Satya's Truth. Or dare?

Bukkapuram Nadella Yugandhar is not biting. Yet. And this is probably the best thing to happen to Satya Nadella, the newly-appointed CEO of Microsoft. When approached by the media, the father simply said:

"I don't know why I should speak about his childhood. How is that even important. Yes I wish him well, but that's all I have to say. All this is unnecessary hype. I don't understand why it is required."

In India it is a ritual for parents, siblings, relatives, old friends, classmates, neighbours, shopkeepers, domestic staff, guy who changed the lightbulb, fellow who fixed the leaky tap, to all celebrate in an achievement that they do not even fathom. Therefore, since newspapers cannot dare to call the senior arrogant, they reluctantly grant that, "Some joys, perhaps, are best felt in private".

Is there anything to celebrate? Microsoft is a private company. Nadella has been living in the US and has chalked up years in the field. Why do we treat this success as special and how does it qualify as success at all? Sure, getting to head a huge enterprise is a big thing, but why is a person of Indian origin helming an American corporate sector a matter of pride for India?

A most patronising article in Firstpost asks:

Is the appointment of Satya Nadella a feather in India’s cap or a slap in the face for the Indian system?...We need to ask ourselves: why does our system kill future heroes, while the US helps raise even ordinary Indians to iconic levels?

Do we say Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are ordinary and the American system has given them iconic status? It is not as though Nadella was waiting tables and was just grabbed and taken into the MS fold. We get to hear about these stories because they are huge conglomerates that resonate world-wide. You won't see the Chinese or Japanese, or Czechs or Ukrainians start abusing the system in their country of origin if one of them makes it in the US, or is knighted in the UK.

It is difficult to say who will become something. Besides, how we perceive this something is relative. Therefore, "future heroes" is a tad bit disingenuous and cheesy.

How does a CEO qualify as a hero? How many Indian CEOs do we consider as heroes? At best, they become part of our celebrity culture and are given the VIP treatment.

The article further states:

A Satya Nadella, who is from Manipal, would never have made it big in India since he is not from the IITs. But even IITians don’t flower much in an Indian corporate or academic environment; they leave India and prefer working with foreign firms.

So do cabbies and motel owners earning an honest living. It has to do with seeking a better life, just as villagers move to the cities. Red-tape and nepotism indeed act as barriers to opportunity, but has that stopped certain industries from throwing up talent?

It is almost moralistic to venerate a few businesses and sanctify them. Indians will applaud someone getting a top post, but will we applaud her or him for helping themselves to coffee without a peon scurrying in fright to get it?

Will we glorify if a 'hero' takes out the garbage and does the dishes? No. We are only interested in that nameplate, the pomp and grandeur we imagine goes with the post. Some might intellectualise it as talent being recognised when that is not the real purpose. How many analysts have discussed Nadella's role without bringing in some Indian trait that will change the way Microsoft looks? Perhaps some curry stains are mandatory to go with it?

To conflate this elevation with Nobel Prize winner Venkatraman Ramakrishnan makes no sense. He too had to go through this test by fire, and came across as someone who was dragged to the roots guillotine:

"Accident or not, I remain grateful to all the dedicated teachers I had. Others have said I have disowned my roots. Since 2002, I have come almost every year to India. In these visits, I have spent time on institute campuses giving lectures or talking to colleagues and students, and stayed in the campus guest house. I have not spent my time staying in fancy hotels and going sightseeing."

Back then, I had written:

Roots are not about giving lectures and staying at campuses. By going sightseeing you do not become less of an Indian. He is coming here on work in his professional capacity and has the audacity to talk about it as maintaining connections with his roots. He could have been going on lecture tours to Jalalabad, for all we care.

Was Nikki Haley merely going all mainstream when she registered her race as “white” in her voter registeration form in 2001 and it got noticed only ten years later? Is it typical expat behaviour that North Carolina’s governor made herself White?

The state’s Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian had said:

“Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her. When she registers to vote she says she is white.”

To get a breakup of different races is necessary for population statistics, but how does it count in the electoral process? The emphasis on differences only mark out territory.

Was Haley striving to do so by faking it? Some people of Indian origin tend to be quite attached to their ‘green cards’. It was and probably still is a dream realised. Their value increases in the home they have left. They are extremely conscious about what they perceive as the pecking order. The term coconut refers to their brown colour and whiteness of being or rather becoming.

Perhaps those like Haley are merely insecure and want to get upmarket socially, having earned their stars and stripes and with no apparent trace of origins left.

Such personal need reveals the larger truth. You cannot change your race but the change might do you a whole lot of good. Why is it so? It is this aspect that should be addressed, especially when there are so many voices against multiculturalism.

Satya Nadella is not in denial about his origins. But the Indian desperation to finger-point it is racist in a manner we might not even comprehend. This makes it all the more pathetic.

© Farzana Versey

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