`The first Indian went to MIT in 1882'
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.