February 22, 2020
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In Which India Gives It Those Ones

A fifth of Microsoft engineers are Indians. Now, to work on the cows, elephants and snakes.

In Which India Gives It Those Ones
Sometime in the mid-1990s, India's image got a facelift, liposuction and a few deft tummy tucks. The new, svelte India then went for the silicon implants—in that valley in America. Scores of Indian computer brainiacs, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs turned California into their personal backyard. Second-generation 'ABCD's were coming of age too, storming Wall Street and scaling new heights on Capitol Hill. As members of the young power elite, they confidently walked the halls of the US Congress. Stereotypes were being shattered, the exotic was giving way to the eager, the cows to comps.

The difference a decade makes. The once-typical American comment, "You speak such good English", and silly questions about elephants are today fewer. The comment is more likely to be about "How smart you Indians are." This, plus the mainstreaming of yoga by gurus and tricksters, of bindi by Madonna, of Indipop by hip hop artistes, of sari-inspired dresses on Oscar night.

In Britain, NRIs can hardly believe what is happening. 'Made in India' is not just respectable but before anyone knew it, sought after. Says a London-based Indian executive with a French bank. "What has made a difference is that people know now what we are capable of. Earlier they thought India is the land where their curry came from." India has been Britain's market too long, now it is becoming India's market. It is discovering what the Indian in India can do. Take away British jobs, for instance, in their thousands. Take contracts British firms think should be theirs. Take positions in multinational firms at previously unthinkable levels.

Consider some facts: the father of the Pentium chip is Vinod Dham, who started with $8; Vinod Khosla is one of the world's most powerful venture capitalist; Sabeer Bhatia created Hotmail and Rangaswamy Srinivasan discovered lasik surgery. These heart-warming facts get better, going down the chain of any major US organisation. The 1.6 million Indian Americans form a mere 0.6 percent of the population but are the fastest growing and wealthiest minority. Bill Gates acknowledged that 20 per cent of engineers at Microsoft are Indians. Nearly 12 per cent of all US doctors are of Indian origin. Estimated annual income of Indians in Silicon Valley: $60 billion.

When we asked 10 non-Indians in the US what India means to them, the associations ranged from food and smart people to Gandhi and Kamasutra. But they also included poverty and conflict with Pakistan. We did the same exercise in Britain. Three respondents thought India a fellow fighter against terrorism, another three said call centres, and four spoke of Indian food. Software was a surprising omission. Maybe it's invisible, maybe the Brits need a little more time to learn a lot more.

Seema Sirohi in Washington and Sanjay Suri in London

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