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Press Release


Three anonymous NRIs

From Sunday Times of India, New Delhi November 23, 1003 ALL THAT MATTERS page

Chronicling 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.

In 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 childhood leukaemia.

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 $ 10,000.

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 NRIs.

"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.