The smart Indian gene…

Lets admit to one thing without much of an argument, we Indians are a smart race. Test us mentally and we can rise to the challenge. Test us physically and that would be a different matter and would require a different discussion, but for now let us stick to the mental side of things. Genetically we are an aciculate lot. Our razor sharp brain cuts through a myriad cross sections of international boundaries and capitulates itself to positions of crowning glory. Little wonder that the world’s sharpest brains belong to the Indian lineage and undoubtedly it is a matter of great pride. Internationally renowned Scientists, Doctors, Engineers, Corporate leaders and even kids who win the spelling bee contests on either side of the Atlantic wear the glorious tawny skin and flash a dazzling white smile.

And after having spent time in a largely inward looking Australian society where the average Aussie’s world revolves around his beer, babe and barbecue, I concluded quite early on that we Indians can intellectually corner the Aussie in a flash. I can also safely conclude that we Indians are far sharper than the Chinese as well, we are crackerjacks, an ingenious lot! Yes, we are certainly not as efficient as the Chinese but we are sharper. The average Chinese is process driven, try taking one arrow out of his meticulously planned thinking and he will be lost trying to find himself. If the Chinese can go from A to D, via B and C, the Indian can jump to D, bypassing B and C altogether, we are fabulous at devising short cuts, we may even spend slightly more time getting to D than the Chinese, but we certainly don’t have as many manufacturing defects as them. A Sampath or a Samar who is forced to call himself Sam at the other end of a line in a call centre in Chennai or Gurgaon,speaks better ( politely and grammatically ), understands with crystal clarity and would provide a quicker solution to your credit card issue than a Sam from San Francisco or a Samsung from Hong Kong.

The Caucasian until roughly a decade ago had happily concluded, that India is a land of snake charmers and bearded fakirs at every nook and corner performing the great Indian rope trick, while smoking dope in the backdrop of wispy Himalayas as dead buffaloes floated down the Ganges. A la Merchant Ivory production that was being presented to the alien via Hollywood, ABC and BBC documentaries. Reality hit the Caucasian when he was retrenched and Sampath was performing his white-collar job five thousand miles away for a fraction of the cost. Sam, who until that point was content with watching the San Francisco Giants and educating himself by googling on the statistics of his team’s performance in the national league googled “ INDIA” for the first time in the late 90’s. Thus began a newfound respect, envy and even anger against India’s Sampath. Not only had Sampath taken Sam’s job to India, but Sampath’s brother had also become Sam’s neighbour in downtown San Francisco. The ‘Sampath’ invasion had begun.

Young Indians continue to shine and glow. Shantanu Gangwar a seventeen-year-old boy studying in DPS, RK Puram has very recently invented a ‘smart stick’ for the visually impaired. Shantanu has fitted the walking stick with infrared sensors that can detect any obstacle or hazard in an individual’s path and alert him. Shantanu has been accorded the prestigious “ inventions” award from the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR ) for his smart invention. How brilliant is this seventeen year old for devising this?

There are countless more examples of smart Indians, including a TOI report today that stated New York University’s Srinivasa SR Vardhan, Purdue University’s Rakesh Agarwal, and North Carolina State Univeristy’s B Jayant Baliga are among the select dozen named by President Obama to receive the National Medal of Science, and for Technology and Innovation, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S government on scientists, engineers and inventors.

And then needless to conclude, there are our Indians politicians who are so smart, that their brains would make a fine research subject altogether. Our politicians like young Shantanu are smart inventors. Inventing new ways to fool visually impaired us. Take Dayanidhi Maran for example, he who had 323 telephone lines linking his house in the posh Boat club area to his brother’s television company ( Sun TV ) via a dedicated underground cable. Try asking him what his telephone number is, and I can bet you he is so extraordinarily brilliant, he will give you his three hundred plus numbers in under three minutes. You will be impressed.


37 Responses to “The smart Indian gene…”

  1. Sharmila,

    This is it? Who says this is racist? When did the word “Indian” change from a country’s citizenry to a race?

    Its a credit to your broad generous outlook that inspite of being a Tamilian and an NRI, you are able to sweep aside all the plural stereotypes of castes, creeds, religions, languages and other divisions that exist in our country and used one common denominator called “Indian”.

    But, hey, you also have a darker side to your sense of humor.

    See, the fact that Obama chose a handful of Indians doesn’t say much about his own smartness. A patriotic ‘racist’ American might call it discrimination. It may hurt his ‘native’ pride, you know. Or it may stir the raw emotions of an Aussie who is confused over his preference for a Chinese, a Filipino or an Indian to the native Aborigine!

    Egad! So much noise over such a trivial issue!

    I think it is the word ‘gene’ that triggers the ‘racist’ program in some people’s mind-sets, like a sympathetic resonance of something one is aware of and resists indulgence.

    Indian is not a race. And in a literal non-humorous sense there can be no such thing as an Indian gene.

    But I do believe in races, though I am not a racist. For instance, I wouldn’t have married someone who is not a human being. I find it difficult to communicate with races that are not human. I can’t sing like a parrot or roar like a large cat.

    I know a few who are comfortable with monkeys, specially when the monkey speaks English and sounds intelligent.

    On the downside, I do believe in the ancient caste system. I believe in pedigrees of girls whom boys should marry and vice versa. I believe that all men and women are not equal. Some genes are better than others. I don’t care if medical science begs to differ. But thats only me.

    There are different ways of discriminating people. One way is as good as others. Like people are called Atheists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Nigers etc. We got this new administrative tool from the Brits, remember? During the days of the empire…

    • Oops.. forgot to toggle the ‘notify me’ switch.. here goes..

    • Thanks a lot Reader for understanding the blog exactly the way it was meant to, minus the so called racist bullshit and actually understanding the reason for the humor. I am pasting this comment of yours on the TOI blog, if you don’t mind. The fact that I called my countrymen Indian is indicative of many things as you rightly say.

  2. A word about smartness.. but later in the evening when I get back from the office to my home base.. my word is usually several paragraphs… 🙂

  3. About smartness:

    Back in the late seventies I was a reasonably good hockey player. I say ‘reasonably’ because our team could only beat opposition teams of local policemen and the dopey cadets of the National Defense Academy. These armed forces guys are all brawn and no brains.

    Once, we beat the Pune Police by a margin of 6-1. Of the six, I scored 4, being one of the forwards. I was rewarded with a certificate and a brand new hockey stick by a rather heavily moustached assistant commissioner of police.

    He was quite decent as we realized later when the snacks and drinks came around. He called me up from the crowd and asked me about my parents, my school and general details. When I told him my parents’ names he quickly exchanged his phone number for mine and asked me to give his regards to them.

    Personally, I wouldn’t have bothered to remember his number. I was too young to realize that an ACP was quite high up in the pecking order. But remembering that number came to my rescue a few months later, which I’ll describe some other time if it comes up.

    Coming to this smartness thingy, I returned home that day feeling pretty good about myself. I was singing songs all the way back, riding my bicycle casually and avoiding the occassional pig in a rather friendly manner.

    I entered my room, threw the shoes on the table, the socks on the bed, and went with the new stick to the kitchen where, as I expected my mom, was making chapaties.

    “Hullo, hullo, hullo, hullo, hullo” I said, adding one more, “Hullo’ to just make myself clear.

    “You are stinking like a pig!” She said lovingly, “Go take a bath”

    “Yea, listen” I said, “look what I got today! A new hockey”

    “Never mind your new hockey. Go wash your face first. Get out!”

    “But my face IS clean! I was playing hockey not collecting cow-dung”

    “Don’t get smart with me. Go!” And so I did. But not to the wash room. I went to my dad’s study.

    “Dad! Look I got a new stick!”

    “You stink like a rat! Go and take a shower!”

    If you notice, my parents always had this problem. They never came to agree on whether I was a pig or a rat.

    “I am clean. I just used the towel”

    “Keep your smartness out of the house. Now go and wash yourself and that towel”

    And so, I left him and went to my brothers and sister, and you would be right if you guessed that I got the same response. All of them wanted me to keep my smartness to myself and visit the wash room.

    The moral of the story is: In Indian homes smartness is something that is specifically part of how we deal with people outside the house.

    At home, you are free to say anything because no one listens to you, you are free to do anything because no one watches you and you can think anything because no one wants to know! Smartness is not required at home.

    • About how I had the occassion to use the ACP’s phone number, some 6 months later:

      I was playing snooker in the billiards room at Poona Club, one of the most elitist club in the city.

      Following some altercation, I flung a ball at one of my friends.

      There is something you must know about billiard balls. In those days the best ones were about 1 1/2 inches spheres made from pure ivory, pretty tough and heavy. When I sent that missile at the target, it would have hit him neatly on the left shoulder had he just stood still for a fraction of a second.

      But ofcourse he didn’t do that. Like the amateur he was at the game on the table, he was a complete novice at ducking missiles. Instead of darting out of the way, (if he was not feeling upto it I mean), he bent his knees square and took the shot straight on his lower jaw.

      That sent him rolling down, and then before I knew what is happening he was driven to the cantonment hospital where a rather droll constable began to ask me for a statement.

      I said it was an accident. He was not impressed. The injured chap was the son of a prominent city businessman. They don’t have accidents. It is a conspiracy.

      I took a deep breath and explained the whole scene.

      “Baba, we were playing snooker. Snooker maalum? Table, balls, stick. I threw the ball and he did not duck. See?”

      He did not see. So, finally I called up the ACPs number.

      His wife took the call.

      “Aunty, ” I said, politely, “Me!”


      “I am calling from the hospital. Sir is their?”

      “Hang on”

      Presently he came on the line and I explained the scene.

      “Its not my mistake. He didn’t duck properly”

      “Okay. Okay” he said, “Call the constable”

      A few minutes later I was in the ward with my friend and we discussed in detail how to duck missiles…

  4. Aishwarya Says:

    Rikin Gandhi

    A young Indian-origin aerospace engineer from the US stumbled upon rural India for the first time in his life. He was so taken up by it, he decided to stay.

    Rikin Gandhi, 29, CEO of Delhi-based Digital Green, is one of the three of Indian-origin people who made it to the annual list of young innovators published by the Technological Review magazine.
    The nonprofit Digital Green, which began in 2006 at Microsoft Research, Bangalore, aids farmers produce agricultural videos on their own.

    • Aish,

      I do feel we should distinguish between ordinary smartness and sheer brilliance.

      For instance, good driving is smart driving while designing an automatic car with sensors is simply brilliant.

      Rikin is also the name of the surgeon who worked on my eye. He is absolutely amazing. Not only did he work on the correct one, he also repaired the damage done by the tumor successfully.

      Not that it could not have been done someone from a welfare state like UK or China. But I cannot entrust my life to a skilled professional if he works for a charity. I prefer those who are proud of making money in exchange of their brilliant skills. They deserve it… so do I.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        You are right. Doesn’t fit here.

      • Oh no, I hate myself when you agree with me.

        Ofcourse it fits in here. But in the way that charity is not smart, even if the end result is altruistic by default.

        I am mystified by the hills and dales of Ooty and the rural redolence of the place – the scarce population, the virgin forests and pollution free skyline.

        But nothing in the world can convince me to start a free NGO for the development of the people. They’ll have to pay in kind or cash whatever they can.

        I am not smart, but I am nobody’s fool.

        NGOs use devious accounting models to evade taxes in the name of public interest. I wouldn’t do that either. I’ll evolve a model that does not involve currency. No exchange of currency means no taxes. The last man who knew how to tax barter trade was Mohammad Tughlak, one of the turkish moghuls who ruled todays Pakistan up to Delhi.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Barter is fair. Charity can be misused by both ends.


        A personal achievement is a stand-alone and to be highlighted it does not necessitate a comparison with another’s average performace. To claim our success do we have to say the other fared badly? I feel this could have been the reason for the uproar from select sections on TOI.

      • That may be true. I don’t know. Humor often invites the hyperbole.

        I prefer Wodehousian comic moments frozen in real life situations.

        But his genius was in separating the two. As Wodehouse himself said, “There are two ways of writing. One is mine, a sort-of musical comedy without music, and the other is to go deep down into life and not care a damn!”

    • BTW why is your comment addressed to Mr. Rikin Gandhi? 😛

      • Aishwarya Says:

        No…no hating, not when it was addressed to Rikin in the first place… 🙂

      • Well your definition of smart works the way you describe it. But, street smartness is another matter altogether and being just plain sensible ( smart ) is another matter again.

      • Sharmila, Aish

        You are right about the definition. I reduce the meaning to ‘street smartness’ when it is applied to human attitudes. Unlike say, a smart machine, a smart purpose or a smart plan of action.

        When you speak of smartness in terms of sensibility, I think we Indians are a class apart.

        It has been rooted in our cultutre through centuries of hammering, mostly by toothless grandmas in the house.

        The Sanskrit root of that sensibility is Dharma. Unfortunately we are driven enmasse by its emotional content.

        In India, even a child picks up the evidences of dharma in another person’s actions or words, without requiring the vocabulary.

        The term, Dharma, has different connotations and is understood differently in cultures that have evolved from India, mostly those that spread East from China to Japan.

        It is used at once to mean religiion, morality, duty, righteousness, constitutional law, or simply a canonical following.

        The basic usage is also somehwat mystifying. For instance, guna-dharma is the nature of actions of a characteristic or quality of something, where as maatru-dharma is the duty of a mother and a-dharma means immoral, and so on.

        The first written constitutional law, anywhere in the world, was written and enforced by a person called Manu. He wrote a book called ‘Manu Smriti’ and made laws for the formation of a society. Those laws became “moral” because there were no punishments associated with their non-compliance. The consequence of a person’s actions were left to his / her Karma. They are followed even today by a large part of the Indian societies. Digvijay Singh mocked at them as Manu-vaadi hindus.

        For instance, one of the rule is to get married; and this is followed by the nature of duties and the charter of rights of men and women in a family. There is also stuff like, do not marry your lineage, but do not marry outside your caste.

        Later, during the Vedic period and down the line, Gautam, Vashishtha and some others wrote proper rules based on the caste system. These were called Dharmasutra. This was regulated by the Kings in each area.

        You’ll notice the impact of this ‘Dharma and Karma’ in everything that an Indian does.

        He applies all his efforts and capability to his work, because it is his Dharma. He will satisfy himself with whatever returns he gets from his work, because it is his Karma. In the process, someone may get a fortune, another may just get a certificate on a piece of paper. Yet both go back to their work with equal earnestness.

        For instance, a laborer on my construction site in Muscat has a family of 4 in Kanyakumari in India. He strives 12 hours a day to send them money so that his wife can stay at home and groom the children. He hasn’t seen them for many years. But he is proud of himself and content with what little joys that come his way.

        This is the typical Indian culture. It drives him to work, and his work rewards him with “moral” strength. A fantastic combination of Dharma and Karma that does not discriminate one human from another. It was applied equally to anyone and everyone from a Brahmin to an untouchable.

        There is no need now to use the words Dharma or Karma. Sanskrit is no more the language of communication.

        What we witness today is the remnant of the culture that those concepts gave rise to.

        For good or for bad, Indians are ‘like this only’ 🙂

      • So damn well expressed! thank u for the elaboration on probably the root of the Indian smartness!

      • Aishwarya Says:


        Why is charity not smart? Is it lacking in sensibility? Is dharma and karma not involved in the act of charity?

      • Depends on what one calls charity.

        To me, charity is when a capable person donates the value of his effort to an incapable person; or a deserving person forsakes his dues for an undeserving person.

        A person who indulges in charity is either morally crippled by those who are likely to benefit from the charity or guilty of being a moocher by default.

        Its difficult to call it Dharma or a righteous calling unless someone is in the class of Karna who was completely devoid of any sense of possessiveness.

        Karma ofcourse yes. Every action no matter what the nature or import is a Karma.

  5. 2 October 2011

    I am writing this for your space in memory of the Mahatma. Happy Gandhi Jayanti.

    My Encounters with Non-violence Part I

    I was introduced to non-violence at home.

    There were some unwritten rules of non-violent behaviour in the house. For example, my sister was allowed to beat me but I was not permitted to beat her back.

    The best I could do with that handicap was either outrun her from one room to another, or stand in a place and dodge her punches a-la Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, making sounds like Michael Jackson, “Oowww, Eeeee”

    There were also times when mother went on hunger strikes. In fact, now that I think about it, I feel she had an incurable penchant for fasting.

    Yet, I can say without fear of contradiction that she was the Jupiter in our small universe of six planets. The only other one who came close to challenging her in size and substance was my sister.

    Mother’s satyagrah was usually over purely sundry issues.

    “Clean up your room now! You and I shall have no lunch till you are done.”

    “Hey, ” I’d cry, “Its my room. I am happy the way it is”

    But she could never see logic in my ingenious arguments. So we would both skip meals at least for that day.

    There were ofcourse more serious issues on some days when Mahatma Gandhi occupied the whole house.

    My mother had married my dad against the will and customs of her family. For 35 years after that day she did not go back to her house in Belgaum. Ditto with dad. As a part of his role, he did not go back to his own house in Bijapur. Both of them lived in each others company from the day of their marriage.

    Till, one fine day, I grew up!

    (To be continued…)

  6. My Encounters with Non-violence Continued…

    There were some festivals in our house when the women lighted small lamps in a plate, the men were made to sit on the ground and the lamps were circled around us as if in cleansing and worship.

    My mother had written a song in Kannada specially for my dad. She would sing it to her own tune while doing this service. It meant:

    You are my father, you are my brother, you are my son, you are my husband and life partner. I need no one else in my life. In return, I am your mother, your sister, your daughter, your wife and life partner. We need no one else in our lives.

    And so on… some 13 verses… it was a long, winding sob-story. She had to pour clarified butter 3-4 times in the lamps to keep the wisp burning, as the song would never end.

    There was one more member in the family. A small chinese terrier puppy that Ravi had brought from Sanjauli in Simla. We had named her Sweetie. I’d hold her in my lap while this ceremony was in progress. She’d have the same tikka on her forehead like us and sit quietly till the whole thing was done and over. The only time she’d bark, as if on cue, was when mother would start crying at the last verse.

    (I was rather annoyed at the whole scene because it repeated every Diwali, Dassera, Rakhi Purnima and Bhau-Beez.)

    After a special fragrant oil bath and a feast of sweets both mom and dad would go out for a walk while we were given boxes and satchets of the home-made sweets for distribution in the neighbourhood.

    The festive day usually ended with mother’s nostalgic story sessions.

    I’d ask her, “If they were so bad to you, why do you think about them? Or if you can’t get them out of your mind, why don’t you punish them?”

    That was when Mahatma Gandhi would show his powerful influence on our lives.

    She’d say “We don’t punish. We either forgive or punish ourselves.”

    (To be continued…)

  7. Perhaps this is not worth the effort. I think I’ll stop this one for now. Its going all over the place.

    • Aishwarya Says:

      Don’t stop na. The journey is yet to begin! That’s my favorite part of the story.

      • No, no. I must stop. Its reading like a biographical essay. There are a lot of ethical premises further on that challenge traditional convention which Gandhi would have called more violent than the ethnic cleansing of the Chinese by the Japs in WW II.

        I don’t mind what the reich did in Europe then, but I do object to the massacres of the Chinese by Japs during their invasion. That is no different from the historical blood-bath unleashed by Ghenghis Khan in Baghdad.

        Barbarism is not new to the cannibals in Africa and Europe, but it is completely unknown pagan Asia.

      • Correction: Barbarism is completely unknown to pagan Asia.

        What happened in my family subsequently broke all the rules of customary conduct.

      • I mean the Reich-Europe Vs Sino-Jap is only an analogy.

        I need to limit the narrative to the theme of the subject.

        Shall continue as soon as I get back to base from the office in another hour or so.

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Ahimsa is another tenet of the spiritual teachings as are dharma and karma.

        To each his karma…

  8. Wtaching ‘Gandhi’ on Sony PIX… Showing nth time… I guess…

    Superb sense of humor.

    Gandhi: Come, come Sardar (Patel). Join me in the fast. You are growing fat.

    Sardar: I’d love to fast. But when I fast, I die. When you fast, people go to all sorts of trouble to keep you alive.

  9. My Encounters with Non-Violence Continued…

    Elder brother Ravi joined the National Defense Academy as an air-force cadet in the 61st course Kilo Squadran.

    There was some political pressure from a chap called Soodh who wanted him to move to Navy and make space for his own son. Col. Dorairajan of the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, certified Ravi with a heart murmur causing a dilemma for him whether to stay on or withdraw.

    We rushed to New Delhi. Mother met Sarojini Maheshi (her friend and MP), Indira Gandhi (PM) and Y. B. Chavan (HM) in that order. They advised that he should move to territorial army or Navy. There was some intervention but that was not enough.

    Ravi had to back out. He completed his training and opted out.

    He did his B. Sc in Nuclear Physics from Pune University and joined Hoechst, a major German pharma in Mumbai. He was posted to Simla.

    The frustration of leaving the academy remained with him lifelong. He was physically very strong. At 6′ 2″, weighing 90 Kgs all muscle, he was a virtual giant. Besides, his tolerance was so low, he would get into fist fights at the drop of a hat.

    I got a call from him one day from Nasik.

    “Come here. I am in police custody.” he said.

    I got him out on bail and the court let him go after a small fine. He had beaten up a bus conductor black and blue!

    A similar incident happened in Pune city. Two muslim hotels were burnt to ground following anti-muslim riots. Students of the Patit Pawan Sanghatna had rallied across the city. There was a curfew and all traffic was being diverted out. In the middle of that chaos Ravi bashed up a rickshaw driver for brushing against his bicycle. The driver was admitted to the government hospital with serious fractures. Again, I went to the RSS base camp at Moti Baug and got them to rescue him.

    Violence became second nature to him.

    I was his primary punching bag. But he would come back to say sorry later. In most other cases he refused to obey the law.

    Father was upset. Mother was worried.

    On mother’s insistence they got him to marry. His wife was the daughter of a professor in the Engineering college. He sobered down considerably after marriage but the energy was impossible to contain.

    He died at 50 a few years ago. He is survived by his wife and two daughters who are in the high school.

    Gandhian thought: In most normal cases, physical violence is often an expression of extreme emotional turbulence. The exception is ofcourse a cold blooded mercenary.

    • Now, don’t remain silent. At least tell me this is boring!

    • Aishwarya Says:

      It is boring…

      …through my heart…

      …and apt for the theme of the day.

      P.S. The comment wasn’t addressed to me, but I have taken the liberty to answer anyway…


      • Aish,

        I skipped all the non-essentials. Each person has his/her own narrative. But all the nava-rasas cannot be presented at the same time.

        He was a wonderful stage artist. We did quite a few commercial theater. I wrote the scripts and composed the music. We had got a producer named Sheetole who got us tax free funds from the central government’s board for the promotion of Hindi. We had formed a mixed group of freelancers. We came together for a project once in a year and dispersed as soon as a few shows were done and the money was enough to work on the next one.

        Ravi had a good stage presence and a voice that boomed across the theater even if the mike was on low amp.

        But there is nothing Gandhian about that. Far from the theme on this page.

        As I said everyone has some fantastic moments in their lives. Those are worth cherishing.

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