member of the Board of

Directors of Chhaya Community Development Corporation, one of SAALT’s close partners, and had admired how Iyer brought together various communities under the SAALT umbrella to fight for common issues. “It must indeed have been a daunting task many times,” she says. Many leaders in the South Asian organizations refuse to step down. But Iyer, who would have easily continued running SAALT for many more years, did so last year. “Even from her earliest years at SAALT,” Raghunathan says, “Deepa has been drawing like a magnet diverse leaders. She has brought to the organization younger and older associates and mentored them with passion. Her decision (to step down) is the testament to her conviction of building a new set of leaders.” She says she will continue Iyer’s legacy of working with diverse community organizations representing people from South Asian and Caribbean communities, fighting civil rights infractions and threats to civil liberties, “and creating a just and more welcoming America.” Like Iyer and Waheed, Raghunathan is also the daughter of immigrants. Iyer has said that she has been impressed with Raghunathan’s sharp understanding of the issues affecting South Asian and other immigrants in the United States. She has admired her successor’s work at the American Civil Liberties Union, Progressive States Network, and the New York Immigration Coalition. The two have been keeping an eye on each other’s work for years. “Amazing is the word that comes to my PAGE mind so often when I think of Deepa and M97 her work,” she adds. “She has created a space for new leaders in an organic way,

g


M97 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘It is in her DNA to work for the community’ f PAGE M96

has shown amazing resilience as a leader and in her willingness to work 24/7 for the organization and yet keep a family together.” Raghunathan is not surprised that Iyer will continue to work for the communities even while teaching a course on South Asians at the University of Maryland and writing her memoir. And remain connected with SAALT. “It is in her DNA to continue work for the community,” Raghunathan said. eema Agnani of the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, founded by her to address housing issues S in the city’s South Asian communities, continues to be per-

haps the strongest ally of SAALT, which has worked with a number of national groups. She is proud to call Iyer a partner and leader in the fight for a fairer and more just America. Like Iyer, her own experience has shaped her outlook as

f PAGE M92 Jayasinghe at Sakhi for South Asian Women. I am inspired by the South Asian DREAMers, undocumented students who believe in changing the immigration system. There are more and more people in the third generation who are also getting involved in their communities and in different movements to bring about social change. These are the people who will make sure that our country lives up to its ideals of equality and justice for all. What are some of the things that your very young son has said have made you and Parag take a breath and think about? A lot of his questions are ‘why.’ Why does the moon come up? Why can’t I stay up late? So, we are still in that stage — Ahi is almost four — where he wants to know why something is happening. I am sure he will ask more challenging questions soon! What kind of bedtime stories do you tell your son? We do a lot of reading at home to him. I tell him stories that I make up often — about children solving mysteries, some stories from Indian mythology (I’m a big fan of Amar Chitra Katha!), and stories from our own childhoods as well. What is the book you are writing about? What kind of an audience do you have in mind? How much progress have you made? I’m working on a book, set to be published by New Press next year, on the changing American racial landscape. I will

a fighter for immigrants. She has also said her parents, mother Jasvanti, and father, Mohan, an engineer, inspired her community work. Seema moved to New York from Illinois with her brother, Sunil, who was doing a doctorate in English at Columbia University so that she could study the city’s innovative affordable housing programs. As 9/11 settled on the city, Chhaya also focused on helping people who were being “detained, deported and harassed on the street,” something that Iyer noticed and appreciated. Among its many activities, what the Queens-based Chhaya does is to offer foreclosure prevention seminars. Agnani noticed Iyer’s work when the latter wrote a national report on immigrant issues including housing concern in mid 1990s. “I found her extremely easy to work with,” she says. “She has always been clear and direct. I always get straight answers from her, which is not always easy to come by in this work.” Iyer, who also grew up in the Midwest, honed her activism in New York before joining SAALT, close to DC. While Agnani, who completed her master’s degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago, her home town, has seen her activism

sharpened by her New York experience. “SAALT is very important for the country,” Agnani continues, adding that when one immigrant group is empowered and is helped to become a part of America, the entire country benefits. “We always wanted a stronger voice in Washington that we could trust,” Agnani says. “Deepa created that voice for us.” Iyer has not been coming up with her own positions, according to Agnani, but the consensus positions formed from listening and discussing the issues with other likeminded groups. “She was never self-motivated.” And above all, Iyer is a friend. “Every once in a while, she remembers my birthday and will send a birthday cake and something to mark the day. She is one of those persons who goes beyond the work and keeps in touch.” Agnani cherishes most a music tape that Iyer compiled and sent her over a decade ago. “At the time of 9/11 many of our organizations were very small and struggling. It was easy to get demoralized and exhausted. The tape of music, some Indian, some Western, some pop, some classical and some inspirational was meant to celebrate what we were doing. It meant a lot to me and my organization.” n

‘All Americans must see hate violence as part of a history of racism and xenophobia in our country’

Deepa Iyer at the Oak Tree gurdwara in Wisconsin. She attended the memorial service after the hate crime there in August 2012 and also the one-year anniversary events in August 2013.

COURTESY: DEEPA IYER

be looking at that landscape through the lens of South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh community members. I will be revisiting some of the campaigns and moments from the past decade that I have been part of, as well as identifying best practices and models for building a more inclusive and equitable America. Are you religious? Do you ever pray? How do you handle your frustrations and sadness?

We were brought up in a Hindu family, but I do not practice the rituals of Hinduism. I’m still learning how to handle difficult and challenging times! I use a variety of tools — sharing with friends and family, going to yoga, and journaling. What are some of the saddest moments in life and the most joyous ones? Some of the saddest moments have involved losing family members, having friendships fall apart, or not being able to meet some of the goals

I’ve set for myself. I tend to be someone who processes my feelings a lot; it’s hard for me to keep them in. And because of that, I’m often able to get to a better place and remain optimistic. Some of my joyous ones include the time I spend with my son and family, the celebration events I’ve been fortunate to have as I left SAALT, and even daily moments of being thankful for what I have in my life. n


M98 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She helped the South Asian immigrant community become an American community’ Deepa Iyer’s work saw our constituency gain power, says Rinku Sen, a leading figure in the racial justice movement

I

t is remarkable that in the past decade Deepa Iyer has consolidated the South Asian constituency across America in a way that unites the first generation like me, our parents and our children. I think she has created a historic moment: Helping the South Asian immigrant community become an American community. With SAALT and its centralized agenda and in pushing that agenda — fighting against racial profiling, creating awareness about school bullying, studying voter registration and voting patterns and bringing together a disparate group of people concerned with immigration issues — she created history. Her work consolidated the US over time, saw our constituency gain power and helped to actually shape the United States. She was able to see that in a country whose demographics have been changing rapidly over the last few decades the people who were excluded from power could now demand a greater role in shaping this country. Deepa has this vision of an all inclusive America, and people like me share that vision and applaud her fight to achieve it. The first generation in our community was focused on building a new life and in doing that we are not different from other immigrant communities over the centuries. There are some in our community who do not want to acknowledge the problems of racism, discrimination, and other injustices that are working against us. There are people who are deniers of this reality in our community. But our community is not monolithic and many are aware of the racial experience we have undergone and are still experiencing. Deepa and SAALT have not been afraid

f PAGE M93

read about social activists when she was very young. Growing up in Kerala, which has a large number of newspapers and where people are reading all the time, she could have known about social activism at an early age.” Was the family surprised when Deepa decided to quit the Department of Justice after working there for a couple of years and become an activist, of course using her law background to build and expand

to look at this and address it through seminars, workshops and policy interventions. The new generation of South Asians like Deepa Iyer are studying poverty, sexism and what is needed to have a collective life — not just a good individual life. And she is looking not just as the South Asian community but at other marginalized communities across America. As a leader and a motivator, Deepa projects a great deal of integrity, and she always follows through on her commitments. She is a no nonsense person who Deepa Iyer at a rally. sets a very high standard of leadership. And underneath all this, she is very compassionate. She has put in significant amount of time at SAALT and I am excited about the new opportunities she has after stepping down from SAALT. She will still be involved with SAALT and other like-minded organizations, but she will also be writing more and teaching. She has been grooming a new generation of activists at SAALT and I am sure they will be looking for more guidance from her. Among the issues Deepa and I have worked on is the thorny issue of racial profiling. We wrote about it on our news site, Colorlines, and got support from a wide range of individuals including people like Seema Agnani, who runs an economic development organization in New York; musician Vijay Iyer; and Amardeep Singh, who founded the Sikh Coalition. ‘Stopping, interrogating, detaining or searching people based on characteristics such as their actual or perceived race, national origin, immigration status or religion is racial

profiling,’ we argued. ‘In a democracy, there has to be a reason to stop and search someone. Being a person of color isn’t a good enough reason. ‘ ‘Stop and frisk sounds so benign yet it covers up the  violent humiliation  experienced by hundreds of thousands of young black and brown men  annually,’ Deepa and I wrote. ‘Beneath the numbers is the human impact of this sort of policing. It involves being thrown to the ground face down. It involves cops dumping your belongings on the street while they taunt you with predictions that you’ll never amount to anything. It involves having this happen to you a dozen times before you’re 16 years old, and continuing into your adulthood.’ ‘This sort of police enforcement not only  hurts  the individual, but also entire communities whose members are treated as “others” and automatically deemed unwelcome suspects in their own neighborhoods.’ We argued based on studies  there is absolutely no evidence that stop and frisk reduces crime. New York City’s crime rate had started falling before stop and frisk was ever instituted, and cities and states across the country have also reduced crime rates without using such an unconstitutional and destructive practice. Deepa and I wrote this piece because we agree that the  negative racial impact and ineffectiveness of stop and frisk would be reason enough to oppose it. And, South Asian communities have an additional stake in this debate. She has many more years of advocacy, writing and leadership ahead of her, and I’m so excited to see that future unfold. n Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, and the publisher of Colorlines. She is also an author who has inspired Deepa Iyer with her words. As told to Arthur J Pais

We are family SAALT? “We were more confused than surprised,” her father confesses. “We thought she could be a trial attorney. But as we discussed her decision with her, it became clearer she was very focused on what she wanted to do. It took us some time to realize the importance of the work she was doing and its impact.” Looking back, he remembers Deepa being interested in immigration issues and

fighting to secure civil rights for minorities and new immigrants even as she was studying law. Initially, her mother did not understand what exactly Deepa was doing with nonprofit organizations. “But as I attended some meetings, and read about her work, I knew she was doing something very good,” she adds. Keeping her Indian culture alive was

important to Deepa and she continued her Bharata Natyam practice. She took proper classes while she was attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Padma is very pleased that Deepa plays the dual role of mother and wife on one hand and social activist on the other. When President Obama hosted a State dinner in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s honor, Deepa and her husband were among the much-envied invitees. She took her father along. “I got a chance to see the White House and the President because of Deepa,” Dr Iyer says with a wide smile. n


M99 June 2014

INDIA ABROAD GOPAL RAJU AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE 2013 Mallika Dutt

BREAKING THROUGH

Presented by

clinton global initiative


M100 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

One woman’s path to transforming human rights From bringing the issue of women’s abuse into the common man’s living room to making a protector out of the common man and bringing him to the woman’s doorstep, Mallika Dutt has always packed a punch. Chaya Babu meets the winner of the India Abroad Gopal Raju Award for Community Service 2013.

B

reakthrough believes that the only way culture change around this issue can happen is if everybody understands that it’s their issue, that it’s their problem. Violence against women and girls is not a women’s issue; it’s everybody’s issue,” Mallika Dutt says. “The social, political, and economic costs to all of us, our families, our communities, our workplaces, our entire nations — the costs of gender-based violence are enormous. And until and unless we understand the consequences of what happens to us when we treat women in this way, we’re not really going to be able to get to the other side.” Dutt is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Breakthrough, an international human rights organization which aims to make violence against women and girls unacceptable around the world. Her commitment to finding innovative ways to disrupt deeply embedded cultural attitudes of the status quo that keep women and girls suffering, to get to the real root of the probmedia, and more, all with the end goal of ensuring that lem defines the work she does. But this role is one in a long women and girls — and all individuals and communities — series of personal and professional ventures devoted to ‘getare ensured their basic human rights. ting to the other side,’ a desire that was budding in her With the Breakthrough logo emblazoned on a wall behind since her Kolkata childhood. her, Dutt spoke of the steps that brought her to where she is Her globally renowned media campaign, Bell Bajao, invitnow and how her intensely personal mission of eliminating ed men and boys into the conversation on gender-based the denigration of society’s less privileged groups has violence, asking for accountability, solidarity, and a genuine shaped the arc of her life. vow to work toward social change. At the time, and even now, the concept that men and boys “You can’t, because you are a have a place in the fight for women’s girl” rights was largely considered a new Mallika Dutt “I think I’ve been a feminist or unconventional perspective, but For being at the forefront of the and a human rights advocate Dutt jumped at the chance to fill a human rights movement; for my entire life, since I was very void in the movement, using populittle,” she said of her upbringlar culture to talk to masses of the challenging deep-rooted ing in a joint family in India. typical disengaged. It’s just one way inequalities towards women; for Growing up with grandparthat she’s been a leader and a revoents, aunts, uncles, and two lutionary in her space. starting a breakthrough global male cousins in addition to her Between India and the US, her campaign against domestic immediate family of her parpath over the last 30-some years has ents and brother, not surpristraversed through legal and policy violence. ingly, came with a slew of work, research, direct service,

Mallika Dutt, left, at a protest during her college days. as she says, she was rabble rousing even then. experiences and constant reminders of what it meant to be not only a girl, but a good girl — which of course comes with its many responsibilities in India. She played and roughhoused like the boys but was told nonstop that she needed to learn how to cook and knit, essential skills to be a good wife once she unquestioningly joined the home of her future husband. She wondered, ‘Isn’t this my home?’ Dutt recalled the irritation and resentment she harbored about the distinctions made between what her brothers were expected to do and have versus the expectations placed on her, a girl. “One thing that really used to upset me was that there was this expectation courtesy: Mallika Dutt that all the boys were going to join the family business and that I was going to get married and go off and do god-knows-what,” she said. “So I think by the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I was pretty determined that I was going to have my own home — my home — not my husband’s home, not my father’s home, not my grandmother’s home, and that I was going to carve a path and a life for myself that was something that I was going to choose to do.” This was all before the ’90s liberalization of India, which led to an increase in the exchange of ideas and attitudes between the East and the West, before the dramatic increase in the number of young women — even men — who had big professional ambitions abroad. But Dutt, who had been pushing at the ‘good girl’ bounds all her life, had the will to transgress the boundaries set for her and would continue to do so in unexpected ways. PAGE The first step was her decision to attend M101 university at an all women’s school in the United States, Mount Holyoke College, on a

g


M101 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M100

One woman’s path to transforming human rights

full scholarship. the-Middle-of-Nowhere, Massachusetts Mount Holyoke College, in quaint South Hadley, MA, was a place of huge growth for Dutt, who was already personally invested in women’s rights but still impressionable and ripe for change. Both her academic life and her social and cultural setting further heightened her drive to understand the need for change. But there was also the matter of her being new and alone in the US after a lifetime of being sheltered as a little girl in her big family in India. She rode out the kinks of culture shock well though, finding in the hardships small joys of learning a new life. “I had grown up in an affluent middle class family and had never entered the kitchen despite my grandmother’s attempts to teach me how to cook,” she said. “At Mount Holyoke, I had to wash dishes to earn money for my personal expenses. It was a challenging experience because you washed the dishes of and served your peers, your friends, the same women that you sat in class with.  It was an excellent lesson in class privilege and humility and I’m glad I had to do that.” Mount holyoke college graduation — class of 1983. this college was a huge place of growth for Dutt also faced more dire difficulties of mov- Mallika Dutt, above third from left. ing away from home to a college campus. below, years later, she returned to Mount holyoke for an honorary doctorate in humane letters. American university life is known for being a breeding ground for rape culture, an issue that’s receiving more and more attention of late. She observed with dismay the numerous rapes and assaults that were reported after fraternities from nearby male or coed colleges came over for parties

S

“ tarting to connect the dots between my irritation about what boys and girls were and weren’t allowed to do and how the systemic nature of discrimination actually led to violence against women, that allowed men to abuse, violate, kick, kill, punch women and girls with impunity, that somehow there was this idea that male identity and a notion of masculinity entitled you to treat women and girls and women’s bodies in a particular way was really something that started to emerge for me while I was at Mount Holyoke.” She said that the American education system, which pushes a liberal arts agenda and involvement in extra-curriculars, gave her a landscape to walk a path that she might not have had she stayed in India. She did one year of college in Kolkata and the system of picking a subject early on and sticking to it was something she still feels wouldn’t have worked for her. “At 18, we don’t always know what’s going to put that fire in our belly,” she said. Still, Dutt believes that the drive to be in a feminist space that worked toward gender equality was such an inherent part of her that she would have found her way eventually,

PhotograPhs courtesy: Mallika Dutt

regardless of any detours and wrong turns. The circle she became a part of at Mount Holyoke, in which she engaged in an ongoing and passionate dialog about social justice and human rights, has its sister community in India, and through Breakthrough, she has found a global community in joining together these two worlds. Dutt stated explicitly that Mount Holyoke was one of the best things that ever happened to her, but when she spoke of her time there, an energy and radiance burst from her that makes such a statement unnecessary. It was obviously transformative; it was then that she discovered that the anger bubbling inside her for years was part of an ongoing global struggle. “Suddenly I had a language and a vocabulary around all kinds of things, around things like ‘the Third World’ and ‘the global north,’ around imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, feminism, US foreign policy, and I think my natural instincts around being an advocate just blossomed in this little community where I just really emerged more fully into owning a human rights agenda: An agenda that went beyond just equality between men and women to really believing that equality and opportunity and justice and dignity really should belong to everybody,” she said. ‘Good Girls’ Don’t Say ‘Prostitute’ In 1982, Dutt’s second year of her undergraduate career, she got an internship at the International Women’s Tribune Center in New York. She was assigned to work on an initiative focused on sex trafficking and prostitution; according to Dutt, though this is an issue that receives tons of attention and resources now, then it was a conversation that was simply not happening. People did not see sex workers as women who need and deserve protection — they are still a stigmatized group, but this was the case even more then. And the fact that Dutt readily took on this area of work speaks of her guts and courage. Colleagues and superiors who knew Dutt at this stage recalled vividly her eagerness, curiosity, and vigorous pursuit of the intellectual and political threads of the work being done. Joanne Sandler, who was on PAGE the staff at the organization at M102 the time, called her the “intern not to be ignored.”

g


M102 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M101 At the Tribune Center, Dutt’s assignment was to develop an international network of women’s organizations to address the issue of trafficking. hrough this internship, as a 19 year old, T she found herself in the middle of an important debate in the women’s movement

about how to handle the question of prostitution and sex work, and on a personal level, she began to see more clearly how female bodies are commodities in a global economy that buys and sells women and girls for the purposes of sex. In getting to know this topic, she engaged with individuals doing the work themselves, and she grasped more clearly the threads that connect the lives of women whose lived realities may be worlds apart. Dutt described learning from them through their perspective: “(They said), ‘Look, whether it’s being forced into marriage and having our bodies commodified into that institution or whether it’s selling sex, what we’re dealing with here is how a male-dominated social structure creates these systems where women are denied their human rights, so we also want rights for sex workers. We also want to make sure that for women who are in that space or industry or work, there are laws around wages or protection from violence.’” After graduating from Mount Holyoke, where she did her senior thesis on prostitution in India, Dutt spent a year in her first job continuing to work in this space and even helped to organize the first ever global conference on trafficking in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. With her tiny stature and high heels the force with which she speaks of the scope of all she was discovering at this young age and the purpose it very clearly brought to her life seems as if it would come off as jarring. But it’s not. She is lucid and articulate, seamless in her telling of her trajectory, how deeply she cared for the principles that shaped it, and all the ways these impacted her personally. She packs a lot of punch. And it’s clear that her bold and spirited nature coupled with an underlying focus and grounded-ness was likely the balance that propelled her and kept her going forward in spite of any bumps she encountered. “When I was doing the research on trafficking and prostitution in India, I was trying to gather data and talk to people who had this information, and at that point in time, ‘good girls’ — girls from ‘good families’ — did not use the word prostitute,” she recalled. “You know, this was not a conversation that anybody thought that this young woman who studied in the United States should be having with anybody. I remember if a friend’s parents would ask me, ‘So, beta, what are you doing these days?’ and I would launch into this whole description of trying to understand how prostitution and the industry works in India, where the women and girls are trafficked from, how rates are set, what the role is of the police, and people would just get really embarrassed and red faced and be like, ‘Beta, why are you doing these things? What is this that you’re engaged in? Did you go all the way to the United

One woman’s path to transforming human rights From her senior thesis in college to work, Mallika Dutt returned to india several times to work for human rights. even today her work straddles india and the us.

rights in what I call an intersectional perspective.” At the same time as this was happening, and Dutt’s involvement in the work around trafficking continued, her curiosity about how law, policy, crime, and punishment shaped women’s circumstances drove her to law school. It was now, while at NYU, that Dutt connected with more women like herself after reveling in the newness of America’s diversity: Women of Indian origin who were also studying law, as well as others from around the city who came to identify her as an important figure in the women’s movement. In being thrust into this position, she suddenly began to receive calls from South Asian women in need of help, requesting support or a way out of violent or abusive partnerships. But she was at a loss about what to do because providing such help was outside her area of expertise. After graduating and while studying for the BAR exam in 1989 and then joining the prestigious courtesy: Mallika Dutt Debevoise & Plimpton, Dutt teamed up with classStates to come back and talk about prostitution and trafmates she had met in her final year at NYU to start Sakhi ficking and women?’” for South Asian Women. As a fledgling non-profit, the Her involvement in the issue extended beyond her first women volunteered their time to run a hotline — a phone job and through her post-graduate studies — striving for number from an apartment — that gave vulnerable women more education, she decided to pursue her master’s in of South Asian origin who were in dangerous situations an International Affairs at Columbia University and later her outlet to at least voice their pain. Not everyone found this law degree at New York University. positive. “I remember in those years – ’89, ’90, ’91 — when we a Global Women’s leader would talk about domestic violence in the South Asian It was living in New York City at this time that representcommunity, when we would raise the issue of men abusing ed another huge milestone for Dutt: In the vibrance, diverwomen, husbands abusing their wives, I remember the sity, and life that makes New York what it is, she found Indian community looking at us and saying, ‘Why are you what she called an electric women-of-color community. airing our dirty laundry in public? This doesn’t happen in While she had come from an academic background of our community. These women are just making it all up. immersing herself in human rights and feminism on a Why are you stirring the waters? We’re new immigrants broader scale, meeting women with whom she shared cerhere — you’re giving us a bad name!’” she recalled. “I tain experiences and identity markers but not others — remember walking in Jackson Heights, leafleting and givLatina women, black women, East Asian women, Native ing out pamphlets about Sakhi and the American women, and more — helped Dutt dig deeper into phone number that people could call, and her exploration of how gender impacts different people in men coming up to me and spitting at me.” different ways. “We would get death threats,” she added. “It was this renaissance moment when there was all this “We had to keep the office address a secret writing and poetry and art and drama and a real conversabecause we had all of these men who were tion around how the women’s movement needed to underfurious that we were helping the women stand that the issue of gender intersected with race, with they were abusing.” immigration status, with class, with sexuality, with geograThey had to deal with not just orders of phy, with religion, so that this idea that human rights were protection and helping the women get out simply about getting women and men equal had to be of their homes and providing them with a much, much more nuanced,” Dutt said. “And then learning police escort because of the level of violence about the history of the United States and migration and they were facing, but there were often slavery and all of the ways in which different communities immigration-related issues because some of PAGE had entered into the melting pot that was this country, and the women were reliant on abusive partners M104 particularly New York City, was for me just another big for their green cards. moment that really grounded my understanding of human Sometimes there were child custody

g


M104 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M102 issues and even cross-jurisdiction complications, where the father of the child had run off with the kid. Dutt and others were called upon to cater to culturally specific aspects of the community that often keep South Asian women tied to dangerous situations. akhi was an attempt on our part to create a place where women of South Asian origin, not S just Indian, but women of Pakistani, Bangladeshi,

Nepali, Afghani, Sri Lankan, Caribbean women of South Asian origin, could call for help when they were facing violence and abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners or other family members in the city,” Dutt said. Of course this didn’t stop them. Dutt and her classmates Ananya Bhattacharjee, Tula Goenka, Geetanjali Misra, Megha Bhouraskar and Romita Shetty, who had branched out into diverse professional paths by then, continued volunteering their time despite their strenuous full-time jobs. They might have been functioning in the early days without many of the physical resources, including an actual brick and mortar space, but they used what resources they had at hand. Primary among them was their connections. Dutt used her connections at Debevoise & Plimpton to create a network of pro-bono lawyers to represent the women who were calling in. From a legal perspective, there was a lot more required in the mission of Sakhi than was initially understood. The organization developed, growing with a physical presence, taking on more employees, and truly filling a void in New York City — though similar organizations existed serving South Asian women in other geographic regions. Sakhi continues its efforts to eradicate domestic violence and is now an essential part of New York’s feminist space and an active participant in broader movements for social justice in the city. “Today Sakhi is 25 years old,” Dutt said. “I’m very proud of what all of these women came together and created. At the same time I’m thinking, ‘25 years later, we shouldn’t NEED Sakhi to exist.’” For Dutt, the experience of working directly with victims and survivors of violence, witnessing the forces that both drove and hindered them, helped her grasp more intimately the concept of fear as an integral part of patriarchy and masculinity, ingrained social structures that make genderbased violence possible. This understanding laid the foundation for her later groundbreaking work to address the root of the problem: Culture. Dutt left Debevoise & Plimpton, where she had worked on asylum laws, reproductive rights, abortion, and more, to join the Norman Foundation in 1992, where, as director of the small family foundation, she supported civil rights, economic justice, and environmental justice programs across the US. She traveled to places like Arkansas, South Carolina, Montana, Hawaii, New Mexico, and more, working with organizations focused on worker rights, pollution in marginalized communities, criminal justice and abolishing the death penalty, gaining a more holistic view of transformative justice. After this, as Associate Director of Center for Global Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University, she was at the frontier of pushing for women’s rights to be recognized as

One woman’s path to transforming human rights Mallika Dutt, second from left, and her fellow sakhi for south asian Women founders — from right, Prema vora, anannya bhattacharjee, geetanjali Misra, tula goenka and a friend — during the early days of the organization, which turned 25 this year. This was a time of some personal trials, as Dutt’s own life was the brunt of criticism stemming from the exact kind of gender attitudes she works to stop. Her then husband, in full support of her career move overseas to India, came along with her — as life partners often do — though he himself didn’t have a job there. “Working for the Ford Foundation between 1996 and 2000, it was the hardest time my marriage had ever seen,” she told Rediff.com in 2009. “He left his job in NYU to be with me. And in India, the question, ‘What do you do?’ is always asked of the man. And the answer, ‘Well, I’m not working because I decided to come to India with my wife’ isn’t exactly the most well-received courtesy: Facebook.coM/sakhiny response. That took a real toll on our marriage… It’s like, you’re here on this expat job with the Ford human rights. Foundation — you’re hot sh**! And your husband, who has Until this point, gender-based discrimination was simply made this major decision to come with you, has to struggle not on the human rights agenda. She became a part of a to find his identity.” movement that organized high-profile global conferences: Additionally, despite the scope of her work through the The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in Ford Foundation, the nagging sense began to creep up on 1993, the International Conference on Population and her that the very important dialog she was fostering was Development in Cairo in 1994, the World Summit for always within the same insular circle — that she was effecSocial Development in Copenhagen in 1995, the World tively preaching to the choir. This realization inspired her to Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and others were brainstorm ways to take the conversation out of the workopportunities for Dutt and her contemporaries to make shops and UN forums she had grown accustomed to and their message known. bring it into average people’s living rooms. This is when This same position led Dutt to once again broaden her media, technology, and arts became a part of her human horizons through learning about the experiences of women rights resume, paving the way for the launch of all over the world, in The Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Breakthrough. Egypt, Russia, parts of Europe, and more. Pop culture as activism This was the moment that brought her full circle and In her final year at the Ford Foundation, Dutt started to back to India. explore music as a vehicle for serious mes“I feel like there were all of these moments throughout sages. She had zero experience in or knowlmy life where I’ve been blessed with these work opportuniedge about the entertainment industry, but ties that have really created expansion and nuanced learnher curiosity led her to Mumbai, where she ing to my intrinsic commitment to human rights,” she said. just started knocking on doors, showing up So in 1996, 18 years after she left to attend college in the at the offices of MTV, Virgin, BMG, and US, Dutt joined the Ford Foundation as a Program Officer Sony. She ultimately met people who were in the New Delhi office. There, she initiated the on board with her idea, and they produced Foundation’s work on police reform and forged unique an internationally known album and video partnerships among police, NGOs, and civil society groups. Mann ke Manjeere, which means rhythm of The organization had its hands in a range of issues, conthe mind. tributing to the vast social justice initiatives that were tak“People had said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. You ing place in India: It was working to end the many injuscan’t make an album about women’s issues; tices and oppressions faced by Adivasi communities, Dalit no one is going to buy it,’ and ‘Social issues communities, women’s groups, and ethnic and religious PAGE are not going to work in this space,’” Dutt minorities. It was also supporting the creation of law M105 said. schools that made public interest law a big part of their But she chose to not listen to these deterprograms.

g


M105 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M104 ring voices. The video depicted the true story of a woman, played by actress Mita Vasisht, who leaves an abusive marriage and becomes a truck driver to support herself and her daughter. It hit the charts in August of 2000 and burst into the spotlight, reaching 50 million people worldwide, spending six months in the Top 10, winning the 2001 National Screen Award in India for best music video, and getting nominated for numerous other global awards. More important than these metrics of success, however, was the fact that a widespread conversation was generated about domestic violence in the Indian mass media, and suddenly lots of pop culture icons and figures — including, for the first time, men — were talking about violence against women. “The journey was amazing for me, because I came from a law and NGO background and suddenly found myself in the middle of these intensely creative and intelligent people. The experience was just amazing. I think for that one year I was on the biggest high of my life.”

One woman’s path to transforming human rights

he explosion this sparked gave Dutt the sign that she was ready to do something on her own, something born T of her Indian-American identity and which combined her

policy expertise, the on-the-ground human rights work, and pop culture and media. She ended her contract with the Ford Foundation a year early to move back to New York and launch Breakthrough. She hoped to create a new type of transnational organization, one with dual headquarters and the capacity to work with people and issues around the world. The idea behind Breakthrough was of course to address women’s issues globally, but immediately 9/11 happened, and it shaped the agenda of the organization on the US side. “The work here then ended up focusing on immigration and racial justice — the South Asian community, the Muslim community were under severe attack,” Dutt explained. “There was a huge backlash, a curtailing of human rights issues here, and so Breakthrough then started to work on violence against women in India, and immigrant rights and racial justice in the United States. And that’s kind of how the work went forward. And now we’ve made a decision to align all of our work around making violence against women and girls unacceptable.” Breakthrough took no time to gain its reputation for fresh and provocative campaigns about gender norms and injustices. The most notable and longest-running, ‘Bell Bajao,’ meaning ‘Ring the Bell,’ launched in India and then went global, calling on men and boys to challenge violence against women. Others have included ‘What Kind of Man Are You?,’ rallying men and families to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission within marriage; ‘Is This Justice?,’ inspiring communities to end the stigma and discrimination faced by women living with HIV/AIDS; ‘America 2049,’ a transmedia Facebook game encouraging players to take action for human rights in the US; ‘Restore Fairness,’ a video initiative sparking action for humane immigration policy and racial justice; and ‘I Am This Land,’ a youth-focused online space incubating creative activism. Today, though some of the work in India has a regional bent, all of it has national impact because of the way media, arts, and technology are used in tandem with communitybased initiatives. Breakthrough is working to challenge early marriage in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, to

Mallika Dutt has been at the frontier of pushing for women’s rights to be recognized as human rights. eliminate son preference and sex selection in Haryana and Punjab, where sex ratios are severely skewed, and on intimate partner violence and public violence against women in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Delhi. The mass messaging is what pushes cultural change and the transformation of accepted societal beliefs that support gender bias, Dutt said, but sometimes getting people on board for these projects is difficult. “We’ve had a big challenge in the past getting partnerships, particularly corporate partnerships, because who wants to be dealing with violence against women?” she said. “People will tell us. ‘We’ll work with you to send girls to school. We’ll help all the girls and young women get jobs. Let’s work on livelihoods. Let’s work on education.’ And we believe that that’s very important work as well, but if we don’t get underneath the social norms that lead to the problems women are experiencing in the first place, we can send all the girls to school and that’s not going to stop the violence.” This became clear with the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape in New Delhi in 2012, which had ripple effects around the world in terms of raising awareness of women’s realities. But as horrific as the incident was, Dutt called it commonplace in India. “It happens to women and girls all the time — the scale of it is enormous,” she continued. “It is the single largest human rights pandemic in India and around world. For some reason that incident in Delhi touched the national conscience and the national nerve in some very different

courtesy: Mallika Dutt

way from past incidents like that. I have no idea why, but as somebody who has spent a great deal of my life working to challenge violence against women and girls, I was deeply grateful to this woman, as tragic as her death was, I send her so much gratitude, because in her death she shed so much light into a space that was always in darkness.” More often than not, these incidents and the work she does take a personal toll. “The rage and the pain are visceral,” she said. “I have had to find several coping mechanisms over the years because every single story has the power to still undo me… I now bring a lot of compassion and love to myself and to everyone in this work and in this world.” Despite this constant emotional battering in a world where the Boko Haram kidnapping girl students in Nigeria is followed by a misogynistic mass shooting at University of California Santa Barbara to brutal gang rape and hanging of two girls in Uttar Pradesh, Dutt’s spirit, tenacity, and courage to do what she does, speak volumes about her commitment to safety, justice, and human rights for women the world over. She said she believed there had been a shift in the kind of attention such crimes were receiving in the mainstream media, which used to shy away from the topic when it could, and this is of course a positive thing. But it doesn’t create a magical overnight solution; it creates an opportunity — one that Breakthrough is excited to take advantage of both in India and the US. And Dutt looks forward to inspiring more and more people to join the mission of making violence against women and girls unacceptable. n


M106 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘We followed her every move with wonder’

A rebellious but loving child, a gritty teen and an adult who lived up to the promise of both — Adarsh and Raj Dutt introduce Indrani Roy to their daughter

M

allika Dutt’s mother Adarsh, a teacher turned homemaker, and father Raj, a businessman, had just returned from their home in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, when we met in their south Kolkata apartment. Both cities had been home to Mallika — and her brother Adhiraj — all her life. And as our conversation meandered through these cities and the formative years Mallika Dutt spent in them, the picture of the girl she was emerged clearly.

tell us about Mallika, the daughter. adarsh Dutt: She is very caring, very emotional, sensitive and full of love. Raj Dutt: The operative word to describe her should be caring. She has time for all — be it her parents, brother, nephews, sister-in-law or friends. She is emotionally involved with everyone and is always eager to look after their welfare. RD: She has been away from home for so long. aD: Since 1980, she has been out of home. But she is in deep love with her roots. She insists that we visit her every year. She comes and stays with us whenever she gets time. When in India, Mallika makes sure to spend a lot of time with her friends. She makes it a point to come to Kolkata as she thinks this city (apart from our ancestral town of Mirzapur) is her second home. She is a thorough Indian at heart. in an early interview with India Abroad, Mallika had spoken about resisting being treated differently from the boys as a child. Can you tell us something about those times? aD: Discrimination between boys and girls in Indian families hurt Mallika a lot. It’s very natural in an Indian family that property goes to the boys and girls get married. It was more so in the ’80s and ’90s, when Mallika was growing up. RD: During her visits to Mirzapur, Mallika would get widely exposed to such favoritism. She would often hear my mother say, ‘Divide the property among the boys,’ etc. She couldn’t take it well. While in Mirzapur, Mallika met the village women. She would witness the ill treatment meted out to women in the slums. Her heart wept for them. That’s when she decided to work for the protection of women’s rights — her core area of interest being property rights for women. Mallika’s scope of work expanded gradually and she started focusing on women who were victims of sexual and physical violence. Inspired by a mission to set ‘things’ right, especially for women, Mallika chose law as her career. She could have joined the United Nations. But she decided to work as a lawyer in India. She interned with eminent lawyer Indira Jaising here for some time. But soon she discovered that the state of law was hopeless in her homeland and to get anything done here in India was next to impossible. Therefore, Mallika decided to go back to the United States. She thought of serving her own country from foreign

courtesy: Mallika Dutt

Mallika Dutt with her mother adarsh, father raj, and brother adhiraj.

shores. it is interesting that your family has split time between kolkata and Mirzapur, when Mallika was a child. How was this unique experience of being rooted in two places, simultaneously almost, for your children? RD: Their visits to Mirzapur were mostly for the holidays. Both my children studied in Dehra Dun boarding schools and they would spend their holidays partly in Mirzapur and in Kolkata. They would visit the picnic spots in Mirzapur. And most of the times, their friends from Kolkata would visit them there. (Laughs) Going to Mirzapur for them, therefore, was like going to a resort. We have a beautiful house there with dogs all around (Mallika just adores dogs). Though Mirzapur was fun for them, my children’s attachment with Kolkata never died. Their hearts always panged for the City of Joy. How would you describe Mallika as a child? RD and aD: (Laugh) Mallika was a tomboy. She was really fond of swimming. aD: Mallika was a genius. Be it painting, learning piano, ballet or music — she excelled in everything. She was an effortless topper. Whoever came in touch with her said that Mallika had a spark within and that she would go a long way.

We knew that, too. as you said, Mallika showed sparks of who she is today early on. Was it intrinsic or was there something that seemed to trigger it? RD: It was very intrinsic. My mother, in spite of her old-fashioned views, was a very dedicated social worker. She was the president of the Arya Samaj. She was committed to uplifting social messages like marriage without dowry. I got married on one rupee (a token auspicious amount), my brother too. aD: We followed the same tradition during our son’s marriage. RD: My aunt (father’s sister) Subhadra Dutt aka Subhadra Joshi was a member of Parliament. But later because of differences with Sanjay Gandhi, she left the Congress party and adopted a vehement anti-Congress stance. My father’s brother was a minister in the Punjab government. Passion for public service ran in our family. as parents how did you guide her? aD: (Laughs) We did not have to guide her. We just followed her every move with wonder. She was a bundle of pleasure and amazement. We indulged her in every possible way. RD: She would often say, ‘All my friends were so jealous — I got an LP player at such a young age’. For us, our children were our world. We would buy them everything they wanted — be it music system, books or video games. They were never in want of anything. Mallika was determined to head to the uS for higher education. Can you tell us about that time in her life? What were the options before her in india and what was she seeking in the quest to step out of india? RD: Mallika was studying in Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College when she applied for American colleges. That time there were no faxes, no e-mails. She did everything on her own. We came to know of her plans only when she started getting replies, mostly letter of acceptances from various colleges in the US. We had no idea that she was preparing to study in Mount Holyoke College. We hadn’t even heard of that college. She made all the arrangements on her own. aD: She is a self-made person. She took loans to fund her studies abroad. Be it money or other assistance, she did not bother us at all. She carved out a career graph all by herself. From Mount Holyoke, Mallika went to Columbia University. There too she did really well, got grants. RD: Once our export business faced a raid by the Enforcement Directorate and the latter was intrigued by a letter by Mallika in which she had written, ‘I got PAGE $500 from Columbia’. M107 “Who is Mr Columbia?” the Enforcement Directorate asked me.

g


M107 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘We followed her every move with wonder’

f PAGE M106

Thereafter, we asked Mallika not to write any such letter with a mention of money. Nothing came out of the raid, but the ‘Mr Columbia’ joke stayed with us. aD and RD: After getting a law degree, Mallika got a prestigious job at Debevoise & Plimpton, a prominent international law firm in New York City. It was one of the highestpaying jobs an intern could ask for then. Mallika paid off the education loans that she had taken. She wanted to embark on her career with a clean slate. After a while, she did not like the world of corporate law much. ‘I can’t manipulate lies to make them look like truths,’ she would often tell us. Soon after, Mallika changed course and plunged into social work. She started working for the Norman Foundation. She also served as Program Officer for Human Rights at the Ford Foundation in New Delhi from 1996 to 2000. She enjoyed working for these organizations. Did her determination surprise you? aD: Mallika is an epitome of determination. Her grit is her identity. All our lives, we have seen her climbing the ladder of success. And she is amply rewarded for her work. RD: Today, we get to know her getting one award after another. We have lost count of prizes she has won. Recently when she joined the Tolly Club, she had to submit a resume. The document ran into six, seven pages (laughs). We proudly watch our daughter going places — at times she sends us her photographs with the monarchs of Sweden or Spain. Our eyes well up to see our offspring mingling with crème de la crème of the world. aD: What amazes me is the way she jells with the celebrities. She is so much at ease with all the big names. She roams around with them, eats and laughs as if she belongs to their league. It seems she has known them for years. Spontaneity is Mallika’s way of life. at Mount Holyoke Mallika found herself getting politically involved, taking part in social causes. She came back to india and observed red light areas for her senior year thesis. Her involvement deepened as she then went to Columbia. How did you as parents view this evolution? aD: As a mother, I was worried stiff. I went through a lot of emotional upheavals. I was concerned about her visiting the red light areas. I still go through the same kind of anxiety as she stays so far away. RD: Sexual exploitation of women has always moved Mallika. Issues like girl trafficking bothered her. She often shared her experiences with us. When she was writing her papers in America, we used to send her newspaper cuttings. We kept her informed about what was happening here.

Mallika Dutt's parents learnt of her plans to study in the us only after she began getting acceptance letters. since then they have proudly watched their daughter go places.

While working in red light areas, Mallika discovered that there still existed a slave fair in India wherein women were bought and sold and brought to the brothels. Such tales made her stomach turn. Mallika felt she really needed to do something. She is too sensitive a person to turn indifferent to such moving experiences. Her visits to brothels and the plight of the women there goaded her to do what she has been doing now. What drew Mallika to law and then to social justice? Was there a triggering factor? RD: While working under Jaising, Mallika was not happy with the way the law functioned in India. She thought it would be difficult to use law as an effective tool to defend women’s rights in India. For, things were way too political here. aD: Mallika felt that after doing her Masters she could make law more productive if she handled it her way. Mallika’s career has followed such an interesting trajectory. How did you view the changes and her decisions? aD: We  were very happy with whatever she was doing. We went along with her, always. We let her follow her passion and never pressured her to do something that she did not like. We never burdened her with our aspirations. RD: Mallika started Sakhi from her apartment in New York. Complaints poured into her answering machine. She gave up an amazing salary of the law firm and just listened to her heart. She always prioritized job satisfaction over money. And we lent her total support. the song Mann Ke Manjeere, Breakthrough’s award-winning album, became such a hit in india. the issue of domestic abuse reached people’s television sets in an engaging, mainstream manner. tell us about that time.  aD: Mallika decided to send out a social message through music. She thought music would have great reachability. At that time, Mallika chose (singer) Shubha Mudgal, (lyricist) Prasoon Joshi, (composer) Shantanu Moitra for MKM. Those names were yet to hit the limelight. But

Mallika could see the potential in them so many years back. RD: All the contributors of the MKM CD worked for free. After Mann Ke Manjeere came the ‘Bell Bajao’ campaign against domestic violence. The campaign targeted boys and men and called on them to intervene if they witnessed domestic violence in their neighborhood. That campaign went viral across India. How have people around you responsed to Mallika’s initiatives? RD: When we are with her in New York, people get themselves introduced to us and express their admicourtesy: Mallika Dutt ration for our daughter. People are of the opinion that many haven’t still realized Mallika’s true worth. In India, highly placed government officials are all praise for her. A former Delhi police commissioner, a very good friend of ours, thinks Mallika is an asset for the society. Incidentally, our daughter once had worked for the reformation of the Delhi police — she had taken measures to make them more humane. Mallika’s friends adore her. She is their darling. Which characteristics of hers impress you the most? aD: She is a human being full of love. Mallika is extremely caring. She speaks to us with so much love and respect. She is an exceptional human being. She belongs to a different level altogether. To her, nothing else but love matters the most. It’s difficult for us to evaluate her. For, she belongs to a different plane. RD: The way she reaches out to people is commendable. Apart from being intelligent and talented, she is someone with a golden heart. the rebellious child has come a long way. She has become an inspiration who is seen on platforms like the World Economic Forum, tEDx, Clinton Global initiative… RD: Her success surprises us all the time. To see our own flesh and blood reach such heights is unbelievable. aD: But I miss her so very much. She is a part of my soul. How can I live away from my soul? Where do you see her going from here? What are your hopes for her? aD: We want her to be happy. RD: She wants to write a book on Karbala in Iraq as and when she gets time. Our family is very closely associated with the Shias. She wants to trace that link. Being in the public ‘domain’ for so long, Mallika now wants some time for herself. As parents, our heart reaches out to her. May our bacchi taste success in whatever venture she undertakes. n


M108 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘it is difficult to resist somebody like Mallika’ Micky Bhatia one of Mallika Dutt’s closest friends since high school, tells Monali Sarkar about a friendship that spans decades and continents

Micky bhatia, left, and Mallika Dutt, second from right, with friends.

T

he child who had rebelled against the differences between how boys and girls were treated at home had grown up to be a teenager grappling with her keenly developing sense of feminist identity and ways to give it voice. It was at this time in Mallika Dutt’s life that Micky Bhatia first met her at Modern High School in Kolkata. “Even as a teen, there was just a way that she was with women — whether they were domestic workers, whether they were teachers, whether they were colleagues, whether they were friends,” recalls Bhatia. “She was just very cognizant of the fact that we could have the raw end of the stick and she tried to equalize the forces as much as possible.” “My memory of her is of someone who was extremely kind, always available, and very respectful of others whether it was teachers, whether it was colleagues, whether it was friends. She was extremely, extremely bright, very quick on the uptake. Yes, she was quite the teacher’s pet (too).” “I admired her completely. I admired her spirit. I admired her zest. I admired her commitment. I admired her principles. I always admired the way she spoke to other people. I LIKED her.” They were 17 then and just beginning to explore a friendship that is still as strong, if not stronger. Bhatia, now a psychoanalyst, is speaking to India Abroad from her office in south Mumbai. It’s a career accomplishment that she partly credits to Dutt’s friendship: “In fact, one of the reasons possibly that I became a psychoanalyst is thanks to her — because she really believed that I could do it. She always reaffirmed what I wanted to do. She always made me believe I could do what I wanted to do.” What was even more important to Bhatia was that Dutt extended that same support and inspiration to everyone, always willing to share, willing to teach, willing to learn. The time when Bhatia and Dutt became friends was also the time that Dutt had made up her mind to come to the US for higher education. In the months leading up to Dutt’s acceptance in several American institutes — amid “lots of leaves of paper, lots of applications” — she saw another side to her friend. “I don’t think she faced a lot of resistance. It is difficult to resist somebody like Mallika; she has already made up her mind, which means she is going. But she certainly wasn’t getting any financial support. She did it on her own. I saw only grit and determination. I saw her just not giving up… And for what she wanted to do, US was the answer.” What she wanted to do was work in the area of human rights. Her thoughts, her plans might not have evolved to the point of Breakthrough, but even then, as an 18 year old striking out in the US on her own, she was driven to do the work she is now doing. Dutt earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs at Mount Holyoke College, a Masters in International Affairs and South Asian Studies from  Columbia University  and a Juris Doctor from  New York University Law School and landed a position at a New York City law firm that most JDs would give their eye teeth for. But that

courtesy: Mallika Dutt

had never been her aspiration. “Mallika needs or has always needed to feel happy with what she does, or to feel that she is contributing,” Bhatia says. “In the law firm — the lure of high salaries, social positions — had nothing to offer her. That’s not what she really wanted. The law firm and Sakhi happened kind of simultaneously. Sakhi was always the other arm of Mallika, which I think was very, very precious to her. That’s how everything really started for her.” According to Bhatia, Sakhi sowed the seeds for Breakthrough: “The Ford Foundation (which Dutt joined after she quit the law firm) brought her a fair amount of joy, but she really again wanted to do her own outfit, wanted to drive it herself, wanted to set it up.” “She had a dream, and she wanted to materialize it. Mallika didn’t give herself unlimited amount of time. Sometimes she felt like she wouldn’t be able to attain the goals in the time span that she had given herself.” Dutt, she adds, has never been one to give up after she makes up her mind: “Mallika is driven by adrenaline. Pure adrenaline. She is driven by the tremendous love support and belief that so many people have in her. And she is driven by her desire to succeed, her desire to fulfill some innermost ambitions. To prove a point. To treat people like they need to be treated.” Dutt launched Breakthrough in 2000 with Bhatia right by her side. In fact, the first Rs 50,000 ($850 in today’s terms) that went into Breakthrough’s account was raised

in the verandah of the latter’s apartment. “She had all the challenges of running an organization: People, colleagues, which issues to take — there are so many touching issues, at the same time stay in the field of human rights and not just women’s rights,” Bhatia says. “She works with women’s rights through treating them as human beings, as (part of) human rights.” “Mallika’s strategy, the whole way she has put Breakthrough out there, just the use of popular culture is so amazing. It’s a USP that no one else has used. Mann Ke Manjeere, Bell Bajao… what a unique way to reach out. It’s not confrontational, it’s not lecture, it’s not classroom; it’s appealing to your senses. Driving the point home like that was fantastic. And look where she is now.” Like they did when they were 17, Bhatia and Dutt continue to stand together. They talk to each other a lot. Even with Bhatia in Mumbai and Dutt in New York, they meet as often as they can. Bhatia constantly bounces ideas off Dutt for the NGO that she is deeply involved with; Dutt talks to Bhatia a fair amount about Breakthrough. But they no longer work on projects together. “It’s a decision that we made, to keep our work life and our friendship apart,” Bhatia says, adding that she watches Dutt’s tireless work and accomplishment with amazement and pride. But ask her to describe her iconic friend in one phrase or sentence and in the way of BFFs of a lifetime, she only says, “She means the world to me.” n


M110 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She really wants to make it happen’ Charlotte Bunch, Mallika Dutt’s mentor, on what she admires most about her

M

allika first came to work for me as an intern at the International Women’s Tribune Center in New York. She was a student at Mount Holyoke, and she was so bright and eager that all the rest of the staff said, ‘You have to be the one to work with her.’ I think they were a little intimidated by her because she was so intelligent and quick and wanted to know why and what we were doing and how, and I was immediately attracted to that energy and her wanting to do something with us. One of the funniest stories that she tells of that period is that we were preparing what became one of the first workshops on the problem of trafficking of women that was held in 1983 in Rotterdam in The Netherlands. We were working on the mailing list, and, of course, this was all pre-email, so everything had a lot of detailed work involved, and she said, ‘I thought when I came to work with you that we’d be talking politics all the time.’ And I said, ‘Well if you want to make something happen politically, yes, you do talk about that, but you spend a lot of time on the details of the daily work.’ That’s one of the things that I really admire about her in terms of her character: She has the ability to talk the intellectual talk and to think through things, but she really wants to make it happen. And there’s a drive in her to figure out how to translate ideas into some kind of effective action. She and I work together really well because we share that passion to really see something result from the conversation, not just talk. That characterizes the way she’s been about most of her career: Going to law school, but then wanting to do more with it than just being at a law firm and seeking out different channels until she ultimately arrived at the creation of Breakthrough. It is important to see how she went through the legal field. She got involved in her passion for human rights and working with me again at the Center for Global Women’s Leadership, where we worked on the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference and she was really involved in putting the work on what it meant to see women’s rights from a human rights perspective into practice through the tribunals that we held and the events. She had a lot of grounding in how ideas translate into political action — and then she went and took that in a new direction with Breakthrough in trying to create something that would culturally reach out to wider numbers of people beyond just the political arena we were working in to really spread that message of what human rights meant in an every day way. In many ways, Mallika was a bright young feminist eager to change the world when I first met her, and at that time, perhaps a little impatient also with processes of change and imagining that if you just said it, people would get it. She evolved from that kind of impatient activist urge — which is still always present in any of us who want to make things happen — into an understanding that human rights was about a transformational perspective that would enable more people to grasp why these changes are necessary. I watched this as a gradual evolution, but that was really, more than anything, driven by her sense that she wanted to be part of creating change, and she had the ability to see creatively how that could happen. But she also had to go through each of those experiences along the way to learn the tools of law and human rights, and then to see what’s the limit of those tools if you don’t bring them into the cultural realm. Mallika’s passion and determination are, of course, integral in her ability to do what she does and to be so influential, but it’s also

From left, Mallika Dutt on her early conference trail — vienna, cairo, copenhagen, beijing — with charlotte bunch and roxanna carrillo. courtesy: Mallika Dutt

that she has what I call a quick intellectual grasp of things, so when you are talking with her, she gets really quickly what the importance of the idea is, and she has a sense of how to translate all of that into daily life, which inspires people. So she can take these issues of human rights, which can sound very dull and abstract, and translate that into the woman truck driver from the first Breakthrough video and what it meant for that woman to see herself with a person with rights, and in a way that doesn’t just sound politically rhetorical but actually motivates people. When I first met her, in addition to her energy, which is also boundless and really important because she’s very vibrant, she had a good activist edge of impatience; she wanted to move into action. She has learned to discipline that with solid background work, and that, to me, is a really important trait because many people either burn out or end up at a university just doing this as academic thought because they don’t know how to find that boundary between what’s possible and the ideas that you have and how to keep it moving and inspire people. Lastly, she has a great sense of humor; she’s fun. She’s fun to be with, and I don’t underestimate that. Underlying all of this, of course, is a basically positive outlook that you can make a difference. Many people can have the analyses, but not the belief that they can do anything about it. I feel very excited that Mallika is receiving this award, and I feel proud because I feel that I am a part of her life and her political evolution. And I believe it’s a really good sign that the kind of work on women’s rights and human rights that Mallika does has reached a more mainstream world when India Abroad is recognizing it. That’s really exciting, and I think that’s part of her goal — to keep reaching to wider and wider communities. So the award feels right in line with who she is. n Charlotte Bunch founded the Center for Women's Global leadership at Douglass College, Rutgers university, of which she remains the Founding Director and Senior Scholar. She spoke to Chaya Babu

Mallika came to me as an intern from a law school from the us. Was this a homecoming? Perhaps she had never left home, so it was not. Was it learning? but as the years go by i have learnt more from her than she has from me. she is inclusive in her thought and work. she leads. she is a role model. she is a citizen of the world.  reinventing herself is her way of living.  Does she know where she is going to next? Wherever that is, she can only get better.  to say that she is contributing to the cause of women is to say too little. she is contributing to making the world a better place to live in. 

— Indira Jaising Former Additional Solicitor General of India and Director, Lawyers Collective


M111 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

the dream that took shape in a small Mumbai apartment Sonali Khan on Breakthrough’s beginning, with like minds in cramped confines, and working with Mallika Dutt, who always leads from the front

‘Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet, they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.’ leanor Roosevelt’s words sum up Mallika Dutt’s world vision. EOver the span of a decade, this vision has

produced a generation of Breakthrough advocates Mallika Dutt, left, with sonali khan. who stand for human rights, including the rights of produced by Breakthrough. Noted names lent their name, women and girls. credibility and talent to this project — singer Shubha Today, Breakthrough, the organization that she founded Mudgal, music composer Shantanu Moitra, lyricist in 2000 has emerged as a leader in successfully leveraging Prasoon Joshi and director Shoojit Sircar. the appeal and power of media — mass, social, online and The music not only captured the imagination of the digital — to transform gender norms and demand television-viewing Indian audience but also ably conveyed equality. the dreams and aspirations of women at the dawn of the Through our rise and growth, one thing that has 21st century. Music became the channel for women to remained steady has been Mallika’s zeal to lead from the share hopes, dreams and feelings. front and embrace change and challenge with the same The core strength of mass media is the ability to not just zest. reach out to millions simultaneously, but also to enlist Mallika’s training as a human rights lawyer lies at the their support for a cause or an idea. core of her staunch belief in human rights for all. Over her When I look at our journey from this musical campaign, years of work with organizations like the Ford which was women-oriented, to our recently concluded Foundation, she was inspired to explore avenues to Board the Bus campaign, I see a massive evolution curve conscientize and rally communities in India, the United — from using music to disseminate a social message to States and around the world to challenge the disturbing gamification of messages around sexual harassment in prevalence of violence against women. public spaces. We have remained steadfast in our core Breakthrough was a result of her strong resolve to bring messaging and the use of mass media and pop culture to the values of human rights into the daily lives and actions catalyze change to create cultural shifts. of lay people. In doing that, she has managed to bring Breakthrough’s campaigns are designed to provoke human rights activism out of academic and literary circles people to think and make social messages accessible to into drawing room conversations. them in their own homes. For this, we devised attractive When Breakthrough was founded over 14 years ago, the and visible television advertisements, celebrity use of music videos and television to champion a cause as endorsements that create an aspirational value. These serious as women’s rights was a concept unheard of. But messages are then complemented with deeply Mallika’s resolve and perseverance made light of failed transformative community education campaigns that talk attempts to amass backers. In fact, rejections have always about women, their sexuality and issues that affect their egged her to try harder. access to rights. It was her belief in the cause she wanted to champion For instance, my first campaign with Mallika, ‘What that resulted in Mann Ke Manjeere, the first music album

Kind of a Man Are You?’ was a multimedia campaign that spoke about HIV/AIDS transmitted to an unsuspecting spouse. This was followed up with ‘Is This Justice?’ — a campaign that reflected the plight of women suffering stigma and discrimination due to HIV/AIDS. These campaigns set the base for our most lauded multi-media and community education campaign — Bell Bajao, which tackled the issue of domestic violence across Indian homes. I still remember the first of these campaigns, ‘What Kind of a Man Are You?’ was conceptualized and executed out of my small apartment in Mumbai. My living room was Breakthrough’s working space, with Mallika, the consultants we had roped in and I huddled together in the cramped confines. Few can imagine that the high profile, celebrity endorsed campaign that we pulled off across four cities — Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru — was pulled off by a tiny team that was high on adrenaline and conviction. From a crew of a converted handful, today the Breakthrough family spans two continents. Our India and US offices continue to produce inspiring campaigns that target our core constituencies in these countries. Our messages are however not restricted to the geographical confines we work within. Our Bell Bajao campaign now spans several countries, our open-sourced models adopted across several global campaigns that fight various forms of violence against women. Over the past decade and more, Mallika and I have shared a strong bond of friendship and camaraderie. As colleagues, we have agreed and disagreed, stood courtesy: Mallika Dutt together and bickered over organizational functions, but one thing that has remained constant is our mutual respect and the shared commitment to be the change that brings about lasting change. Her tenacity and fearless attitude inspires our organization to continue to break new cultural frontiers. In India today, we have four strong on-going programs — against domestic violence, early marriage, gender biased sex selection and sexual harassment. Our media campaigns are backed up by our community presence in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka. We can proudly claim that we have touched millions of lives with our work and catalyzed a slow but sustained cultural transformation. Those touched by Breakthrough’s work are today Rights Advocates who work with us to bring the ideals of dignity, equality and justice into their own families and communities — even when doing so requires challenging deeply entrenched norms and attitudes. Breakthrough has successfully reinvented the delivery of social and behavioral change through a potent mix of stirring multimedia campaigns, cutting-edge pop culture, smart social media and authentic on-the-ground community engagement. Today we receive accolades not just from the global human rights community, the media and entertainment industry, and most recently, the technology community. And the roll of credits for this unique formula begins with Mallika. n Sonali khan is the country director (india) of Breakthrough.


M112 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘She puts her own reputation and security on the line for the movement’ Humanitarian Darren Walker on why he admires Mallika Dutt

I

love Mallika. She’s just the most extraordinary person. I have known of Mallika for many years, but I have come to know her personally in the last five years through my work at the Ford Foundation because she is one of our most effective grantees and a remarkable partner. Breakthrough and some of the campaigns that they do are among the most powerful, potent, impactful and innovative initiatives that that we’ve supported. And much of this is as result of Mallika’s very determined, brilliant, passionate leadership — she is a rare person and a most unusual leader. I came to know of her work when she was making a presentation at the Ford Foundation on the conditions faced by women in much of the Global South, and I was just inspired. I was transfixed by her calm, very intelligent, and thoughtful description of the situation, but also there was a sense of passion and outrage. Rage was coming through, and you could feel it in the room. So for me, even though I knew of her because she was a Program Officer at Ford before I came to the organization, when I was at Rockefeller, but it was only when I came to Ford and she had already left to start Breakthrough that I got to know her. She had certainly already started to make a name for herself in the human rights space before that. I think when she was at Ford, she was known as a really outstanding Program Officer, working in some very difficult areas: Women, domestic violence, and a range of human rights abuses in India. And she did some pretty bold programming and really pushed the

envelope to reorient the program to have a real focus on the plight of vulnerable women and girls. It was through her work at Ford that she created Breakthrough. She really distinguished herself and became well known for helping to organize these major campaigns that used culture as the lever for change. She made this album of women’s dreams, and the idea for that came out of what she was doing at Ford, so it was really through storytelling, film, and music that she did a lot of her work. It was a real breakthrough to do that kind of programming and not just fund legal organizations to do legal work — which is important and, of course, we need it, but that also needs to be complimented by other innovative interventions. It was hugely pioneering at the time because to use storytelling and media is a relatively new phenomenon in social justice work. That’s not to say that there haven’t always been artist and creative production and poetry and literature — I mean we’ve always had that in our movements — but the specific use of music videos and creating apps and leveraging YouTube and using all of these media platforms comprehensively at once was a very fresh concept. I think her reputation is one of bold, daring, pushing-the-boundaries leadership, and she takes no prisoners. People admire her because she is so bold and because she is such a risk-taker, and she puts her own reputation and sometimes her own security on the line for the movement and for what is right. That’s why people admire her. That’s why

Mallika Dutt and actress nicole kidman prepare to testify on international violence against women before the house Foreign affairs committee in Washington, Dc in 2009. I admire her. Being in philanthropy, doing human rights work is a way for her to realize the world that she wants to exist in and the world that she wants to contribute to building it personally. I like the fact that she’s light though. She doesn’t take herself so seriously. She makes fun of the establishment, but her own ego and her own sense of herself is that she has to work hard and have fun. I appreciate that for her work is fun; she laughs a lot, she’s a great jokester, and she can laugh at herself. To me that’s the ultimate sign of a person I want to be

yuri griPas/reuters

around. And I love being around her. We had dinner a few months ago after I was made president (Ford Foundation), and she was just so honest about how to address power dynamics — she’s one of those friends who will tell you the real story, and that’s so refreshing because it’s hard to get frank, honest feedback. I get that from her, and that’s why I trust her so much and she’s such a valued friend. n Darren Walker is President of the Ford Foundation, ‘the second largest philanthropy in the united States.’ He spoke to Chaya Babu.

‘She challenged anything that smacked of injustice’

I

know Mallika in many different capacities. Currently I’m a board member of the organization she founded, Breakthrough, and I’ve known her as a colleague — I was the deputy director of UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) and Breakthrough was a strong partner, particularly in our work on ending violence against women, and also a leader in the field in really putting out new strategies to making violence against women unacceptable. That has been

Joanne Sandler on seeing Mallika Dutt blossom from an intern to a leader

Breakthrough’s founding achievement in the ways that it demonstrates and models a completely different approach. I met Mallika in 1981 or 1982 when I was the

Special Projects Coordinator at the International Women’s Tribune Center and Mallika was an intern from Mount Holyoke College. I think she was about 18. And Mallika was, of course, an intern not to be ignored. The first adjective that I’d use to describe her is ‘challenging,’ but I don’t mean in the sense that she was challenging for me as a colleague and staff person; she challenged ideas, she challenged assumptions, she challenged anything that smacked of

g

PAGE M114


M114 June 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Mallika has a very soft side to her which cries over a stranger’s story’ Megha Bhouraskar on Mallika Dutt’s magnetism

I

t seems like just yesterday that I met Mallika. But in fact, it was in 1989; I had just returned to New York City after living for two years in Boston, and I heard of a group of South Asian Women who were meeting in an elementary school building on the Upper West Side to address issues on domestic violence in the South Asian community in and around New York. I went to the meeting because I thought that they may need a lawyer, and also because I was curious. At the end of the meeting, still unsure of whether I wanted to return, Mallika Dutt, all of 5 feet tall, ran over to me, leapt on to her toes, gave me a big hug, and said, “I’m so glad that you’ve decided to join!” After that, I had no choice but to get involved. This was and continues to be, Mallika’s magnetism and presence. That small group eventually developed to be what is Sakhi for South Asian Women  today. From the moment I first met her, and continuing relentlessly, I have known Mallika to speak, argue, push, fight, beg, plead, with respect, love, and laughter, in her determination to improve the lives of those who need her vision

f PAGE M112

discrimination or injustice. And I think she did that both in the workplace as well as outside of it — she used our work to make sure that that was challenged everywhere. When she came to the Tribune Center, she was working with Charlotte Bunch and Kathleen Barry on the Ending Female Sexual Slavery Project, which was a political tightrope. allika is really extraordinary at being able to navigate that political M tightrope without compromising her

principles or her voice. I think there are three things about her that create this ability. She has extraordinary clarity in her own moral barometer. She thinks very strategically and deeply about what she believes and what she sees as possible, and I think it’s also her clarity that allows her to communicate that vision in a very compelling and actionable way. I also think that Mallika has an amazing capacity to vibe into what’s happening in a space, whether it’s a room or a country or an organization or an issue, and to connect

Mallika Dutt, left, with Megha bhouraskar.

courtesy: Mallika Dutt

and strength; whether it be women, men, children, immigrants, if Mallika can find a way to address their concerns, she will. And while determined and passionate, Mallika has a very soft side to her which cries over a stranger’s story; and also, a child-like interest in stories about unicorns, animals and flying children on brooms that can engross her through a Sunday afternoon curled up in her books. Personally, we have been close and shared our ups and downs over the last 25 years. Mallika has been there for me, with warmth and honesty, and has included me in some of her deeper moments. When I started my own law firm and left my prior partnership of 12 years, Mallika brought a Ganesha and a mug with faces of Indian women to my office pooja, and dragged a huge framed painting of Laxmi from India to hang on my office walls. And she listened to me when I most needed someone’s ear and support. What do I enjoy to do most with Mallika? Of course, talking until all hours of the night, but also dancing in syncopated rhythm to great music after a few wines — when all that needs to be said can be done through shared smiles of sheer pleasure and love! n Megha Bhouraskar is a New York-based lawyer.

‘She challenged anything that smacked of injustice’ with people individually in a very visceral way. I’ve seen her do that time and time again in meetings and conferences and forums — I’ve seen Mallika tear up her prepared speech because she understands what is required at that moment. Still, I definitely think she had her own personal difficult times in her career. Probably the first 10 or 15 years, the point at which Mallika went from doing social justice work to going back to graduate school and then becoming a lawyer and taking different jobs along that path, were probably not the easiest moments. And there are times when we all go through that space of trying to figure out how to have a purpose-driven life but also be able to support ourselves and make a difference in the world. So in my long friendship with Mallika, certainly I am mindful that she went through that process of trying to find the place where she could be most effective. I think being a lawyer was particularly challenging because she was working in a corporate environment and I don’t think it

resonated with her sense of purpose in the world. It’s been a real thrill to see her step up in the leadership of her own organization. Of course there are many ways I’ve seen Mallika grow and evolve since I’ve known her. Primarily, I think she’s seen the benefit of developing the confidence to follow her own instincts. And she has excellent instincts, so learning that she can actually trust them and go with them and use them is certainly one way I’ve watched Mallika blossom. The other is really about a healthy dose of patience. By that I mean I think it’s partly Mallika’s impatience that fuels her passion and her impact on the world, but she has paid a price for that impatience. I think anybody who knows Mallika would mention this trait, which is part of what makes her so right for what she does. But I think she has learned to inject at least a dose of patience into her drive to make change. It’s extremely gratifying to see Mallika win this award, personally in the sense of

seeing a friend get recognition for a lifetime of work because this phase is a huge culminating step in everything she’s done. She has deserved to be awarded all along the way, but it’s very gratifying. That’s also because of what she’s being recognized for because the issue is huge and universal — as we just saw with what happened in Santa Barbara (the University of California, Santa Barbara mass shooting May 23) and what happens every day around the world — so that recognition shines more light on the issue, which is fundamentally the most important thing... The acknowledgment that Mallika’s getting is a validation of how important this work is for so many millions of people. n Joanne Sandler is an independent consultant focused on women’s human rights and a Senior associate of Gender@Work, an international collaborative that strengthens organizations to build cultures of equality and social justice. She spoke to Chaya Babu.


M115 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD FRIEND OF INDIA AWARD 2013 SHELDON POLLOCK

THE PANDIT

COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH


M116 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Keeper of a classical past ‘India has been very precious to me, as a place where different kinds of thinking happens, thinking you find nowhere else. Nobody else produced a Gandhi. No other place in the world produced a Mahabharata,’ Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock, winner of the India Abroad Friend of India Award 2013, tells Vaihayasi Pande Daniel in a fascinating interview

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD FRIEND OF INDIA AWARD STROBE TALBOTT (2010) Diplomat and thinker 2010 SUSANNE H RUDOLPH, LLOYD I RUDOLPH (2011) India scholars

MARSHALL M BOUTON (2012) Scholar and diplomat

Sheldon Pollock For nurturing one of the world’s oldest languages; for his masterful scholarship of Sanskrit; for his dedicated zeal towards the revival of Indian classical literature.

on a fast-moving journey into space and backwards into time to meet his friends. Pollock first made acquaintance with his vibrant Sanskrit world, when he earned his masters in the language from Harvard in 1973, after receiving his undergraduate degree in the classics, magna cum laude, at the same university. He hankered to be a poet, but going to graduate school to study Sanskrit sounded more promising. Classical studies was a sparsely populated field in those days — what he calls an open terrain — and the tougher the challenges and the further the distance you had to go, academically, to master the language seemed alluring. COURTESY: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS “I began to see that there Sheldon Pollock, right, with his teacher — the renowned Kannada writer Dr T V Venkatachala Sastry. were things that I might be able to do in Sanskrit that would be more presence, as he speaks. hould you be in a room interviewing one of the difficult for me to do… There was an They are, of course, all dead. world’s more learned Sanskrit scholars, Sheldon intellectual adventurous-ness in Indian Dead folk, Professor Pollock says, he loves conversing Pollock, you would never be alone with just him. studies in those days,” he says. with. His conversations with these long-gone poets, writers, Two dozen other characters might roam the room as he Already married, the father of two playwrights, bard-kings, he feels, are good for his soul. He speaks. children, he had to leave them behind in understands their emotions. When he reads their work he is They would not necessarily be people sharing the same Boston, for financial reasons, when his often moved to laughter or tears. They are not really dead geography. Or even be people of the present. studies took him to India. He studied for him. Or truly long gone. They live on forever through People who belong to the rich tapestry of characters that poetry in Sanskrit and other Indian their magical words. the Columbia University professor lives with, day in and day PAGE languages and wrote a dissertation under The more he reads them, the more they talk back to him. out. M117 M V Patwardhan, a Sanskrit scholar in As you chat with Pollock, the Arvind Raghunathan Bhartrihari. Raja Bhoja. Bilhana, Vyasa, Valmiki, Jaimini. Pune, for a year. Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia, he takes you Literary people that he brings right back to life in your

S

g


M117 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M116

Keeper of a classical past Sheldon Pollock, second from left, at an evening to celebrate his endowed professorship at Columbia University, New York, in 2012. He is the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia.

any more stimulating trips and enriching stints in India followed. M He always went to India to find pandits

to work with. He says he has done that in an “obsessive, unhealthy way” and with a very narrow focus. He didn’t go to India to see the Taj Mahal or the Gateway of India or eat Masala Dosas or the fantastic dhaba “trucker” food, which he loves. But only to meet the brilliant minds of India. Trivandrum. Central Kerala. Mysore. Varanasi (a place he felt revulsed by in the first two, three months: “I began to love Benares. I lived near Asi Ghat up the river and my teacher was at Hanuman Ghat). Delhi. Chennai. Jaipur… And even six months at Sri Raghavendra Swamy Math in a tiny Andhra temple town named Mantralayam, on the border of Karnataka, perched on the Tungabhadra river. Mantralayam was small and non-descript and there were opportunities to travel further afield to see the historical Vijaynagar and Mughal empire sites. But Pollock never ventured forth, surviving on insipid, monotonous meals — “The food was god awful — Idli-Sambar, Idli-Sambar, IdliSambar, day after day after day. And it just didn’t matter to me,” because he spent every available moment with his guru K S Balasubrahmanya Sastry. As Professor Pollock speaks about his adventures into the world of Sanskrit, you traverse many worlds, several centuries and numerous disciplines — touching base with a bit of political science, giving a nod to philosophy, stopping by on some sociology, skirting a little religion. A discussion on the Ramayana, for instance, takes us back to 200 BCE and then ahead to the era of Valmiki, Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and to post-Ashokan India. The conversation fast forwards to the Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya and to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s karmabhoomi and janamabhoomi and then we wander across the world and flip backwards in time to Virgil’s Rome. It is a lively, sparkling discussion, peppered with couplets of Sanskrit and the odd Hindi words, that quickly fills in the many gaps in your own knowledge of the classics. Pollock speaking Sanskrit and talking intimately, his eyes glowing, about antediluvian poets, as if they were close relatives, and his personal pride in the profundity of their work is elevating. He uses the term “the deep historic past” many times over, making it sound more delicious and mysterious with each usage, like a place you would like to travel to in your next vacation on Jet Blue. That’s the quality of Pollock’s scholarship. As his playwright friend Girish Karnad says, it is his ability to deftly make connections between a 11th century poet-raja’s abstruse Sanskrit poetry and our everyday life in 21st century Hindustan or takes truths from seldom unearthed Sanskrit literature and sees its relevancy in the modern world. He does not live with his Sanskrit poets in another time — they travel with him, their texts in their luggage, to the

present — because he is keen to underline to audiences of today, the importance of their ancient wisdom. Our interview too travels across two continents and three cities, and then into the virtual space, over a month. It begins in Jaipur in the tranquil gardens of Diggi Palace, where brightly-colored parrots flit about, contributing to the chatter, and erstwhile ranis issue instructions in ringing imperial voices, as they go about running the hotel that is now part of their palace, like a new kingdom. Pollock and his wife Allison Busch, a Hindi scholar, have been spending a sabbatical away from Columbia in Rajasthan. We continue our talk in Mumbai, as we walk along the sea, on Marine Drive, on a too sunny day. People stop to stare at the hatted, eccentric-looking, bewhiskered professor, interrupting the recording. Or just as he launches into a monologue on what he loves most about India, we are obstructed by a policeman, looking for a small bribe, to allow us to continue shooting on the promenade and threatening arrest, if not obliged. That evening Professor Pollock addresses a small group at an event organized by Columbia’s Global Center in Mumbai on ‘What is Indian Knowledge Good for?’ and entrances the audience with his sweetly-spoken Sanskrit, probably the best across two hemispheres. We carry on, where we left off, many days later, in a French café in upper Manhattan. Discussing Indian politics and the possible impending demise of Sanskrit, a few steps from Columbia, is not at all incongruous given that one the best places to study Sanskrit these days is not in India, but in Columbia, or Harvard or the University of Chicago, where generous endowments allow the continuity of studies on a language that is declining in India – according to the 2001 census India had 14,000 speakers of Sanskrit and, today, 13 years later that number must be considerably less. The professor wrote a paper for a Cambridge journal in 2001 titled The Death of Sanskrit, courting controversy, mainly because of its title and he says today, “I probably would not re-use the biological metaphor of death, since it proved to be a source of confusion or a diversion from the main issue… The Sanskrit of classical India, in my view, is

now most certainly a thing of the past.” In his most seminal work, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men, published in 2006, he traces Sanskrit’s voyage through the centuries and its changing role from a medium for poetry and an instrument of the pandits to a language of polity, drawing parallels with the trajectory and fate of Latin, among other languages. In true Pollock style, he brought it bang into the present, pondering the connection of this history of languages with contemporary takes on power and culture. Pollock does not want to ever attend a COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH funeral for Sanskrit. His agile mind is constantly grappling with solutions to improve Sanskrit literacy in present-day India or to keep the nation’s ancient languages alive. He was the editor of the Clay Sanskrit Library that published texts in transliterated Sanskrit, with an English translation, side by side, through the New York University Press. When funding for that library ran out, after the death of its benefactor John Clay, Pollock was able to partner with Rohan Murty, Indian information technology multinational Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy’s son, to start the Murty Classical Library of India. Rohan Murty donated $5 million for texts of Sanskrit and other old Indian languages to be published through the Harvard University Press. Pollock is toiling away at reviving these texts. The works of his favorite dead poets’ society will be eventually accessible, in another few years, electronically to a mass audience. Your work looks at how Sanskrit, 2,000 years ago, evolved from being a language of ritual to becoming a language of power and then it became a literary language. Then it got eclipsed by vernacular, regional languages. And they are going through the same processes, to some extent. Is that still how you would put it? You are referring to this book I published in 2006 that tries to make sense of the wonderful and strange thing that Sanskrit is... As I saw the record of Sanskrit, it was a language that had a very peculiar history. All languages have peculiar histories. Think of Latin, a language spoken by few people, in a river valley in central Italy, all of a sudden becomes a language of an empire across half the world. How does that happen? That’s a strange history. Well, Sanskrit has a very interesting, curious history too. And it was a history PAGE that I felt had never been told… I saw in M118 the record, a movement, from a relatively circumscribed code for ritual practices, to

g


M118 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M117

Keeper of a classical past

That there’s a real knowledge and you something much, much bigger. need serious language study, you need I think you can see this happening, serious historical study to capture it. over a 300-400-500 year period, from There’s also a form of knowledge that around the last centuries BCE into the takes seriously what other people in the first few centuries of the CE, you see past have thought. something absolutely astonishing India has a lot of people in the past, happening. All of a sudden Sanskrit who follow a lot of things about India — inscriptions appeared in Java its language, its history, its color. Taking (Indonesia). those people seriously is another type of What is that? How does that happen? legacy that I would want. So that’s the history I tried to make That, I would dare to hope, I would sense of, both as a social phenomenon, a pass onto to my students. political phenomenon and an aesthetic But there is a third type of legacy — in phenomenon, because it is a language of additional to real historical knowledge poetry as well as a language of power. and respect for the traditions, not The other part of that book is the end uncritical respect, but lively, vibrant sense story of this history. What actually has for the traditions of reception, that have happened to Sanskrit. Do languages live developed in India in the present. forever unchanged? There is an Indian present that is There is something very special about Some of Professor Pollock’s works. It’s rare to come across such a foreign scholar who speaks to you important to the Indian past, just as the past is Sanskrit because of its highly intellectual important to the present. The Indian present is history. Scholars, thinkers and poets did try to and illuminates your background, say experts. made out of the past, but the Indian past is arrest the development of Sanskrit. So it looks always interpreted from a location in the Indian present. insight. I think part of the story of those forces — both the as if it has no history. Let me give you a quick example. Consider the forces of coherence and the forces of disunity — are tied in From another angle you can see things changing quite Ramayana. I have definite ideas about what the Valmiki with issues of language over the very long term. Indeed, dramatically. One of the things that changed was that Ramayana was about. I think it had something to do with maybe even with Sanskrit. people began to write poetry in languages other than Ashoka, post Ashokan India. I think it had something to do What is the thing towards which these centripetal forces Sanskrit. Not just write poetry, but live their political lives, with the nature of power. Something to do with the rise of a are tugging? their religious lives, in languages other than Sanskrit. certain idiom of Sanskrit that was used for the first time for There are people who say there is this historical Bharat So there is something very important happening to this writing non-ritual text and things. I have a very definite Varsh. I think you can look over the long term of Indian marvelous instrument called Sanskrit, around the second historical sense of that. history and see large spaces, large visions of polity/politics, millennium, around the beginning of 1000 AD, 1100 AD, I have a very profound respect for the 2,000 years of of kindred-ness emerging over time. This space had a different parts of India, different times, different things reception of that text. What people have thought about it. different shapes at different times in Indian history, but — happen. And the rise of regional languages, and their Why they thought the way they did. How it became a text and I don’t want to sound deterministic about this — and extraordinary careers, had an effect on the history of for people that was absolutely true. Not the sort of fiction languages is only part of a mix. Sanskrit. that I have always thought of it as, but a text that was really There are all sorts of other things going on. Sanskrit does It was no longer the only game in town… One of the true. represent, in its own way, something of that force that has things that I found particularly interesting is that What do you do? Do you say to those people: “You are provided whatever it is, that center of gravity, that has something like this happens in Europe too, under very simply stupid. That is a stupid thing to say. Ram was not helped regions think of their trans-regional affiliations and different circumstances. The historic shape of culture and born in Ayodhya, you moron.” connections. People in Bengal and Maharashtra share power seemed to have interesting parallels with what goes What do you do with a thousand years of people saying something that people in Tamil Nadu and Punjab share… in India… this text is a record of god’s activities on earth? Do you Historical records, read in a particular way, suggests that In India today regionalism is big. We have gone through simply kick them to the curb and throw them in the trash there are these linkages and ties and forces of gravity that eras of big empires, big countries. Even in Europe, it is going can of history? I want to take those people don’t produce Czechoslovakias. I don’t know what to make back to fragmented states. So what are the linkages of seriously in some way… of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. These are very language and power in the world today? What do you do with the presence of the important sub-regional developments, but nobody wants an Language is a primordial attachment that makes certain past in the present? Do you just walk away independent nation of Telangana… kinds of nationalist movements powerful. and say I am just going to study Valmiki People seem to want a space for development within a Some of my work, around The Language of the Gods Ramayana and maybe the 12th and 13th larger space. I guess my question is what is the historical book, sought to think about what’s different about India in century commentaries? relationship of those kinds of spaces? this series of question you are raising. Or do you say: Here is a text which has What do you want your legacy to Sanskrit and the Indian Why is there no nation state of Tamil Naad? Why is it suddenly erupted and irrupted into the classics to be? Maharashtra and not the nation of Maharashtra? Why is it present. In 1992, when the Ayodhya-Ram I don’t know whether I want to have a legacy. I have great part of some larger world? Janambhoomi becomes a site of students. This is not a value judgement… There may have been contestation and the masjid-mandir Developing a form of knowledge — a three-fold people who have wanted to have Bengal secede from problem — for a moment it looked like it knowledge about the world… That’s a legacy that I would whatever it is part of. But there are centripetal forces was threatening civil war. What do I do as a want… pushing these places into the center, rather than centrifugal PAGE scholar? There is a knowledge that is really historical, where you forces pulling them out. M119 So the legacy issue would be — in the really think you understand something real and concrete, Now what are those forces and how do they work and best of cases — to teach my students that about how human beings have developed. what is their history. I don’t pretend to have profound

g


M119 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M118 there are three ways of thinking through our work. Each of them merits our closest attention simultaneously. That deep historical past, the history of the reception and the present are three equally important dimensions of our lives as scholars… In all these cases we have to listen very hard to the voices that are speaking and not simply shut them up. I am not saying we have to agree with them. But you have to listen to them. This is a living history. These are issues that define people’s existence in the past and today. These are in some ways the most complicated questions. These are questions, by the way, that I would never have thought I would ask in 1971. In 1971 I was a classicist of the sort I had trained to be. Nobody in Rome was going out on the street holding copies of Virgil’s Aeneid — well Aeneas was not born in Rome. So there was no Aeneas Janambhoomi to look for. But neither in Rome nor in Athens were the epics ever real sources of political mobilization. You have said that India is on the verge of losing its classical past. You have also said that if India’s education and scholarship continue along their current trajectory, the number of texts accessible from the classical era will be a statistical zero. How should Sanskrit be brought back? I don’t think it is just Sanskrit. It is the entire classical past that is imperiled. I sometimes feel that in some areas of life I have to be the extremist — I hope a useful extremist… I might have gone to extremes in trying to call attention to the state of affairs in the world today regarding the classical past. I say the world today because India is not unique here. I often say the case is especially bad in India, because India has so much more to lose than many other places. The slow erosion of classical studies around the world… India may have once been thought of — as my former colleague (University of Chicago professor and historian) Dipesh Chakrabarty says — in the waiting room of history, and that other cultures are more advanced, and India is catching up. I think in many ways India is the guest of honor (as far as) history (goes). What is happening in India today will happen in the rest of the world tomorrow, in many ways, good and bad. One of the less desirable things is the erosion of the weakening of the very capacity to read and understand the texts and languages of the past. How bad is it? Is it really true that 60 years from now that number of people able to read old Kannada, old Malayalam, Persian, Indo-Persian, Prakrit, Apabhraa, possibly Sanskrit, will have been so small that (it would be statistically insignificant)? I have tried, as best I possibly can, to get clarity on this. I haven’t just made this up. I, for example, held a conference in Shimla, (Himachal Pradesh) two or three years ago on this question. I invited many, many people to send me names of Indian scholars who were really knowledgeable in classical texts and languages, who were capable and interested in speaking about these questions in a conference to come to Shimla.

Keeper of a classical past

Sanskrit scholars from a government-run institution protest against low wages in Kolkata.

REUTERS

I found it extremely difficult to get names. In old Marathi, for example, some of my dear friends have spent their entire lives working on old Marathi. I said to them: Give me the name of an old Marathi scholar who can read a Mahanubhav (the sect started by Chakradhar Swami who lived in Maharashtra in the 13th century) text, Lila Caritra for example. “Oh, there is one scholar. He is 85 years old and lives in a chhota gaon (small village).” I have spent a lot of time in Karnataka and I kept asking my teacher, the great Dr T V Venkatachala Sastry, to introduce me to some young scholar of old Kannada, who can read 10th century Kannada. I am not saying there is no one. But if Venkatachala Sastry cannot introduce to me somebody, then I am afraid, that that somebody really doesn’t exist. Sanskrit is better off. Sanskrit is not going to disappear anytime soon. But at the time of Indian Independence there were far more scholars, whose names I could recite to you, in the next hour, who had international reputations, who were writing for an international audience on Sanskrit, who produced enduring work, who really knew the language, knew the history, knew the textual history, knew the literary history, knew the intellectual history. I personally do not see that cadre of scholars in India

anymore. Maybe I am not looking in the right places. Maybe I don’t travel widely enough. Maybe I don’t read widely enough. Very possible. From my own experience and anecdotal experience talking to colleagues. I wrote to very knowledgeable people, these are Indians scholars who come to India all the time, who often live here. I said: “Give me some names.” Statistically very difficult to get hard data. Anecdotally I have a lot of data. The data is very dark. If someone were to come up to me and say: Pollock is a real moron. Here are 50 scholars, who do everything he says they should be doing, I’ll say: (claps his hands) Hallelujah… The only reason I care is because I think something important, potentially, is going to be lost. I should say this very clearly. This is not just India’s culture. This is my culture too. I don’t see any boundaries. Someone once said to me at a conference: “Well, whose culture is this anyway?” He was a young Indian scholar. I said: “Well, it’s mine as much as yours. Just as Heinrich Heine is a (German) poet who is part of Indian culture so Bhartrihari (the first century ruler of Ujjain who became a hero of folk stories) is a part of the culture that’s mine.” I don’t see ethnic or regional or national or continental boundaries on these questions. What about India or ancient India has enriched your life… …I am a scholar… They are people who are concerned with knowledge, the creation and transmission of knowledge. India for me has been a place where I felt I could discover and transmit new forms of knowledge. …There are people who are scholars in India today, who somehow feel that they may have been Indians in another life. That they have been reborn in New York, as a videshi, but really they have the heart of an Indian. They feel a special deep affinity to India. I admire such people very much. I am not one of those people. I feel affinity for Indians, Chinese, for Latin Americans, for Africans. India for me has provided a very special arena in which to explore problems of human culture that have been of great interest to me. Such as literature, forms of thought, longterm literacy, ways of living together, mixed communities living together. There are deep values in Indian cultures, which I have been extremely impressed by, which I have tried to make better known to the world because I think they are values that the world could benefit from. I am not sure they are entirely unique to India, but the Indian record, because of long-term literacy and commitment to learning, is so much richer than any other record in the world, except for maybe the Chinese. Unlike the Chinese, the Indians really made the project of living with difference an important part of their culture. There’s a very famous Sanskrit verse. One of my very favourite people in Indian PAGE history is a king who lived in what is now M120 Madhya Pradesh. Not far from Bhopal in then an important city and now a small

g


M120 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M119 town called Dhar. He died in 1055 AD. His name was Bhoj Raja. He wrote many books and in one of his books he describes what I think is one of the great traditional values of pluralism — how to learn to live with other people. He says:

Keeper of a classical past Hindu fundamentalists in Ayodhya December 6, 1992 before the tearing down of the Babri Masjid. That incident, Professor Pollock says, was a turning point: “I would never have thought that a 2nd century BCE text I was working on would become deployable in the present in some divisive way.”

śrotavyaḥ saugato dharmaḥ kartavyaḥ punar arhataḥ | Vaidiko vyavahartavyo dhyātavyaḥ paramaḥ śivaḥ ||

This is in the context of multiple, competing entities and ideologies and epistemologies and cosmologies in 11th century India. He said you should study Buddhism. You should enact Jainism. You should comport yourself in a Vedic manner. And you should meditate on the highest Shiva. So, four potentially radically confictual forms of life, for this thinker could be harmonized. And somehow that verse, encapsulates for me one of the great things of classical India: The capacity to acknowledge, recognize and strive to live with cultural difference. That has been lost in India today. That is a value that could be recovered. Not gone fully? Going? I think the capacity to acknowledge the truths of traditions, that are not your own, has been radically diminished in India, as it has been around the world. India is no exception. Heinrich Heine, the great German Jewish poet, once said: ‘The Jews are just like everybody else. Only more so.’ Indians are just like everybody else. Only more so. They have been losing so much, because they have so much more to lose. Their capacity to live with each other was once great and it is now radically diminished. I am not a romantic and I fully understand the challenges. But I think people like me, who care about the present and about the possible uses of the past, in the present, have an obligation to say that there was once upon a time a way that people did this differently. I mean when I was a child I heard this story of a rabbi: Two disputants came to the rabbi. And he said to one of them: “You are right” and he said to the other one: “You are right”. And a third person came up to him and said: “You can’t tell them that they are both right.” And the rabbi said: “You are right.” This is a kind of way of managing difference that somehow modernity has lost and all you have today is people shouting at each other, suing each other, or shooting each other. And there’s got to be another way. Politics in India today often leans on ancient Indian thought to make political gains, not always in a correct manner. You have written about this a lot ever since it began in 1992. What is your view on this? The Ayodhya catastrophe was a big turning point for a lot of us. I would never have thought that a 2nd century BCE text I was working on would become deployable in the present, in some divisive way. That it would be used as a weapon to mobilize and militarize a large number of people, who would do very dangerous things. And I was interested in the history of that. I felt there was a history to the use of the Ramayana in the political imagination of traditional India. I think it had been used a lot. I was interested in why the Ramayana is

SUNI MALHOTRA/REUTERS

seen to appear in the 12th century in Tamil Nadu and 16th century in Rajasthan and 17th century in Maharashtra, under conditions of political danger or competition… I felt that what was happening in 1992 was a repetition, with change, in — let’s call it — an old cultural practice. I wanted to understand it as a historical phenomenon over a 2,000-year period. What has the Ramayana meant to political thinking in India? Why did L K Advani appear on the cover of India Today dressed as Kodanda Rama, with the bow. Why that? I was concerned with the history of this phenomenon — redeployment of old images in the present. A lot of people feel there is only a kind of single truth about the past. Was there or was there not a temple of Ram on the site of Ayodhya? I always felt that the issues here were more complex than just a simple positivist history of the site. There is also a history of understanding how the Ramayana was used. There’s a history of history. What is the use of history? Who is making claims? The past in India, like the past in any other place, can be used as a weapon in the hands of people. The Ram Janambhoomi movement in the 1990s was history as a weapon. There are two things to take away from this. One understandable. The other a little less predictable. The understandable thing is that if you do not understand history, you will be a victim of those who use history as a weapon. If you have no access to languages, if you know nothing about your past, if you suffer from societal Alzheimer’s, how do you defend yourself against history used as a weapon. There is another less expected way to think about this. It is to say to people who are using history as a weapon. Let’s

grant you your truth, let’s grant you the importance of your views. Let’s not talk about historical truths. Let’s talk about what you want to accomplish with the Ram Janambhoomi movement. With suppressing this book or that book. With the sort of historical anger and historical wounds that you carry over Partition, over whatever it may be that is causing you such pain and driving you to do such things. Let’s find a way to substitute. To replace knowledge with social hope. How do we replace the quest for knowledge with the quest for social hope? This is something that most historians and politicians do not wish to consider. ‘There is one truth. Rama was born in Ayodhya.’ ‘There’s one truth. There is no such person as Rama.’ So we can shout at each other, we can sue each other or we can shoot each other. That is not going to solve this particular problem of knowledge and hope. So what do you do? I think that’s a conversation that we all need to have. Not just Indians. As I say, it is especially important in India because Indians are just like everyone else, except more so. The stakes are higher. The passions are more intense. The traditions are longer. People are smarter. Voices are louder. How do you actually start a conversation that says hope is more important than knowledge? That’s what I am interested in. PAGE Now I am a scholar. I don’t want to spend M122 the rest of my life hoping. I also want to produce what I think is knowledge. So how

g


M122 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M120 does someone like me engage in a conversation like the rabbi who said that you are right, you’re right, oh you’re right too… Or (Raja) Bhoja.. (who wanted to provide space for everybody). How do you do that in a modern context? Like in the case of the controversy over Wendy Doniger’s book? (That) was a case of a particular scholarship that had a particular historical view of the past. And there were people who had very different views. And there is no current conversation that allows for any way to meet. People on both sides will say you are complete idiots. You cannot have a conversation… Part of my position is to say: We have to bring the other side to the table. The other side will say we can’t bring them to the table. My point would be: Let’s move the table. Let’s find a way to move the table so you can bring them to the table. This is not to abandon hard core historical work. It is to say that we can have more than one truth in our head. Like Bhoja. Or the rabbi. We can all be right. (We) have to find some way to make good conceptual senses of that possibility… This goes against your profession. Is it a sort of a balance that you have to do? It is a balance. It is a new and very delicate balance. It is a new way reading. It is a way of reading that says: ‘Valmiki wrote the Ramayana in 200 BCE. The Ramayana was never written. It is an eternal text. There never was a person called Rama. There was a person called Rama who was god on earth.’ I believe there is a way to balance these ideas in such a way that we recognize the importance of each other’s position and allow each to have its separate truth for its separate practices. It means that the important thing here is that it comes into the ethical sphere, of granting each other’s freedom as a limit. That limit is where that person’s freedom begins to encroach upon and deny another person’s freedom. So there have to be limits on how far freedoms are allowed to go… I think real scholarship trains students to grant that humanity on the other side. Because what you learn when you do real scholarship is you learn to listen to people from very different times and places.. and you spend your life trying to understand them, to make sense of them, that’s training for the new millennium, that’s training for the Bhoja vision. Without traditional Indian thought I could never say that there was a place and time when this worked. It is not totally Utopian. The word Utopian means no place. Not a good place, but no place. I think the people, who have the privilege of studying classical India, for all of its troubles, there were real places where people lived lives that we can learn something from. That some kind of Utopia really existed? Yes, that some kind of Utopia really existed. I am not naïve. I know that that world was made possible by a lot of human suffering. Profound inequality. There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism. I am perfectly well aware of that. But we take away, critique and we take away the good folk.

Keeper of a classical past Professor Pollock, left, with Radhavallabh Tripathi, second from right, vice chancellor of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Samsthan, at the Sringeri Math in Karnataka with other Math officials.

Indian playwright Girish Karnad, who knows you well, says that what has always interested him about your work is the fact that it has never roamed in rarer or more abstruse domains. You always applied your knowledge of Sanskrit and history to current situations, giving your scholarship relevance today. Why do you always peer into current India too? I am 66. I was born in 1948... I came of intellectual age in the heart of the 1960s on the East Coast of the United States. In a sense I am a kind of child of my times. The general tendency among young scholars in that period — even classical scholars or linguists or literary scholars — was to think about a relationship to the present world. The big word in those days was relevance. What is the relevance of this, or that, to our lives? It was partly opposition to US foreign policy, opposition to the Vietnam War, our understanding that to put in a simple-minded way: Everything was connected with everything else. So if you were a classical scholar reading (Greek tragedian Sophocles’ play) Antigone, you asked about the relationship, not just between the individual and the State in 5th century Athens, but you thought about the individual in New York City or Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1966. That’s one general perspective on why people like me have naturally felt a commitment to thinking about the present even as we think about the past. As I became a little bit more mature, I hope, I realised that my position about the presence of the past had a philosophical grounding. There was a famous Italian philosopher name (Benedetto) Croce, and Croce once said that all history is contemporary history. The idea being you cannot think about the past without thinking about the present. Epistemologically, just the very nature of how we understand the past, is inflected by our position in the present. This is sometimes called philosophical

hermeneutics, to give it a fancy name, but there is a sophisticated analysis of why young kids like me, in the 1960s, felt that the present and the past were important to bring together. Now the present for me, if I think about the material I work on — Indian culture, Indian literary history, Indian intellectual history — the present is not just my own personal present, but it is the present of the culture and society that produced the work/material that I work on. So it is a perfectly rational and a reasonable extension to say what is the relevance of this text — the Ramayana, let’s say, a very ancient text from South COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH Asia — to contemporary India, both because of my own historical being as a child of the ‘60s and also because of this philosophical position about all history being contemporary history. It is perfectly reasonable to ask what does this material mean to me, why should I care about it, but what does it mean to the inheritors of these great traditions today… … When I talk about the inheritors of these great achievements of Indian culture, great works of literature or systems of thought, I consider myself as much an inheritor as my Indian friends and colleagues. I wasn’t born in my karmabhoomi. It is not my janambhoomi, but it is my karmabhoomi. (Laughter) It is interesting that you laughed. One of the things that it is troubling about the present, contemporary moment, for people like me, or for me, and this is inevitable, I suppose, words and concepts from the past that are part of the Sanskrit tradition, have, to some degree been captured by political forces in the present… It is not just any present of India that is interesting to me. It is the present present. And the present present is quite different from what it has been for many years. That could have some good aspects to it and some bad aspects? I am not making any judgement of the election, the outcome of the election, the future of India under the BJP, or about Mr (Narendra) Modi’s personal politics or even past history. But if you look over the last, I would say, 50 years in India, if you broaden your purview to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, you will find similar tendencies, but invoking other traditions. PAGE I think the dominant tendency over the M123 last 50 years has been a politicalization of the Sanskrit tradition.

g


M123 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M122 The Sanskrit tradition has always been political in some sense. All cultures have a politics just as all politics have aspects of culture. That’s why in this book I invented this term culture power to try to make clear that human history is about the delicate negotiation between these two forces. So there has always been a politics in Sanskrit and there’s always been a certain culture to politics in the long sweep of Indian history. My point is that in the last 50 years — these are hard questions and very few people talk about them openly and critically and knowledgably, with a sense of the deep past — as a friend of India and a longterm observer, words like janambhoomi and karmabhoomi — to take that particular case, have been captured, so to speak, by a certain politics in India today that makes it difficult to use those terms in a non-political way… With the same sound? Without sounding like them? Exactly, exactly. Without sounding like people who have a particular politics. Let me give you a silly example. Maybe it will resonate. I have a friend, a Kannada writer, (U R) Ananthamurthy. Bangalore was a big center — I don’t know if it still is — for the Sathya Sai Baba movement. A lot of people would take the plane down. Once he was on a plane and someone on the plane was passing out vibhuti, you know ash that had been touched by Sathya Sai Baba. It was like a commodity. Like a contemporary commodity. There was an elderly, very traditional gentleman in the plane with Ananthamurthy, dhotiwallah type, very traditional. Somebody came up to him and said here is some vibhuti. He said: “No I don’t take it. I am a very traditional man.” The old tradition had a non-commodified sense of this precious material, the sacred ash. And in the present day it has somehow become commodified and I don’t say cheapened… No longer profound? It doesn’t have the same resonance yes. And you feel funny, odd, uncomfortable, pretending that it is. This is the same with the janambhoomi-karmabhoomi business. It has taken on a different tone. I think the Sanskrit tradition has taken on a different tone from what it used to be. Let me give you one more quick example. I had a teacher. He has now passed away. In Benares. A South Indian pandit named Pattabhirama Sastry. A very, very celebrated scholar. One of the great scholars of India in the 1940s-’50s-’60s, comes from a very celebrated lineage of pandits from Madras. He was one of the heads of the Vishwanath Mandir in Benares. He was head of the traditional pathashalas in Benares, a man of really profound learning and many disciplines. You don’t get more traditional. He told me a story once, which I have never tried to verify, but there was no reason for me to doubt the veracity of it, but I have a slightly vague memory of the dates. The high court of Allahabad had summoned him or subpoenaed him to give testimony against the (Akhil Bharatiya) Hindu Mahasabha.

Keeper of a classical past Professor Pollock and his wife Allison Busch after viewing manuscripts in Jaipur. excitement about classical traditions. And in India? India is much more complicated. I get several responses depending on who the interlocutor is. The most common response is guilt. Cultural guilt. “Oh my grandfather was a great Sanskritist. Our traditions have fallen off. And I learned a little Sanskrit in school and I don’t know any now and I wish I did.” I get that response hundreds of times. It is totally true that many of the brilliant young scholars, software developers in places like Bangalore, are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of highly literate Sanskritists. Or Persianists. There were great traditions of Persian and Arabic studies in India as well. Long traditions of literacy. It is the young successful kids of today, who have those COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH gifts of unbroken literacy. That’s one response I get — cultural nostalgia and guilt They wanted to adopt the cow as their election symbol. for the loss of tradition. And recognition that their families The Election Commission — I don’t know the full details, were, once upon a time, great devotees of this form of because this was all going on in Sanskrit. I don’t know how knowledge. to say the Election Commission in Sanskrit (smiles) — took The second response I get is: “Why are you doing this the Hindu Mahasabha to court. when there are so many other important problems in They summoned Sastry and asked him about the matter. India?” He said the cow is a very ancient symbol and it cannot be The third response is: “Oh you must be RSS (the appropriated by this or that political party. Again like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) or you must be a cultural vibhuti, janambhoomi-karmabhoomi, the cow had sought conservative if you are studying this.” And this is a canard be appropriated and somehow politicized in a narrow way that you find in the West too, that somehow there is a by a political party. That’s what I am talking about. linkage between classical studies and conservative politics. I should add this as a foot note: These people, my teacher Somebody in The New Yorker said two or three years ago told me, gheraoed his house after the court case, they stoned in respect of (philosopher) John Stuart Mill, that a his house for days, they forced him and his family to flee commitment to classical culture is a commitment to Benares. He eventually returned. conservatism. This is a complete canard… But this was the treatment received, by possibly one of There was something I felt, when I was sitting in that room India’s five greatest pandits of the time, for resisting this where you were lecturing in Mumbai. Or when you were narrow, partisan politicization of the Indian culture. That is speaking, just now, about Varanasi. The Varanasi you were what I am talking about. talking about, or what you were speaking in that room.. in When you are in India, when you are in America or any my mind all these things are coming to an end in some ways. other country when you tell people you are a Sanskritist, Varanasi will always exist, but will true learning and an what kind of reactions does it evoke and what do they understanding of knowledge and understand? understanding of Hinduism continue to When I was a student in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I exist in Varanasi? would sometimes hitchhike. One time I was picked up by a When you were speaking in that room professor at MIT. I was a junior in college. how many people understood what you He said: “What are you studying?” I said: “I am studying were speaking about or its import? Isn’t it Sanskrit.” all declining? He said: “Oh is that writing on sand?” This was a It is a very worrisome situation. When I professor at MIT. first started going to India, in the early ’70s, In those days — this was in the late ‘60s — Sanskrit was on the train you would get a cup of Chai in like Urdu, a crossword puzzle word for many people. a little clay cup. (When you were done) you Things have changed in the last 20, 30 years. would throw it out the window and it Sanskrit is much more on the map of humanists. I think would go back to the earth. Those were when people write books these days about classical studies, aesthetically very beautiful, those clay cups. they cannot not mention Sanskrit. PAGE They were highly appropriate for Sometimes it is still a conversation stopper. “Oh you study M124 Hindustani Masala Chai. The Chai tasted Sanskrit. What is that?” Sometimes it is: “Oh that’s really different in those little clay cups. Those cool!”… Generally speaking, there is a lot of goodwill and

g


M124 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M123 little clay cups were the natural accompaniment for Chai. Those are gone now. All you get is plastic horrible cups. This is a sort of metaphor for what you are putting your finger on. This deep transformation. This is what I meant about the sincere, energetic affection for a culture that prompts you to care for it in some way. Is it inevitable that the clay cups, and everything like them, are going to disappear from India, over the next generation? It is astonishing what has happened in the last 30 years. Is it inevitable that it will all get lost. Is there something that well-meaning, honest, sincere people can do to adapt? These are the big questions. I have thought about my little part of the world, my little area of interest in the world — my clay cup — how do you save that? What do you do to save that? The great teachers — now I am 66 — Shashti Abdha Poorthi (marking of 60 years) has happened, so I no longer work with pandits anymore. When I go to India I do my own thing. I don’t seek out pandits. I think it is in part, because the people — although India is a big place, and it is very dangerous to generalize about India, and I do too much generalization for my own good — but the kind of teachers who I used to work with are fewer. Those are my clay cups, which have disappeared already. I don’t think there is any way to get those people back. They grew up in a world that is gone. They grew up in an educational system gurukuls that are really disappearing. And what is the appropriate modality of enhancing classical studies or music or dance in a world which is so rapidly changing? These are the really big questions. The biggest question is the future of the planet… My disappointment with the Indian elections and with the vision for India in the next century is the failure to think about development and climate. I know that sounds slightly off topic, but it is not off topic. Some very good friends of mine wrote columns in newspapers that the choice is either secularism or development. We have had secularism for 10 years and now we need development. It is not an either-or thing? Neither is it an either-or thing, but India could show the way… If India becomes China, I think the planet is finished. That is the biggest context within which all of my little sort of things like preserving classical studies… if you have the end of civilization, as we know, it then it doesn’t matter whether you have gurukuls or industrialized Sanskrit colleges where nobody learns a damn thing. … There is a way in which India has been very precious to me, as a place where different kinds of thinking happens. Thinking you find nowhere else. Nobody else produced a (Mahatma) Gandhi. No other place in the world produced a Mahabharata. In some sense India could be the place where radically different thinking about climate change and what to do about it could happen. You have often said that reading Sanskrit is good for the soul. If one has never read an ancient language, or a language from far away, and long ago, one can’t understand the exceptional pleasure of trying to finally make sense of the

Keeper of a classical past

Sheldon Pollock and Allison Busch celebrate their granddaughter Elea’s 10th birthday in Jaipur last November. Also at the celebration were Pollock’s daughter Mica, a professor at University of California, San Diego, and Jonah Pollock Castiglione. language. There is a deeply satisfying, aesthetic pleasure in trying to understand. And the more distant the text, the greater the pleasure somehow. It is wonderful to read 17th century French or 3rd century Latin. But a Sanskrit text, like the Mimamsa Sutra (an ancient philosophical text written by the scholar Jaimini) from the 2nd century BCE, just to try to make sense of that text, and finally believing you have made sense of it, is deeply satisfying to me. The distance you have to go? The distance you have to go in time and space. There is another aspect, that most of us don’t bring to mind, but which is really happening. And you get this vividly when the text is far away and long ago. You really are speaking with a dead person. When you are reading a text you have an uncanny experience of speaking with the dead. If you really bring that to mind, it is a very unsettling, but a deeply satisfying unique experience. Of course, it is hard to ask the dead person questions. But, in a way, you can. You read further and further and you have questions and eventually the dead poet will answer your questions. It is really amazing. The sheer pleasure of figuring something unknown, the uncanny experience of speaking with the dead… There’s also the content of the work. There are two ways in which the content is good for the soul for me. They are kind of contradictory. One is the recognition of similarity. My favorite poet in India is Bhartrihari. We know very little about Bhartrihari. We don’t even know if there was a Bhartrihari who wrote these poems… One way it was good for the soul for me was what I call this recognition of similarity between me and

COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH

Bhartrihari. (Laughs). When Bhartrihari speaks I really hear myself . I mean I consider this a lower form of goodness for the soul — the recognition of yourself in someone else. Bhartrihari has a wonderful poem. He says: ‘My hair is grey, my face is furrowed with lines, my arms and legs are stiff, I am an old man… tṛṣṇaiva taruṇāyate… the only thing that remains young is my desire.’ It is one of his great poems. I cannot even give you the translation without being moved by it. Extremely simple, deeply profound recognition, of the basic Buddhist sense of this core problem of desire… The second aspect — it is the recognition of dissimilarity. That this world is very, very different from my world. When you sit down and read a work like the Mahabharata, you are reading about a world that is completely different, in many ways completely different from mine… recognizing the huge dissimilarity, as well a similarity, from my world. It is true that other worlds are similarly dissimilar. India — I don’t know where I can begin to try to chart out this world of dissimilarity — it is really vast. It is really profound. It is really different and it is really valuable. Just take this issue of authorship. It is a small issue, but it is my clay cup. The big tradition in the West for many decades, PAGE many, many centuries now has been the M125 celebration of the individual artist. It has turned into incredible issues of intellectual

g


M125 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He has got a beautiful mind, a mind that goes far beyond Sanskrit’ Writer Gurcharan Das hails Sheldon Pollock’s ability to make Sanskrit come alive

S

heldon and I share a common mentor. The person who taught him Sanskrit taught me Sanskrit. It was a long time ago, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard. This was in the early ’60s… We are both chelas (disciples) of Daniel Ingalls (professor of Sanskrit at Harvard). Shelly went on to become a great professor of Sanskrit. I ended up doing philosophy. (Later) I was very interested in reading the Mahabharat. Chicago was the place to go. Shelly was a professor there. So was Wendy (Doniger). Shelly and Wendy attracted me to Chicago. I sat in the Regenstein Library and read the Mahabharat. So we met again. The most exciting thing that I had read of his, which really attracted me to him, was his essay on the Sanskrit cosmopolis. The Sanskrit cosmopolis is a way of thinking about the world. Shelly contrasts the Roman Empire, through which Latin spread around the world. Power led to the spread of Latin whereas what led to the spread of Sanskrit was the power of the language. There were no kings spreading Sanskrit… Our paths crossed again because I was suddenly invited to write a foreword to one of the volumes of the Clay Sanskrit Library. It was Shelly who invited me. They invited non-Sanskrit scholars. It was one of the battle books of the Mahabharat, that contain the best poetry. I was delighted to write that introduction. The thinking in that essay I wrote led to my book — The Difficulty of Being Good. Shelly and Allison were spending a short holiday near Bombay, at Alibaug, where we have a beach house, going back 40 years. Shelly read my book The Difficulty of Being Good and then very generously gave a nice endorsement for it.

f PAGE M124

property. I own this poem. Indians have a far more flexible authorship. One of my students wrote a very fine paper — a series of poems attributed to a 11th century poet named Bilhani called the The Collection of Fifty Verses by a Love Thief. It is pretty clear that some of these poems existed long before Bilhana was ever born. So there is a sort of floating authorship. You can call Bilhana a sign. Bhartrihari is a sign for a certain style of

Sheldon Pollock has contrasted the spread of Latin through the Roman Empire with the spread of Sanskrit: Power led to the spread of Latin whereas Sanskrit spread due to the power of the language.

say is my privileged connection with Shelly. He has got this very wonderful beard (laughs) and he has got a very attractive wife. He has got a beautiful mind, a mind that goes far beyond Sanskrit and makes connections with issues that we have today. He makes Sanskrit come alive. He has written about the crisis in the classics in India. If you want to read Sanskrit you don’t now study in India. You have to go abroad. When I was thinking of reading the Mahabharat, people said ‘Why don’t you read it in Benares?’ But I had to go to Chicago (because of) the scholars of Sanskrit (there). We are not producing those scholars of Sanskrit anymore. With the salaries going up in the academic world in India, maybe we will COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH produce some more. Hopefully, some of Shelly’s students will come back to teach in India at these new universities — Ashoka (in Haryana) The Clay Sanskrit Library died because the Clay family and Shiv Nadar University (in the National Capital suddenly withdrew support from this wonderful project Region) who are emphasizing the humanities. that had produced 55 volumes. So that was what brought He is amongst the best (scholars) I would say, no Shelly and me again together. question about it. I tried to help him find some kind of funding and so it’s The quality of the mind. appropriate that it was the Tatas who first provided the The curiosity that a great scholar has. seed money. I went around with a begging bowl asking for The rigor to pursue, and the talent also. money. (Indian IT major Infosys chairman N R) (When we meet) we (usually) talk about what’s Narayana Murthy actually refused. But his son Rohan happening in the country. We talk about the state of (Murty) understood the power of the idea because we Sanskrit scholarship. I am always interested in what he is were modeling it on the Clay Library. That connection with Rohan Murty I helped create for working on. n Shelly. He took it forward and it has now flowered into As told to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel. the Murty Classical Library of India. That’s what I would

Keeper of a classical past poetry. A lot of poets could contribute they could all be called Bhartrihari. Nobody owned Bhartrihari. Nobody put a copyright on Bhartrihari… It is impossible to believe that there was a single Vyasa. The Mahabharata is the most extraordinary composite authorship problem in world literary history. It is a text that spans five or six centuries in its creation. And everything happily lived under the Mahabharata umbrella. It was a flexible text with a flexible author. You don’t find that anywhere else to the same degree…

For me reading Sanskrit, as something good for the soul, is, to recognize the infinite adaptability and complexity of the human spirit. It is not always the same everywhere. People have lived very different kinds of lives, from which we today can learn if we can access those materials. If we can access those materials, we have something important to learn about dissimilarity or difference, about the historical contingency of our own lives. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can recognize a common humanity. There is similarity. We can have this extraordinary experience of speaking with the dead. We can have the purely intellectual experience of figuring out something we didn’t know before. n


M126 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘His theory of how Sanskrit developed as a culture, rather than as a language, is mind-boggling’ Celebrated Indian playwright Girish Karnad is constantly amazed at Sheldon Pollock’s work, revealing how the umbra and penumbra of Sanskrit culture spread

Sheldon Pollock on a trip to India earlier this year, though he no longer returns to India in search of pandits because — although “it is very dangerous to generalize” — the kind of teachers he used to work with are fewer.

I

n 1984, the United States had a Festival of India. At the end of that year, in 1985, the Department of South Asian studies at the University of Chicago had a seminar. It was the most important Department of South Asian studies at that time, Milton Singer, A K Ramanujan (were part of it). I was invited to speak. That’s when I met Shelly Pollock. I was most impressed. A lot of the Americans and Indian scholars sneered at him. They thought he was a Marxist … He was seen as not someone who is a pure Sanskritist. But I was very impressed. Everything he said was concrete. It was about Mauryan inscriptions, I think. He was looking at the Mauryan inscriptions and trying to understand Mauryan society. Since that moment I have always been in touch with Shelly. I am glad to say that my faith in him has proved to be correct. Since then he has grown and grown. He has become a major Sanskritist, Indologist. (It was different in the days before people like Pollock) a Sanskritist looked at Sanskrit. A Sanskritist looked at texts. A Sanskritist (was not supposed to) look at the society (that produced the text). I was drawn to Shelly for his (type of) analysis… Milton Singer had built up this Department of South Asian studies at Chicago and they collected some of the best people there — A K Ramanujan and so on… What was so marvelous about the studies going on at that time (there) is that they meant something to us here in India. We read them, we didn’t just think that these are studies being done in America. We, sitting here, were added to the conversation with them. Indological studies under Homi Bhabha (the professor of language at Harvard), under Gayatri Spivak (the Indian literary theorist at Columbia) became kind of a private language. They started speaking in a language completely unrelated to my experience. Although they tried to relate it to India by going into Dalits, going into Buddhism or whatever Subaltern Studies, to me it was gibberish… That was kept as a circle keeping other people out and this is why it ceased to have any meaning to me… I am not here to run down the work done by Gayatri Spivak or Homi Bhabha. I am sure they have a meaningful discourse with their students. But unfortunately they mean nothing to those working on Indological studies in India… Shelly has continually studied and explicated facts, details of history, of culture, of language, and how language has developed. His theory of how Sanskrit has developed, for instance, as a culture, rather than as a language, how it

RAJESH KARKERA

spread from India eastwards, how it went to South East Asia. Mind-boggling. It wasn’t just abstruse words strung together. He was concretely illustrating, taking examples — how the whole umbra and penumbra of Sanskrit culture spread. In his book The Language of the Gods in the World of Men he actually studied how, for instance, Kannada in the 7th century confronted Sanskrit as a court language — the Kavirajamarga text. He studied how it responded to the texts that were existing… He is brilliant. I think that’s what a scholar should be doing. He should illuminate you. He should give you insight. Then you can react to it. You can argue with him. I have been continually been in touch with him for suggestions. When I wrote a play called The Fire and the Rain, I wanted background material on Vedic India. He just (took) off — ‘Look at this article, look at that book, look at that translation.’ He is a great scholar, of course. This is the kind of thing that anyone in that department probably would have done, but he did it meaningfully. He could see what I was asking for and he got the context of it. It was at that seminar (in 1985, organized by the Department of South Asian studies at the University of Chicago) that I read out my lecture on Uttararamacharita. He remembered it several years later when he translated his Uttararamacharita, the later history of Rama. He asked me to write the introduction. I said: “What should I do? He said: “Just write what you said. That’s enough.” And I did.

And, of course, the amount of practical work he has done in getting texts published through the Clay Library, which is where my introduction appeared. All the Sanskrit texts translated into English, these translations published… It’s very rarely that you come across a foreign scholar who talks and then you suddenly see he is not a post-colonial or neo-colonial or whatever it is. He is talking to you and illuminating your background. For Shelly, theory comes second. He is always clear about what he is talking about — he states the facts, he gives you the background, he has gone and worked there… For Kavirajamarga he came to Mysore. He was here and worked with local scholars. He talked to me, talked to other Kannada writers about the Kavirajmarga. About what that one text meant… The way he writes, you can feel his passion for it. It’s not enough for a scholar to be scholarly and there are enough Sanskrit scholars, whom I can mention who are scholarly but dull, but he is not. I shouldn’t make these claims, but let me tell you that (when) he was given the Padma Shri (one of India’s civilian awards) by the government of India (in 2010). I fought for it. I proposed his name. Of course, it was not difficult. We got support… I fought for it and that shows how keenly I believed that he deserved that award as well the award that India Abroad is giving him. n As told to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel


M128 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He’s a great ambassador for India, its culture, its language, its heritage’ ‘He is a well-respected scholar who has a definite sense of where he wants to go with things,’ says Rohan Murty whose endowment inspired the Murty Classical Library of India

I

read an article that Sheldon Pollock had written on the crisis in the humanities in India. He talked about how we are producing scores of engineers, lawyers and doctors, but most of us don’t study any of the humanities. We don’t have very good institutions dedicated to the humanities. A common friend, Gurcharan Das, introduced us over email. At that time Shelly was interested in possibly starting a series — a bilingual series — that would do translations for various Indian classics. Gurcharan told Shelly that you should talk to Rohan, he has a lot of interest in the same area. Maybe you guys will hit it off. I was at that time a PhD student in computer science at Harvard, where I had accidentally befriended a professor in the Sanskrit department, Parimal Patil. I ended up taking several courses on philosophy in ancient India with Parimal. I independently arrived at a situation where I was very interested in how do we make some of the texts we were reading be more accessible to people like me who did not study these texts growing up. My parents (Infosys Co-founder N R Narayana Murthy and writer Sudha Murty) were visiting Cambridge, Boston. I called Shelly and said, “Why don’t we all meet?” We met, discussed this idea and we went from there to doing it in just a few weeks. The work (for the Murty Classical Library of India) is all done by Professor Sheldon Pollock. He is the true scholar, the expert. We have a board of editors. He is the head of the board of editors. He was responsible for creating this board and deciding who should be on it. They ultimately decide which text they should translate or pick for translation, which one should be published and so on. They work closely with the Harvard University Press. I probably spent a lot more time on this in the first two years, where I was involved in conceptualizing this whole effort. I was very interested in a lot of the details like why don’t we have a single family of fonts for all these classical Indian languages and why don’t we open source them so scholars can use them. I feel all these texts should frankly be free. So why not create digital editions that we can give away, for free, if the endowment pays for it, because that will truly unlock these books? Our interactions were mainly limited to deciding the strategy, the look, the dos and don’ts for the series, but not in the scholarly aspects, because that is Sheldon Pollock’s domain almost entirely. I was very clear from the beginning whatever I do with

Sheldon Pollock, left, with the Murty Classical Library Editorial Board. regard to this series must outlive me, otherwise it’s not sustainable. There is no point in doing this. Scholars who invest time and effort translating for the series must also believe that it will outlive all of them. The Clay Library (that translated ancient Sanskrit texts till it ran out of funding), from what I understand, is a collection of 50 odd books, the original texts were in Sanskrit. Here we look at the old forms of various Indian languages. It’s not just Sanskrit, (there are) several other languages as well. We are expected to launch in the spring of 2015. I hope we stick to that schedule. If we do, then I think starting 2015 every year we should have four to five volumes coming out. What we are trying to do is not an easy task. It’s complex because we are not just saying one or two languages. We are saying several languages. There is a lot of diversity there. For most of these (languages) there are no standard fonts. We had to create fonts for these things. Doing a project of this magnitude — at least of this vision — with regard to India is something new, something that’s certainly new for Harvard. It has taken Harvard some time to kind of slowly get its head around (to the fact) that India is not one country with one language. Sheldon Pollock’s argument was that if you say classical languages of India, it’s beyond just Sanskrit. Sanskrit is important, of course. But he said: “Look, take your own mother tongue (Kannada), there is a classical form of your

COURTESY: ALLISON BUSCH

mother tongue.” I was mainly thinking of Sanskrit, but Shelly Pollock said, “You can do so much more than just that.” He is such a well-respected scholar that more often than not he has a definite sense of where he wants to go with things. He is a very approachable person. He is somebody with whom you can disagree. He and I have disagreed a lot. At the same time... in spite of all of this, at the end of the day, we sort of work on this large project together and make things happen. The first time I met him, he recited an old Kannada shloka. It was very nice to hear somebody from a different country and culture be able to speak an old form of my mother tongue. When I got married, he came to India for the wedding. Several people were very fascinated. They had all heard of him, of course, and they were fascinated that he was there. He was, of course, very plugged into everything in terms of culture and language and so on. Whenever I have spoken to him I find he has such depth and gravitas and an incredible expanse of knowledge of India, of its past, of its culture, of its history, of Sanskrit, of various languages. He is a phenomenal friend of India, a great ambassador for India, its culture, its language and its heritage. So I am very happy you are recognizing him as a Friend of India. n As told to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel


M129 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD FRIEND OF INDIA AWARD 2013 JAMES IVORY

FRANCO ORIGLIA/GETTY IMAGES

MASTER OF THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF INDIA


M130 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘I still dream about India’ Director James Ivory, winner of the India Abroad Friend of India Award 2013, speaks to Aseem Chhabra in his most eloquent interview yet about his elegant and memorable films set India

Director James Ivory, left, and the late producer Ismail Merchant arrive at the Deauville American Film Festival in France, where Ivory was honored, in 2003. Their partnership lasted over four decades, till Merchant’s death in May 2005.

James Ivory For elegantly creating a classic genre; for a repertoire of exquisitely crafted films; for taking India to the world through cinema. PHILIPPE WOJAZER/REUTERS

J

ames Ivory’s association with India goes back nearly six decades when he first made two documentaries about India. He later directed six features in India — each an iconic representation of India of that time period. Ivory, 86, recently sat in the sprawling garden of his country home in upstate New York with Aseem Chhabra and spoke about his memories of working in India and the associations he made with Indians — actors and filmmakers. He said he still dreams about India. Jim, this will take you back several decades, but when you think of the early days of shooting The Householder, what are the memories that come to your mind? It was a very long time ago — wasn’t it? We set up our company and then in 1962 we made The Householder. But I

remember it very clearly. We made four feature films in a row and I think of that time as a heroic period in the history of MIP (Merchant Ivory Productions). We had no money and it was very hard to raise money to make the kind of films we wanted to make. It was also a time when there was very little modern equipment in India. And it was almost impossible to bring things in easily, particularly sound equipment. Somehow we managed, but it was always a struggle. But there was a big film industry in India. There was, but I remember we only had four lights to make The Householder. I don’t know how we did it, but our cameraman Subrata Mitra (Satyajit Ray’s cameraman in the early days) somehow pulled it through.

When we made Shakespeare Wallah it was much better. Plus we couldn’t see our rushes. We weren’t near any place where we could project rushes with sound. For The Householder we found a movie theater that allowed us to watch the silent picture rushes. Also recording equipment in India only worked inside studios. But we couldn’t take the sound equipment outside. It wasn’t until we made Bombay Talkie in Bombay that we were finally able to see the rushes at night in a comfortable movie theater. The Guru was your first color film, but

g

PAGE M131


M131 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M130

‘I still dream about India’

I am fascinated by how this creative trust the budget was very high. developed between you two. She wrote pracWe made The Guru for 20th Century Fox tically all of your scripts, right? with their blocked rupees. It was the first Yes, only once or twice I worked with time an American studio was going to someone else. finance the film, in India but it was a So she knew exactly what you wanted. bureaucratic nightmare to free up that No, not always. Sometimes she didn’t money. know. But we had to work it out. I rememBy the time you made The Guru, the comber we were in the midst of shooting pany had become quite big. You even had Hullabaloo Over Georgie And Bonnie’s British actors — Michael York and Rita Pictures in Jodhpur. She was in Delhi sendTushingham acting in it. ing me scenes. Or she would try to dictate Well, don’t forget we also had some of the them over the telephone. But you remember leading Indian actors in it as well — Utpal phones in those days — making trunk calls Dutt, Aparna Sen. There was Madhur and lines getting cut off? Jaffrey and others. I wasn’t quite sure what I was making. I loved how you opened Bombay Talkie The scenes kept coming, but I was never with that giant typewriter set. It was not a clear what the film was about. spoof, but your exploration of how over-theDidn’t you have a full bound script? top Hindi cinema could be. No, we started with a bunch of pages and The film was set in the Bombay film some vague idea. Ismail had planned to industry. We shot a lot of it in studios, parshoot certain scenes first. ticularly the opening scene of Helen dancing It was a bit chaotic. on a giant typewriter. That red typewriter is The actors were fine with it? still — after all the films I have made and all Oh, they were very professional people — of the places I have shot in; The Chateau of Above, The Householder, the first Merchant Ivory Productions film. It was followed by four India-centric Peggy Ashcroft, Saeed Jaffrey, Victor Versailles and in Florence — that typewriter films in a row and James Ivory thinks of that time as a heroic period in the history of MIP. Banerjee, who we had seen in Satyajit Ray’s is still my favorite set. Below, Heat And Dust, which was made two decades later, was Ivory’s last film set in India. The Chess Players. Ismail (Merchant) wrote in his autobiogYou are talking about actors — Shashi raphy that you had a dream about that typeKapoor was in practically every Indian film writer. of yours. What did you and Ismail see in him No, well maybe it was also a dream. But I as actor? Because his career hadn’t become remember I saw a Bombay film where a girl that big in India at the time of The was sitting in a giant martini glass, with her Householder. legs hanging over the edge. I think that’s Both he and Leela Naidu had only made a what gave me the idea of a giant typewriter. few films at that time. The only real profesLet’s talk about your early days of working sional in The Householder was Durga Khote with Ruth (Prawer Jhabvala). She was iniwho had made many many films. tially reluctant to work with you. Shashi had a tremendous vitality and No, she was willing to give us her works charm. He was incredibly good looking and immediately. he became a very good friend. But she first pretended on the phone that He trusted us and we trusted him. she was her mother-in-law. He started making more and more films But that’s because people were calling her in Bombay, but always gave his dates to us. all the time and bothering her and she But you also found an actor in him that would say she was her mother-in-law. hadn’t been discovered in Bombay. Ruth never liked to talk on the phone. Her He was a good actor. It entire life, if the phone would ring, Jhab was there, but it was a dif(her husband Cyrus Jhabvala) would always ferent kind of acting than answer it. Or one of us would answer the what he was expected to do phone. She didn’t like talking on the phone. in a Bombay film, which And you immediately developed a creative was look marvelous, sing working relationship with her? and dance. Yes, but no that much during The And what about Madhur? Householder. She wrote the script herself Madhur was not the expected choice for We would write those air letters back and forth. All my straight out of her head. She didn’t need to sit with the Shakespeare Wallah — a role she became letters and hers are now in an archive, so someday someone novel. I had no real involvement in it. But with Shakespeare famous for. No one thought she was the can get industrious and see how we were communicating Wallah, The Guru and Bombay Talkie we worked together right type to play the Bombay film star. But with each other. on those screenplays. she jumped right into it. We were talking about the characters and the situations. I They were all ideas I had concocted. I think especially And you cast her again and again, even would give her my ideas and she liked them or didn’t like with Shakespeare Wallah she felt she had a wonderful scope giving her an older role in Heat And Dust. them. to write a very interesting screenplay. PAGE I didn’t want her to play Shashi’s mother Sometimes she would send three air letters — all part of How would you both work when she was in India and you M132 in Heat and Dust. That was shocking to me one long letter. And when we were further along she would in New York? Telephone calls would have been expensive. that someone of the same age as Shashi start to write the script and send me parts of it. And Ruth didn’t like phone calls?

g


M132 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M131 would play his mother. But she insisted that she play that part of the Begum. So, we agreed and this spectacular henna colored wig was ordered from London. And she was marvelous. Of course, royal ladies in those days got married at the age of 15, so it wasn’t impossible. By the time you came back to make Heat And Dust in 1982, had India changed? By that time it was easier to get finance and equipment. The Bombay industry was at much more par with the West. There were money problems with Heat And Dust also. They were towards the end. Shashi ended up paying the hotel bills. I am very interested in the relationship you and Ismail formed with Satyajit Ray. I met him first when I was making my documentary The Delhi Way. When I went to Calcutta, I called him up — his number was in the phone book. I told him who I was and that I wanted to meet him and see The Music Room. He said sure. We met and he arranged for a screening at the Tolllygunge Studio. He sat with me since it was not subtitled. I thought it was one of the most marvelous movies I had seen. I then asked him why it hadn’t been shown in the West and he said he felt technically it was not up to the mark. Of course in time, it was distributed in the West. It became such a hit in France. (It) played there nearly a year. He trusted you, even though you were a young filmmaker. I had made two documentaries. When we made The Householder we shot it in English and Hindi and there was a lot of footage. We showed him the English cut to get some ideas of how to finally shape the film. He liked it and he said he would recut it. He said it would be on one condition — he had to be allowed to do what he wanted to do. If we didn’t like it, we could put it back. So, we were in his edit room with Dulal Dutta (Ray’s regular editor), and he would be standing and every so often he would yell ‘Cut!’ and I would jump. He was a tall man and incredibly dynamic. (Ustad) Ali Akbar Khan had been hired to do the music for the film, but he just disappeared. Ray said he would organize the music for us. He had another composer who worked with him, Jyotirindra Moitra. The night before we were going to record with Ray and Moitra, Ali Akbar Khan turned up and said his spies had told him that we were about to record the soundtrack. Eventually we used some part of his music in the English version along with that of Moitra. Did you pay Ray anything? Not for editing, although I am sure we paid his expenses. By Shakespeare Wallah we had a contract. It was an incredible score. He had just finished Charulata and it was at the height of his creative period. After Heat And Dust, you did not make another film in India. I know you got busy with your E M Foster adaptations and other films, but did you consider making another film in India? Ruth and I wrote a screenplay, which later became the novel Three Continents. And that screenplay was set in New

‘I still dream about India’

From left, James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ismail Merchant receive a British Academy film fellowship in London in 2002. Most of their films were scripted by Jhabvala.

MICHAEL CRABTREE/REUTERS

York, London, and Rajasthan and Delhi. She and I couldn’t agree on the weight of the principal characters. But meanwhile we had already taken the rights for A Room With A View; she had already scripted that novel as well. Ismail suggested we could sort the Three Continents issue later, and focus on the other script since we had paid so much money to E M Forster’s estate. But after that I never found time for a project in India. We were making our American films and then we moved to our French films phase. If you think of the time when you first met Ismail, could you have imagined that you would come this far? I hadn’t started making features yet. I didn’t really know what was possible until I made my first feature. It was when I was about to make Shakespeare Wallah when I began to see that he and I together could do all sorts of things. I still had no clear picture of how my life was going to be. After Shakespeare Wallah, part of my ambition was fueled by working with Ruth. I had an ongoing writer. And I knew she also would want to write similar kind of screenplays. But none of this would have been possible had it not been for the understanding that Ismail was going to ease the producing part in India. And he did. I would have been utterly helpless if I did it on my own. No foreigner can possibly go to India and make a film on his own. Do you think your films were observations about India

from the lens of a foreigner? Of course. Would you say that about E M Forster’s Passage to India? Yes! So what the foreigner sees also has a value. Our films about England are equally films made by foreigners. Ruth had grown up there, but by then she had become an American. And I think it produced a certain amount of resentment. What about in India, do you think people resented your work? Oh yes, for sure. There was the kind of critical reception, where people said, ‘He doesn’t know much about India,’ Or ‘He’s saying things that people visiting India would say.’ It’s a normal reaction. Did it bother you, this reaction? No, not anymore. It did then. Ruth had totally submerged herself in Indian life and then to be told she didn’t get the nuances right seemed unfair. Do you have any regrets about life? I regret that Ismail is not here. That’s my biggest regret. I also regret that Ruth is not here. When was the last you went to India? It was in 2006 a year after Ismail passed away. I do imagine going again sometimes. I dream that I am in India. But I have lost touch with the India that I knew. Remember I went there only a few years after Independence. That’s all gone. And Delhi is unrecognizable. n


M133 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Young with the desire to make a different kind of cinema in India James Ivory made an immense contribution in sharing India with viewers in the West, notes Aseem Chhabra

“After Shakespeare Wallah, part of my ambition was fueled by working with Ruth,” Ivory told me recently. “I had an ongoing writer. And I knew she also would want to write similar kind of screenplays.” That collaboration would result in some of the most remarkable screenplays of the last century. Jhabvala won two Oscars for her adapted screenplays for Howards End and A Room With A View. The four early films explore life in India from the perspective of outsiders — the eyes of Jhabvala and Ivory. The Householder is a sweet tale of a young married couple — played by the good looking Shashi efore the Oscar nominations for celebratKapoor and Leela Naidu coping with pressures of ed films like The Remains Of The Day, life from work as well as within the home (Durga Howards End and A Room With A View Khote played Kapoor’s noisy and overbearing that charmed critics and audiences alike mother). and made Florence a must-visit destinaShakepeare Wallah — the story of a traveling tion, James Ivory, and his late partner and producteam of British actors (inspired by Shashi er Ismail Merchant spent many years making real Kapoor’s in-law, the Kendal family), played the indie films in India and honing their talents. high art of Shakespearean theater against the The two met in New York six decades ago, introbackdrop of the loud Bombay film industry. duced by their common actor friends Madhur Shakespeare Wallah traveled to the Berlin Film Jaffrey and her then husband Saeed Jaffrey. They Festival where Madhur Jaffrey won the Silver were young with the desire to make a different kind Bear for best actress. of cinema in India, at least partly inspired by the A few years later Ivory made his even more early works of Satyajit Ray. The friendships they ambitious project The Guru, examining the hippie forged with India and Indians gave the world the culture and the West’s fascination with Eastern unique cinema that we still cherish. religions and practices. The Guru unfortunately Despite their divorce, the Jaffreys stayed close to did not succeed at the box office. Ivory went on to the Merchant Ivory team, often performing in their make Bombay Talkie where Jenifer Kendal played films. Madhur, who later became a renowned cookan American author in love with a married Hindi book writer, would describe her friendship with the film actor, Shashi Kapoor, her husband in real life. two men as an intense sibling connection. The film explored the Bombay film industry, Ismail Merchant always dreamed of becoming a opening with Helen dancing on a giant red typelegendary producer quite like the Hollywood greats writer, to the Kishore Kumar song Typewriter Tip, of that era. In Ivory he saw the talent of a man who Tip, Tip Karta Hai. The song can be seen on would execute that dream by directing films set in YouTube and Ivory says the set is his favorite. India. Ivory returned to India with two more films — In all the years Merchant and Ivory made films, Hullabaloo Over Georgie And Bonnie’s Pictures, a getting financing was always a challenge, but it was PARESH GANDHI British television production about a group of more so in their early years. Actors are full of stoJames Ivory invites India Abroad into his home in upstate New York. conspirators set to steal paintings from the royal colries of the tight financial situations, but Merchant lection. lar cameraman — Subrata Mitra (The Apu Trilogy, Devi, was a magician of a producer who somehow through his In 1983 Ivory directed Heat And Dust, based on Charulata). Mitra shot the first four Merchant Ivory films charm and business sense, managed to set everything Jhabvala’s 1975 Booker Prize-winning novel. A complex set in India — The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, The right. film with a massive star cast, Heat And Dust looked at Guru and Bombay Talkie. During a trip to Kolkata in the late 1950s, Ivory met Britain’s relationship with India through two parallel stoThe Householder and Shakespeare Wallah were both Ray. The older Bengali filmmaker must have been ries, one before, and the other after Independence. shot in black and white. The films have been restored and intrigued to meet a young American who had made two I arrived in New York in 1981 and still remember the are available on the Criterion Collection. In both films short documentaries on India and now wanted to make massive reception for Heat And Dust. An hour before the Mitra lovingly captures a lost era — something audiences features in India. Ray held a private screening of The screening a long line formed outside Manhattan’s Pars would only find in the films of Satyajit Ray. Music Room (1958) for Ivory. Theatre on 58th Street. I remember thinking how wonAnother fortuitous connection came with BritishRay later did an edit of The Householder (1963) — the derful it was that a film about India, with Shashi Kapoor German author Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who was then livfirst film directed by Ivory, and scored the soundtrack for in the lead had been accepted so openly by New Yorkers. ing in India with her architect husband. Merchant and his next film Shakespeare Wallah (1965). In 2007 Wes Roger Ebert called Heat And Dust ‘seductive’. ‘It conIvory initially contacted Jhavbala to secure the rights to Anderson set his quirky comedy The Darjeeling Limited tains wonderful sights and sounds and textures,’ he wrote. her novel The Householder. Jhabvala wrote the script of in India. As a tribute he used much of Ray’s previously James Ivory was the master of capturing those sights the film, and ended up making a lifelong commitment of written scores in the film. The Darjeeling Limited soundand sounds of India that most Indians failed to observe. collaborating with Ivory. track includes Ray’s score for Shakespeare Wallah. He has made an immense contribution in examining this By the time Shakespeare Wallah had been made Ivory The more important Ray connection was that Ivory and aspect of India and sharing it with viewers in the West. n realized that he and Jhabvala could work well together. Merchant decided to work with the great director’s regu-

B


M134 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He trusts his actors and lets them be’ Madhur Jaffrey shares her experiences of working with director James Ivory with Aseem Chhabra

M

adhur Jaffrey’s first film project was James Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah (1965). She played the role of a spoiled Hindi film actress, which fetched her the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival (1965 was a big India year at Berlin as Satyajit Ray won the Silver Bear for best director for Charulata). Jaffrey was already an integral part of the Merchant Ivory Productions, which also included novelist and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Jaffrey then acted in three other films directed by Ivory – The Guru, (1969), Autobiography of a Princess (1975) and Heat and Dust (1983). Later in 1999 she co-directed Cotton Mary with Ismail Merchant and also acted in the film. Jaffrey spoke to India Abroad from her country home in upstate New York, where she spends part of her time with husband Sanford Allen, a concert violinist. Tell me about James Ivory as a director and what are your memories of working with him, especially on Shakespeare Wallah? Jim is not a very aggressive director, in the sense that he doesn’t make you do this and that. Put one finger up and say this and then let your voice go down. There are directors who are like that. I find he trusts people and he lets them be. Even when something is wrong he doesn’t force you one way or the other. I came to Shakespeare Wallah with a fully developed idea of the character, based on Ruth’s writing. I did what I felt was right and Jim let me be. I think for some actors the greatest thing a director can do is to let them know that they have got it. He’s very good at how the film is shot, how it looks, how emotionally the scene goes. I trusted him implicitly, that he will decide up to the point of what I was wearing and he had a lot to say about my hair. Because the final look is very important to him. Somehow that is also the part of the character. Like in Heat And Dust he wanted my hair to have mehendi (henna) in it, that sort of look. Or the paan chewing he made me do. I would get the sense of the character from the costumes. Then from there I would build my own character. And then he is wonderful. But then Shakespeare Wallah was your first film and it was a big role of a moody, demanding actress. Did you discuss much with him? No not really, because he is not that kind of a person. You don’t discuss acting with him. At least he doesn’t do that with me. Maybe sometimes I would discuss with Ruth. I remember I got a telegram from Jim before Shakespeare Wallah. He asked me to buy an outlandish sweater that my character would wear. I happened to be in Switzerland on my way to India and I bought a sweater with stripes going diagonally. He gave the sense of her through the visual sense. I think one of the most complex roles you played for

GABE PALACIO/IMAGEDIRECT

Actress Madhur Jaffrey with James Ivory, left, and Ismail Merchant at an event in New York City in 2001. She was friends with both of them before she started working in their films. She is said to have introduced them to each other. Merchant Ivory was in the Autobiography Of A Princess. And that too — the two-tone chiffon sari I wore and he made Ismail get the jewels. The jewels would come everyday from the famous shop Garrard of London. Then Jim had the idea of the hair and we discussed that. The part itself he trusted me with. I think he did the same with James Mason. Would you do any rehearsals? Especially with Autobiography Of A Princess? Of course with that we rehearsed for a day. It was like a play and then we shot it from beginning to the end. Any memory of that shoot? My memory is that it started with Ismail and Jim saying that (Laurence) Olivier was going to play the part and then (John) Gielgud. And each time I got so excited. Then when they got James Mason, it was a bit of let down. I adored him, but I didn’t think of him as an actor in the same category. I started looking at him and when I talked to people who had worked with him, they all said he was such a difficult man. Yet we met the night before we rehearsed and he was affable. His wife was there and she was a vegetarian and I thought this is all very interesting. He came for the shoot and had learned all his lines and I had not. Because there was always the issue with the

money and Jim and Ismail would keep changing the dates. Then finally Ismail said next day we are shooting and I was like ‘Oh my god, I still didn’t know my lines.’ And James Mason came in – obviously he knew his lines and he went around rehearsing his props. I would always do the homework, but this time I didn’t think things would move so fast. But James Mason was incredible. Most of the time the stars leave when their shoot is over. But he sat on a little box. It is the background of stage actors that makes you help other actors. Jim told me that you had wanted to play Shashi Kapoor’s mother in Heat And Dust, but he thought you were too young to do so. I don’t know who he had in his mind, but he said to me, ‘I can’t have you play the Begum because that would be so ungallant of me.’ He was concerned since I had played Shashi’s love interest in Shakespeare Wallah. And I said I could play anything. What are your earliest memories of meetPAGE ing Ismail and Jim? You were all young and M136 excited about making films. I met Jim in the late ‘50s. We used to

g


M136 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘James was as precious as ivory in his creativity’

I

n 1977, Victor Banerjee was cast in his first film role by Satyajit Ray to play Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s prime minister in The Chess Players. Banerjee was singled out for his supporting role and that performance convinced James Ivory and Ismail Merchant to cast him as Georgie — the maharaja set to steal his own art, in the British television drama Hullabaloo Over Georgie And Bonnie’s Pictures. Banerjee was in Mussoorie from where he e-mailed Aseem Chhabra a brief note about his memory of working with Ivory and Merchant on Hullabaloo. “James was not just artistic, but an art lover as well, and that made his approach to the making of Hullabaloo an irritating distraction while he was literally surrounded by hundreds of masterpieces of Rajasthani and Mughal miniatures in the vaults of Bapji (Maharaja Gaj Singh), the Maharaja of Jodhpur.” “The explosive chemistry of opposites that prevailed in the hilarious relationship between Ismail the producer and James the creator made working with the duo an unforgettable experience. James was as precious as ivory in his creativity as Ismail was unbearable as a merchant.” n

Madhur Jaffrey’s first film project was James Ivory’s Shakespeare Wallah. She acted in three other films directed by James Ivory: The Guru, Autobiography Of A Princess and Heat And Dust.

‘He trusts his actors and lets them be’

f PAGE M134

meet a lot at the old Asia Society and we all had common interests — film, painting and theater. We would go out to picnics and to the seaside. That is when Saeed and I were together. Jim told me that Saeed was the first he met in the circle. That’s right. He had gone to see him because he was looking for someone to do the narration for the The Sword And The Flute. Saeed was in a Lorca play at that time and Jim thought he was the ideal person to do the narration. We knew Ismail separately and we thought they both should meet. We all had similar ambitions and dreams at that time. The first ever role I did for him was in The Delhi Way, where I had a little voice of a woman at a flower show. And that’s when James said let’s do a film in India. Saeed and I would talk about going to India and starting our

own traveling theater company. That’s how we started writing the screenplay what became Shakespeare Wallah. We used to sit on the floor in Jim’s apartment in the 60s between Lexington and Third. He had very little furniture. And then Saeed and I got divorced and Jim was very angry so he didn’t cast him in the film. By then Jim and Ismail were making The Householder in India and they got to know the Kendals. Ruth, I had known from before. Jim suggested to Ruth that I was going to play the film star in Shakespeare Wallah, and I didn’t look like, since I was thin and wore glasses, which I threw away. So Ruth’s first reaction was no she can’t play the movie star. Of course, I did play the part. When I came to Kasauli for the shoot, I had been throwing up along the journey. And the crew took a look at me and said, ‘She’s going to play the movie star?’ So I had to fight a few battles for that part. And Ismail was the magician producer… He was. He really made things happen, when nothing was possible. When there was no money or no actor to

play a certain part. There’s a scene in Shakepeare Wallah where he put on a moustache and sat behind me, while I was watching a performance of Hamlet. Someone else was to sit there, but since no one showed up, Ismail, said ‘I will do it!’ He was always in a rush to shoot even when people weren’t ready, because money was often a problem. It’s interesting that in this indie world of yours there was so much creative energy, with Ruth’s writing and Jim making these films. And such remarkable films came out. There were no indie films at that time, other than Satyajit Ray’s films. I loved what was Bollywood, but good films were very rare. You never acted with James after Heat And Dust. You did co-direct and act in Cotton Mary. No I didn’t. They had moved on to the European films. Would you joke with Jim and suggest it to him? I would sometimes. But he had his own path cut out. He was tired of the Indian films. And Ruth was tired of India as well. And they wanted to move on to the European world they knew better. n


M137 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Jim didn’t always know what he wanted, but he always knew what he didn’t want’ Acclaimed director-actor Aparna Sen on what it was to work with James Ivory

Bengal because I was well known as a young, emerging star and people were just threatening to tell my dad! There was another time that I remember, which was quite funny. During Bombay Talkie, Subrata (the legendary cinematographer Subrata Mitra) was lighting a very difficult room where there were mirrors all y first memories of a Merchant over and taking oodles of time. Ivory film are that of Shakespeare He took a long time; the results Wallah, which I loved. There is a were fantastic, of course. Shashi at lot of connection with Shakespeare Wallah one point just lost his cool and said, ‘I because I remember watching Henry the am not in the mood’ and walked off. Fifth in school, which had Felicity Kendal. As he was walking off I remember I have also seen other later films of Jim pulling his nose again and asking James Ivory and, of course, I have worked Shashi, ‘Well, when do you think you in The Guru. will get back into the mood?’ I cast Jennifer Kendal for my first film Shashi said, ‘I don’t know, maybe 36 Chowringhee Lane. Jennifer was part of half an hour.’ the group, Shakespearewallah. In fact, all Then he came back, of course, and three from the group — Jennifer, her did the shot. father Geoffrey Kendal and mother Laura It was very funny. I was just watchKendal — were in the film. ing the whole thing. In fact, every Ismail (Merchant) asked me to work in time something unpleasant happened The Guru when I was working in another Jim’s first reaction was to laugh. He film. My teacher on stage, Utpal Dutt, was was a like a child. What I liked was also going to be in the film. And, of course, that Jim didn’t lose his cool. He kept I said yes. grinning. I was very young and expecting my first Aparna Sen in Bombay Talkie. She also worked with James Ivory on The Guru and Hullabaloo Over Georgie And Jim and Ismail used to have argubaby. I remember Jim was very kind. Bonnie’s Pictures and says she never saw him lose his temper. ments, but Ismail was very, very proWhen we were shooting in Benaras, he tective about Jim and of the film. I never saw Jim lose his didn’t know what a discotheque was. made me do a scene over and over and over again. At one temper; sometimes Ismail would if things were taking There weren’t any in India then. For some reason I point I was a little annoyed and said, ‘Well, what is it that long. Jim was always laid-back. They were a very good thought we were going to a striptease. And I didn’t know you want?’ team. if I wanted to go there. So I said, ‘What, they are going to It was very funny because I never saw Jim ever lose his Ismail was prone to getting angry. He was a very flamtake their clothes off?’ And Jim started laughing. temper. If somebody else was annoyed, he would grin. boyant. He was generous, he was warm, he would get So they were playing all sorts of music and people were And he kept pulling his nose, which got redder and redangry. Then he would overwhelm you with gifts. I rememhaving all sorts of cocktails and when the waiter came to der and said, ‘Well, I don’t know what I want, but I know ber he came to see me after my daughter was born and he me I asked for Horlicks. It was very naïve. And Jim said, what I don’t want.’ brought a very nice gold chain. ‘Aparna you can’t have Horlicks here.’ So then I probably So, no matter how annoyed I was at that time, those settled for some soft drink. words stayed with me because I think as a film director it It was always fun working with them. is very important to know what you don’t want. t was very nice working with them. Jim I still remember that nobody told me that I was to do a You don’t always know what you want — because if you had this thing about repeating his kissing scene with Shashi Kapoor in Bombay Talkie (her always know what you want, then you are not leaving any actors. He repeated me in Hullabaloo second film with Merchant Ivory). room for the unexpected. Over Georgie and Bonnie’s Pictures. Many Shashi said, ‘We are going to do a kiss,’ and I said ‘What So, that was Jim. filmmakers do and some don’t. rubbish!’ I remember I was shooting a Hindi film and they just Hullabaloo was also great fun. We were So, I came to Jim, and he is again pulling his nose and came to the set and Ismail said we want you in our film shooting in Jodhpur at the Umaid Bhawan said, ‘Yeah, you have to. You have to. You play his wife.’ I The Guru. They paid me some measly amount, which was Palace. It was very interesting work and said, ‘But nobody told me.’ He said, ‘It’s important, it is quite a lot at that time — something like Rs 20,000. I was thanks to them we worked with some very needed.’ just a beginner. I remember with that money I bought an interesting people like Peggy Ashcroft. Finally, we did it. air conditioner, a whole lot of furniture. Things were realShe was very funny, but she was also very I was very annoyed with both Shashi and Jim because ly cheap at that time. I was living in Calcutta. wonderful because she used to read Yeats nobody had really told me. It was very embarrassing in And what was nice was going to London for the dubout and he is one of my favorite poets. (West) Bengal because when the film was released there bing. When we worked together, I asked them, were catcalls and people were saying ‘Oh, Aparna! We will That was my first trip. My ex-husband and I went to ‘Why me? I am not a Rajput princess’. PAGE go and tell your dad,’ and stuff like that. London. I was huge with my pregnancy at that time. But I Both Jim and Ismail said, ‘We want to M138 It was really very annoying. was allowed to fly. I remember they took me to a diswork with you because we like to repeat I didn’t dare and see the film in the theatres in (West) cotheque. Now at that time I was such a greenhorn that I our actors.’ They were always very good

M

I

g


M138 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

The laugh that got her a film role All musician Asha Puthli had to do was laugh out loud in the room next to where a Merchant Ivory film was being shot. The next thing she knew she was in the film, she tells Aseem Chhabra.

G

rammy Hall of Fame jazz and pop musician Asha Puthli happened to be at the right place for the launch of her film career. She quite literally had James Ivory and Ismail Merchant cast her as an extra in a party scene in The Guru. Later she played in the ensemble film Savages (1972) — about a group of forest people who become ‘civilized’ once they enter a mansion in Westchester County. Puthli who now spends time between her homes in California and Florida, revisits her memories of working with James Ivory.

ment. But basically for acting he left us to use our own techniques. He had very good actors working with him. What about when you worked with him for Savages? I remember three words he said to

You once told me a funny story about being in a house where The Guru was being shot. I was right on Juhu beach in Mrs Swaminathan’s house, this lady I used to know. Ismail with his usual charm must have gotten the place for the film. We weren’t part of the film and they were shooting in the other room. We could hear Ismail through the door as he had a Mughal-e-Azam style of being a producer. Ismail yelled out ‘Quiet on the set.’ I couldn’t resist bursting into laughter, because of the way he said it. I guess subconsciously I deliberately laughed loudly since I wanted to be discovered. James Ivory received multiple Oscar nominations for direction. The door burst open and Ismail walked in and asked, me: ‘It’s too much’ (she laughs). I sup‘Who was it laughing?’ I said, ‘Oh I am pose he wanted me to tone down my so sorry Mr Merchant, I didn’t know my performance. laugh was that loud.’ And he said, ‘No, What are your memories of Jim on the we want you in the film. Put her in a set? sari Mrs Swaminathan…’ He was very quiet and reserved. We To this day I do not know if it was his were a family at one point. I spent idea or Jim’s. I think the only use of me Christmas with them. Ruth was also in that movie was my laugh. there and also Jhab (the architect Cyrus Do you remember Jim directing at that Jhabvala). Jim would be quiet and then point? What was he like? he would chuckle. I knew Ruth and At that point all he told me was where Jhab separately because they were to stand. He would block our move-

friends of my aunt Kamladevi Chattopadhayay (Indian freedom fighter-social reformer). In Savages I played a forest girl who transforms into a Black maid. Later once Jim said to me you should play

Josephine Baker (singer-dancer) or another actress who was mixed and sang. And I told him if he and Ismail were to make that film, I would do that. Initially, Savages was supposed to be another film called Sunnyside Up about two cross-dressers and I was in that film. But Jim kept me in the contract even with Savages. It was about the rise and fall of civilization and in some way very inspired by Luis Buneul’s The Exterminating Angel. n

‘Jim didn’t always know what he wanted, but he always knew what he didn’t want’

f PAGE M137

with me. I never saw that film so later when I was to come to New York, I wrote to them saying, ‘You horrible men, you never showed me Hullabaloo Over Georgie And Bonnie’s Pictures,’ and they said, ‘Yes, we are two horrible men and now that you are in New York, come and have dinner with us’. And so I went and Ruth (novelist and scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) was also there. We had Indian food at a very nice restaurant. It was very nice and Jim, Ruth, Ismail and I had dinner and that was the last I saw of Jim. I never met him again. I would describe him as a quiet person with a quiet sense of humor. He is quite lovely and I would love to meet him again. Two of the Merchant Ivory films I loved are Howards End and The Remains Of The Day. I also saw Autobiography Of A Princess, which I liked very much. I liked Madhur Jaffrey. She came to the New York Film Festival of which she is a patron. I keep meeting her now and again. I used to meet Ismail. I met him in Locarno when my film Mr And Mrs Iyer was being shown and there was some talk of doing a film with him. His nephew was interested in producing Gulel. But it all fell apart after Ismail passed away. It was very, very hard for them. Merchant Ivory were not the first ones who brought India to the world; Satyajit Ray did it before them. But I think their body of work is good; it’s interesting and they explored the unexpected, which I liked very much. Jim would let you do your own thing. He used to explain the scene to you and expected you to do your own thing. Until he was satisfied he would keep making you do it. As I said, he didn’t always know what he wanted, but he always knew what he didn’t want. n Aparna Sen spoke to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel and Prasanna D Zore in New Delhi and Aseem Chhabra in New York.


M139 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT 2013 ARVIND MAHANKALI

ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

THE SPELLCASTER


M140 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

Little Mr Perseverance When Arvind Mahankali got Knaidel right, besides a light licking of the lips there was nothing to tell that he had overcome years of thwarted effort, doubt and selfdoubt, to become the National Spelling Bee champ. P Rajendran meets the winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2013

HONOR ROLL INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT AADITH MOORTHY (2010) National Geographic Bee winner ANAMIKA VEERAMANI (2010) Scripps National Spelling Bee winner VIJAY BALSE (2010) Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner

KAMALJEET SINGH KALSI (2011) The first turbaned Sikh to serve in the US Army in almost 30 years and a recipient of the Bronze Star PRATIMA DHARM (2011) The First Hindu Chaplain in the US Army SUKANYA ROY (2011) Scripps National Spelling Bee winner NITHIN TUMMA (2012) Intel Science Talent Search Winner RAHUL NAGVEKAR (2012) National Geographic Bee winner SNIGDHA NANDIPATI (2012) Scripps National Spelling Bee winner

COURTESY: THE MAHANKALIS

Arvind Mahankali gets a taste of his winning word, Knaidel — the dumplings that go into, among other things, Matzo ball soup — at the Carnegie Deli in New York.

I

n 2011, it was ‘judendstil,’ with a silent ‘j’ (that sneaky, otherwise voiced palato-alveolar affricate) that saw Arvind Mahankali, then 11, ejected from the Scripps National Spelling Bee. He had smiled then, giving the crowd a rueful salute and jocularly commenting on his distaste for silent letters and promised to be back the next year. ‘I’ll rock everybody,’ the bespectacled youngster said then as he walked away with the third prize. The next year, he was cruising until he ran up against another German word, ‘schwannoma.’ Arvind spelled it with a ‘v’ (a voiced labiodental fricative, no less) and found himself in the same position as the year before. Coming third was a pretty impressive performance, his dad Srinivas and mother Bhavani told Arvind, gently suggesting that perhaps two years of swotting may be quite enough. He had given a very good account of himself after all. Arvind could have comforted himself that there were a few hundred million people in the United States who had

not reached that far. But there was this stubborn streak — in some that would even be a self-destructive one — that would not allow Arvind to mercifully just let go. Arvind’s interest in spelling bees was sparked first by the class bee conducted by Barbara Lambe, his second-grade teacher. After his fourth grade, Arvind, with help from his parents, had fought hard to get where he had reached. It took coming second in the South Asian Spelling Bee of 2009 that convinced his principal to get Middle School 74 affiliated to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. When he entered the national contest in 2010, when he was just 10, he came up with an impressive showing, finally erring over the deceptively easy ‘presa.’ He wrongly thought the word had roots in Latin, instead of the correct Italian. So, he spelled the world with an ‘a’ (a tense midfront unrounded vowel?). Eighth grade was the final year he could do this. But by now the jocosity had receded; while always polite and friendly, Arvind now bore an almost meditative calm when he went up to spell his final word: ‘Knaidel.’ No silent letters

Arvind Mahankali For his exemplary perseverance; for being a titan speller; for consolidating an Indian-American tradition.

this time, though it was still of German origin. And when Arvind got that right, besides a light licking of the lips there was nothing to tell that he had overcome years of thwarted effort, doubt and self-doubt, to become the national Spelling Bee champ. By then, he was beyond mere victory. Meanwhile, Pranav Sivakumar, who came in second, was left appreciating in the first person the difference a letter can make in how a world sees all you’ve worked for. Arvind’s parents, his indefatigable champions despite their fears about how failure might affect him, were slow to congratulate him — for once. “We were not sure if it was appropriate to go (up to the stage),” Srinivas later said. And then family began calling in, including maternal uncle Pavan Nathavajhula and his PAGE grandparents, and paternal aunt Lakshmi M144 Dantu. But the rest could only hope to get through.

g


M142 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘I want to find out about the structure of black holes’ Arvind Mahankali outlines his career plans to P Rajendran

O

ne year on, Arvind Mahankali could not care less about the spotlight having shifted else-

where. “At first you get some attention and then everything becomes normal,” he says, asserting that not many people notice him any more. True, early on, complete strangers came over to have pictures taken with him — and Arvind would grin and bear it for the camera. But now, other than a few acquaintances who meet the family at the Hindu temple, he does not get the same kind of attention. “Most of the teachers almost didn’t know about it. The few who did, it didn’t affect their opinion of me,” he said, admitting that the popularity may have affected how he is viewed by a few of schoolmates. Does he realize that, most likely, even if he makes far more important contributions, this is the highest point in popularity he is going to achieve. “It’s fine. As long as later in life I have a steady job, it really doesn’t matter,” he says, not quite aware perhaps that it sounds too modest. Given Arvind’s interests — physics math and their relation to biology — he hopes he gets admitted to MIT. Younger brother Srinath interjects, describing how he put Arvind right when he had told an interviewer it might be Harvard. “It’s in the name, I told him: Massachusetts Institute of Engineering.” That was a better fit for Arvind’s interests than Harvard. Arvind admits he does think MIT is right for him. “It matches my interest the most... Perhaps Stanford or Caltech.” That interest is in learning how gravity affects biological organisms, particularly the growth of plants — or on human muscle and bone growth. That leads to a discussion on growing plants in zero gravity. He is also interested in the nature of black holes — the fact that their detailed structures and contents are still mysterious. “I want to find out about the structure of black holes. Light isn’t reflected from

ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

Five tips from Arvind on how to do well at school

Arvind through the years. Above, his graduation from Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74. He is now at Stuyvesant, a select high school for the academically brilliant, and weighing his options — MIT? Harvard? Stanford? Caltech?

black holes so there’s no way to know what it’s made of. Maybe there’s some way to determine the contents,” he says.

n Make sure you get good sleep nMake sure not to get distracted nBreak down big goals into smaller ones nDon’t procrastinate till the last moment. nAfter achieving some goals, take a break to give your brain a chance to rest.

He is very busy now, participating in after-school activities, such as Math Team, which takes him to competitions like the Interscholastic Math League. How is that going? “Pretty well. In the first semester, I tied for either third or fourth in the city,” he says. The results for the second semester are not out yet. “(I get to learn) many areas of number theory; they don’t teach that in regular high school,” Arvind says. Also, there are other geometry theoPHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY: THE MAHANKALIS rems to learn. He is also taking a few beginning courses on debating at Agape Leader’s Institute. As for spelling bees, well, it was nice, but now it is behind him. n


M143 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘The difference, of course, is spelling’ Now that Arvind is done with spelling, his parents tell P Rajendran that they miss the routine rinivas Mahankali admits that while Arvind is game for a tough schedule, it is not always easy. S“The last year has been rather hectic actually, because he’s moved on to high school

(looking at Arvind). He’s going to Stuyvesant (a select school for the academically brilliant). It’s a lot of travel. (He has to) get up early in the morning,” he says. Arvind says he gets six or seven hours of sleep, though earlier there were days he did not get enough. “Somewhat more hectic than middle school but, actually, it’s manageable,” he says. But Srinivas does feel a sense of loss. “The difference, of course, is spelling,” he says “We used to do several hours of spelling every day. So we miss that kind of routine.” But the discipline he developed during that time definitely helped Arvind in school, Srinivas says. Arvind steps in, saying “It helps me manage my time and put specific goals in.” Srinivas and his wife Bhavani worked together to try and ensure Arvind and Srinath keep up with those demanding schedules. Which is why up to the semifinals Bhavani had to field calls from nurses who did not know she was sitting in the audience while her son toughed it out on stage. “There were no calls during the finals,” she said. By then all her colleagues, who had done their bit covering for her, must have known this was the big day. Still, their carefully planned schedules did not always work out as smoothly for the Mahankalis as they plan. Things went particularly awry in 2011, when Bhavani was to take Arvind to a regional spelling bee round in Manhattan. Bhavani, a nephrologist, suddenly had to admit a patient who was in a serious condition, and so was late to get back. The family was expected to be at Hunter College High School on the Upper East Side by 9 am. The contest began at 10 am. When Bhavani reached home, the family piled into the car. Srinivas, quite worried, headed off at a less than discreet speed for Manhattan. They were making as good time as could be expected when the car decided to take a dip in a pothole and rid itself of a

dull old tire. The car limped into the Mobil gas station on 63rd Drive on Queens Boulevard, where Srinivas handed the keys to Niko Azim (originally from Guyana), and told him that he would be back later since his son had to make it to the spelling bee. Srinivas describes Azim as being most understanding. Azim may just have thought better of arguing with Srinivas since, in his words, “He love his son too bad.” Srinivas, berating and besides himself, could hardly think while looking out for a taxi. But Arvind, even then exhibiting his kind of monolithic calm, pointed up the street at a limo. Wasn’t that a taxi? It was. The family flagged it down and reached Hunter College High School at 9.45 am — and were let in for their pains. Arvind, unflappable as ever, went on to win the contest — and everyone was happy, except perhaps Sanjana Mohan Malla of the Bronx, who would have possibly won if Arvind had not shown up. Of course, the pedants may still want to know Arvind’s winning word. Well, it was ‘infarction.’ n

‘Spelling Bee is only temporary’

Like his brother, Srinath Mahankali is into spelling, but wants to be a mathematician or physicist when he grows up

S

rinath, the younger Mahankali just getting off the blocks, is precocious, confident and speaks his mind clearly. He admits he does not get enough time with his elder brother any more. “Before, when he was in elementary school… we used to play tennis together. I actually recall quizzing him a bit in spelling tests,” he says. Asked if he felt a bit left out last year at

the effusive adulation of his brother, he brushes aside the possibility. “Well, no. I knew that I played a part. It may have been small, but I knew I played a part — a tiny part. But yeah. Still, I felt happy that I won.” He corrects himself and gestures towards Arvind. “That he won.” Srinath is also following in Arvind’s footsteps, having just finished one spelling bee (while in the fifth grade). He has three more tries. “Spelling bee is only temporary. My main goal is to be a mathematician and a physicist,” Srinath says. “If I don’t succeed in it, I’ve also been finding success in drama. I also want to try and get into Harvard. I can excel in physics, math and drama. Physics and mathematics are prominent at Harvard, but it focuses more on the arts than MIT.” What about books — among others such as the famous Physics for Entertainment?

COURTESY: THE MAHANKALIS

Arvind with his father Srinivas, mother Bhavani and brother Srinath, who is following in Arvind’s footsteps, having just finished one spelling bee. Both brothers also share a love for physics, math and tennis. Srinath looks a little chuffed. “Why do you need a book that makes physics entertaining? Isn’t it already entertaining??” He says he’s one of the few in his class who is really enthusiastic about math. He speaks about a time he “spouted something about adding negative numbers.” He laughs in incredulity as he describes someone responding, ‘That’s not possible.’ Srinath plays tennis at the United States Tennis Association in Queens, New York. And, like his brother, he’s also into debating. That involves doing research on the Internet after school to prove a topic or

disprove a topic. The most recent one was on whether animal testing in the US should be banned. He was given the side that said that it should not be banned. His father Srinivas comes in hearing the last bit. “You took a stand that you should continue,” he asks in some wonder. “...Animal testing.” Srinath says, nodding in confirmation. Srinivas gasps softly, a little surprised until he learns that was just the side he was given, not the philosophical position. The Mahankalis are pacific vegetarians, after all. n — P Rajendran


M144 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘His friendly demeanor and calm optimism stood out on stage’ Sukanya Roy salutes her worthy opponent, Arvind Mahankali

I

first met Arvind Mahankali at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee. He was only a 10-year-old fifth grader at the time, but his friendly demeanor and calm optimism stood out on stage. That year, he made it to the last round of competition before the finals and tied for 11th place — an impressive ranking for anyone, especially a speller making his debut appearance at the national level. Arvind returned to place third in the 2011 National Spelling Bee. Eventually, he missed the German word jugendstil, (pronounced YOO-gund-shteel), but not before managing to produce one of those rare unscripted moments that make the event all the more worth watching: After hearing the word read out by pronouncer Jacques Bailly, he repeated, “You could steal?” Hearing the misspell bell is a less than enjoyable feeling for any speller, especially one so close to the trophy, and everyone reacts differently to the dreaded ding: Some people crumple with disappointment, some sulk offstage, some merely shrug. Arvind could have done any of these things. Instead, he smiled and saluted the crowd. And in 2012, when he placed third a second time, his response was to joke good-naturedly about being cursed by German words (schwannoma, his last word that year, was also of German origin. Ironically enough, Arvind broke the ‘curse’ in 2013 with his winning word: Germanderived Yiddish Knaidel.) It’s not unlikely for spellers to become discouraged when their rankings stagnate or bounce around. After all, the

f PAGE M140

Later, when television anchors spoke about the $30,000 and other prizes he had won, Arvind nodded and smiled politely and spoke of keeping the money for college. He spoke of how he relaxed by playing tennis with his father and brother Srinath. He and Srinath both like science and math. Arvind also watches Science Channel shows on quantum physics and astrophysics and reads books by the likes of physicists Brian Greene or Michio Kaku. He was not great at math in the fifth and sixth grades, but Arvind has the inexorable spirit of water on stone, grinding a problem down to a nub, then nothing. There, he had help from his father, who taught him SAT-level math. But he

thinking goes, what were all those hours spent studying for, if not to improve? But one of the most important things anyone can learn from spelling bees is the value of perseverance: Success here is something that must be striven for every day, and although it may not always be immediate, it is undoubtedly worth the effort. Arvind knew this as well as any other champion. His interests, though, aren’t limited to the word-related: Asked what he planned to do now that he would no longer have to prepare for the National Spelling Bee, he

Little Mr Perseverance took things further — to high school and early college math. He scored 800 in his SAT, making the maximum possible score. That helped him get into the summer program run by John Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. ‘I just love physics... and I love… math… I just want to get degrees in that — conduct research in (them), do what I love,’ he said then. The year after the win has been a hectic one for Arvind. He has been fawned over, feted and feasted (among other things, with a knaidel named after him). Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg was spelling his name and Anderson Cooper was faltering over a less-thanobscure word. He was called to events in his honor everywhere, and to those that addressed issues of social impor-

Arvind with fellow speller Katie Fo at the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Sukanya Roy, the winner that year, remembers that even though he was competing for the same trophy as the other spellers, Arvind offered each one an enthusiastic high-five as they made their way back to their seat.

responded, ‘Probably study physics’ — a remark that prompted comedian Hari Kondabolu to deem him a ‘two-sport athlete!’ And, after all, while spelling may not be a sport in the traditional sense, it requires just as much dedication and sportsmanship as anything else on ESPN. What’s more, standing at the microphone can often mean working through the mental gymnastics required to make an educated guess if — as is all too common at the National Spelling Bee — you receive a word you’ve never seen before. But even with pressures running so high, some spellers manage to create a sense of camaraderie. Arvind was the kind of person who, perfectly aware he was competing for the same trophy as the other spellers onstage, offered each one an enthusiastic high-five as they made LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS their way back to their seat. In 2011, Arvind quipped that if he ever won, he would scream loud enough to make a volcano erupt somewhere. Two years later, as the ballroom erupted in cheers and confetti rained down all around him, he was calm. When his younger brother Srinath ran into view, he allowed himself a small smile. On to the next challenge. n Sukanya Roy is the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2011 and winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2011.

tance. There were questions about the money he’d earned and how he felt being famous. So what does he miss most about the spelling bee? “The studying, actually,” he says, pursing his lips and nodding decisively. “What about the friends he made?” “Those also,” he agrees, mentioning Sriram Hathwar (one of this year’s winners), Vanya Shivashankar and several others. He admits he has forgotten some of the words he knew last year. So does he feel a little lost sometimes, now that spelling is no longer a part of his life? “Sometimes,” he ventures with characteristic care. “Occasionally, I’m about to, like, start going through the dictionary, and then I remember that it already happened — last year.” n


M146 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

For whom the German curse became a German blessing In Arvind Mahankali’s Spelling Bee trajectory Snigdha Nandipati finds an inspiration

W

hether it’s because of his unique and colorful personality or his immense dedication to his goals and dreams, Arvind Mahankali is without a doubt one of the most inspiring people I’ve met. Winning such a prestigious and famed event as the Scripps National Spelling Bee requires an immense amount of dedication. Arvind’s dedication to spelling over the past years is very inspiring to spellers who are looking to follow in his footsteps. Having participated in the nationals since 2010 and improving his rank each year, he has steadily become an on-stage crowd favorite over the years. The quality that makes a good speller is the love and passion for words and languages, and Arvind definitely embodies this passion and dedicates himself to it wholeheartedly. In my years of spelling, I’ve learned that spelling is more than just monotonously reciting letters of words from the dictionary, and much more than just memorizing infinite lists of words. Each and every word in the dictionary has a special aspect, which makes them different from each other. The words of our language represent the different cultures of the world, and express every kind of field, ranging from music to science to sports. Respecting these special attributes and researching these words individually makes spelling doubly exciting, and therefore makes us exceptional spellers. Beyond this, understanding the deeper meaning of the existence of these words is what makes us special. There is a deeper reason that each and every one of us learns to spell. Every speller has something in common, and that thing is the love that we have for words. It is so strong that we cannot live without reading or writing or novels or literature. We look up every word that we come across, and we spend hours sprawled across the dictionary. If someone was to ask any one of us spellers what we think is the greatest invention ever, we would each reply, ‘the written word.’ This love of words is what inspires us spellers to

participate in spelling bees, and perfect our orthography. Arvind is a true enthusiast of spelling, and his love of words and languages and his passion for the art of orthography is what propelled his success. Having previously been in Arvind’s position, I can understand and relate to the amount of hard work and willpower involved. During my couple of months of preparation for the National Spelling Bee, I was so focused on spelling that I felt I had lost time to do other things I enjoyed doing. The immense time commitment that I had to make led me to question whether all of this spelling was really worth it or not. My family provided me with moral and emotional support and helped me realize that I was not putting in all this effort for the mere glory or fame or even for the trophy. I realized that there is a deeper reason that me, and Arvind, and every single other speller, spent endless hours spelling and practicing. Our reason, I later realized, was our deep passion and love for words. Our passion for words is what gives us spellers the willpower to keep working hard without giving up, even during times of stress. Even after winning the National Spelling Bee and having achieved his dream, Arvind didn’t just stop there. When asked what he planned on doing next, he replied that he would now focus his efforts on physics. Arvind’s unceasing and endless love for learning is remarkable, but his ability to create new goals for himself

Arvind was not only recognized for his spelling prowess, says Snigdha Nandipati (who competed with him in 2012 and won), but due to his poise and humor, he was a crowd favorite as well.

and follow his new dreams is even more amazing. While Arvind’s hard work, dedication, willpower, and passion is incredible, his unique and colorful personality surpasses everything. His poise, humor, and humility made his victory that much more notable. One would think that his accomplishment of winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee would give him a swollen ego, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Arvind most humbly admitted that there were many extremely difficult words in the finals that he didn’t know, especially fellow speller Grace Remmer’s word — Grace was eliminated on the word ‘melocoton.’ Over the years, Arvind has always been recognized for his suave way of handling himself on stage. In 2011 when he was eliminated for the word ‘jugendstil,’ he exclaimed, ‘Aww, a silent letter!’ and received a standing ovation. COURTESY: THE MAHANKALIS The next year, he was eliminated again by another German word ‘schwannoma.’ Determined to conquer those German words in his next and last year of eligibility, Arvind coincidentally received a German word ‘Knaidel’ as his winning word in the 2013 Spelling Bee and was able to demonstrate his newfound interest and skill in German words. He excitedly (and humorously) said, ‘The German curse has turned into a German blessing.’ Arvind was not only recognized as the world’s best speller, but due to his poise and humor, he was recognized as a crowd favorite as well. Arvind’s passion for spelling, his hard work and dedication, and his wonderful personality continues to inspire many people. Having once looked up to the spelling legends like Dr Jacques Bailly, Paige Pipkin Kimble, Nupur Lala, George Thampy, Kavya Shivashankar, and many others, it is a great feeling to know that you are now one of those spelling legends with your picture in the Spelling Bee Hall of Fame. Arvind is now one of those legends and role models. There is no doubt that he will continue to set many great examples for those who are inspired by him, and will be very successful in the future. For all I know, he may even be our boss in a couple of years! n Snigdha Nandipati is the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2012 and winner of the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2012.


M147 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT 2013 SATHWIK KARNIK

THE WORLD AT HIS FEET

COURTESY: THE KARNIKS


M148 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

In learning about India, he discovered the world Chaya Babu decodes the making of a champion — Sathwik Karnik, winner of the National Geographic Bee in 2013 and the India Abroad Special Award for Achievement 2013

Sathwik Karnik in Halebeedu, Karnataka. According to his mother, his pursuit of Geography was partly due to the fact that he was the only Indian kid in his class, and the feeling of being the odd one out in his Massachusetts elementary school led him to want to understand the roots of his difference.

I

t’s been a little over a year since Sathwik Karnik won the National Geographic Bee. In May of 2013, on national television, he and his opponent both answered the final question correctly. Seconds before this, Bee host Alex Trebek said, ‘Sathwik has the lead, 4 to 3, which means that in order to go to tiebreakers, Conrad must come up with the correct answer to this next question and Sathwik must miss it.’ That’s not what happened. After Trebek gave the question — which called for the name of a peak in Ecuador that is the farthest point from the Earth’s center — both contestants quietly jotted their answers down. When they were done “I knew the answer to the final question, and I had and looked up, Sathwik had a big smile on his face. The known that fact for many years, so I was pretty confident audience, silent before, laughed. with my answer,” he told India Abroad, explaining that Trebak turned to Conrad first to see what he put down. there were others, though, that ‘Chimborazo,’ Conrad said, the word tripped him up along the way. popping up in his handwriting on the blue Sathwik Karnik “There was this lake in Botswana screen on the front of his podium. that I happened to luckily guess Then Sathwik. For his breathtaking right. I had learned it like a week ‘Chimborazo,’ he echoed. mastery of the atlas; for before the national finals.” Both were right, and with a final score of 5 Sathwik is modest, mildto 4, Sathwik was the new champion. being a brilliant mannered, and comes off as shy; He won a $25,000 college scholarship, competitor; for his family and teachers describe lifetime membership in the National him as warm, compassionate, and Geographic Society and a trip for two to the continuing a trend highly respected by his peers. That Galápagos on an expedition aboard the of excellence. he attributes his knowledge about Lindblad ship National Geographic Lake Ngami to luck speaks Endeavour.

COURTESY: THE KARNIKS

volumes about his humility and his attitudes toward his achievements, which he has learned from his family. His mother Rathma also emphasized on luck as a major contributor to his victory. Soft-spoken and transparent in her gratitude for the successes in life, she said that she and her husband Vishwanath just encourage their two sons to do the best they can and do what they love. Vishwanath explained that in coming to the United States, his biggest dream for his two young sons at the time was that they would find stability, comfort, education, and friendship. In deciding to leave India — they were living in

g

PAGE M149


M149 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M148 Bengaluru at the time though they are originally from Mangalore — they hoped to settle down in one place where the kids would have consistency that they didn’t have when Vishwanath was traveling a lot for work. He has built his career as a software engineer and now does data modeling and analysis for Fidelity Investments. Rathma is also a software engineer, but on a freelance basis. They have achieved far beyond what they originally imagined — they never expected their sons to receive national recognition. “With these Bees, sometimes luck is what matters — you might not know the question you got, but you might know the question someone else got,” Rathma said. “That happens a lot and in the end there is only one winner. We had faith that he could do it, but in the end it’s luck.”

In learning about India, he discovered the world

erhaps that is so, but without a vast grasp of geography, luck will do nothing in a national P competition of young people who have stored in their

brain the names of obscure archipelagos, valleys, capes and rivers on all corners of the globe, earth trivia that a layman and even your average all-star student would never know. Sathwik, along with his older brother Karthik, who made it to the Bee twice himself, in 2011 and 2012, coming in fifth and sixth, respectively, studied geography together for fun outside of school since they were young. As small children, they played games to try to see who could find a certain city first in a book or a map, but Sathwik’s deeper interest was sparked when he was in second grade. According to his mother, his pursuit of the subject was partly due to the fact that he was the only Indian kid in his class, and the feeling of being the odd one out in his Massachusetts elementary school led him to want to understand the roots of his difference. “When the kids started school, they started realizing that we are not like the locals here, they saw the difference,” his father said. “When they were home, they wouldn’t have realized that, but when they mixed with the classmates, they saw that their food, their way of speaking, everything was different. We weren’t sure how the kids would adjust to the environment and cope with the differences, but somehow it all worked out for the best.” In learning about India, Sathwik began to be curious about other parts of the world, their histories and cultures, and the desire flourished. Sathwik recalls a trip to India with his family during the summer after second grade. With the personal screens on the backs of the airplane seats that showed the progress of the trip, he and Karthik quizzed each other about the places they were flying over. Over the years, using travel books, issues of National Geographic Magazine, and various maps and atlases, they have challenged each other to learn more and different types of information related to geography. “My brother would sometimes read the events going on in the world and test me on where they were happening,” Sathwik said. “And my parents were very encouraging; they sometimes quizzed me on what I learned throughout the day.” But there was no rigorous study schedule. Sathwik and Karthik sought out geography on their own as something outside the school syllabus. Their teachers mentioned,

REBECCA HALE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Sathwik celebrates with his father, Vishwanath; mother, Rathma; and brother, Karthik. Karthik finished in the top 10 of the National Geographic Bee in 2011 and 2012. repeatedly, their remarkable initiative and leadership qualities exemplified through their unique and arduous pursuit of the subject. “I think his passion for geography was mainly rooted in a quest to just learn more about it,” Karthik, two years older, said. “The map exercises were always interesting; it was like we were exploring the world on our own and shared information with each other. Looking at travel books helped us imagine what life would be like in different countries. And I think he was also inspired by watching previous champions — he was motivated to eventually succeed in the National Bee.” If there was a news story happening in a city or country Sathwik had never heard of, or he discovered some place new in conversation or through a type of food or from the label of a product manufactured in a faraway location, he used these as starting points to further understand the areas. His passion was something he developed and maintained day-to-day, through the most ordinary of circumstances. And when it became clear that both brothers possessed a knack for geography, their teachers and school administrators were supportive, letting first Karthik and then Sathwik announce a geography fact over the PA system every day when they were in elementary school, spending time with each of them in one-on-one sessions once a week to help them prepare for entering the state

Bees and then going off to the nationals. Karthik began participating in the competitions when he was in fifth grade, and Sathwik followed in his path. “I felt it was really helpful to have someone to study with for the Geography Bee, and he challenged me a lot and he always pushed me to different levels,” Karthik said of his brother. “He was a major opponent for me all the time and he helped me reach as far as I did. And I think I definitely was able to provide that for him as well. We both helped each other. It was a give-give friendship. Whoever moved past the state bee would help the other.” This doesn’t mean there weren’t hardships along the way. Participating at the same time at the school and state level, with a shared goal of hoping that at least one of them would make it to the next round, meant competing against each other. That was a concern: If one Karnik beat out the other, how the latter would cope. But they decided to go with the flow, each knowing that his brother would be supportive no matter what happened. PAGE Sathwik beat his older brother at the M150 school level when Sathwik was in fourth grade, and then they overlapped at state

g


M150 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

f PAGE M149

In learning about India, he discovered the world

Sathwik explores the Galapagos Islands, the trip of a lifetime.

bee the following two years, both times ending with Karthik moving on to the nationals. The second year, when Karthik came in sixth at the National Geographic Bee, this was tough for Sathwik. “I think he was slightly discouraged when I lost in the national finals in 2012,” Karthik said. “I think because it was my second try and I still didn’t win and he expected me to at least place in the top 3, it was maybe a bit discouraging to him. He began to have second thoughts about continuing to try.” However, Sathwik’s is enthusiasm and desire to push forward ultimately triumphed.

W

e were not sure whether to have him participate or not, but Sathwik said, ‘I want to try, I want to go,’ and we couldn’t stop him,” Rathma said. This ability in Sathwik — the drive to keep going, the resilience and strength — was a large factor in his overall preparation as well as in his success at the National Bee in 2013, according to both Karthik and David Quinn. Quinn, who taught at King Philip Regional Middle School and ran the geography club, coaching both Karniks individually and whom Vishwanath named as one of the most supportive people in the development of his sons’ knowledge of geography, described Sathwik’s calm and determined manner of studying. “If he were to get a question wrong when I was quizzing him, he would write it down and go back and take a look later at the question and the facts he missed and the geographic area to see what other factors he could kind of pull into his repertoire,” Quinn said. “And in competitions, I think (both Sathwik and Karthik) understand intuitively that some of the questions are just the luck of the draw, and that being upset over any one question is not a productive way to go about winning the Bee.” “That’s one thing that Sathwik does really, really well,” he continued. “He’s able to mitigate any of the anxiety that comes along with this. One of my favorite moments was when he was up 4 to 3 with one question left, and they gave the final question and there was a smile that came over his face, which let the audience know that he had won it. His ability to not become overwhelmed by the stage he’s on I think was really crucial in not dwelling on a question missed but really being able to focus on what the next question would be, and not let nerves get in the way of actual performance and knowledge.” A year since that big grin, Sathwik is graduating from the eighth grade, which would have been his final chance to participate in the Bee had he not won in seventh grade. “

COURTESY: THE KARNIKS

He’s on his way to King Philip Regional High School, where he’ll be taking advanced math and science courses, and where he already takes chemistry and geometry, an opportunity that came up as result of winning the Bee. He mentioned the possibility of being a doctor, but only with a bit of cajoling about potential future plans. It’s clear that his head is in the here and now, playing chess and tennis with his brother in his free time, and of course continuing his genuine love for geography. “Last year he was 12, and here he is and all of a sudden he wins this national Bee, a scholarship, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and within days he’s on the Kelly Ripa Show, Fox News is calling for interviews, and he has a presences on Google — it happened in a very quick turn,” said Dr Susan Gilson, principal of King Philip Regional Middle School. “So that’s a lot for any kid to process, and he’s done a fine job keeping his balance, keeping his focus on academics, and just being a great kid. And he’s a good friend to the other children. He’s enjoying the eighth grade.” Sathwik stays in touch with state winners from last year through an online chat group, and together, from their disparate spots in the US, they share new facts and

discoveries about different parts of the world. Sathwik said they keep tabs on current events, and the Malaysian Airlines incident was an opportunity for them to have an enthusiastic discussion where they applied their knowledge about the world to take stabs at where the plane might have disappeared. He also attended this year’s state competition to show his support. “It was a really great experience from a different perspective of not being in the Bee, but watching it happen,” he said. “I had to stop myself from answering the questions.” As things go forward for Sathwik, his natural inclinations will continue to lead him — the stereotype of Indian parents who push hard does not hold true in his case. “It’s too early to say what he’ll do later in life,” his father said. “He used to say, ‘I want to be a doctor!’ and then he’d say, ‘No I want to be an engineer!’ So I don’t know what he wants to do. It’s not easy to say because it’s so fluid and always changing. You never know where he may go.” His mother recited a Sanskrit verse from the Bhagavad Gita, translating to mean, “Do your duty and don’t worry about the results.” This is a motto they try to live by. n


M151 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘He has always stuck close to his brother’ ‘Whatever his brother did, Sathwik used to follow. Then Karthik got attracted to geography, and Sathwik followed that as well.’ Rathma and Vishwanath Karnik speak to Chaya Babu about the biggest influences in Sathwik’s life and more

T

here were a number of reasons why Sathwik’s national success came as a surprise to his family, mainly having to do with the Karniks’ overall modesty and a simple, unassuming view of themselves, but also Sathwik’s quiet ambition and the idea that he had been living somewhat in his big brother’s shadow. When the concept of his two sons’ obviously outstanding academic strengths comes up, Vishwanath just says, “I guess so” with a laugh. His wife Rathma has a similar attitude. Soft-spoken, she graciously acknowledges that though teachers have pointed out both Sathwik and Karthik’s success at school since they were small, that doesn’t mean her children are more special. “Everyone is intelligent in one way or another, right,” she said. This reflected what King Philip Regional Middle School Principal Dr Susan Gilson said after knowing the Karniks for four years now: “You really couldn’t pick a better family to honor, really. They are humble, hardworking, and just extremely nice people. And the parents are just trying to do the best for their kids. They’re such close-knit family, and Sathwik’s winning the Bee is a way to cast a little bit of light on all of them because they’re just wonderful people.” From their home in Plainville, MA, Vishwanath and Rathma spoke about Sathwik. On developing a passion for geography Vishwanath: Since a very young age, he was always looking up to his brother, so whatever his brother did, Sathwik used to follow. Then Karthik somehow got attracted to geography, and Sathwik followed that as well. My wife would ask them questions and quiz them and show them interesting geography stuff on the Internet, so they naturally got drawn to that and cultivated that habit. Rathma: When they were little, they had these ‘I spy’ books, and we used to play with them seeing who could find the city first, and these are games I used to play with my brother when I was little. And when Sathwik was in second grade, he was in a school where he was the only Indian in his class, so he came home and said, ‘Everyone’s saying that I look different,’ and he wanted to know the reason for that. So we learned about cultures and why people from different parts of the world look different. Then he became interested and wanted to learn more about it. He felt a little out of place initially, but he learned

COURTESY: THE KARNIKS

The Karnik brothers, Sathwik and Karthik, bond over much more than geography.

that because we’re from another part of the world, we look like that. There are so many things they have yet to learn — every day is a learning process. There is no end to it. And almost anything has geography to it. Vishwanath: It was more my wife (who helped the kids), but she didn’t know anything about geography before, and once she started learning about it, she also got into it. It all happened in a really interesting way. I learned a little too from them, but my knowledge is nothing in comparison with theirs.

In 2007, there was an Indian kid who won the National Geography Bee, and my wife watched that and asked some of the questions to the kids. Karthik answered them and she realized she could work with them and hone their knowledge in the subject. Then she started working with them on a regular basis. They did a lot of different things, and NationalGeographic.com is a huge resource in itself. The kids took the quiz on the Web site every day. On the brotherly love and sibling rivalry Vishwanath: They used to play this video game, National Geographic Challenge on Wii, and they challenged each other in that — I guess I’d call it friendly competition. They have that sibling rivalry. My older one is slightly aggressive and my younger one is kind of laid-back. He’s not that aggressive, I’d say. (Karthik) is the first child, so he always got the attention and he naturally expected PAGE that. Then when Sathwik was born, the M153 attention was slightly diverted to him, so Karthik was always trying to attract people,

g


M152 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘The best thing about him is even with all this, he is a humble kid’ Sathwik Karnik’s school principal and National Geographic Bee coach share their stories of the star in their midst with Chaya Babu

Sathwik at King Philip Regional Middle School in Massachusetts. The school where he was coached celebrated his victory with him. They welcomed him back with a congratulatory message and gifted him a globe.

A

t King Philip Regional Middle School, teachers and administrators learned quickly that in each Karnik who entered the seventh grade there was a mini geography wiz. Older brother Karthik led the way, bringing his love for learning about geography to the school and taking it to the National Bee, and two years later, Sathwik followed in his footsteps, ultimately becoming the 2013 Bee Winner. “When Sathwik came to the school, he carried on the tradition,” said Principal Dr Susan Gilson, as she spoke of Karthik’s initiative in starting a Geography Club at school and how the relationship between the two boys served as one of the driving forces behind Sathwik’s victory. “The brothers have a really strong bond and are very close,” she continued. “Karthik made the finals twice and then Sathwik won — they both work really hard to support and help each other. So as you honor Sathwik, Karthik will be there to cheer him on, but it’s also an implicit recognition of Karthik because Sathwik will tell you that he’s learned a lot from his older brother and they’ve challenged one another back and forth to do their best. That doesn’t often happen between siblings, so it’s been really nice to witness.” This has been a recurring theme in Sathwik’s story. His parents spoke of their teamwork and cooperative learning as well, as if it were just a given in the dynamic between their sons, and David Quinn, who was a history teacher at King Philip and led the Geography Club, also recalled the brothers as sharing many similar traits, particularly in regard to their academics. “Both Sathwik and Karthik had an absolute passion for studying geography, so don’t know what, if any, help I even gave because these two are just incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable,” he said. “They’re two very proactive and very curious young men.” When Karthik came to the school, he e-mailed Dr Gilson directly to express his enthusiasm for the subject and to suggest they start a club. The school is large, with about 800 students total, but the faculty and staff work hard to respond to the unique interests and requests of each child, whether they express an inclination toward

sports, arts, or even scholarly extracurriculars. And so the Geography Club was born. As the club’s advisor, Quinn worked closely with the students by helping to create questions and other exercises, gave them a space in which to practice and sharpen their skills, and provided guidance and support to get through the pressure of competition. “It started off as a five-person club, but then it became a one-person club,” he laughed. “Karthik was… above and beyond everybody else. Basically what it evolved into was just one-on-one coaching with the two boys as each of them prepared for the Bees. But they were very selfdirected — there was a rare instance that I could find something new for them that they hadn’t seen or discovered on their own. I think part of it was learning to quiz each other, so it became a game where the two brothers would play together.” Quinn also pointed out that it was a positive experience for Sathwik to be able to watch his older brother in two consecutive National Geographic Bees before making it that far himself. He had observed the nature of the questions, which minimized the nerve-wracking impact of not knowing what to expect. However, even without this, Quinn said, Sathwik is an inherently relaxed kid and was very much at ease despite the intensity of the national competition. “He’s also very systematic with his thinking, so even if he doesn’t quite know the exact answer to a question, based on the clues he knows enough about geography as a whole to kind of venture a pretty great guess,” he said. “He asks really insightful questions, not just about geography, but about different areas of academics. He was a just a joy

to work with, incredibly respectful and curious.” Both Dr Gilson and Quinn elaborated on the Karnik brothers’ broader aptitude, emphasizing their keen interest in actively and eagerly pursuing competitive academic activities and events akin to the way a young athlete would devote all of his or her free time to practice drills and matches. “The Karniks have exhibited some extraordinary abilities,” Dr Gilson said. “On top of geography, Sathwik has also demonstrated some major strengths in science and mathematics as well and has COURTESY: THE KARNIKS been a strong performer in many ways since I’ve known him. And he probably didn’t tell you this, but he plays the clarinet!” Though Sathwik himself was either too modest — or genuinely unaware of his strengths — Dr Gilson mentioned his involvement in the MIT Science Trivia Competition two years in a row. She recalls Sathwik telling her once that he’d like to be a neurologist one day — though his future is wide open and she said she has faith in the likelihood of him becoming anything from a world-class physicist to a global politician. He has distinguished himself in mathematics at King Philip as a standout member of the math team, which travels for competitions and which Karthik comes back from high school to help coach. Just this month, he travelled with the Massachusetts All Star Team to Pennsylvania to represent the state in a math competition; he and his brother were two of the 15 people on the team. “I think the best thing about him is that even with all of this, he is a very humble kid, and kids really like him at school,” Dr Gilson said. “When he won the Geo Bee, they took the time and made a huge poster for the cafeteria window, which spans a few hundred feet, that said, ‘Welcome Back Sathwik!’ and it was just nice because when he drove in on his first PAGE day back from the Bee, he was able to see M153 that.” “It was a wonderful moment —

g


M153 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘The best thing about him is even with all this, he is a humble kid’

f PAGE M152

everybody felt proud that he won the Bee, and he’s just so grounded and down-to-earth that everybody was glad for his accomplishment. Mr Quinn, who was there in Washington, DC, with Sathwik sent me a text saying, ‘I think he just won the National (Geographic) Bee,’ and when he confirmed it, we made an announcement over the PA system and everyone cheered.” he King Philip and larger community recognized Sathwik and T celebrated with him both immediately

upon his return and for some time after. There was a whole media day honoring him, during which he answered questions for local newspapers and television and radio stations. At the Plainville annual town meeting, where local officials vote on the budget and other items, Sathwik was introduced and recognized in front of several hundred people. And last year before a Red Sox game in Boston, he was named a Childhood Hero and had his photo displayed at Fenway Park. It was a lot to take in for any kid, but Sathwik handled it all with grace. “He did an outstanding job in just coming back home and back to reality and continuing to do a noble job in everything and continuing to be a good friend to the kids in his peer group,” Dr Gilson said. “For some kids that would have been a challenge.” Quinn added that the good spirit went both ways: “There are times when kids can get really envious of each other, especially when one kid is having massive success. But they were all rooting for him, and were very encouraging and congratulatory with their big sign and a globe they presented to him. It was just a really nice way of showing that his peers and teachers appreciated his efforts and achievement. There was no resentment — just lots of awe and respect.” n

‘He has always stuck close to his brother’

f PAGE M151

as the older sibling does. So Karthik would do something and Sathwik would go along with it happily, following his brother. That’s been their dynamic. In school, if the teachers ask the kids to make a line, Karthik would be first; he’d be in the front. With Sathwik, everybody would go and form a line, and then he’d say, ‘Okay,’ and go slowly. He’s not in a hurry. That’s his personality. He’s very soft; Sathwik is soft. He has that compassion and empathy for others. He keeps a small circle of friends — he mingles with everybody and doesn’t have any enemies as such and can be friends with anybody. But he’s very choosy about his friends. The friends who suit his personality, he’s most comfortable with that. But yeah he has always stuck close to his brother. On taking the initiative, pursuing knowledge, and not worrying about the win Vishwanath: For both of them, when it came to geography, they learned it and wanted to do it. They picked it up on their own. We can only show them the path, but it’s up to them. Rathma: We don’t force anything on them, whatever they like, they’ll do. We can just show them opportunities, and they can take from that what they want… We always just tell the kids, ‘Just do your best. We can’t think about the results.’ Vishwanath: They liked it; they went for it; they conquered it. That’s a good thing. And there’s no drawback to that at all. The knowledge gained is always there, so whether you win or lose, that will always be there. Wherever you travel with knowledge of geography you can talk to people easily. If you know their culture and their cities and rivers and whatnot, you can connect with them about where they’re from. On reactions from family members to the win Vishwanath: In 2012, we went there and Karthik had been in the top 10 at the nationals that year and the whole family was saying they had seen his photo in the paper and were surprised that he had done so well. So nobody anticipated that Sathwik would win. Because people were thinking, ‘Karthik is the best and Sathwik is in his shadow.’ That’s what people thought. But fortunately, it happened, and people were kind of surprised. My parents were pleasantly surprised back in Coimbatore. News reporters went there and interviewed them. They were really proud — I had never accomplished anything of this sort. My wife never did either. It was big for our family I would say. The TV stations also went to interview my brother and his family in Udupi, and they were

A snapshot from the Karniks’ family album.

COURTESY: THE KARNIKS

very happy. Rathma: Everyone was very proud. My parents have passed, but my husband’s parents said, ‘This is the best gift in our old age.’ Vishwanath: And her side was like, ‘That’s awesome.’ They remembered that she had been good in her studies too, but nobody anticipated that our kid would win a national competition. So, they were like, ‘That’s Rathma’s son!’” On migrating to the US Rathma: I’m not sure they would have done this if we didn’t come to the US. In India we don’t have access to this many books, and we can’t afford to buy every atlas in the world. Different ones have different information as their focus. We’ve already bought so many and we can’t keep buying more. But there are so many resources at the library that are useful for us here. In India you don’t have that many books in the library, and the Internet is more available here. The kids have more opportunities here. Vishwanath: Life is different here — I wouldn’t say MUCH better but slightly better… and the kids are happier here than I think they would have been. There are a lot of opportunities here and the resources are plenty. But we never imagined this. No way. All I was focusing on was getting into a company and giving the kids a good education. I didn’t even think about this kind of stuff, competitions or anything. We were just looking for stability after traveling so much and a good school and good friends for the kids. That consistency was the most important thing. But yes, of course, now we are very proud of what they have accomplished. n


M154 JUNE 2014

Presented by

INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2013

‘Very knowledgeable and very nice’ Sathwik Karnik was calm, confident, and enjoying everything, which is the way the National Geographic Bee should be, says his predecessor Rahul Nagvekar

J

ust thinking about names like Ras Dejen, Cabinda, and Chimborazo would leave most people perplexed. Yet last May, when he was only 12, Massachusettsan Sathwik Karnik calmly, confidently and, of course, correctly answered questions about these places — and even more obscure ones — to become the champion of the 2013 National Geographic Bee. Introduced to the subject by his older brother Karthik, Sathwik first began to enjoy geography when he was in the second grade. During the three years in which they both competed in the National Geographic Bee, the Karnik brothers worked together to expand their knowledge of the world. After seeing Karthik achieve great success as a two-time national top-10 finalist in the Geography Bee, Sathwik says he ‘learned not to be nervous, because after making it that far, you just have to do your best.’ When I was there in 2012, the only year I made it to the REBECCA HALE/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC nationals — and the year I won — I competed against A boa constrictor is displayed to the top 10 National Geographic Bee finalists last year. Sitting next to Sathwik Karthik, and I had seen him in previous years on Karnik is the boy who would win in 2014 — Akhil Rekulapelli. television in the final round of the National Geographic Bee, so I knew he was extremely good at the competition, fun when they get so far. Sathwik in my opinion really flawlessly. After answering, quite early in the competition, highly intelligent, and knew a lot of good stuff. exemplified that. a particularly difficult question about Botswana’s Lake The year we were there together, in the preliminary I also had the opportunity to see the two brothers Ngami — which he had, serendipitously, read about in a round where everybody is asked a series of questions and together. It was obvious that Karthik had helped in travel book just a week before the national finals — the people with the most correct answers advance to the Sathwik’s preparation, so it was a family effort, and it was Sathwik felt relaxed and confident of his answers. finals, he was one of only four people to get all of the apparent that they’re very close and supportive of one Eventually, all but two contestants had been eliminated, questions correct. another. and he was only five questions from the title. So he was definitely very strong. And of course both he Sathwik’s hard-won victory came with a number of In the round to decide the championship, he did know and Sathwik were very nice people to speak to and perks, including a $25,000 scholarship to a college of his the answers — all of them, in fact, including the one to a interact with. choice and a week-long vacation in Ecuador’s Galápagos question that his opponent missed — allowing him to For his part, Sathwik was the third-place winner of the Islands, famed for their unique fauna. Sathwik also makes become the national first-place winner of the 2013 2012 North South Foundation Geography Bee for Indianfull use of his lifetime subscription to the National National Geographic Bee. American students. Geographic magazine — another benefit in our winner’s In 2013, I went back to the national competition to The year after that, Karthik, then in the ninth grade was package. watch. I had not spoken to Sathwik much prior to that, too old to take part in the National Geographic Bee, so What does the future hold for Sathwik? He maintains a but in the afternoon I got to talk to him. Again, he was Sathwik didn’t have anyone to compete against at home. musical interest by playing the clarinet in his school band, just like his brother: Very knowledgeable and very nice. But his parents and especially his brother worked to and says that once he knows what subjects he likes in And I remember clearly the day after he won, when he assist Sathwik with his preparation, as did a teacher at high school (which, for him, will begin this autumn) he went to New York to appear on national television again Sathwik’s King Philip Middle School. will decide what he would like to do later in life. Whatever on Live with Kelly and Michael, I was just very impressed The effort paid off as Sathwik won the 2013 he chooses, though, Sathwik — having already achieved so with him both then and when I saw Massachusetts State Geography Bee and much with his knowledge, hard work, and determination him in the competition. moved on to the national competition. — will certainly have very a positive impact on the world He was very calm and very confident, But there were bigger and better things to SPECIAL AWARDS ISSUE and he just seemed so happy and to be come. in the years to come. n enjoying everything, which is the way Making his first appearance in the EDITOR: MONALI SARKAR. Rahul Nagvekar is the winner of the National the National Geographic Bee should be. national event, Sathwik advanced past the DESIGN: DOMINIC XAVIER Geographic Bee 2012 and winner of the India Abroad People work so hard to know all of this preliminary and tiebreaker rounds to the Special Award for Achievement 2012. information that they should just have televised finals. Again, he performed almost

India Abroad's Person of the Year 2013  

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

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you