The Top 50 Coolest Desis, Courtesy Desiclub

Emily Shah says 2014 is going to be awesome and we agree

Happy new year to every visitor to! (unless you are an evil spam bot- may you burn in robot hell!)  This has been our best year by far thanks to our readers, followers on our Twitter feed, LinkedIn, WordPress, and Facebook.  Yes, 2013 ended very, very badly for those of us who care about US-India relations.  Please tell me, is there a hangover helper on the horizon to cure us of our new year’s malaise ??? As an American colleague relayed to me in a loose reference to the Times Square crystal ball, “it appears that your balls dropped.”

This week I came across an interesting post by Desiclub, a global information hub online for all things South Asian.  They took on the challenge of compiling a list of the “50 Coolest Desis” to cap off the year 2013- representing the 10th anniversary edition of this feature.  I was pleasantly surprised by several things in this year’s list.  First of all, several friends and acquaintances of mine made the cut.  I’m not a name-dropper, but you know who you are, and brown folks worldwide are proud of you.  Secondly, Desiclub did us all a favor and drew from a variety of fields including the arts, government, philanthropy, athletics, and commerce.  They drew from multiple countries and national backgrounds.  Finally, our home base of New York City was highly represented- proving that the Big Apple is truly where all the action is regardless of your country of origin.  The list wasn’t your typical kiss up to the rich and famous we see all too often in our community.

I strongly recommend you check this out.  As a teaser, I’ve begun the countdown for you below.  Congratulations to Desiclub and every single “cool” desi who made it this year.

– Mahanth S. Joishy

Image50. Dinni Jain Location: New York City Who is He: Cable Industry Veteran Why is He Cool: He’ll be Time Warner Cable Chief Operating Officer effective January 13, 2014. What’s Next: He will oversee the operations of the company’s three main lines of business: residential services, business services and media sales. He also will be responsible for TWC’s technology and network operations, product development and content acquisition functions, as well as its news, local sports and regional sports networks. He will report to Robert D. Marcus, who will become Chairman and Chief Executive Officer on January 1. Cool Fun Fact: Jain is the former President and COO of Insight Communications, which Time Warner Cable acquired in 2012. He joined Insight in 2002 as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, before being named EVP and Chief Operating Officer in 2003. He was promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer in 2006, serving in that capacity until the company was sold in 2012.

49. Bobby Sharma Location: New York City Who is He: Senior Vice President, Global Basketball & Strategic Initiatives IMG Why is He Cool: As SVP Bobby leads the growth of IMG’s basketball business interests around the world, as well as other strategic initiatives, including development, management, and ownership of professional sports, entertainment, and media properties, with a focus on emerging markets. What’s Next: Bobby is developing the company’s exclusive rights to basketball in India through a joint venture with IMG and Reliance Industries Ltd. Cool Fun Fact: Prior to joining IMG, Sharma served as Vice President & General Counsel of the NBA Development League. In January 2011, Sharma was given the Sports Counsel of the Year award by the Association of Media & Entertainment Counsel. He also received the Rising Star Executive award from Media Partners Global in March 2011.

48. Emily Shah Location: Edison, NJ Who is She: Aspiring actress  Why is She Cool: Emily was crowned Miss New Jersey. She was the youngest among more than 130 contestants and will now go on to compete for the 2014 Miss USA and Miss Universe titles. What’s Next: She just wrapped shooting on “Jersey Boys,” a film version of the hit Broadway musical, directed by Clint Eastwood. She’s also working as an assistant of the stunt team for the Hollywood movie “Run All Night” starring Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. Cool Fun Fact: Emily has acted in Hollywood films, like “The Great New Wonderful” with Naseeruddin Shah and Bollywood films such as “Out of Control” alongside Riteish Deshmukh, “Ta Ra Rum Pum,” and “Jaaneman,” among others.

47. Nisha Desai Biswal Location: Washington, DC Who is She: Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Why is She Cool: President Obama appointed her as the go-to person for South Asia! Although there have been several other Indian Americans at the assistant secretary level, Bobby Jindal, Richard Varma, Karan Bhatia and Suresh Kumar among them, this is the first time an Indian American is heading the South Asia bureau since it was created in 1991. What’s Next: Advancing US’s foreign policy agenda in a region expected to undergo huge transitions in the coming year is going to be a challenging job. But our able lady, armed with exceptional diplomatic and administrative experience is bound to bring amazing synergies to the table. Cool Fun Fact: Nisha has a superb track record in public service from senior Congressional staffer to administration official, a couple of stints with NGOs and then back on Capitol Hill and back in the administration as Assistant Administrator for Asia in the US Agency for International Development – and one of the most trusted aides and confidantes of USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.

46. Poorna Jagannathan Location: Mumbai Who is She: Actress and now also co-producer of an acclaimed play  Why is She Cool: An impassioned actress, Poorna hopes to become an agent of social change. She teamed up with Montreal-based playwright and director Yael Farber to create a stage production ‘NIRBHAYA’ based on the brutally violent December 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape, which not only opened to rave reviews, won prestigious awards but also moved thousands to tears and hopes to get people to break their silence, be fearless and stand up against sexual violence so rampant in India.   What’s Next: The play will now have its India tour in December. The funding was crowd sourced through a Kickstarter campaign. The troupe is planning to start with 10 stage performances in Delhi and Mumbai. If the troupe is able to generate more funds, they may also stage the play in other cities like Bangalore and Kolkata. To ensure maximum impact, each performance will be accompanied by a post-show discussion, which the group wants to expand to include forums, support groups and awareness programs. Cool Fun Fact: The play premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival to universal acclaim in August 2013. It also won the 2013 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, The Scotsman’s Fringe First Award and the Herald Angel Award.

45. Vijay Iyer Location: New York, NY Who is He: Grammy nominated Jazz pianist, composer, musicologist  Why is He Cool: He was conferred $625,000 MacArthur fellowship also known as the “Genius Grant” honoring the brilliance of its winners in their chosen pursuit. What’s Next: In January 2014, he will join the Harvard University Department of Music as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts. Cool Fun Fact: This year saw release of his album ‘Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dream Project in collaboration with poet, performer, librettist, emcee Mike Ladd. Three years in the making, the new work focuses on minority veterans from the last decade’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a “thought-provoking, sometimes frightening, and ultimately exhilarating” combination of music, poetry and song, created from the actual dreams of young veterans who come home to face indifference, bureaucracy, disproportionately high unemployment and irreversibly altered lives.

44. Bharat Desai Location: Michigan Who is He: Chairman and Co-founder, Syntel, a global IT Outsourcing, IT Consulting and KPO firm  Why is He Cool: Desai and family with its net worth of $2.2 billion continued to lead the Indian American line-up in Forbes magazine’s America’s 400 Richest list at 252th position. He was followed by California software manufacturer Romesh T Wadhwani with a net worth of 2.1 billion and California venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who ranked 352 with a net worth of $1.5 billion. What’s Next: As an entrepreneur he has strived to remain dynamic and ahead of the curve, changing and innovating in the process to meet the current market demands. Driven and committed, individuals like him grow richer by making others rich too – by creating more jobs and supporting entrepreneurs through various initiatives. Respect.    Cool Fun Fact: Passionate about education and entrepreneurship, Syntel’s support for the IIT Bombay – Washington University initiative is part of the Company’s overall commitment to supporting socially-conscious educational initiatives, including its own corporate social responsibility vehicle, S’Prayas, as well as Enactus, a global non-profit that challenges college students to develop and execute socially responsible entrepreneurship in their communities.

43. Parag Garg Location: Seattle Who is He: Product architect, technical strategist Why is He Cool: Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen has created a new position of executive technology advisor, to work with him across all of his personal and professional projects, and filled the job by hiring Parag Garg, an Amazon product architect who had been playing a key role on multiple unannounced products under development by the Seattle company. What’s Next: In his new role, Garg will advise Allen on technology issues across his varied collection of interests and projects, including his technology investments, sports teams, museums, and more. Cool Fun Fact: Before going to Amazon, Garg worked at Microsoft, on projects including the Xbox One, the unreleased Courier tablet and Windows Embedded. Editorial Update: This may be the first time in our ten year history that we have two first cousins on the same list! Parag’s cousin is Neerja Patel, number 25.

42. Puneet Talwar Location: Washington DC Who is He: Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs Why is He Cool: Talwar was Obama’s top advisor on the Middle East region for over four years before he was nominated for the post. He is the second Indian-American after Nisha Biswal to be nominated to the Assistant Secretary position in the State Department. He’s the man who led the back channel efforts, representing the White House at all the formal negotiations conducted between Iran and the global P5 (Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia)+1 powers since 2009 and which resulted in the signing of the historic US-Iran nuclear deal in Geneva on November 24. What’s Next: The initial nuclear agreement between Iran and the six powers freezes key elements of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief and provides negotiators with a six-month timeframe to work towards a comprehensive and lasting accord. The expert is on the job and will surely have a lot going on in upcoming months. Cool Fun Fact: Since 2009, Talwar was a Special Assistant to the US President and Senior Director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states on the White House National Security Staff. Prior to this, Talwar had served as a Senior Professional Staff Member on the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate (SFRC) from 2001 to 2009 and from 1997 to 1999, he was the chief advisor on the Middle East to then Senator Joseph R Biden.

41. Reshma Saujani Location: New York, NY Who is She: Founder, Girls Who Code and the former Deputy Public Advocate of New York City Why is She Cool: Reshma launched Girls Who Code in the summer of 2012 training underprivileged teenage girls in computer science through an eight-week intensive classroom program. From a single program in New York City, it has expanded to offer eight Summer Immersion Programs in five cities in 2013 and brought on nine generous corporate and foundation partners, including Twitter, Intel, Goldman Sachs, eBay, IAC, AT&T, GE, Cornell Tech, and the Knight Foundation, to fuel programmatic success. In collaboration with these partners the nonprofit has equipped 152 middle and high school girls with classroom instruction in computer science, diverse exposure opportunities, and high-tech mentorship by the industry’s top female leaders. The women in the program then help launch clubs at their schools so they can teach others what they’ve learned. This year Girls Who Code also received a $435,000 grant by the Knight Foundation. What’s Next: Reshma hopes to have at least a million girls to code by 2020. Amen to that. Cool Fun Fact: Reshma was named a Next MAKER by, which honors trailblazing women leaders across the globe, joining the ranks of Madeleine Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and her mentor, Hillary Clinton. She was profiled as a Thought Leader in Entrepreneur Magazine, named one of the top 5 Non-Profit Leaders to Watch in Huffington Post and listed #11 on list of “50 Women Changing the World” by Business Insider.

40. Gurdeep Singh Pall Location: Seattle  Who is He: Corporate VP, Microsoft Why is He Cool: At 46, Gurdeep Singh Pall has been named by Microsoft as corporate VP for Skype, as well as its Lync communications product, engineering and operations worldwide. Earlier he was heading the information platform and experience team in Microsoft’s new applications and services division. Before that, he was CVP of the Office Lync and Speech group. According to the Microsoft website, Pall has more than 20 patents (in process or approved) in networking and collaboration areas. The first Sikh to reach the top management of Microsoft, Pall joined the company in January 1990 as a software design engineer. He has worked on many breakthrough products in his tenure, starting with LAN Manager Remote Access Service. He was part of the Windows NT development team and led design and implementation of core networking technologies. What’s Next: An asset to the software giants he works for and a pride of the community he belongs to – here’s wishing him super success all along! Cool Fun Fact: Named one of the ’15 Innovators and Influencers Who Will Make A Difference’ in 2008 by a leading publication, Pall co-authored ‘Institutional Memory Goes Digital’, published by Harvard Business Review and subsequently presented at the World Economic Forum 2009 in Davos.

39. Jalak Jobanputra Location: New York, NY Who is She: Venture Capitalist Why is She Cool: Jalak is the founding partner of FuturePerfect Ventures — an early stage venture capital fund with a global focus. Along with Shelly Kapoor Collins, Jalak is the only other woman of Indian American descent to be included in Forbes’ 40 Women to Watch over 40′ in 2013. She has started microfinance programs, consulted for charter schools throughout the country, advised large telcos and media companies on mergers and acquisitions, spearheaded the formation of a seed fund, and her passion continues to be working with early stage entrepreneurs to help develop their ideas so that their innovations can make a positive impact on the way we all live our lives in the future. What’s Next: Individuals like Jalak, who have the ability to judge and support the potential of others and their ideas are a huge asset to any community. Kudos! Cool Fun Fact: In her 20s she decided to leave her well cushioned job and life in London as an expat and moved to New York to explore the immense possibilities the newly introduced internet offered. Her instincts paid off and two decades down she’s been involved with entrepreneurship initiatives globally.

38. Samata Narra Location: Los Angeles Who is She: Vice President, Comedy Development, FOX Broadcasting Why is She Cool: Samata is responsible for helping launch new live action and animated half-hour comedy series for the broadcast network. This year, her team premiered the new fall comedies Dads, starring Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine starring Andy Samberg. What’s Next: She knows exactly what can tickle the funny bone of Americans. Now ain’t that something? Expect more mirth coming your way folks.   Cool Fun Fact: When she began working at FOX in 2011, Samata had the opportunity to oversee the Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated series New Girl, and went on to develop the returning comedy The Mindy Project. Prior to working at FOX, Samata spent eight years as a literary manager where she represented writers and directors in both television and features including Dick Donnor (Lethal Weapon, The Goonies), Steve Herek (Mr. Holland’s Opus), and Mike France (Fantastic Four, Cliffhanger).

37. Vipul Ved Prakash & Rishab Aiyer Ghosh Location: San Francisco Who are They: Entrepreneurs Why are They Cool: They just sold their social media analytics firm Topsy Labs to Apple for a whopping $200 million. The company tracks trending topics on Twitter and other social media networks. Topsy has analyzed all tweets since 2006 and recently announced a free search engine for tweets. Among the features that made Topsy attractive to Apple is that it tracks what users are saying on Twitter as it happens, it also tracks how often terms are being tweeted.  What’s Next: We are sure the duo is already looking for new challenges, working on new ideas for their next venture!   Cool Fun Fact: Chief technology officer Vipul is a pioneer in the field of collaborative filtering. In 2001, he co-founded Cloudmark to create an internet scale version of his open-source spam filter, Vipul’s Razor. Cloudmark crossed one billion subscribers in 2009 and is the leading worldwide platform for messaging security. Prior to Cloudmark, Vipul was an engineer at Napster and was named one of the Top 100 Young Innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review. Rishab, Chief Scientist at Topsy, started ‘First Monday’, the most widely-read peer-reviewed journal of the internet, in 1995.

36. Prita Chhabra Location: Orlando Who is She: Recording artist, songwriter Why is She Cool: She just released her 4th music video “Aaja” and recently forayed into theatre, being featured as one of the principal cast in the recent ‘Land of the Eternals’ play in Toronto.  What’s Next: Her songs have featured in movies and web series, received top billing at numerous South Asian Festivals in North America, performed live to jampacked stadiums and auditoriums and bagged several awards. Way to go girl! Cool Fun Fact: She was the first South Asian recording artist to sing the national anthems for the NBA, MLB and NHL leagues; the first solo South Asian recording artist to perform at the Florida Music Festival; and winner of “Best World Music” at the 2012 Toronto Independent Music Awards to name a few accolades. She’s also long been an advocate of HIV/AIDS awareness.

35. Obaid Kadwani Location: New York City Who is He: Actor, model and television host Why is He Cool: Obaid’s charity organization ‘A Slice of Hope’ works with homeless shelters in various metropolitan areas to throw pizza parties with live music for people in low-income situations. In just six years after that first pizza party, A Slice for Hope is in 25 different cities spread across the country. They have reached more than 250,000 people, including homeless citizens and children at risk of being thrown into juvenile detention centers. What’s Next: He plans to expand A Slice of Hope into cities across all 50 states.  Cool Fun Fact: He is also an actor, producer, model, tv-host, emcee and entrepreneur.

34. Priya Pandya and Kajal Desai Location: NYC, Washington DC Who are They: Co-founders of Doonya – intense workout program Why are They Cool: In 2013, the duo released Doonya: The Bollywood Workout, a three disc DVD series and became #1 reviewed program on Amazon. They launched a fitness show on Zee TV Americas. They were featured on Today’s Kathie Lee and Hoda as a Boredom Buster workout. Their youtube page crossed one million views. They expanded to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin and were invited to participate in the official National Dance Day activities in Washington DC, organized by the creator of So You Think You Can Dance (there are only two official events. One in LA and one in DC). What’s Next: Continuing to make students sweat and smile and inspiring the world to live a happy, healthy lifestyle. Cool Fun Fact: What began as a Bollywood dance school in Washington DC in 2005 has evolved into an online platform for fitness and lifestyle. Yoga and ACE-certified fitness professionals, co-founders, Priya Pandya and Kajal Desai are dancers at heart.

Proceed to Desiclub for the rest…

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of

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