Because Nothing Says "Comedy" Like Outsourcing
by Tony Kontzer
If you didn't catch the appearance (video posted at the end of this item) of Infosys Technologies' co-counder Nandan Nilekani on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this month, it will probably interest you to know that he didn't get the Jim Cramer treatment.
Nilekani, who was there to peddle his new book, Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, appeared less than a week after Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money, was reamed by Stewart for blindly cheering the American financial system amid clear signs that the machinery underneath it was about to collapse.
Stewart struck a much less confrontational tone with Nilekani from the outset, and with good reason. The famed Indian software entrepreneur, dubbed by many "the Bill Gates of India," was a huge impetus behind the meteoric rise of India's technology outsourcing industry, and as such was a huge contributor to that nation's improving economic fortunes, at least before the global economic meltdown found its way to South Asia.
Stewart was familiar enough with Nilekani's book to point out that it's about much more than India's technological uprising; it offers up views on the changing perspectives of India's mammoth population; on the state of Indian education; and on what governing reforms are needed to make the country stronger. And when Stewart asked about America's influence, Nilekani had his best moment, offering a blunt assessment of how India can become stronger--or weaker--by following the United States' example.
"It's a great example on many counts. It's an open society, a democracy, a meritocracy," Nilekani said. "But on issues like how we manage global warming, how we manage pensions and health care, there are ways we can do it differently."
Seemingly picking up on what all of us at home were thinking, Stewart followed that answer with this zinger: "If you figure it out, will you tell us?"
To be fair, Stewart did try to extract some good-natured controversy from the interview, but Nilekani wasn't taking the bait.
First, Stewart pointed out that most Americans believe either India or China will be our new overlords. Nilekani responded simply by saying that India just wanted to be a good country. Not exactly what one would call an inflammatory answer.
Later, Stewart asked if, when an electronic voting machine malfunctions in the upcoming Indian elections, Indian officials will call someone in the U.S. for support. With a huge comedic set-up staring him in the face, Nilekani went the straight route, saying, "I think that people locally will fix it."
Then, after Nilekani confirmed that he gave the NY Times' Thomas Friedman the idea for the name of Friedman's 2005 book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Stewart asked if he was planning to demand royalty payments. Naturally, Nilekani demurred, saying Friedman was a good friend. To which a sheepish Stewart said: "You're a very kind and lovely man. I welcome you as my new overlord."
With that, Nilekani's reputation as a typically close-to-the-vest technology executive was safe. And Stewart's crew no doubt started asking each other, "Can we get that Cramer guy back on the show?"
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