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The heart of a genius: 'I somehow impressed her enough!'

Last updated on: October 14, 2012 18:04 IST

Raj and Sundari Chetty In the last of a four-part series (click here for Part I, Part II and Part III) profiling economist Raj Chetty, winner of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, we bring you the inspiring speech the 'genius' gave on his wedding day, offering an insight into his family life.

This is an overwhelming moment for me in many ways: To be surrounded by two caring families who have put in a tremendous amount of effort to make this happen; to share this wonderful occasion with 400 friends and relatives; and, of course, to be standing next to a girl who has given me something to think about besides economics -- someone I respect, love, and feel truly lucky to have as my wife.

Like other important events in my life, this marriage is largely the outcome of others efforts. I was fortunate to be at a school that gave me the skills needed to get into Harvard. At Harvard, I was lucky to meet an advisor, Martin Feldstein, who brought to where I am today professionally. In the same way, I am fortunate to have met Sundari, and to have somehow impressed her enough that she decided to marry me.

But luck itself is the product of hard work, and here I am indebted to my family for bringing me this far. My sisters, Mala and Shanthi, have been great role models and have always been there for me in times of need. My sisters have taken care of me, taught me, and even done my homework.

As many of you know, I am not very good at art projects. So my sisters or parents would often do them for me in school. I remember one incident in sixth grade, when I was playing upstairs while Shanthi was making some sculpture that involved cutting wood into small pieces.

I suddenly heard Shanthi scream as the knife slipped and she cut through a nerve. We went to the emergency room as her hand was bleeding, and she ultimately lost some sensation in one of her fingers.

But when she came back, she only asked if I needed help in finishing the project.

Similarly, I have had many conversations with Mala about economics in real life, and I credit her with inspiring the idea for the paper that got me a job at Berkeley.

The three of us are most indebted to my parents, whose unending devotion to us never ceases to amaze me. My friends joke that I must be the only professor whose mom still doesn't let him serve himself and who makes him make his bed every morning. My father has taught me a lot about economics and how to think analytically. Together, they have given me the skills to take advantage of the luck that comes my way, and I am very grateful for this.

Finally, I want to mention one last reason that I am truly overwhelmed by this event. As many of you know, most of the families here are first-generation immigrants, who left an environment of harsh conditions in Indian villages to seek a better life.

I am always moved when I think of what a story my father told me once, when he and my uncle saw a car passing by their village one day. His brother turned to him and said, 'It's very nice, but we will never be able to own a car in our lives.'

My parents, Sundari's parents, and many other families here have worked their way up from an environment where nothing came easily. Today, this room probably has a higher fraction of doctors than any other place in the country, and children like me and Sundari have opportunities we would never have had in India.

This grand wedding and reception are a tribute to all of your hard work, risk-taking, and sacrifices. On behalf of Sundari and all the other second- and third-generation children here, I want to say how very grateful we are for what you have all done to make our lives so much better.

Image: Raj and Sundari Chetty

Photograph: Courtesy Raj Chetty


India Abroad