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Who would be a better icon for our children – Satya Nadella or CNR Rao?

Monday, 10 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The news of an Indian being appointed the CEO of the eighth largest company in the world (by market capitalisation) brought cheer in his native country. The media went crazy. The first interview of Satya Nadella and his first email to Microsoft employees – both of which said almost the same thing – were reproduced on various Indian websites, news channels and publications.

In an attempt to piece together titbits about Nadella, news correspondents landed in Hyderabad to talk to his family. But Nadella's father Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar refused to entertain the scribes, saying, "I don't know why I should speak about his (Satya's) childhood. How is that even important… yes I wish him well, but that's all I have to say." Ultimately, the scribes came back to their desks clutching at only the family driver's version of their happiness on hearing the news.

While the father may have been too modest while acknowledging the son's achievement, somewhere the former bureaucrat nailed the issue with his candid foresight when he reportedly said, "All this is unnecessary hype. I don't understand why it is required."

Why is it that the achievement of an Indian in a Western country is hyped up as a bigger success than that by someone at home? I am sure the recent Bharat Ratna conferred on Sachin would be recalled by a majority of us Indians while we conveniently may have even forgotten the name of the scientist who also was given the same honor on the same day.

CNR Rao had a more interesting childhood than Sachin and Satya put together. Sample this: CNR Rao learned Hindi literature from his mother and English literature from his father at an early age. He did not attend elementary school but was home-tutored by his mother, who was particularly skilled in arithmetic and Hindi literature. He entered middle school at age six. Although he was the youngest in his class, he would tutor his classmates in mathematics and English. He passed the lower secondary examination (class VII) in first class. He was then ten years old, and his father rewarded him with four annas (25 paisa). (For even more interesting details about the man, go to Wiki.)

I am sure CNR Rao's success story could have been penned as an intriguing and inspiring role model for the young generation, given that he is a scientist who is a technophobe and thinks computers distract him and mobile phones must be only used sparingly. Yet, did we see any website, any channel, any publication or magazine, reveal any interesting facets of this Bharat Ratna?

Is it because the context is not global (read Western) enough? Or is it that we still look at success through a 'white' lens? Would we have reacted differently to CNR Rao's story had the Western world hyped it before we did?

This kind of behaviour is all around us – a feeling of true recognition only when the Western world acknowledges it. We seek foreign certification and approval for our indigenous successes. When Germany's president Joachim Gauck met Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal last week, one had to read the posts of Aam Aadmi Party fans on the websites that reported the news. They said: "Germans are respected world over for efficiency and incorruptible nature, it's no coincidence that the German President Joachim Gauck requested for a meeting with Arvind Kejriwal". Or, "Foreigners are realising the truth. Unfortunately not the people of India. I'm wondering how many CMs had met presidents from other countries. That too specifically requested via Ambassador". Or, "Well deserved respect for a true Indian."

Bobby Jindal, Indra Nooyi, Sunita Williams are better known names than our homegrown CEOs and scientists. The fact is that last month India became only the sixth country to develop cryogenic engines which helped launch a satellite into a geosynchronous track orbit after a flawless GSLV D5 blastoff. But do we even know the name of the chairman of ISRO, leave aside the names of the scientists involved in this 20-year long endeavour? Or is it because we think the competition is stiffer in the global arena? But Nadella's modest alma mater back home suggests that the competition to get into A-list professional colleges is tougher in India than abroad.

God knows, even I may have been unwittingly guilty of this slant when the research findings of my company were used as a global template for an MNC brand some time ago. I wonder if I considered that more significant than the findings that helped turn around a local brand?

The media can create or destroy personalities. Our editors have the power to castigate a culprit, or canonise a saint. But before they do that, they must free themselves from the 'white' blinkers that look only in one straight line, mostly Westwards. It is time for some homegrown heroism, to ferret out the hidden talent we have across the nation. Tell the world about these less-touted, yet extraordinary achievements, so that they become the reference points of success the world over.


(The writer is managing consultant of The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based qualitative research company.)

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