Dallas area teen wins National Spelling Bee

Congratulations Karthik!

Though Texas doesn’t get all the glory! The National Geo Bee was won by a kid from Northern California.

Congratulations Venkat!

64 thoughts on “Dallas area teen wins National Spelling Bee”

  1. In my view this reflects badly, and not well, on Indian Americans (other South Asian Americans don’t seem to get their priorities this wrong). I suspect it has everything to do with what Slapstik referred to as thumb-rule based thinking (or some usage of the sort) among Indians.

    1. They are just as in love with Sabdalankaras as us. 🙂
      You can’t make a kid do anything unless they find a joy in it themselves. Otherwise, they are just nervous wrecks (at this level).

      It is unfair to say that an appreciation and interest in words themselves is against gaining critical thinking later in life.

      Congrats to Karthik Nemmani and Venkat Ranjan.

      1. You can make your kids do a lot of things. My parents made us do Hindustani Classical Music. It was part of the deal to live in their house.

      2. First of all, felicitations to Karthik and Venkat!

        I think these bee kids tend to not just be Indians but specifically South Indians. I’m still to see a Kaul, Mehra, Advani or Kohli in the list of winners. The only North Indian I could spot glancing through the list was Nupur Lala (1999). (Maybe 1-2 others, I haven’t looked very thoroughly)

        I think there are two layers to it. The fad in South Indian families largely to push kids to do well in spelling (which is, let’s face it, just a fad) and the actual commitment to a goal, training and competition aspect (which is a good cultural attribute and must be honed).

        Personally, I find spelling little more than classification and curve-fitting. One could train a machine to do it relatively easily. Besides, the art of spelling is an artifact in languages with terrible phoneme-code mapping and lots of loanwords (like English). It does not require much human creativity and can be mastered with diligence and basic pattern recognition.

        I may sound like a bloody curmudgeon at this point and do not want to take anything away from the terrific achievement of these bright kids, but I’d much rather they spent time abstracting the rules they train themselves with and code them up (a task of real creativity in my opinion). Anyway, well done kids!

        1. Slapstik,

          This is a little unfair. The talent for spelling is same as talent for perfect pitch. Are the parents providing resources? Yes, but if the kids show interest and talent, are you going to say no?

          People gravitate to what they are best at. Are you going to knock down a kid and their parents for getting into NBA or NFL the same way? Hockey mom (or Soccer mom) is a caricature in other cultures too. But people are still excited when their team wins Stanley cup or Olympics. Nobody is saying to a kid in gymnastics ( e.g, Fierce five) to go study spelling either.

          Do you think typical South Indians are going to have a natural advantage in NFL or what?

          Also, you underestimate the advantage of training in underlying skills of pattern recognition, memory and careful listening . Perhaps you don’t mind if these kids trained in Go and beat AlphaGo instead?

          You are equating domain with talent. Domain is only a medium to express a talent. That is why there are wins in Geo bee too.

          1. Violet, You have said it best in defense of national championship spelling bee contestants. I would recommend it as comment of the day on BP!

            P.S. I hope we do not have to go through this issue next year this time when another desi kid is expected to win spelling and geo bee. 🙂

          2. @Violet

            As I said I do *not* want to take anything away from their achievement. I think these kids are bright and terrific. Your characterization of my opinion being equivalent to “knocking down a kid and and their parents” for participating in the bee is a little too harsh, don’t you think?

            I’m merely saying that in my view the bee does not have much room for creativity. It has a lot of room for plenty of other important cognitive/moral aspects though: discipline, dedication, hard work, memory, confidence, stage presence etc.

          3. Slapstik,

            You had words like “fad” and “push kids”. Perhaps you didn’t mean to knock down kids, but I thought you tried to knock down parents, which implied that kids are pushovers.

            Given how much self-direction and dedication kids themselves show (even in things like “toddlers and tiaras”), I felt it was a harsh judgment on kids.

            I think creativity is orthogonal to any competitive domain (which is rigidly optimizing to maximize points).

            It is not like ice skaters have anymore creativity despite their song and dance routine, they are choreographed tightly (by coaches) to maximize their points.

            True creativity can’t be judged and given a medal. Didn’t most creative and original painters and poets die poor and unrecognized ?

            I am sorry if I sound too sensitive about this. I have seen parents of talented either put down or hyped too much

          4. Congrats to the kids and to the parents. This is no small achievement.
            I really like the illuminating debate here between Violet, Slapstik, Froginthewell and others.
            One question I want to pose to these folks (and others): As a parent (or future parent), how do you decide on a) Where to nudge your kids towards ? For example, should a kid spend hours studying spellings or is she better served mastering the piano, or practicing for the Math Olympiad or even some socializing (assuming a link with future leadership skills / EQ)? What can you do drive towards an optimal outcome? Let’s assume that the constraints for this optimization are: Career success, financial achievement, wellroundedness, happiness, EQ (to the extent that it can be influenced) b) How much should you even try to nudge /push a child? Some amount of guidance is needed, but will they find their own optimal eventually (assuming normal externalities) or should you actively try to drive outcomes for them?
            Hope this makes sense 🙂
            PS: I’m really happy to see the real smart folks returning / continuing to contribute, and that they were not completely/permanently put off by certain dynamics on this site. Please stay – Some of us are on this site only because of you guys

          5. @Violet

            I apologize. I had no such malicious intention I assure you.

            I also agree that competitiveness and goal-seeking behaviour are good cultural attributes to be promoted by parents. They are good explanatory factors for economic and social success later in life.

            However, creativity is extremely important too and not to be underrated (which regimen-obsessed Indian parents tend to do). Juggling both is easier said than done. But for parents to make sure that creativity of their kids isn’t snuffed out is the point I was trying to make (clearly terribly!).

        2. Satya,
          I think kids should be exposed to all kinds of different activities and then parents should be able to gauge what the kid’s interests are and where their natural talents lie. My parents sent me and my brother to soccer classes, dance classes, basketball, swimming etc. They found out pretty early that we were neither particularly athletic, nor did we care too much about team sports. On the other hand, as a child of two or three, I had evidenced an early musicality (I could follow along with Pandit Ajoy Chakravarthy on cassette tape and when someone sang along off pitch it clearly bothered me). So music was clearly going to be a thing. However, Hindustani Music was my parents’ influence. As someone who moved to the US at age 5, all I wanted to do was sing Disney songs and later Broadway songs. It was my parents who said “you can do that at school but at home you must also learn Indian music”. I also very early on showed an interest in theater and my parents let me participate in all school and community plays. My brother and I were also really into reading novels and were reading Jane Austen and Charles Dickens at the age of 10 (along with some trashy teen literature that I think the parents would have rather we not read).

          The only requirement in our home (asides from Hindustani Music) was academic success. I suppose I disappointed my parents with my lackluster grades in Math and Physics (because I just wasn’t interested and hated all sciency subjects). But I was lucky enough to have parents who said “Study what you want in college” and didn’t force me to become a Doctor or a Computer Scientist. Perhaps they were overcompensating because their own parents didn’t give them the option and made them go for safe professions.

          I would advise my own children to major in what they like and minor in something useful and job-related. A major in Drama and a minor in Music was perhaps not the best idea in retrospect, at least as far as employability is concerned.

          P.S. Kids also need time to play and to watch TV etc. Not every second outside of the school day can be heavily scheduled. I don’t think children of “Tiger Moms” are particularly happy.

      3. @Violet, as a completely different Kashmiri once wrote, and developed an entire theory to explain, “shabda-artha-sharIram tAvat kAvyam” + “budhaiH kAvya-tattva-vidbhiH kAvyasya AtmA dhvanir-iti saMjnitaH”. What gave life to those shabdAlaMkAras was their dhvani.

        Indians should pay more attention to Kashmiri wisdom :D.

        1. Actually, far be from me to say, you shouldn’t. We cannot manage ourselves properly let alone advise others with our “wisdom”. As another great Kashmiri wrote later about his countrymen:

          tad sAntvanakSaNe taistaiH pramAdaiH utthitaiH agAt
          desho vyAkultAm kRt shRam luNThiH ca aghaTotkTA

          (By the manifold mistakes which arose in the endeavour to conciliate them, i.e. Kashmiris, the country, i.e. Kashmir, fell into complete confusion and plundering became excessive)

  2. Great to see IA kids doing well on the Geo Bee as well. IAs are winning the Bees but they are also now doing time for white collar crime, so we hold onto some stereotypes and break others…

    On the US IMO team, there is usually one IA kid (on a team of six with ~1 European American sounding name and the rest Asian Americans).

    1. Two well known big time White Collar crime were Sri Lankans, Emil Savundranayagam and Raj Rajaratnam.

      The collapse of his Fire, Auto and Marine Insurance Company left about 400,000 motorists in the United Kingdom without coverage.

      As a post-war black marketeer, Savundra committed bribery and fraud on an international scale before settling in the UK to sell low-cost insurance in the fast-growing automotive market. By defaulting on mandatory securities, he funded a lavish lifestyle and travelled in fashionable circles.

      Born into a Tamil family of lawyers in Ceylon during the British Raj, Savundra grew up with a mixture of respect for and resentment of Britain. Although he served a brief commission in the Ceylon Engineers, he was refused entry into the Royal Air Force during the Second World War despite holding a pilot’s licence.


      Raj Rajaratnam. Personally I think he was just got caught in a quite common crime/practice in Wall Street, Insider Trading. The reason he got caught was because of suspicion of funding Terrorism, i.e. a USD 3.5 million donation to Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), a group whose assets were frozen by the USA due to its close connections to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). That enabled a wiretap.

      In an interview Raj says
      “There are two types of plea bargains. One is, you cooperate with the government. You finger 10 other people. The other is a plea bargain without cooperation.” The white defendants all pleaded without cooperating; they did not wear a wire. “The South Asians all did the plea bargain with fingering,” he notes sourly. “The Americans stood their ground. Every bloody Indian cooperated—Goel, Khan, Kumar.” He puts it down to “the insecurity of being an immigrant, lawyers bullying them into that position.”


      1. There was a BBC series ‘Scandals’ and one week was devoted to Emil Savundaranayagam.
        Once Robert Frost interviewed ES in front of audience which consisted of victims of his failed insurance company. He came out as so arrogant Frost refused to shake hands with him at the end which the etiquette demanded

    2. [razib – When I comment without logging in, my comments get held up for a long time. Wanted to see if it would be different when commenting while logged in; it is. From now I will try to comment while logged in.
      Also, looks like I don’t have posting privileges (don’t see it on the dashboard or here on the site(. May be I’m missing something?
      Feel free to delete this post and the last test one. Thanks ]

  3. Success in spelling bees is highly correlated with future achievement in professional fields such as medicine and investment. Feel happy for these kids.

    But a part of me also asks how much these smart brains could have done for India had we managed to retain their parents ….

    1. What incentives do you think would make people come back or not leave ?
      (Monetary incentives don’t seem to work. The PM’s scholarship scheme doesn’t have too many takers.)

      I’ve asked this question off a lot of my friends who are in grad school. They don’t really have any answers.

      One of my friends had initially planned to come back to India and join one of the IIT’s. But he now has an American girlfriend who doesn’t want to move to Asia (even though she is part Korean).

      Another friend might move back but only because he thinks professors in India don’t have to spend as much time writing grants.

      The trend apparently seems to be reversing:

      But I suspect that the numbers might have been exaggerated due to recency bias. A lot of high-skilled folks move abroad after working or trying their hands at startups in India for a few years.

      1. I moved back after living in the States for a decade, because there were family issues I thought I could help with (and parents getting older; I really didn’t like the idea of abandoning them.)

        This was not a factor in my decision to return, but the way I see it, it is virtually impossible for any Indian (even someone with graduate degrees in US universities) to aspire to US citizenship because of the green card quotas. I know friends (IIT graduates) who are languishing in the line a decade after they applied. It’s not even about immigration at this point; I had an application for a business visit visa held up for no apparent reason a few months ago (and if the are making it hard for me, who works for a prominent US-based company and have so much history, I can just imagine how hard it would be for the average Indian.)

        Anyway, given where immigration visa politics are heading, I think the brain drain situation will take care of itself in a few years, if it hasn’t reversed already. I don’t know much about the situation in other developed countries (I know Singapore has gotten very restrictive too), but I can’t imagine they are much more welcoming than the US. The formula that began in the early 90s, of going abroad to study and work and eventually get a green card, has ceased to work now. It’s time for Indians to think hard about staying home and helping make this country a better place to live in, as there are few to no escape valves left.

        1. Its a bit exasperating though. There’s tons of progress in certain fields and regression in others. Its possible to earn well as a salaried employee in large indian cities, do interesting work, and have a fairly international lifestyle (if thats one’s thing), all while being close to extended family and cultural roots. Also, there are thriving expat communities basically everywhere now so if one likes a varied social life, you are not limited to other Indians. If you have children, you can send them to alternative schools and such if you have misgivings about the educational system. These would all be compelling reasons to move back if it were not for the disastrous inescapable environmental degradation all around. Given that we are still a while away from population plateau and consumption per-capita is exploding, its hard to see a solution to the problem. Cities are choked with traffic, smog, untreated sewage, and unbearable noise levels. And our underdeveloped hinterlands don’t even have the saving grace of pristine landscapes. If there are well kept secret refugees to commune with nature in the northeast or southern coasts, don’t expect them to remain much longer. Sorry for the negativty! It occurs to me now that I’d love to read contributions from the BP regulars on what they make of environmental challenges in the subcontinent, as it relates to the economy, livelihoods, culture, aesthetics, spirituality, whatever.

          1. Girmit,

            You are preaching to the choir. I can’t stand the filth and the disorganization and the horrible aesthetics (badly designed and unfinished buildings and other infrastructure, just to name some examples) that our jugaad culture has produced. I miss the pristine landscapes that one can find at a stone’s throw from most places in America (especially on the West Coast.) I also happen to have a very un-Indian tendency to seek perfection in things rather than adopt the chalta hai attitude.

            But what are our options? If everyone who has the ability to think and evaluate and at least attempt to improve things tries to escape, how does anything improve in India (and other South Asian countries)? The people who remain will broadly fall into the following categories: (1) those who want to escape themselves, and (2) those who are apathetic towards their surroundings and can depend on remittances from relatives who have escaped, (3) a mass of people too poor and uneducated to be able to achieve anything at all.

            And as I mentioned above, with rich countries closing their borders, escape is going to get hard to impossible now.

          2. I would think there parts of rural India that would be quite nice. You would have to walk a few kilometers to get to such places.

            The US: its huge so much is pristine. In addition they moved the poor (white and black) into inner urban and decaying small towns. Then you have DWI and other laws that prevent some getting a driving license. So the beer drinking/druggies who probably would be throwing trash all over the place cant leave their neighborhood. Inter state public transport is extremely expensive.

            As inequality increases expect intolerance to grow in Europe and the US. Trump, Baltimore, Flint are a harbingers of the future. One better have the income to live in a rich neighborhood, with high property taxes/rents that keeps out the undesirables.

            Denmark too just banned the Burka.
            Denmark becomes the sixth European country to enact such a ban, after France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Austria. Bavaria in Germany, Catalonia in Spain and Ticino in Switzerland also have imposed regional burka bans, while Norway has tabled a law to ban burkas in public schools. The bans seemingly seek to restrict the proliferating expression of political Islam in Europe.


          3. Sereno, there are quite a few spots indeed, I’m being quite alarmist about it all. The thing is, we have to trek farther and farther each year to reach them. The locals have relinquished their custodianship of these places. India is a huge country and the bureaucracy of the forest department actually creates the conditions for resource exploitation by being such an open field to move accountability around. I wonder if Sri Lanka is different in this regard, are the people more accountable for their immediate surroundings in a more compact polity? During whatever short visits I’ve made it seemed to be the case, though I could be missing a ton of context.

          4. @Girmit
            Yes! You hit the nail on the head (at least for me personally).
            I left Delhi for Bangalore because of the pollution, though the latter is not too great either and the water has issues.

            As someone who wants to stay in India and build a business, I am still tempted to move abroad at times just for the clean air/water/food.

            But this is a problem we’ll need to find a solution to.

            As an aside, is your handle by any chance a reference to the indentured Indian labourers that went to Fiji etc from Bihar and Poorvanchal region ?

      2. People talking about cleaning, improving India as it is now are not recognizing the elephant in the room, the population explosion. Unchecked growth of people.

        1. I think growth is plateauing, especially outside BIMARU states. Cities feel very crowded because of daily influxes from the destitute countryside.

          But yes, population control advocacy must accompany other attempts at improvement. None of that demographic dividend nonsense.

        2. In addition to Population would be Education.
          I used to have a tee-shirt I made (mid 70’s) with the word “Popullution”

        3. That is starting to sound like Khmer Rouge propaganda. The old Malthusian bogey…

          It is dangerous nonsense.

          1. Is there any concrete non-hand-waving reason to believe that India’s population is above or below optimal? I have heard only emotion on the topic.

          2. @froginthewell

            Defining “optimal” for human life is a question of moral philosophy, not economics or science. And we do not have enough understanding of moral philosophy to answer such questions completely yet. However, we know that economic resource constraints really do not affect this optimal population size (assuming such an optimal can even be defined at all, i.e. is a well-posed problem).

            Optimality of an objective function is measured against some constraints, e.g. wealth, physical space etc. Yet that leaves out the crucial fact that human beings are sapient. We create knowledge (and therefore wealth), which is not a finite resource. Therefore, the “logic” of optimal population size based on finite wealth is evil nonsense, used by utopia-seekers of both the extreme Right and extreme Left.

          3. Let us assume the current level of knowledge.

            [Edit: I mean, because it unlikely to revolutionize in the next 20 years, say?]

        4. There is absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about India’s population growth. Remember that India has been a net exporter of food to the tune of $ 15-30 billion for nearly two decades now. And this is with desperately sub optimal agricultural policies from the productivity perspective.

          During the industrialization phase, the population of countries has increased by at least 5 times. For countries like England, the expansion was by a factor of 10. India is going to max out around 6-7 times (250 million to 1500 million).

          Another way of looking at it is this. What was the time taken to go from max fertility (usaully around 6) to replacement fertility (2.1-2.3) ? In the US and UK, this transition took nearly 100 years, in India it has taken around 50 years.

          The reasons for overcrowding in Indian cities are economic and political.

          Economic because there are enough rural areas which get hit by floods and drought to drive distress migration. I remember reading that about half of Mumbai’s slum dwellers were distress migrants.

          Political because the electorate is rural dominated, and spending money on urban infrastructure effectively pays negative political dividends.

          And this last point ties into what girmit and numinous were mentioning. Better urban governance in India will arrive quite incrementally, perhaps earlier in states like Goa, Delhi, MH and GJ (TN?). Two possible solutions:

          1) Urban areas negotiate control of urban adminstration. This way the rural votebank’s access to urban revenue is left untouched, but the urban areas at least get to spend the chunk of money they get however they want, instead of being at the mercy of the CM.

          2) Dramatic expansion of rural non-agricultural economy, increase in tax payer base and a decrease in the political power of landed castes.

          1. Its not only a question of population growth being out of the ordinary, or whether we would muster the resources to support future populations. In the latter case I’m certain we would, in the least because the sustained advancements in agronomy and plant genetics by the most advanced societies would accrue to India as well. So its not a question of survival but of whether this space constrained future, one which would require more mediation of the commons by political institutions, and one where we would be more alienated from nature than we are at present is the something to choose deliberately. Humans are incredibly adaptable of course and our descendants will find these concerns mistaken, accepting whatever sacrifices in exchange for the many enhancements that our period lacks, but I think its quite normal to want to preserve what one feels are the highest things in our existence like the connection to our primal wilderness. Its interesting to me that traditionalists in India are not very concerned with the preservation of the landscape. Its a generalization of course, there must be many exceptions, but its the overall sentiment I gather.

          2. “Remember that India has been a net exporter of food to the tune of $ 15-30 billion for nearly two decades now.”

            This food should rightly go to the poor in India. The question is how many in India are below poverty line and do not have the proverbial three meals a day. About the population it is not whether the present level is optimum. Whether the present population growth rate is optimum. At least a nation should have a population policy.

          3. girmit, I agree with your concerns. These questions have plagued us for quite a while now, and we havent really found any workable solutions.

          4. @girmit:

            1. It is time to start getting worried about *low* fertility in some parts of India. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have TFR’s between 1.6 and 1.7, Karnataka 1.84, AP and Telangana around 1.8. South Indian states are on the way to ending up with an aging and shrinking population like Japan and various European countries, without the development and capabilities that might be helping those countries pull on. So I actually do agree with Slapstik that this is dangerous Malthusian bogey, for possibly different reasons from his.

            2. As more people migrate to the cities, the cities might expand a bit, but the rest of India will be depopulated, leaving enough scope for “primal wilderness”. My understanding is that India’s cover has now actually started slightly increasing.

            3. Your perceptions might be partly influenced by not actual population issues, but how poorly we manage our cities. Indian cities need to expand in size since they have a few times as much population density as Tokyo, but are far smaller in size than Tokyo, and then they also need to be managed better. Once that is done, your perception may well change.

  4. Thank the lord I am an American Citizen. I got it through my mother who got a Green Card sitting at home in Pakistan simply for being a Medical Doctor.

    Otherwise, I’d be permanently stuck in the hellhole that is South Asia.

      1. Thank you, I am intimately familiar with “West Side Story” and most other American Musical Theater. I grew up in the States and also was a regular performer in school plays. My degree is in Theater.

        Bernardo says “I want to go back to San Juan” and Anita replies “I know a boat you can get on”. He says “Everyone there will give big cheer!” and she replies “Everyone there will have moved here!”

        There are lines at US Embassies in all South Asian countries. Anyone who is lucky enough to get out gets out. Failing that, people move to Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

  5. “with rich countries closing their borders, escape is going to get hard to impossible now.”

    I dont think the doors will ever really close for folks like the parents of these high achieving kids. Its just going to a get a little tougher, you will see more Indians doing PhDs since that makes getting a Green Card a bit easier. I know Iranians who have a PhD from Iran, and do one more in the US. They know that getting a PhD is critical to them getting residency.

    1. Vikram,

      I was talking specifically about Indians. Because of the green card quota caps, the backlog currently is more than a decade long even for people with Graduate degrees from good US universities. Getting a PhD is no guarantee of a quick green card either, unless you are a superstar.

      This situation applies uniquely to Indians at this point. Also to Chinese, and maybe Mexicans and Filipinos, but to lesser extents. An Iranian with a US PhD, or even a Masters, will get a green card within a couple of years. For an Indian, unless one has close family with US citizenship, there’s no more American dream.

        1. They arent. In a single year, citizens from a single country cannot get more than 7% of all Green Cards in any specific category. Since the overwhelming majority of employment green card applicants are Indians (more than 70%), this quota gets full for Indians every year.

          Applicants from other countries are well below the 7% mark, and so they have no hassles in getting a Green Card, provided they have a PhD.

          But its much, much harder for the average Iranian to get hired than Indian. Indians are fluent in English, do not carry the same national security concerns and have entrenched networks in American companies now.

      1. Numinous, where there is a will there is a way. If one has a PhD, EB1 B Green card isnt that hard to get (its the EB1 A which is the superstar Green Card). EB1 B usually takes around 2 years, and the wife can do a quick Master’s while the visa is getting processed. The bulk of Indian PhD holders I know are following this route.

        In any case, within the broader question, what matters is the *will* to immigrate. If not the US, some other country (Canada, Australia, Germany etc) will emerge as alternatives.

        1. Vikram,

          I’m aware of those options. But now even the EB1 is being overloaded (or abused, depending on your perspective). The Trump election is also a serious game changer. Cancellation of spouses’ ability to work means that now, instead of waiting a few years in unemployment, one might have to wait decades. This is impacting peoples’ choices.

          Anyway, as you say, one who is desperate enough will find a way. But those ways are decreasing. And I hope that will make people realize that they ought to be thinking about the future of their societies, and not solely on their personal careers.

  6. “There are lines at US Embassies in all South Asian countries.”

    If these lines are filled with people from genuinely poor backgrounds, women, OBCs/SCs and religious minorities, I welcome it. All of these groups need a release from the hold that dominant caste males have over our politics, and upper caste males over our culture and economy.

    However, the migration of IIT, IIM and other such elite, highly trained persons is terrible for India as well for these young people. It breaks my heart to see an intelligent young Indians spend their youth building machine learning models for Google ad prediction, when they could have used their talent and energy to build businesses and create jobs in India. Or improve our legal and education system.

    America prospered because the children of its aristocrats and landed elites deployed their economic and social privilege to create the next generation of businesses (Ford, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Colgate, Heinz) and institutions (Stanford, Cornell, Yale).

    Nobody is really doing this in India apart from the Gujaratis, it is quite amazing that out of all the Indian communities, only they seem to have figured out the larger changes panning out since the ascendance of Western Europe.

    1. If your country is filled with majoritarianism and communalism, than obviously any rational person is going to want to move to a saner country. For god’s sake ,in Bharat, Muslims are getting lynched for eating beef. You people have real problems.

      Even Pakistanis who have money and power in Pakistan want to get a second nationality for the day that the Islamists take over (which is not an impossible outcome). Caste is your issue and it doesn’t apply to non-Hindu countries.

      It is my impression that the only Indians and Pakistanis who can move to the US are those with good English skills and some type of decent higher education. The servant classes move to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Saudi, where they can become drivers and laborers. Rich countries only want the educated (as they should–from their perspective, the uneducated would only be a burden to the State). Most Desis going abroad are going for better economic opportunities and better quality of life.

      We need to recognize the West is better at some things. If your country sucks, people with the option are not going to want to live there. People without the option of course have no choice and will continue to live in Pakistan or India. If you bring true secularism and equality to your country, people won’t leave. Hindu Rashtras and “Islamic Republics” will drive people to the US embassy.

  7. hoipolloi said,
    “This food should rightly go to the poor in India.”

    Apart from property rights issues, this would only add to the ranks of the poor and increase the miseries of those who are already poor. Pumping all the exported rice into the domestic market will not decrease the already low prices of rice, and will push even more farmers out of business. This will add to the already uncertain political and economic climate.

    Indian masses are poor because the elites fail to create decent jobs, not because of food exports policy. If anything, the government routinely terrorizes farmers with export controls and this has to stop.

    1. Vikram, thanks for that meaningful reply. The removal of poverty, job creation, food supply are tied together. I definitely don’t mean population on welfare. If only people have gainful employment, if only the birth rate of population is under control, that exported food could have been used domestically. Export makes sense if it is done after every body has eaten 3 meals. Even when there were limited famines in my recollection, India used to export food items for foreign exchange.

  8. @Prats, you asked, “What incentives do you think would make people come back or not leave ?”

    I think we need to change people’s role models. Our youth have to realize that from the point of view of the country and the society Nitin Gondse’s (http://www.theweekendleader.com/Success/2721/failures-aren-t-final.html) are far more worthy of emulation than the Sundar Pichai’s and Satya Nadella’s.

    Once they know this, a good chunk will still go abroad, because lets face it, the West is richer and has superior institutions, and thats not changing anytime soon. But a larger chunk than what we have currently will build businesses in India rather than churn out code in the Silicon Valley.

    16% of IIT grads became entreprenuers in till 1976, this number has dropped to 5% today. If we had even maintained that 16% number, we are looking at 8000 high quality business builders, and a substantial boost to our economy.

    1. Vikram, your point is well made. At one time only the cream of the crop from educational institutions in India used to come to U.S. and get back to India and they used to carry enormous prestige as foreign returned. Now a mix of graduates end up as the following:

      Desi IT graduate in U.S. and Europe = Knowledge worker = Knowledge coolie

    2. @Vikram
      That’s interesting. Do you have a source for that 5% number ?
      I would think that the number should be higher, at least for my cohort (got into college in 2009) because of the easier availability of venture funding.

      And I do completely agree that we need to change our role models.

      Perhaps I am wrong in expecting researchers like my friends coming back. We need to have a lower time preference.
      The alternate route would be – more smart people stay in India, build businesses, invest profits in research and/or institution building. So that the next generation of researchers have enough opportunities to stay in India.

      IMO, India currently does not even have the capacity to absorb the little (in per capita terms) talent it produces.

      1. The guy building machine learning models for Google ads would most likely have been running SQL queries had he stayed back here.

      2. A lot of IITs have departments like aerospace engineering, while there are hardly any private companies working in this domain. Not to mention stupid government regulations that prohibit use of drones and such, limiting the ability to startup. So a grad either has to go abroad or take up any decent job that comes his/her way, which would most likely be a very medium skilled business analytics role.

        1. We certainly need more Lalit Modis than Virat Kohlis at this point.

          Pithy! Choices are often bad, but given what they are, I agree completely.

        2. @Vikram

          Thank you for that illuminating report on IIT Alums.

          The graph on page-19 is particularly interesting. The percentage of alumni from upper economic group seems to be keeping steady, while the middle group is losing to lower group. Do you think this has to do with inaccurate delineations between the economic groups? Otherwise, is the upper economic group accessing test-prep in a disproportionate fashion? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

          “IIT undergraduates tend to be more successful than graduates” – Not substantiated- on page- 28 was also a surprising result!

  9. Vikram, a huge percentage of American start ups have IIT co-founders. IITs dominate executive (C) level, SVP level, VP level and director level positions in large multinational businesses headquartered all over the world.

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