`The first In­dian went to MIT in 1882'

Down to Earth - - HISTORY -

ROSS BASSETT, a com­puter en­gi­neer who be­came a his­to­rian of tech­nol­ogy, has spent over a decade writ­ing about In­di­ans who stud­ied at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT). He re­cently pub­lished a book based on his re­search, The Tech­no­log­i­cal In­dian. Ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view

On the gen­e­sis of the project:

From the be­gin­ning, I had a keen in­ter­est in In­dia. I had many In­dian friends in my un­der­grad­u­ate en­gi­neer­ing class from whom I learnt about IITs and wanted to work in this area. Then I found that the MIT had alumni data­base which had a num­ber of In­di­ans. I was cu­ri­ous to know more about such peo­ple. One would have thought such In­di­ans would be mostly from the IIT era, but I was sur­prised to find that In­di­ans were study­ing at the MIT much be­fore. The first In­dian went to MIT in 1882. About 1,300 In­di­ans have grad­u­ated from MIT till 2000. I could track and in­ter­view about 200 prom­i­nent among them.

On why In­di­ans went to MIT:

It had a lot to do with tech­no­log­i­cal na­tion­al­ism in the be­gin­ning. Many In­di­ans thought the coun­try needed in­dus­try, and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion could help. Sev­eral of those who went to MIT were from busi­ness fam­i­lies which wanted to trans­form their busi­nesses. S L Kir­loskar and Ravi Kir­loskar, Adi and Nadar Go­drej, Kas­turb­hai Lalb­hai and Aditya Birla went to MIT for ad­vanced tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion. There were oth­ers like M N Das­tur, who founded a com­pany which de­signed steel mills.

On MIT In­di­ans' con­tri­bu­tion to the IT in­dus­try:

The im­pact of MIT ed­u­ca­tion on the IT in­dus­try is more vis­i­ble. Like Naren Patni, who launched Patni Com­put­ers. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that many In­di­ans got into com­puter en­gi­neer­ing not be­cause they wanted to do so, but be­cause MIT—as a lead­ing cen­tre for com­puter ed­u­ca­tion in the 1960s—of­fered schol­ar­ships. Lalit Kan­odia, Nitin Pa­tel and Ashok Mal­ho­tra, who started TCS, stud­ied at the MIT. When the US changed its im­mi­gra­tion laws in 1965, many stayed back in the coun­try and founded com­pa­nies in the Sil­i­con Val­ley, like Suhas Pa­tel who founded Cir­rus Logic.

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