Missing man of Madras


Sorry. But that was the sustained sound of those of us in the Chennai media uncontrollably wetting our collective pants in the immediate aftermath of the news of Sundar Pichai being elevated as the CEO of Google this week. And if and when he actually visits the city in the future, you can fairly be certain that we in the media would transubstantiate ourselves into a well-formed liquid-leaking cloud.

The fact that Sundar Pichai had his schooling in Chennai was a major impulse for us editors in news publications and channels to push our reporters in search of his old schoolmates and teachers and get them to answer the all-important question, ‘how does it feel now’. This, of course, is the only question that we ask anybody, including dead persons.

Also, since top celebrities prefer to straightaway get in touch with the larger populace on social media platforms where interactions can be incisive and no-holds-barred (Sample: ‘Sundar dude, stay awesome’, well thought out response: *thumbs up*), we in the traditional media anyway have had to fill the pages/airwaves mostly with inputs from second-hand sources, which could be any of the following: 1) Close friends (of the newsmaker) 2) Neighbours 3) Relatives. In the case of Sundar Pichai, we went for a fourth option, which was: people who neither knew him nor were his neighbours but who happen to now live in the same street that he inhabited two decades back.

But we are getting ahead of the story. On that muggy Tuesday morning, droves of reporters set out in search of Sundar’s classmates and teachers, and one hour into their assignment they had managed to dig up lots of information on Sundar Pichai, including the one that there was no one by the name Sundar Pichai.

Seriously. No school could categorically confirm that a student by that name had studied there, but many of the schools were, however, ready to overlook this minor point and accept him as their alumni now. At one point, there were at least five schools in the race to claim him.

Just to sum up, the info that journos had that morning was: A) There was no Sundar Pichai in any of the schools B) He was a student of five different schools.

Could it be that Sundar Pichai was a sci-fi reality that Google had conjured up? But luckily the clouds of doubt soon cleared and it turned out that — heightened music for plot twist —- Sundar Pichai was not Sundar Pichai.

Haha. That heightened music was just to mislead you. Now we play the same scene again: Sundar Pichai was not Sundar Pichai because he went by the name Sundararajan in school. His grandmother, not unreasonably, called him by the name Rajesh. One teacher, however, managed to recall a lot of details only to say in the end, ‘no sorry, that was his brother Srinivasan’.

Anyway, once the name, person and place confusion was sorted out, journalists now went looking for people who could recollect Sundar Pichai’s growing-up years. But his schoolmates were hard to find or at any rate not willing to come on record. No surprises there. I mean Sundar Pichai has become far more successful than any normal friendship could bear.

To put things in perspective, if Sundar Pichai were your friend, how could you possibly live down the reality that he is set to take home around Rs. 400 crore in annual payout, an amount that, forget you, even your office may not make annually? (Don’t kid yourself thinking that money doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter only if you are already rich).

Eventually, we managed to talk to some alumni and also to some who now live in the same street that Sundar Pichai did 20 years ago, who gave us the extremely insightful info: ‘Sundar Pichai was a studious person’, which we prominently used in our reports because without us pointing out the world wouldn’t know that a guy who went to IIT-Stanford-Wharton was a hard working and sincere chap.

A couple of his relatives were also zeroed in on. One of them spoke from his heart and gave us the inspirational quote: ‘Don’t quote me’. They turned out to be people that journalism today has little time for: People with quiet dignity and old-world simplicity. They were not ready to bask in borrowed glory.

At the end of the day, most newspapers and channels did somehow cobble up a long report without saying anything interesting. Just like the daily editorials, but not that totally useless.

Everything aside, as a Chennaiite, I am happy for the fact that Sundar Pichai hails from this city and happier for the other fact that I don’t have a classmate who pulls in crores and crores of rupees in salary.

I would be wetting my pants just thinking about that salary.