From Salman Rushdie to A. R. Rahman, from Indra Nooyi to Amartya Sen, we have a list of ten Indians in this piece who have transcended boundaries and have made their mark on the global stage with their brilliance, genius, tenacity and dedication. In doing so, one hopes that they’ve inspired the next generation of achievers to follow in their wake.
With the increase of globalisation, the number of Indians out there on the global stage in prominent positions in different fields has gone up. As more and more Indians move overseas for education and career, and indeed, as more and more ‘home grown’ Indians get opportunities for good quality education and jobs, we’re seeing a rise in the number of significant contributions made to the world by people of Indian origin.
In this piece, we look at just a few of these people who are making India proud on the global stage.
1. Narinder Singh Kapany
Never heard of him? That’s par for the course, because Narinder was included in the list of seven ‘unsung heroes’ by Fortune magazine in their ‘Businessmen of the century’ issue. So if he’s unsung in his own field, of course you’ve not heard of him. He is one of the founders of fibre optics, and he has revolutionised the way information is transmitted today. Kapany wears different hats, as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and scholar. He likes maintaining a low key profile, and remains behind the scenes.
2. Salman Rushdie
Whether you read books or not, you must have heard of Salman Rushdie. Rushdie won the Booker Prize for his ‘Midnight’s Children’ way back in 1981, when the digital age was a good two decades away from Indian consciousness. He was therefore one of the pioneers of Indian literature crossing the borders and making a name for itself on the world stage. He also won the ‘Booker of the Bookers’ prize in 1993 for the same novel. He is probably on his way to winning a Nobel Prize at some point in his career, but even without that, he’s enough of a household name around the world to warrant being on this list.
3. Amartya Sen
A Nobel Laureate in Economics, Amartya Sen’s biggest contributions have been in the fields of welfare economics, social choice theory, economic and social justice, economic theories of famine, and indices of the measure of well-being of developing countries. Born in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, he is the chancellor at Nalanda University and is also a Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He is also internationally acclaimed for his writing. His most famous book is aptly titled The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity.
4. Vinod Khosla
A veritable giant in the early Silicon Valley wave. Vinod Khosla made his name by co-founding Sun Microsystems, the company that created the Java programming language and Network File System. He was born in Delhi and he attended the Indian Institute of Technology in the city. Khosla is one of those billionaires who gives away a lot of his wealth; in fact, he has pledged $450 million of his wealth to green initiatives like ethanol factories, solar power etc. This has made him popular in the global media.
5. Venkataraman Ramakrishnan
Another of those lesser-known scientists who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009, along with Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. His great contribution to science has also won for him the second most prestigious civilian award in India, the Padma Vibhushan. He is an elite member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
6. Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India, and she was the first Indian-American astronaut and she was also the first Indian woman in space. She began her career at NASA in 1988, and over her career, she spent 30 days, 14 hours and 54 minutes in space. In 2003, she was killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster along with six other crew members. India’s first weather satellite was named ‘Kalpana – 1’ in her honour.
7. Lakshmi Mittal
Mittal is the richest Indian in the world. He is the chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel-making company. He has regularly featured in ‘most influential’ and ‘most powerful’ lists in recent times. Born in Sadulpur, Rajasthan, his education background is that of a commerce degree from St Xavier’s College, Kolkata. He is an independent director at Goldman Sachs, and his story is often quoted to be a typical rags-to-riches story.
8. Indra Nooyi
Nooyi is the chairperson and CEO of PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food and beverage business by revenue. The Chennai-born lady has featured on most ‘Influential Women’ lists that are out there, but she has blogged about still trying to have it all and striking a good balance between work and life. Ever since she has become the CFO of PepsiCo in 2000, annual revenues have risen 72% and net profit has doubled.
9. AR Rahman
Another Chennai-based Indian, but who has made waves in the field of music. Not only does Rahman enjoy musical godhood status in India, but his notes and consistent brilliance has found willing listeners all around the world. Rahman won India its only Oscar when he was awarded for his song, Jai Ho. He has performed at the White House and also in 2010 at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. From Western Classical to Indian Traditional to Sufi mysticism, his music encompasses all, and he has often been called Mozart of the East.
10. C. K. Prahlad
Renowned as one of the most influential business thinkers in the world, Prahlad was the professor of Corporate Strategy at University of Michigan. Born in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, he became established as a business guru when he helped Philips in reconstruction just as it was on the verge of collapse. He was also a prominent writer until his death in 2010 and had written many books like The Future of Competition and The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits.