Raj was about four when he sat for a kindergarten entrance exam for the famous St Columbus School in Delhi. The school also had a test for the parents, it was so demanding!
As we were walking out of the school, Raj, who knew he
had done very well in the test, tugged at my hand and said,
‘Appa, I have passed the exam. But will they still admit me
if you or Amma fail in your exams?’
I don’t remember what I told him, but I do remember his
We brought up our three children by and large by example.
My thinking is that if I were to tell someone, especially a
young man, to do something, he would turn around and
say, ‘Why should I?’
I thought we should let Raj decide what career he want-
ed to pursue, even though my wife and her relatives want-
ed him to study medicine or do research in science.
I also thought Raj should at least get a feel for what medicine is about. So, when he was his in early teens — we were
in Wisconsin then — I got him to be an intern with doctors.
One summer, he had just started shadowing an ophthalmologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin. On the first
day, the doctor asked Raj to follow him as he was going to
examine a patient. Raj saw the patient on the chair and
even before the doctor began the examination, Raj almost
The doctor had to ask the patient to get up and make Raj
sit on the seat and helped him to regain his composure. Raj
has always been scared of blood being drawn.
I knew right then, following the near fainting episode, he
was not going to be a medical doctor.
He also used to wonder how many diseases were incur-
able. And he would say, ‘What will I do with such incurable
People often ask me why Raj is so modest. One answer
could be he is so because he grew up in India meeting many
world famous scientists, mathematicians and statisticians
like Professors C R Rao and Anand Gadde Swarup who
presented to Raj the first programmable home computer,
the Sinclair MK-13 when he was three years old. Many of
them would come home when we were in New Delhi. My
children loved collecting their autographs.
As one of Raj’s undergrad professors, Carl Morris, at
Harvard pointed out, it took him quite some time to realize
how brilliant Raj was because of his very modest behavior.
Raj was an undergraduate at Harvard, but he was also a
TA (teaching assistant) to professors who were teaching
My son is now an internationally recognized economist
and thinks of money matters, but he can often be outrageously absent minded.
Haven’t we all heard of absent-minded professors?
His absent mindedness has been around him from his
Once he and several other Harvard students got into a car
— he had borrowed his mother’s car — but just as they got
out of campus, the car stopped. There was no gas. His first
response often is to call his mother. So, he called his Amma
to call the AAA.
The AAA wanted to know where the car was.
In front of Harvard Square, she said.
What is the nearby street, the man asked her.
My wife is a physician and she was in the hospital at the
time. So she had to say something like, ‘Oh, I can’t see well,
‘People often ask me
why Raj is so modest’
He is now an internationally recognized economist, but he can often
be outrageously absent minded, says V K Chetty.
to carry spare keys and a few important documents belonging to my children in one pocket
all the time!
His story of turning up on the steps of Capitol
Hill to testify before the Senate Finance
Committee and not having cash to pay for the
cab has become famous. The cab driver could
not accept his credit card. But he looked closely
at Raj said, ‘You look like an important person.
You can send the money when you get home.’
Raj sent him some extra money after he
returned to Boston.
The pizza story is also quite well known. He
stands in the long line in the Harvard cafeteria
and when his turn to pay comes, he realizes he
has no money on him.
He looks around and spots Professor Carl
‘Carl, can I borrow a dollar from you?’
We returned to the US after working for 17
years in the best educational institutions in
India solely for the purpose of providing good
education to Raj. We planned every move start-
ing from the right time to move to another
school and where to live in the US.
It has turned out to be much more rewarding
than we ever imagined.
From the time when Raj was in high school,
he had very precise goals and worked hard to
He wanted to go to Harvard and he did. He
wanted to become a tenured professor at
Harvard before he was 28 and he did.
He aimed to reach the top of the profession and he got the
most prestigious Clark Medal given to the best economist
He has thus clearly and convincingly shown that with
clear goals, hard work and some luck, it is certainly possible to excel both professionally and personally. ;
COURTES Y: RAJ CHE TT Y
V K Chetty and his wife returned to the US after working for
17 years in the best educational institutions in India
solely for the purpose of providing good education to son Raj.
but you will recognize the car,’ and she gave the description.
Meanwhile a police officer stopped by the car and wanted
to know what was happening?
‘We are students from Harvard and we have run out of
gas and we are waiting for AAA,’ they said almost in chorus.
The officer gave a wry smile, shook his head, and said, ‘If
ever I need any help, you guys will be the last people I
would think of.’
On another occasion, he had come to Logan Airport to
take me home. As I was making my way to the parking lot,
I heard him desperately say, ‘Appa, do you have my car key?’
He had shut the door with the key inside.
Fortunately, I was carrying duplicate keys in the left pocket of my jacket, and over the years, it had become my habit
Dr V K Chetty is an economist and a statistician. He is currently a professor of health economics in the Department of
Family Medicine in Boston University. He has been a consultant to the Prime Minister's Secretariat, ministries of
finance and industrial development and the Planning
Commission in India and to the United Nations and the
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