Briefs/ The Rapid Rise of Digital India/ Indians Included in TIME100/AI/ Book Matters.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, & WHY
Arjun Gupta is chair of the newly formed, 14-member federal Investment Capital Advisory Committee (ICAC). It was set up to serve as an independent advisor to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Gupta, the founder of TeleSoft Partners, is a Himalayan mountaineer who has also been on the 100th anniversary ski expeditions to the North and South Poles. He’s an alum of St. Stephen’s College, WSU, and Stanford.
Sejal Mehta is joining Atlanta-based South Arts as a member of its Board of Directors. This regional nonprofit supports artists and organizations while strengthening local communities. Mehta, an attorney who has worked in New York and North Carolina, is married to Jay Chaudhuri, a Democratic state senator in North Carolina, where Mehta serves on other boards in the arts sector. She is the sister of author Suketu Mehta.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the cricket skipper who led the Mumbai Indians to victory this year in the inaugural Indian Women’s Premier League championship, is on the 2023 TIME 100 Next list. In a 2017 World Cup match against Australia, she hit 171 not out off 115 balls. The other Indians on the list are architect Vinu Daniel, scientist Nabarun Dasgupta, patient rights activist Nandita Venkatesan, and entrepreneur Samir Goel.
Sanjay Mehrotra is the CEO of Micron Technology, a semiconductor manufacturing company with an annual revenue of $30+ billion. Idaho-based Micron is investing $2.75 billion in India, where a microchip manufacturing plant in Sanand, Gujarat, will most likely become operational by 2024. In 2011, Mehrotra—a Kanpur native who studied at BITS Pilani, UC Berkeley, and Stanford—founded SanDisk, which was acquired in 2016.
Jassi Bindra, who co-owns and is executive chef at Amrina, a restaurant in suburban Houston, won the grand prize on a recent episode of Food Network’s Chopped series. He defeated three other contenders to win $10,000 for a three-course meal that included grilled short ribs with a pea green salad and Cola-coconut sauce, plated with a liquid egg mousse. Before opening Amrina last year, he worked at Punjab Grill in Washington, D.C.
Shankari Chandran won the 2023 Miles Franklin Literary Award, said to be Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. Now worth AUD 60,000, the prize was first awarded in 1957. Chandran’s Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, picked from six shortlisted novels, explores the impact of dislocation and the recreation of communities. Chandran, who grew up in Canberra, worked as a social justice lawyer in London for a decade.
Bhumi Purohit won the 2023 William Anderson Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA). It’s awarded for the best dissertation in the general field of federalism or intergovernmental relations, state, and local politics. Her research focuses on the barriers women face in India when it comes to political representation and public service delivery. Purohit, who earned her PhD from UC Berkeley, teaches at Georgetown.
S. S. Rajamouli, the film director and screenwriter, is one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2023. His superhits include RRR and the two Baahubali movies. He’s been dubbed a pioneer, which is one of six categories. South Asians included in the other categories are actor Shah Rukh Khan, author Salman Rushdie, writer and activist Padma Lakshmi, and Sherry Rahman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change.
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THE RAPID RISE OF DIGITAL INDIA
India’s infrastructure has improved notably in recent years, with roads, airports, railways, and power stations being some of the visible symbols of this progress. But the most impressive gains have been in DPI (digital public infrastructure). Not so surprising, given the success of Aadhaar (the 12-digit “social security” number issued to every Indian citizen) and the growth of internet usage among people who need nothing more than a cheap cell phone to access it. The internet reaches over 881 million people in India, and only China has more users. “DPI acts as a connective platform layer, offering registries for the unique ID of people, payments infrastructure, data exchange, consent networks, and so forth,” notes Bhaskar Chakravorti in Harvard Business Review. He’s the dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School at Tufts.
Cash was dominant not long ago, but that’s been flipped in the formal and informal sectors. In just one month (January) this year, he points out, there were eight billion digital transactions involving 300 million people and 50 million merchants, with a total value of almost $200 billion. Everything has gone digital—payments, records, classes, listings, permits, instructions, certificates, etc. It’s not China but India that came first in 2022 for the number of digital payments (89.5 million transactions), based on data released by MyGovIndia. At the G-20 summit, India highlighted this progress with a Digital India experience zone, where delegates got a modest payment—digitally, of course—for trying out the applications.
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INDIANS INCLUDED IN TIME100/AI
What’s most striking about the Indian-origin innovators, shapers, and thinkers picked for the first-ever Artificial Intelligence list put out by Time magazine is that they’re relatively young. Makes sense—because AI is a relatively young (and fast-growing) field. The youngest one, Sneha Renaur, is just 18. She founded Encode Justice, an AI-focused and youth-led group that helped to defeat a California ballot measure which would have replaced cash bail with a risk-based algorithm. And now the 800-member group spread across 30 nations is focusing on other initiatives to bring about positive change. Others in this category include Sarah Chander, senior policy advisor for European Digital Rights, and Wadhwani AI’s Romesh and Sunil Wadhwani, who’re using AI to tackle multiple challenges in the Global South. Only one category, Leaders, doesn’t have any South Asians. There are three Indians in the Innovators category. Manu Chopra is the founding CEO of Karya, a nonprofit that’s currently collecting overlooked datasets of Indian languages that will be used for building AI systems.
Tushita Gupta, CTO and cofounder of Refiberd, is using AI to cut down the waste and environmental problems caused by discarded textile products. The California-based company facilitates recycling and donations. Neal Khosla, CEO and cofounder of Curai, is the son of the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. This AI-assisted telehealth startup focuses on visual care. Among Thinkers, we have Rumman Chowdhury, CEO and cofounder of Humane Intelligence; Pushmeet Kohli, VP of Research, Google DeepMind; Kalika Bali, principal researcher, Microsoft Research India; Arvind Narayanan, professor of computer science at Princeton; Sayash Kapoor, PhD candidate in computer science at Princeton; and Shakir Mohamed, research director, Google DeepMind, and cofounder of Deep Learning Indaba.
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The Best Possible Experience: Stories (Pantheon), by Nishanth Injam. In the title story of this widely praised debut, an enterprising guide with a crushing secret goes to great lengths to give tourists in Goa the “best possible experience,” so that he can provide the best possible life to his motherless boy. The other ten stories also have characters who’re quirky, touching, and often funny. Sometimes, as when an Indian couple discovers that their son has invited a white boy to lunch, the humor turns into farce, though in a good way. Then there’s the student who, on his first day in America, is appalled that he has to use toilet paper instead of a bidet. “What has exile done?” asks a character in another story. “It has taken everything I had in return for the idea of a home far, far away.” One story appeared in The Georgia Review and The Best American Magazine Writing 2022. Injam, a software engineer, earned his MFA from the University of Michigan.
They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies That Raised Us (Crown), by Prachi Gupta. Like memoirist Tara Westover, whose searing, bestselling Educated focuses on her family and the Mormon community, Gupta is unsparing in her examination of family and community, which happens to be an Indian American community that feels the pressure to achieve “model minority” success no matter what the price in terms of mental health and relationships. She writes about abuse, family breakdown, and tragedy—but also goes beyond her personal story to add context and warn readers about self-serving myths that can become a trap. She’d planned to write her story—addressed to her mother, unusually—as a novel, only to realize that she needed to be honest to make a difference. “Gupta blasts through the imprisoning phrase Log kya kahenge—‘What will people say?’—and brings us into her life and her home with awe-inspiring courage, nuance, and intelligence,” says novelist Diksha Basu. Gupta has written for leading publications in the U.S.
Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Imposter Syndrome (Viking), by Aparna Nancherla. Describing herself as a “general silly billy,” Nancherla says her sense of humor can be like trying a wine that one didn’t order. How? Because it’s “dry, existential, and absurd, with notes of uncalled-for whimsy.” Born to immigrant parents from Hyderabad, India, Nancherla, who started as a comedian in 2006, often turns to her mental health challenges for inspiration and material. But her range is wide, both as a writer/performer and as a voice actor (one gig involved being the voice of a teenage horse). In this essay collection, which she wrote while taking a much-needed break from standup shows, she explores an affliction—imposter syndrome—that makes her feel like a fraud. One example is her mock resume. Under special skills, she adds: “Habitually late in meeting: people, deadlines, expectations. Triple threat.” Mindy Kaling calls the book “hilarious.”
Advika and the Hollywood Wives (Grand Central Publishing), Kirthana Ramisetti. This second novel by Ramisetti, coming after her Dava Shastri’s Last Day, will appeal to readers looking for a cinematic tale that’s glitzy, soapy, and naughty. It’s from an author and former entertainment journalist who “has a knack for the intriguing, propulsive kind of writing that had us sneaking our mother’s paperbacks as teens,” according to Priyanka Mattoo. Struggling screenwriter Advika Srinivasan, having lost a twin sister, is not doing well personally or professionally. But then, at a Hollywood event where she’s bartending, she meets a highly successful film producer, who is four decades older but who can open doors for her. Their relationship—personal, not professional—takes an unexpected turn when the producer’s first wife dies. Her will stipulates that “Julian’s latest child bride”—who is none other than Advika—will get a single reel and $1 million, but on one condition. Advika would first have to divorce Julian. Clearly, this marriage was not made in heaven.
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