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Three anonymous NRIs
From Sunday Times of India, New Delhi November 23,
1003 ALL THAT MATTERS page
every itsy-bitsy achievement of NRIs and ABCDs has
become a staple of the Indian media these days.
Every day there are stories about someone of
Indian‑origin in the west becoming a CXO,
winning some award, being appointed to a county
board, or making his fortune in some venture. It's
irritating, and does not do justice to the thousands
who toil in silence and without recognition in
India. It is all part of insta-journalism --
reporters living of trends, self-promoting press
releases and stories in other newspapers.
fact, even in the US, some of the Indians who have
had the most profound impact on society have been
poorly chronicled. For instance, there is a
good chance that you may never have heard of
Yellapragada SubbaRow of whom it was said because he
lived, you may live longer.
A poor Andhra boy who came to the US in the 1920s, he
is credited with the synthesis of Folic acid,
Aureomycin, the first of the tetracycline antibiotics
that have saved millions of lives since its
Introduction in 1948, and Methotrexate, which is used
to alleviate several types Of cancer, including
Rao wasn't from Bombay or Calcutta, and wasn't part
of the Indian elite that travelled west those days.
He was born in Bhimavaram and schooled in
Rajamundhry, both in Andhra Pradesh. He thrice
flunked matriculation and studied Ayurveda before
switching to the western system of medicine after
work night Porter at a Boston Hospital. He was too
poor to pay the fees.
In fact, it is said that Aureomycin, presented to the
medical world in i948, should have won him the Nobel
Prize. But SubbaRow died at 53, the same year his
hero Mahatma Gandhi. Which means that the great
scientist's 55th death anniversary is passing us by
without as much as a decent commemoration. There are
many such stories that never see the light of the
day. Not all NRI achievers grab the headlines.
Take Dr.Rangaswamy Srinivasan, the little known
pioneer of Lasik eye surgery, who is the only Indian
to feature in the US National Inventors Hall of Fame
in the company of greats such as Edison, Ford,
Disney, Nobel and the Wright Brothers. After he
engineered the technique to correct short-sightedness
that has enabled millions to get rid of eyeglasses,
Srinivasan wrote out the patent to IBM the
Corporation he worked for. His reward: A measly $
In a recent interview, I asked Dr Praveen Chaudhari,
the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, who
was also Dr Srinivasan's colleague at IBM, how it
felt to have such achieve�ments go unrecognised by
the media and unrewarded financially in an age when
people were patenting age-old inventions and milking
millions.'The joy lies in the discovery, not in the
reward," he said.
Dr Chaudhari should know. He engi�neered the
rewritable compact disc (CD), and like Or Srinivasan,
wrote out the patent for IBM for a fraction of the
billions Big Blue, Sony, Phillips and other
corporations got from the invention. But neither man
displays the slightest sign of rancour at IBM's
profits or envy at the fame and fortune of today's
"Between a billion dollars and the pleasure of
giving perfect eyesight, what do you think I will
choose?" asks� Dr Srinivasan.
These men never send out press releases or talk to
the media. They are not rich or famous. They are
sacred and profound.