2011: A desi look back
Each summer, emceeing the India Abroad Person of the Year is one of the highlights of my year. The evening, which brings togeth- er the best and the brightest in the Indian- American community, always informs and inspires me about what our community’s true potential is. Past honorees have includ-
ed American icons who happen to be desi and whose first
names would ring a bell with any educated American:
Zubin, Fareed, Jhumpa, Mira, Salman, and Indra (that’s
Mehta, Zakaria, Lahiri, Nair, Rushdie and Nooyi, of
The 2011 edition in June, honoring achievement in 2010,
was no different, with exciting winners like Sheena Iyengar,
the exciting Columbia Business School professor who hap-
pens to be blind; Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose biogra-
phy of cancer, Emperor of All Maladies, won the Pulitzer
Prize; and Naveen Selvadurai, the young co-founder of
Foursquare, the popular social network.
The main winner this year was Nikki Haley, who was
elected Governor of South Carolina, and that’s where
things became interesting. Haley was away in Paris on
business; she sent a gracious video and her parents, includ-
ing her father, Dr Ajit Randhawa, in full Sikh turban and
Some of my more liberal friends — those in attendance
and those who heard about it later — expressed dismay
about Haley’s selection. They oppose Haley because she’s a
Republican and they aren’t; but also because she has a
strong anti-illegal-immigrant streak which plays well in the
Tea Party and elsewhere.
“How can India Abroad honor someone like that?” asked
one attendee, referring to some proposed anti-illegal immi-
gration legislation that Haley had discussed.
I explained that the award was for what she achieved in
2010 — being elected Governor — and not for her policies
in 2011. Whatever you might think of her and her policies,
there’s no doubt that she, like Bobby Jindal (another
Governor of a conservative Southern state) have done
much to expand the possibilities of what an Indian
American can do. My children, growing
up in a country with two Indian-American
governors, will truly think that anything is
It wasn’t just in politics that Indian
Americans made a mark this year. This
issue of India Abroad is full of amazing
stories of glass ceilings shattered, barriers
broken and milestones reached. The day
I’m writing this, news came that Indra
Nooyi of Pepsi had been named #4 on the
Forbes list of the world’s most powerful
women, behind only the chancellor of
Germany, the United States secretary of
state and the president of Brazil. Not bad
for a girl from Chennai.
I can’t wrap up any discussion of desis in 2011 without
highlighting what my colleagues in the media have done.
Every morning, Kevin Negandhi anchors the most popular
sports show in the US, ESPN’s SportsCenter; Ali Velshi, Dr
Sanjay Gupta, and Fareed Zakaria continue to dole out
financial, medical and foreign policy advice, respectively,
all over CNN; Martin Bashir has his own afternoon show
on MSNBC; Hari Sreenivasan (no relation), continues to
be the young face of the venerable Newshour on PBS; and
the list goes on and on, especially when you look at the
dozens of on-air and off-air reporters, producers, bookers
and editors who make American television tick.
But to me, the most impressive way to take stock of desis
in the media is to see what institutions some of us are run-
ning now. Here’s a list, including Twitter handles, in case
you want to get to know them.
Jai Singh (@jaijs) became editor-in-chief of Yahoo news,
sports, entertainment, the largest news properties in the
world (he had recently been managing editor of The
Huffington Post, which sold in March for $315 million).
Nikhil Deogun (@nikdeogun) became editor-in-chief of
Tunku Varadarajan (@tunkuv) became editor of
Winners of the India Abroad Person of the Year 2010:
From left, Sarah Khan (Maitri), Tiloma Jaisinghe
(Sakhi), Debjani Roy (Manavi), Vijay Balse, Dr
Rambha Radhakrishnan (Apna Ghar), Dr Shamita
Das Dasgupta (Manavi), Dr Sheena Iyengar, Raj
Randhawa, Professor Ajit Randhawa, Dr Vijay Iyer
with his daughter Jayanti, Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee,
Dr Strobe Talbott, Madhur Jaffrey.
Front row, from left, Anamika Veeramani, Naveen
Selvadurai, Aadith Moorthy
Krishnan Anantharaman runs the class-
room edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Davan Maharaj (@davanmaharaj), was
promoted to the top post of the Los Angeles
Times, making him, along with the Oregonian’s Peter
Bhatia, the only desis to run a US daily.
Over in Washington, two of the most powerful institu-
tions, The Washington Post and NPR’s Morning Edition
radio show, are run by Raju Narisetti (@rajunarisetti) and
Madhulika Sikka (@madhulikasikka) — each a winner of
an India Abroad award in the past — respectively.
At Time Inc, two titles have two Indian Americans at or
near the top: Stephanie Mehta (@stephaniemehta), execu-
tive editor, Fortune; and Bobby Ghosh (@ghoshworld),
world editor, Time.
In the pure digital space, we see that former India
Abroad staffer Om Malik (@om), who created one of the
world’s biggest technology blog networks, is still going
strong, along with plenty of young men and women with
Expect to see even more penetration and success in the
media by folks who look like us. And that, in the long run,
can only be a good thing.
Sreenath Sreenivasan is co-founder of SAJA, the South
Asian Journalists Association, and Dean of Student
Affairs at Columbia University’s Graduate School of
Journalism. He welcomes your feedback via e-mail
( firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@sree)