Indian Americans making two nations proud

Abhijit Banerjee
Abhijit Banerjee

By Arun Kumar

From science to politics to corporate world, the community made headlines.

From a Nobel laureate to a little known Sikh actor, Indian Americans from the worlds of science to politics won laurels in 2019 to make both their home country and the land of their heritage proud.

Maharashtra, India-born Abhijit Banerjee, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), shared the 2019 Noble Prize in Economic Sciences with his wife Esther Duflo, and Harvard economist Michael Kremer.

The trio was recognized “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty… that has transformed development economics,” announced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Banerjee, currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at MIT, is the second Indian American economist to win the Nobel Prize. Harvard Professor Amartya Sen was the first to do so in 1998.

Daughter of a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Indian American Democratic senator Kamala Harris made history by jumping into the 2020 presidential race.

Once seen as a frontrunner, Harris was forced to cut short her path breaking run due to funds crunch after 11 months to the great disappointment of the Indian American community excited over the prospect of one of their own in the White House.

ALSO READ: Indian American economist Abhijit Banerjee wins Nobel Prize in Economics (October 14, 2019)

But 2019 saw the heady rise of another Indian-American, Sundar Pichai, the son of a stenographer mother and an electrical engineer father, who grew up in a small two-room apartment in Chennai, India.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin announced the elevation of Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur alumnus as CEO of Alphabet, parent company of the search engine giant that he had been heading since 2015.

Another IIT Kharagpur alumnus Dr Monisha Ghosh also made history when she was appointed as the first woman Chief Technology Officer at the powerful Federal Communications Commission (FCC) responsible for implementing and enforcing US communications law and regulations.

Noting her historic appointment, FCC’s Indian-American Chairman Ajit Pai hoped “her example inspires young women everywhere to consider careers in STEM fields.”

Yet another Indian American engineer-scientist was named by President Donald Trump as Director of the National Science Foundation, the foremost US agency supporting fundamental research and  education.

On confirmation by the Senate, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, a graduate of Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Technology, will  lead the agency with a budget of nearly $ 8 billion.

Panchanathan is the second Indian-American to head the prestigious 70-year old foundation after Dr Subra Suresh, like him a Chennai-born IIT-ian, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010.

From the corporate world, trailblazer Indra Nooyi had the honor of being inducted in the renowned Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Chennai, India-born former PepsiCo CEO was also conferred with the coveted Portrait of a Nation Prize for her stellar contributions to shaping America’s history, development and culture.

Her stunning portrait, created by artist Jon R. Friedman to look like a photograph, will be on view in the gallery’s “Recent Acquisitions” exhibit until August 30, 2020.

From the entertainment world,  Indian American comedian Hasan Minhaj was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2019 by Time magazine.

Listed among nine other “pioneers,” the host of Netflix show ‘Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj’ was the only Indian American on the list, which included Trump, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former First Lady Michelle Obama and sporting icons Tiger Woods and LeBron James.

A little known 74-year-old Sikh actor from Patiala in India’s Punjab state also hit fame when a California-based firm put him on a huge billboard in New York’s iconic Times Square.

Dollar Shave Club, dealing in shaving and grooming products, chose Pritam Singh for their ad for beard oil with a thoughtful tagline: “Beard Oil Because for Some People Beards are Religion.”

And for those Indian Americans for whom work is religion, there may well be “other worlds beyond the stars,” as noted Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal put it, to conquer in 2020.

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