Meet The Jury For The TOI Initiative To Identify 21 Under-21 Indians Who Stand Out For Their Talent
Nilekani is co-founder and chairman of IT services giant Infosys Limited and the not-for-profit digital learning platform EkStep Foundation. As the founding chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, Nilekani developed the biometric ID database Aadhaar in his stint as a Cabinet minister during 2009-14. He became co-chair of the G20 task force on digital public infrastructure for economic transformation, financial inclusion, and development in January 2023. He also serves as president of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, an economic research institute in Delhi. Born in Bengaluru, Nilekani received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from IIT Bombay and founded Infosys in 1981 with NR Narayana Murthy and Kris Gopalakrishnan, among others. He received the Padma Bhushan in 2006, and in 2017 he won the Nikkei Asia Award in the economic and business innovation category for developing Aadhaar. Nilekani has written books like ‘Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation’ and ‘The Art of Bitfulness: Keeping Calm in the Digital World’.
Anand is India’s first chess grandmaster and a five-time world chess champion. Currently, he is ninth in the world chess federation (FIDE) rankings of top players and serves as the deputy president of FIDE. Born in 1969 in Tamil Nadu’s Mayiladuthurai, ‘lightning kid’ Anand earned the international master title in 1985 at only 15 years of age. In 1988, he became the international grandmaster at 18 after winning the world junior championship. In the 1990s, he battled chess giants like Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik for the world chess champion title before seizing the spot in 2000. He earned the title four more times, in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2012. Now in his 50s, Anand remains a top chess player, inspiring the younger generations. Over the years, ‘Vishy’, as Anand is fondly known, has picked up many national awards, including the Padma Shri in 1988, the Padma Bhushan in 2000 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2007. In 2014, he received the Russian Order of Friendship for promoting India-Russia bilateral ties. A minor planet discovered in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter has been named 4538 Vishyanand after him.
Jindal is chairperson of the Jindal South West (JSW) Foundation, an arm of the JSW Group taking up social development projects in the health, education, environment, and arts and heritage sectors. As JSW chair, Jindal runs the Hampi Foundation for conservation work at temples in Karnataka’s Hampi. Her foundation also helped restore old historic buildings like Mumbai’s Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, JJ School of Art, and David Sassoon Library and Reading Room, among others. On an invitation from the National Centre for the Performing Arts, she established the Jindal Arts Centre in 1992 to promote arts and heritage. She has also been running Art India, a magazine featuring contemporary art and artists, since 1996. Jindal was part of the founding team of the nine-day Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in 1999 and chaired the festival from 2000 to 2003. Her contribution towards the festival won her an Eisenhower fellowship in 2004. She is married to Sajjan Jindal, the managing director of JSW Steel, and is the mother of Parth Jindal, the director of JSW Sports.
Prof Govindan Rangarajan
Director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, Prof Rangarajan has a long list of career accolades. He has been a faculty member of IISc’s department of mathematics since 1992, and his research interests include nonlinear dynamics and chaos and time series analysis. He is a JC Bose National Fellow, Fellow of Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, and a Homi Bhabha Fellow. Prof Rangarajan helped establish the first intercontinental satellite-based courses taught live to Indian and French students in several subjects, and he has played an instrumental role in encouraging inter-disciplinary research. He was awarded the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms) by the government of France. Prof Rangarajan is an Integrated MSc (Hons) graduate from BITS-Pilani and has a PhD from the University of Maryland in the US. He worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab at University of California, Berkeley, before returning to India.
After living across countries, Mistri returned to her hometown, Mumbai, at 18, determined to do something about unequal access to education among children in India. She founded the first Akanksha Centre in 1989, enrolling 15 students. The centre evolved into the Akanksha Foundation that provided after-school classes to students from low-income households. The non-profit now runs 51 centres and 16 schools in Mumbai and Pune. To reach out to more children, Mistri founded Teach For India, taking inspiration from the Teach For America movement, in 2008. Since then, the organisation has recruited, trained, and placed nearly 1,700 Fellows in schools across seven cities. Mistri is an Ashoka Fellow (2001), a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (2002), and an Asia Society 21 Leader (2006). She also serves as a committee member for the National Council for Teacher Education.
At 19, Verma got involved with his family’s mapping and technology business in India, helping create MapMyIndia. As CEO, the technocrat has led the company to make strides in a market still dominated by GoogleMaps. Today, MapMyIndia has millions of users and offers a wide array of additional functions such as 3D junction views with lane guidance, speed limit alerts, trip toll, fuel cost estimates, upcoming speed breakers and even potholes, among others. Besides this, Verma is a board member of Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Company, and an investor and adviser with Visit, a tech-driven healthcare service. In 2018, he built the Infidreams app, an inspiration-to-action platform to help users follow the path of their aspirations and dreams. He studied electrical engineering at Stanford University and did MBA from the London Business School.
Ragunathan is one of India’s most prominent Carnatic vocalists. A Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Ragunathan has been showered with awards and accolades throughout her illustrious career. Well known as a disciple of the legendary and influential Padma Bhushan awardee Dr ML Vasanthakumari, Ragunathan has been able to develop a style unique to herself, one which is evident in the more than 200 CDs she has released over the years. Displaying Ragunathan’s versatility and range, her music covers a wide range of compositions that dabble in a variety of languages and genres. Ragunathan is also known for her philanthropy, helping disburse funds through her position as founder & managing trustee of the Samudhaaya Foundation, which she established in 1999.
Tewari is a singer-songwriter best known for his work in the 2019 blockbuster Gully Boy. Despite his mainstream successes, Tewari is an indie artist at heart and is well known for his independent releases as much as for his work in Bollywood. Tewari left behind the hospitality sector to pursue his passions – a gamble that turned his dreams into reality. He is also credited for conceptualising and kick-starting Coke Studio Bharat alongside notable lyricist-writer Kausar Munir earlier this year. The tagline for the project – Apna Sunao – describes Tewari’s aim for it: to not only put a spotlight on the youth artistes in the country but to provide them with the platform to freely tell their stories.
Bhagat is one of the most recognisable fiction writers in India, with all 10 of his publications achieving bestseller status. Several of Bhagat’s novels have been adapted into blockbuster Bollywood films, the most prominent of which is the 2008 comedy 3 Idiots, adapted from his novel Five Point Someone. Alongside his work as an author, Bhagat is a columnist with The Times of India. He is also known as a motivational speaker, reportedly having spoken at over 300 organisations across 50 cities around the globe. On screen, he is also known for his role as a celebrity judge on season 7 of Nach Baliye and playing himself in Netflix’s Decoupled.