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December 18, 2003

Swadesh Chatterjee, Anil KakaniThe last phase of deliberations was clear cut -- by then, the jury had clarified to its own satisfaction the criteria it would consider; it had then applied those criteria to the list of nominees and whittled it down to a very short list of three.

The first name out of the box was that of a scientist, whose multi-page bio had drawn humorous comment from some jury members earlier.

With the mood turning serious, the jurors went through the bio in detail, exclaiming over the range of accomplishments the candidate had put together in a short span of life.

The jurors agreed that the scientist, with national recognition, was a very good candidate. Not only had she reached the acme of individual accomplishment in her field and, in the process, done something concrete to alleviate a disease endemic to the community, she also had a body of social and community work to her credit.

"I think she fulfils all the three criteria -- she is well-known, she has given back to the community and is a role model," one juror said.

"I am excited about her," another agreed. "She is a phenomenal candidate."

"She is a top scientist and is also involved with the community," a third endorsed.

It appeared that the scientist, who had polled the maximum votes in the preliminary round, was a shoo-in.

The next name to come up for discussion was that of a prominent media personality who had, in the year gone by, made waves worldwide during an international crisis.

In debating his name, the jurors on the plus side pointed out that he was yet another example of a community member achieving recognition in a non-traditional field; that in doing so, he had helped erase the notion that the community was skilled only in certain fields and not in others.

However, it was argued that while he was indubitably a role model, his contribution to the community -- already agreed upon by the jury as an important criterion -- was not as clear-cut.

The third name on the short list came up for discussion. One juror at the table who knew the candidate best, and who had observed her work at close range, introduced the nominee.

He spoke of how the community had traditionally followed a pattern. The first step, he pointed out, was to arrive in the US in search of personal success; once that was attained over years of hard work and sacrifice, the person would sit back to consider the world at large, and look for ways to contribute, to the community here and to his native
land, something of himself.

This candidate, the juror pointed out, had gone against the template. She was young; she had a good educational record; she was at that stage of her life when you would expect her to focus single-mindedly on using her abilities to maximise achievement.

Yet, the juror said, she had turned her back on a career. Instead, she had sought a way to improve the lot of a section of the community; having found it, she had turned her time, her abilities, even her own money, to that task.

"Most people look to give back to the community something they had taken out of it; this candidate is giving to the community without having got anything for herself," the juror pointed out.

Jurors sought more insight on the candidate and her accomplishments, calling on National Affairs Editor Aziz Haniffa to contribute insight. Once they were satisfied that the three finalists had been discussed threadbare, the jury got down to the final vote.

Each juror wrote one name down on a slip of paper; these were collected and collated by jury chair Dandekar.

Dandekar looked down at the tally in front of her, she looked up at the jurors, all of whom awaited the final verdict. She adjusted her glasses, she took a sip of water. And then, having stretched the suspense as far as it could go, she read out the name of the winner.

The jury broke out in spontaneous applause; the words "brilliant choice," "perfect," were heard from around the table.

"Sonal Shah is the India Abroad Person of the Year 2003," Dandekar announced, alluding to the lady who, along with sister Roopal and brother Anand, runs the Indicorps programme.

Next: Humanity that works

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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