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The Mystery of Katoor

Posted on Monday, Apr 23rd 2007

So, were you able to identify the hero of my story? Yes, it was Raj Reddy, world famous Computer Scientist.

I have been speaking with him often, and one of the questions we kicked around recently was as follows:

(1) 99% of gifted rural youth don’t get the opportunity. The same is true in India and in Alabama or Virgina.

(2) 99% of gifted youth in general don’t get the right opportunity either.

What are the barriers?

For (1) the barriers are:

* Affordability.
* Parents are not educated, so no mentoring or guidance.
* Teachers in the rural schools are of inadequate quality.

Vinod Khosla has made statements that he knew he wanted to start his own business since he was very young. Vinod is an army officer’s son, he grew up in Delhi, and ended up going to an IIT. The environment helped him make these leaps much more easily.

My own story is very similar. I am an entrepreneur’s daughter. I knew I wanted to start my own company since I was 16.

And the other extreme example is Aditya Mittal, Laxmi Mittal’s 31-year old son, for whom, the platform was set all along.

For Raj, this environment wasn’t there. So, how does a gifted rural kid find his / her platform?

The (2) the issue is of discipline. The IITs only admit 1% of the 1% college level students. The other 99% of the 1% gifted students may not necessarily have the discipline to do ALL the right things to get into an IIT (or an MIT). Ramanujan, for example, failed everything except Math. Heck, he failed High School. Is there any way to identify the future Ramanujans in various disciplines?

These are open problems, of course!

In your idle hours, instead of watching some stupid TV show, please give it some thought, and I invite you to use this forum for discussion.

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Interesting observations about barriers. The competition to get into IIT’s is crazy and is beyond imagination. There are so many things that need to be conducive for a 16 yr old to be one of the top 1% in a country of1.2 billion. Social and economic situations are not the same for every one, whether it be India or rural AL/VA. Kids in the age group of 13-18 are very susceptible to all the attractive things the world can offer and lack of proper over sight from parents can change the direction of life. I feel that youth in rural US have a lot of opportunities than any one in the world. It just lack of proper mentoring which leads them astray and gets them out of school.

I want to add one more radio active barrier specific to India to the mix. Reservations based on the caste system. IMHO this has to go bye-bye and needs to be replaced by something that makes it effective. I have nothing against any caste/creed. How come we allow the children of an IAS official to use the reservation system in the name of caste? How come that does not go to a person’s children who worked all his life on daily labor/wages to send his children to a school? There are so many under privileged people in the same/similar caste who haven’t had the fruits of reservation system for the past 60 yrs of Indian Independence. Is it so difficult for India to implement a hierarchical and trackable reservation system in this digital age? Hell No! Its just the unwillingness of the corrupt politicians and their unquenchable thirst to stay in power.

We all know that there are so many things that make up affordability. This is not some thing we can achieve night over night. As long as our system(s) do not evolve to the current day situation, we will be playing catch up all the time.

Sivakanth Mundru Monday, April 23, 2007 at 1:13 PM PT

How to identify future Ramanujam’s??? esp in india?? I think Rmanujam is very very lucky to get Prof Hardy(?) see his math scribbled notes. What are the chances of that happening again esp to a Prof sittin in his UGC sponsored(?) institution in India?? I guess very slim. But then its inevitable that if not Ramanujam, other ppl with similar brilliant minds somehow will bubble up. All the system is not corrupted or a waste. But who’s gonna answer that unlucky talented person who doesn’t bubble up coz of the system itself??? I guess it happens in every country including US, maybe lot less( there r dfntly brilliant kids in living in ghettos of bronx) and the affirmative programs(US) at least in principle give them a at least to a few lucky souls. Coming to teh caste based creamy layered reservation in India, its just vote bank politics at its worst and indian voters are like since dawn of time….very ignorant, stupid and gullible. I dont think we can change the mindset of averge indian in our lifetime.

Will Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:07 PM PT