It’s a brave new world we live in. Only a few decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that an Indian man would be given a global platform to criticise the President of the United States of America, but that’s exactly what happened at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) last month. In other countries, a new generation of Indians, and people of Indian descent, have consistently made their mark in a variety of fields. What may have been criticised as ‘brain drain’ until recently has now been rebranded as ‘cultural exports’ in light of the success of Indians on the international stage.
In these troubling times when immigration is at the centre of much public debate, perhaps it’s time that we begin to talk about all the good work being done by members of the Indian diaspora. Here are four of the new generation of Indians who are making waves across the world.
Claim to fame: First featured speaker of Indian descent at a WHCD
In 2014, when Ben Affleck got into a heated exchange over Islam with the host of a popular late-night talk show, Bill Maher, there was at least one person rubbing his hands with glee. Inspired by what had happened, a then relatively-unknown Hasan Minhaj (see article featured image) penned a new sketch he called “Batman Vs. Maher” which ended up getting him through the audition for the ruling late-night talk show at the time, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Shortly thereafter, Minhaj began his run as a correspondent for the news satire show and, before long, he established his place amongst TV’s most popular faces with his impressive comedic chops. Since then, it’s just been upwards and onwards for the comedian, culminating in his brutal roast of the Trump administration at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
If you want to know more about Minhaj, look no further than his path-breaking Netflix special, Homecoming King, which gives us a unique perspective on the lives desis live abroad.
Yuvraj Singh Deshi, aka Jinder Mahal
Claim to fame: First wrestler of Indian descent to be crowned WWE Champion
The World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, has a long history of introducing foreigners as “heels” – a term in wrestling parlance which refers to someone who’s hated by the fans – and Jinder Mahal is no exception.
Yuvraj Singh Deshi is an Indo-Canadian professional wrestler, whose on-stage persona, Jinder Mahal, was crowned the 50th WWE Champion last month and he celebrated his victory like any true Punjabi would. But things weren’t always this rosy for Jinder. His last run in the world of professional wrestling ended in anonymity as he was slowly phased out after three years of failing to make a mark, first as a solo wrestler and then as part of a team. Unfazed, Deshi spent the next two years improving on his fitness and skills before returning to the WWE in his new avatar, Jinder Mahal.
His quick rise to the top and his popularity as a heel has given Deshi an opportunity to establish himself alongside some of the great heels in WWE history, including one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Claim to fame: First person of Indian descent become prime minister-elect of Ireland
When Enda Kenny retired as the Leader of the Fine Gael Party on the 2nd of June, making way for Leo Varadkar to be elected as the party’s new leader, a late-night celebration kicked off halfway across the world, in the suburban district of Borivali in Mumbai.
Fifty years ago, when Ashok Varadkar moved from Mumbai to England to work as a doctor he braved impossible odds, in a far less cosmopolitan society, to marry an Irish woman by the name of Miriam. They could never have guessed that their youngest child would one day become the leader of the country they chose to make their home. Born in Dublin, young Leo would go on to make a career in medicine, much like his father before him, and eventually take the plunge into politics.
And after a decade in the shark tank, Varadkar has finally made it to the top seat in government and looks set to be sworn in as Ireland’s Taoiseach, i.e. prime minister, a month from now. But what’s more impressive is that Leo will be Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach, marking a paradigm shift in the perception of homosexuality within the staunchly Catholic country.
Claim to fame: Only Indian chef whose restaurant has been featured in the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants
His first passion was music, so when Gaggan Anand sat behind his first drum kit he thought he knew what he was going to be doing for the rest of his life. Luckily, for gastronomists the world over, life lead him down another path and Anand soon found himself gainfully employed as a trainee with the Taj group after earning a diploma from a catering college in Trivandrum.
Anand eventually left the Taj group to pursue a career in Bangkok and, after a whirlwind experience at some of the best restaurants and food labs there, he opened his flagship restaurant, Gaggan, in 2010. Since then, there’s been no looking back. In just seven short years, Anand has cemented his place amongst the stars of the international culinary landscape and taken Indian cooking to the next level with his unique vision of progressive Indian gastronomy. Multiple accolades have followed suit and Anand has had little difficulty living up to the high expectations he has set for himself.
However, there remains a final twist in the tale. Much like any great perfectionist, Anand is never happy to let things stagnate. He has already announced his intention to shut down Gaggan in 2020 so that he can continue his quest for personal and culinary growth with his next venture, GohGan, a 10-seater restaurant that opens only on the weekends in Fukuoka, Japan.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Netflix; Images via WWE, YouTube, Instagram/@gaggan_anand