Newsweek International Editor and television personality Fareed Zakaria, author of the best-selling The Post-American World, and host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, was chosen India Abroad Person of the Year 2008 at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York on March 20.
Acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair, winner of the India Abroad Person of the Year Award 2007, presented Dr Zakaria with his award at a star-studded ceremony.
The annual awards gala has become a marquee event on the Indian-American community calendar, and the quality of previous winners has made it a cachet even for those Indian Americans who have widespread mainstream acceptance. Past winners include Iowa legislator Swati Dandekar in 2002; co-founder, Indicorps, Sonal Shah in 2003; Mohini Bhardwaj, captain of the silver medal-winning American gymnastic team at the Sydney Olympics in 2004; then US Congressman Bobby Jindal in 2005; Pepsico Chairperson Indra Nooyi in 2006 and Nair in 2007.
India Abroad is the oldest and most widely circulated weekly newspaper serving the Indian-American community, published out of New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Toronto. It is owned by Rediff.com
Opening honours went to a trio of prodigiously talented children: Sameer Mishra, winner of the national Scripps National Spelling Bee; Akshay Rajagopal, who won the equally prestigious National Geography Bee; and Shivani Sud, who won the national Intel Science Talent Search contest.
This year, India Abroad instituted a new award: The Face of the Future Award. On debut, it was won by Manjul Bhargava, the mathematical genius who solved a problem that had baffled the best minds for 200 years, and who became at age 28, one of the youngest full professors ever at Princeton University.
The 2008 US presidential election cycle saw an unprecedented level of community involvement; it also witnessed a generational shift in leadership with the younger members of the community coming into the limelight.
In recognition of this, the India Abroad Gopal Raju Award for Community Service, named after the newspaper’s late founder, was shared by seven young Indian-American leaders at the forefront of this change: Preeta Bansal, General Counsel in the Office of Management and Budget at the Obama White House; Nick Rathod, Director of the Office of Inter-Governmental Affairs in the Obama administration; co-founders of South Asians for Obama Hrishi Karthikeyan and Dave Kumar; founder of the Indian National Leadership Initiative Varun Nikore; Communications Director for the Campaign for America’s Future Toby Choudhuri; and newly appointed chair of the Indian American Republican Council Dino Teppara.
To honour a legendary career that has spanned five decades, and to mark the career of a man who, single-handedly, has planted India’s flag at the pinnacle of Western classical music, India Abroad presented this year’s Award for Lifetime Achievement to ace conductor Zubin Mehta. On hand to honour Mehta with the Award were previous winners, novelist Salman Rushdie and the economist couple Professor Jagdish Bhagwati and Professor Padma Desai.
The India Abroad Publisher’s Award for Special Excellence – a prize previously won by achievers like astronaut Sunita Williams — was awarded to novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, who in 2008 published her third work of fiction, a collection of short stories titled Unaccustomed Earth that in unprecedented fashion debuted at the top of the prestigious New York Times bestseller lists.
The event, emceed by Columbia Journalism School Professor Sreenath Sreenivasan, came to a fitting conclusion when Fareed Zakaria accepted his award as the India Abroad Person of the Year 2008.
The event, which was punctuated by a sit-down dinner at the halfway stage, was attended by among others Meghan Mylan, who won an Oscar last month for her documentary Smile Pinky; Infosys Co-Chairman Nandan Nilekani; showbiz personalities like actress Madhur Jaffrey and actor Abhay Deol; Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Zarin Mehta; India’s Consul General in New York Ambassador Prabhu Dayal; New Jersey Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula; Rujuta Vaidya, who choreographed the Slumdog Millionaire dance numbers at the recent Academy Awards; and CFO, District of Columbia, Natwar Gandhi.