Nandan Nilekani‘s appointment as the head of the national ID card project has been greeted with the same seriousness that an appointment to the Vatican would have received. Sure, it’s an important assignment and all that, and it’s a relief to see a technocrat with $1.3 billion in his hip pocket handling it.
But all we have got from the morning’s papers are details anybody with a slow broadband connection could ferret out from Wikipedia. That, and senti-pap like “I feel it’s like a younger brother leaving home.” But Nandan is a more interesting chap than that, with a life, a sense of humour, and a Twitter account.
So, did you know…
ONE: Nandan used to take a BEST bus from Santa Cruz, where he then lived, and come to Nariman Point where the offices of Bombay magazine were located to meet a young journalist called Rohini Soman, who worked in the magazine brought out by the India Today group. Ms Soman, who became Rohini Nilekani, later became the Bangalore correspondent of Sunday magazine under Vir Sanghvi. Rohini turns 50 on June 30.
TWO: Nandan’s elder brother by eight years, Vijay, is with the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, DC.
THREE: Nandan is a top-quality quizzer. He was part of the IIT Bombay quiz team that came third in the 1979 Mood Indigo final. A competitor recalls him as being laidback and generous, unlike the IIT Kanpur team. However, neither IIT team could answer a question that was flung at them: “What is common to the first 35 Popes?” The correct answer came from a young boy from South Indian Education Society: “They were all saints.” The boy turns 51 on June 28.
FOUR: At Patni Computer Services, where Nandan and N.R. Narayana Murthy became colleagues and friends, Nandan’s salary was Rs 1,200, the same as his father Mohan Rao Nilekani earned then.
FIVE: Nandan is not an MBA. He believes that being general secretary of the IIT Bombay students’ union was more education than any B-school could give him. A key test of his man-management skills came in 1977 when a massive cyclone hit Andhra Pradesh when the leftwingers on the campus felt it was inhuman to splurge cash on the college festival Mood Indigo. Eventually, Nandan found a middle path. The festival was held, but money was also sent to the flood-affected.
SIX: When Infosys went public in 1993, no one picked up the stock. Among the first people Nandan tried to sell the Infy stock before the Initial Public Offering was his IIT Bombay senior by one year, co-Kannadiga, and now Union minister, Jairam Ramesh.
SEVEN: In 2002, Nandan is famously rumoured to have provided the editorial inspiration for an India Today cover story that had nothing to do with Infosys or IT. Suffice it to say, neither the magazine’s current editor nor its then managing editor are likely to have sent him their best wishes on his latest appointment but Phaneesh Murthy is likely to have quietly chuckled.
EIGHT: Despite being born in Sirsi (Wikipedia) or Bangalore (his own blog), Nandan is a not natural with Kannada, and is routinely confused on when to use neevu and neenu. He once referred to Narayana Murthy’s wife Sudha Murthy as “avalannu“, till his secretary Malliga corrected him. Malliga, like Narayana Murthy’s Man Friday A.G. Panduranga alias Pandu, has been with Nandan for 20 years now.
NINE: Deepika Padukone is apparently his niece, which should make Prakash Padukone a cousin, which should make Guru Dutt and Shyam Benegal part of the family. (If she is not his niece, bad luck; that should teach these stinking rich IT types that even $1.3 billion in the family kitty can’t buy you the right relatives.)
TEN: Nandan predicted the results of the 2008 assembly elections in Karnataka absolutely spot-on. In an SMS to a top TV honcho, he gave BJP 110 seats; the BJP got 110 seats. However, despite his prescience, Nandan could not predict ‘Operation Kamala’.
ELEVEN: Like so many others in the IT sector, Nandan is a devotee of the Sai Baba of Shirdi, and even wears a silver ring to boot.
TWELVE: Doesn’t mind talking about Vatal Nagaraj and his innovative ways of protests.
THIRTEEN: That he signs his bank cheques like these and they still honour it!
Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nandan trounced NRN?