Why can’t we embrace the achievements of the Indian diaspora?

An interesting discussion broke out when Prof. Sriram posted the news of Prof. Nitin Nohria being appointed as the new dean at the Harvard Business School. I thought an emotion-laden argument to be rebutted.

we feel proud when ‘one of us’ heads foreign organisations. is it because we feel accepted by the erstwhile colonists? Is that very stark, dark, harsh truth that a new appointment at IIM or even ICT, a story equally interesting, equally filled with strife and overcoming barriers, doesn’t make the newspapers. We identity with Dr. Nohria as one of us. He inspires us. We talk about him. We put his news on our fb walls. Not because he is dean of a business school. But its Harvard, oh and a phd from MIT an indian who has been tendered global acceptance as one endowed with intelligence. Are we still insecure?  How many shilpa shetty’s winning Big Brother UKs will make the headlines. Why can’t we look within ourselves to seek inspiration. Maybe, that’s why indian’s loose a handsome chunk of its talent to countries like the US. Coz u may be smart, but hey, do u have a degree from harvard? only then, are we talking.

but it us who appreciate HBS more than an IIM-A (getting into which is def more difficult)

Americans were not our colonists. The fact that an Indian genius has been recognised in a place full of geniuses is the achievement we are glad to hear. We are not trying to feel accepted but simply proud that someone has achieved it and someday even we can.

Where is the novelty in an Indian heading an Indian institute? And it does make a story, just not the front page. It’s how the media works because that’s how people consume information. Of course, if a foreigner became a head of an institute, it will attract the media but the reaction of us Indians would be hostile. We will question the decision of the institute. Could they not find an able Indian to do the same job? This sort of ill-suited patriotism makes no sense to me.

Someone pointed out correctly that “even if getting into IIMA is 1000x difficult than to get into HBS, it is sheer numbers…its the quality of candidates competing for the position that matters. Merit is EVERYTHING”

And this brings me to my real problem. Although, meritocracy can exist only in a Utopian world, US & UK are so much more meritocratic than India. No one seems to argue that so many of the geniuses in the Indian diaspora would not have made it had they stayed in India. It isn’t fair to condemn the people who took up opportunities to achieve something away from their country. Why is it wrong to achieve something for humanity (Venky’s Nobel prize)? Do we have to be patriotic ALL the time and work only for India? Our problems are not going to go away by attacking these people.

I am not trying to say that we should all run away and not do anything about our political system or corruption or our literacy levels.  But not everyone is good at changing the system. Why are we forcing everyone to start at the grass-roots? It requires a different skill set.

We cannot force all these geniuses to bend themselves so that they can fix our broken system. These problems can be attacked in multiple ways.  People who achieve positions like Nohria can advise our politicians or businessmen, people who achieve monetary success (Mittal) can influence entrepreneurs or fund NGOs or create markets for Indian companies, people who attain fame (Vikram Seth) contribute to the image of Indians (soft power)… the list goes on.

Then why do we want everyone to be single-minded in their approach to better our nation? Why can’t we celebrate plurality in our idols?  Why can’t we embrace the achievements of the Indian diaspora?

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About Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi is a science journalist. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.
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3 Responses to Why can’t we embrace the achievements of the Indian diaspora?

  1. drmsriram says:

    Good one.
    One can do for one’s country from another country too.
    We, Indians, Have this wonderful habit of dispensing disparaging remarks and not celebrating the success of fellow-Indians.

  2. Deeksha says:

    so true! a well written and an insightful piece…commendable!

  3. If only I had a dollar for every time I came to akshatrathi.wordpress.com.. Great post!

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