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DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2010

Its the end of the year & what does that mean? The biggest and best year-end list is back! Ladies and gents, yet another year of monumental achievements & further establishment for South Asians. Read on as Desiclub tells you who called the shots in 2010.
by Hiral Dholakia-Dave

DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2010

We never fail to awe and inspire, do we? And here by "we" - we mean the intelligent, enterprising, creative, hardworking Desis who straddle the two worlds they grow up in with elan. How else would you explain the success of a Sikh American woman who defied every odd and went on to become the only other Desi Governor of an American state? Or the new breed of young, brainy moneymakers who are also creating jobs for millions or the master innovators bridging the scientific divide and even helping making sense of how the universe works!

As we step into a brand new decade, it is that time of the year when we at Desiclub spent sleepless nights chronicling history through our trend setting "Top 50 Coolest Desis" list.

After all, as in the past, there were contenders A-P-L-E-N-T-Y for the coveted inclusion and it sure did take a lot of diligence on our end to get the compilation just right.

We have been at it for seven years now, so would it be immodest to claim the inspiration for all other lists that have come along? Be it the 30 Under 30s, 40 Under 40s, 80 Under 80s and all other yearenders. It doesn't hurt to claim recognition for expanding on a wonderful idea and setting a benchmark.

Indian American politicos topped our list this year with a record number of them in the fray during the November 4 elections and many making it to the seats of power. And if the political pundits have it right, we may soon see the likes of Nikki Haley and Kamala Harris running for President in the future. Some high-profile appointments - Subra Suresh as director of National Science Foundation and Vijay "Jay" Chand Gandhi as a federal judge in California have made it to our list as well. As have some former claimants - Fareed Zakaria, Vinod Khosla, Russell Peters - whose list of achievements just keeps getting bigger and better.

From ruling a democracy to unraveling the mysteries of the universe, Desis have been at it all, designing robots to ease our lives and what not. And of course how could we miss a big bunch of entertainers, some known names and some new, who've rightfully claimed their spots after making their space in the public consciousness ala the cast of "Outsourced" - the wonderfully brilliant and funny new NBC show, which makes light of stereotypical Indians in call centers with witty lines and deeply penetrating Indian jokes, which everyone gets. Talk about bridging the mainstream - we are the mainstream!

So here's raising a toast once again to the Desi spirit... we now present to you the mother list of all lists, here's Desiclub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2010.

50. Anamika Veeramani
Location: Ohio
Who is She: Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion
Why is She Cool: At 14, she won the first prize at the 83rd Scripps National Spelling Bee defeating 272 contestants from all over the country.
What's Next: She wants to go to Harvard and become a cardiovascular surgeon. And no doubt she will do just that!
Cool Fun Fact: She is the third consecutive Indian-American to win the competition. She landed $40,000 in cash and prizes after spelling the medical word "stromuhr" correct in the final round. What does stromuh mean? Look it up!




49. Sonia Shah
Location: Wisconsin
Who is She: A Gymnast
Why is She Cool: She won a Gold Medal for the US at the World Age Competitions held in Metz, France. The first place award makes Shah the World Champion for 17-18 year-old girls on the double mini trampoline.
What's Next: The November 2010 competition was for junior elites and Shah's next step is to compete in the 2011 World Championships as a senior elite.
Cool Fun Fact: She's maintained a fine balance between her school and training. Sonia plans to major in chemistry and go for pediatric or sports medicine.




48. G Deep
Location: New Jersey
Who is He: Singer, Songwriter, Composer, Music Director
Why is He Cool: After the smashing success of Sher Punjabi, his new Hindi album O'billo was released in September in North America and in India in December.
What's Next: Certainly more chartbusters from this Punjabi sensation.
Cool Fun Fact: He's one of the first American Punjabi artists to be signed by one of the biggest music labels in India - Times Music.






47. Ashutosh Saxena
Location: New York
Who is He: Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University
Why is He Cool: He's working to bring robots into homes and offices to improve daily life such as clean up a disheveled room, assemble a bookshelf and load and unload a dishwasher - all without human intervention! Now isn't that something?
What's Next: Ashutosh and his team of students are perfecting the code to make their robots come alive so that they can adapt to uncertain environments.
Cool Fun Fact: Ashutosh leads Cornell's Personal Robotics Lab, which develops software for complex, high-level robotics. Right, as you imagined he would.




46. Chee Malabar
Location: California and Brooklyn
Who is He: Rapper
Why is He Cool: Known for his fierce and insightful songs on politics, hip hop, race and culture, Chee Malabar has carved a niche for himself in the American hip hop world.
What's Next: He's releasing a solo album, Burning Tire Artisan, produced by the talented Ali Abidi, in early 2011 with some dope emcees featured like Mo and Toki Wright. Toddy Shop, in collaboration with Anand Subramanian (from Fair & Kind) should be released next year as well. Plus the lead single from that project, "War City."
Cool Fun Fact: His lyrics and work have found its way into numerous college curriculum and PHD dissertations about identity and politics in America.




45. Narayanan Krishnan
Location: Madurai, India
Who is He: Award winning chef turned fulltime humanitarian
Why is He Cool: He chucked his glamorous, fat check job to start his non-profit Akshaya Trust in 2003 and has served more than 1.2 million meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - to his hometown Madurai's homeless and destitute. Everyday he travels 125 miles along with his team reaching out to 400 needy with hot meals, at times even hand feeding them.
What's Next: Krishnan hopes to build a dormitory for the destitute.
Cool Fun Fact: Krishnan sleeps in Akshaya's modest kitchen with his few co-workers. His parents bear his expenses as he invested all his savings in Akshaya. Any wonder then as to why he was chosen as one of the CNN Heroes in 2010.




44. Waris Ahluwalia
Location: New York City
Who is He: Jewelry designer, Actor
Why is He Cool: He's a hip n' happening socialite and entrepreneur who's always up to something new and creative! He came up with this unique concept of having a tea shop in New York City under his House of Waris brand. Also not a mean achievement to always be well-dressed! He made it to Vanity Fair's "The 2010 International Best-Dressed" list with his neatly tied dastaar (turban) in place, always.
What's Next: He's known to follow his heart and everything he takes up makes headlines. So watch out!
Cool Fun Fact: House of Waris came into being after the owners of Maxfield's in LA noticed Waris's elaborate diamond rings and placed a large order, which sold out. His social connections have also landed him acting roles.




43. Nisha Desai Biswal
Location: Washington DC
Who is She: Assistant Administrator for Asia and Near East, USAID
Why is She Cool: After USAID chief Rajiv Shah, she's the only other Indian American to be appointed to the key USAID post.
What's Next: At USAID, Biswal will help to ensure that future generations in Asia and elsewhere have a chance at fulfilling their dreams as well. Her priority will be to build stronger partnerships between individuals and agencies that play a role in development in Asia.
Cool Fun Fact: She also made it to the list of "40 Under 40 International Development Leaders" prepared by the world's largest community of aid & development professionals, Devex. Before her current job she served for four years in USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, Office of Transition Initiatives, and as chief of staff in its Management Bureau.




42. Aruna Miller
Location: Maryland
Who is She: State Delegate
Why is She Cool: A rising Indian American politician, Miller was elected to the State House of Delegates from District 15.
What's Next: Issues concerning education, economic prosperity and transportation have been close to her heart. The new position should help her make a long lasting impact.
Cool Fun Fact: She's been serving Montgomery County for the last 20 years as transportation engineer.




41. Priyamvada Natarajan
Location: Connecticut
Who is She: Yale University Cosmologist
Why is She Cool: She was part of an international team of astronomers for a major study on the nature of dark energy, a mysterious force discovered in 1998 that speeds up the expansion of the universe about which precious little is known.
What's Next: The team used gravitational lensing and based on results Priyamvada says that the way in which the images were distorted gave the astronomers clues as to the geometry of the space that lies between the Earth and the cluster of distant galaxies.
Cool Fun Fact: The findings from this research will be a big contribution to the study of dark energy. And a Desi being a part of it makes it all the more cool.




40. Poonam Alaigh
Location: New Jersey
Who is She: New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner
Why is She Cool: One of the few Indian Americans to be appointed to a cabinet post.
What's Next: Given her qualifications and remarkable track record, I guess the health of New Jerseyites is in safe hands.
Cool Fun Fact: Dr. Alaigh has a multifaceted background in health care administration and delivery, including clinical and hospital practices, hospital administration, managed care, pharmaceutical medicine and health care policy.




39. Vikas Reddy
Location: Colorado
Who is He: Co-founder of iPhone application startup Occipital
Why is He Cool: Along with Jeffrey Powders created RedLaser, the highly popular iPhone barcode-scanning app.
What's Next: Recently they sold the app to eBay and used the proceeds from the deal to hire three engineers who are now working on developing more cool products.
Cool Fun Fact: Occipital is backed by the incubator TechStars and will post $2.5 million in revenue this year.




38. Ooshma Garg
Location: California
Who is She: CEO of Gobble, an online marketplace for buying and selling home-cooked food
Why is She Cool: She sold her first company (Anapata Inc.) earlier this year, and she was featured in Inc magazine's list of "30 Under 30: America's Coolest Young Enterpreneurs."
What's Next: Recently, Gobble raised over $1.2 million in funding and now plans to release it's marketplace for people all over the world to enjoy starting in Spring, 2011.
Cool Fun Fact: Garg decided to become an entrepreneur and take time off from school during her junior year of college, while she served as co-president of a networking group called Stanford Women in Business. Gobble was inspired by Ooshma's father, Abhimanyu Garg. He prepared homemade Indian food for her family everyday while she was growing up. She misses his food so much that she started Gobble for everyone to experience the pleasure of home-cooked food anytime they want.




37. Sachin Agarwal
Location: California
Who is He: CEO, Posterous
Why is He Cool: A San Francisco startup he founded with Garry Tan, the microblogging service makes publishing content online as easy as sending an email. His business has raised more than $5 million, and is backed by Y Combinator, the prestigious incubator.
What's Next: The idea of putting out a pro version is in the works. It will allow some advanced features like ads, and also give users more space.
Cool Fun Fact: He too made it to Inc. magazine's "30 Under 30" entrepreneurs list. His intro on his blog reads - "I love good food, strong drinks, fast cars, photography and New York City. I've never owned a PC. I worked on Final Cut Pro for six amazing years at Apple."




36. Sam Arora
Location: Maryland
Who is He: State Delegate District 19
Why is He Cool: Yet another Indian American to get into mainstream politics but among few who won the election too. He is an advocate, businessman and a public servant for many years now.
What's Next: He has tirelessly worked for Senator Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and other national campaigns. We believe he'll be serving the Silver Spring community with the same dedication.
Cool Fun Fact: He is a cum laude graduate of Columbia University, where he guest teaches a class on Presidential campaigning each year. And am sure you noticed it too, he bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Ben Stiller.




35. Raj Varma
Location: New York
Who is He: Actor, Writer, Producer
Why is He Cool: Rajeev Varma has been active in film and entertainment since the mid 90's but has only recently showcased his talent in North America with his one-man show "D'Arranged Marriage," where he portrays about a dozen male and female characters, all of whom have a hilarious Indian descendancy and share personalities that teeter on the edge of madness. The man is a comedic and acting whiz.
What's Next: Raj plans on expanding the city run of his show "D'Arranged Marriage" into other major markets.
Cool Fun Fact: Rajeev is originally from New Zealand, a place that has its very own funny Indian population.




34. Raghuram Rajan
Location: Chicago
Who is He: Economist and Professor at Chicago Booth School
Why is He Cool: He won the 30,000 pounds Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for 2010 for his book, 'Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy.'
What's Next: His book analyzes the flaws in the economy that led to the current financial crisis. A must read for policy makers.
Cool Fun Fact: He is an honorary economic adviser to India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and worked previously as chief economist at IMF.




33. Amit Goyal
Location: Tennessee
Who is He: Researcher at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Why is He Cool: He has been named the '2010 Innovator of the Year' by leading technology publication R&D Magazine, whose awards are touted as the 'Oscars of Innovation.'
What's Next: Widely regarded as an international leader in the field of high-temperature superconducting (HTS) materials, Goyal is known for his contributions to the practical use of HTS and development and fabrication of wires that allow these superconductors to be adopted in the marketplace.
Cool Fun Fact: In the last three years, he has received three R&D 100 Awards related to fabrication of HTS wires. The R&D 100 Awards are given to the top 100 technologies or products of the year. Thompson-Reuters ranks him as the most cited author worldwide in his field of expertise.




32. Chandrika Krishnamurthy Tandon
Location: New York City
Who is She: Businesswoman-cum-Vocalist
Why is She Cool: She has been nominated for a Grammy Award for her album "Om Namo Narayanaya: Soul Call in the 'Best Contemporary World Music Album' category.
What's Next: She learned Carnatic music at a very young age but gave it up for many years. She took it up seriously some years back and viola, the second album goes for a Grammy!
Cool Fun Fact: Tandon is the elder sister of PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi. She is a trustee of New York University (NYU) and even serves on the board of overseers at the NYU Stern School of Business. She is also associated with Yale University. Last year, she was honored with the Walter Nichols medal for "representing the highest ideals of business, service and integrity from NYU Stern."




31. Nergis Mavalvala
Location: Cambridge, MA
Who is She: MIT Astrophysicist
Why is She Cool: She won the coveted 2010 MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. Apparently the first Parsi South Asian to win so. She will receive a $500,000 "no strings attached" award over the next five years.
What's Next: A valuable contribution to the field of astrophysics with far reaching impact on human understanding of cosmos.
Cool Fun Fact: She's been working on gravitational wave(GW) detection since the early 90's. Her work has involved designing and perfecting different parts of a complicated instrument called LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) to detect GWs and exploring how quantum mechanics limits the performance of the LIGO detectors. Detecting faint and elusive GWs will open a new window to further our understanding of the Universe.




30. Hashem Clarke
Location: Michigan
Who is He: Congressman
Why is He Cool: He's created history as the first democratic member of the Michigan Senate of Bangladeshi descent to win a congressional seat to the US House of Representatives in November's elections.
What's Next: On winning the seat he said he would try to fulfill dreams of the people of the US. If he could unseat an incumbent of 20 years, impossible sure is not a word in his dictionary.
Cool Fun Fact: After serving three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives, one term as a State Senator, he defeated the seven-term incumbent, Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in the primary by 10 percentage points!




29. Kesha Ram
Location: Vermont
Who is She: State Representative
Why is She Cool: She's the youngest serving member of the Vermont legislature and in the nation at 23. And she got re-elected this year for a two-year term!
What's Next: Her campaign for the Vermont House of Representatives consisted mainly of engaging and empowering her neighbors. That experience confirmed for her that her district cared deeply about the issues she had already been working on in her outstanding pursuit of service on behalf of her community.
Cool Fun Fact: Her honors include Lola Aiken Scholar, Morris K. Udall Scholar, Ronald E. McNair Scholar, Harry S. Truman Scholar, Oxfam "Sister on the Planet" Climate Change Ambassador, and Vision 2020 Delegate. All this apart from being a legal advocate for Women Helping Battered Women. She also continues to work on the Burlington Environment and Energy Coordinating Committee and on the board of the Center for Whole Communities. All of it going on at 23! Phew!!




28. Subra Suresh
Location: Virginia
Who is He: Director of National Science Foundation
Why is He Cool: He has been appointed by none other than the President to the top Science body for a six year term.
What's Next: As director, Suresh will lead the $6.9 billion independent federal agency that supports all fields of science and engineering research, as well as a wide span of educational programs that reach more than 2,000 institutions across the US.
Cool Fun Fact: He was dean of the School of Engineering at MIT. A mechanical engineer, who later became interested in materials science and biology, Suresh has done pioneering work studying the biomechanics of blood cells under the influence of diseases such as malaria.




27. Naveen Selvadurai
Location: New York City
Who is He: Founder of Foursquare, a location-aware social networking app
Why is He Cool: He made it to Inc magazine's list of "30 Under 30: America's Coolest Young Entrepreneurs." He ranks at number 30 on FastCompany's list of The 100 Most Creative People in Business. And recently he's been listed in the 'World's New Young Millionaires' released by AOL Small Business.
What's Next: He has been selected among 23 from nine countries for the NYC Venture Fellows program to assist later-stage startup entrepreneurs in scaling their business in the city.
Cool Fun Fact: Selvaduri's joint venture is now pegged at $80 million. One of the hottest tech startups in the world, it is still growing steadily by 100,000 new members a week. As of October 2010, Foursquare had over 4 million users worldwide.




26. Archana Patchirajan, Puneet Mehta and Sonpreet Bhatia
Location: New York City
Who are They: Founders of MyCityWay, a mobile apps startup.
Why are They Cool: The trio won the inaugural NYC BigApps competition earlier this year and received a $300,000 investment in return for an undisclosed equity stake in the company by NYC's Economic Development Corporation. Their app is meant to provide a one-stop discovery and action-ability platform for over 50 resource categories in the city - including restaurants, nightlife, hotels, traffic, public transport, safety and green efforts.
What's Next: MyCityWay has presence in 40 cities now (including London) and plans to be in 100 cities in 2011 which includes Indian cities in the first quarter.
Cool Fun Fact: The trio was invited for the ceremonial closing bell at the NASDAQ in July. They are also featured in BusinessInsider's '35 Up-and-coming entrepreneurs you need to meet' list and New York's Coolest Tech People of 2010.




25. Samrat Chakrabarti
Location: New York City
Who is He: Actor, Composer
Why is He Cool: He's a prolific artist with a spate of releases during the year. Be it New York premieres of "Ashes" and "The Waiting City" or screening of "Gangor" based on a work by Mahasweta Devi at Rome International Film Festival, and "Walkaway" across the US or sharing the screen space with the likes of Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) and Irrfan Khan (In Treatment).
What's Next: He has already left an indelible mark on independent cinema with his work so far. We can only expect more additions to his oeuvre, be it movies or music.
Cool Fun Fact: Samrat also composed the original score for Hiding Divya, starring Madhur Jaffery and Pooja Kumar and Sundaram Tagore's documentary "Natvar Bhavsar: Poetics of Color."




24. Capt Tejdeep Singh Rattan
Location: New York
Who is He: Dentist
Why is He Cool: He is the first Sikh in a generation allowed to complete US Army officer basic training without sacrificing the articles of his faith. He graduated at Fort Sam Houston after the Army made an exemption to a uniform policy that has effectively prevented Sikhs from enlisting since 1984.
What's Next: He has set a precedent. Hopefully it will lead to the US Army adopting more leniency towards recruiting Sikh citizens in the future.
Cool Fun Fact: During training, Rattan wore a helmet over the small turban, which he doesn't remove, and was able to successfully create a seal with his gas mask despite the beard, resolving the Army's safety concerns.




23. Shailja Gupta
Location: New York City
Who is She: Artist, Filmmaker and New Media Specialist
Why is She Cool: After a successful career in New Media and Information Technology, Shailja actively pursed her passion for film. She made her directorial debut with the feature film - Walkaway.
What's Next: A multifaceted personality, she's been a successful entrepreneur, artist and now a filmmaker. Wonder what surprises she'll pop up with in the future? Keep watching this space.
Cool Fun Fact: She worked as Global Marketing Manager for the Indian National award winner (2003) and internationally acclaimed film - Chokher Bali, followed by Assistant Script Supervisor for another Indian National award winner (2005) - Raincoat, starring the former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.




22. Kal Penn
Location: Washington DC
Who is He: Actor and Associate Director, Office of Public Engagement at the White House
Why is He Cool: He has returned to the White House after a five month hiatus which he took to film the third installment of "Harold and Kumar", the role he is best known for. A good balancing act indeed.
What's Next: He will be the point person for those in the Arts, Youth and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.
Cool Fun Fact: Penn has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania as a visiting lecturer in the Cinema Studies Program. Kal will be in our top 10 again once the next H&K movie is released, at least we predict that.




21. Ami Sheth
Location: New York City
Who is She: Actress, Model, Veterinarian
Why is She Cool: Ami did what every parent in the world wants there offspring to do - become a doctor. She didn't stop there however, having accomplished something to fall back on, she pursued her modeling and acting career with full force and can now be seen in commercials for Six Flags, Ethan Allen, Claritin, to name just a few household brands. Talk about the perfect combo for success! Artist meets Science - Parents: Here's your example of a perfect child. Kids: Sorry!
What's Next: While Ami recently appeared in the feature film "Walkaway" you can catch Ami in an episode of CBS' "Blue Bloods", which aires on January 14th.
Cool Fun Fact: Ami was one of Desiclub.com's swimsuit calendar models way back in 2007. Time surely flies and we are immensely proud of Ami!




20. Ajay Naidu
Location: New York City
Who is He: Actor, Director
Why is He Cool: He made his directorial debut with the indie flick 'Ashes' which premiered in NYC in November. Reviews say 'Ashes' brings out the serious actor-director in him.
What's Next: Festival circuit of the film next year. And more accolades and awards, may we add?
Cool Fun Fact: Known for his comic roles including the cult classic 'Office Space' he's been around for 15 years having working in 50 film and TV projects.




19. Parvesh Cheena
Location: California
Who is He: Actor
Why is He Cool: He's been around for quite a while with recurring roles in TV shows and movies. Currently, he stars in NBC's new comedy series Outsourced as Gupta, a socially awkward call center employee. His hilarious portrayal of the character has got him noticed in American media and garnered him a fan-following in the mainstream.
What's Next: Theatre, films, television, commercials, he's been proving his acting prowess all around. It won't be long before we hear him bag some prestigious awards too!
Cool Fun Fact: He's also busy polishing his talents performing long-form improvisation with the Harold mainstage team, Fairfax Prep, at IO/West. He is also a part of a three-man improv group named STU; the South Asian team Browntown; and the musical improv troupe All-Skate. He is continuing classes at Steppenwolf Classes West with renowned viewpoints teacher Alexandra Billings, and at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.




18. Rizwan Manji
Location: California
Who is He: Actor
Why is He Cool: Manji plays Rajiv Gidwani on NBC's new comedy Outsourced where he plays Todd's mischievous assistant manager who has aspirations to be Todd's replacement no matter what. We got to see quite a bit of him on the telly this year. He has been seen on "Glee," "How I Met Your Mother," and "Hawthorne," as well as a recurring role on "FlashForward," "Three Rivers," and "Better off Ted." Manji also appeared as Ahman on the final season of "24," though he is probably best known for playing the cantankerous butler Rami on the series "Privileged."
What's Next: More screen space definitely!
Cool Fun Fact: Manji was born in Toronto, Canada and was raised in Calgary, Alberta. His ancestry is from a small village in Gujarat, India, however, both his parents were raised and met in Tanzania.




17. Siddhartha Mukherjee
Location: New York City
Who is He: Cancer Specialist
Why is He Cool: Mukherjee's book, "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer", on the history of the disease, features among "The 10 Best Books of 2010" in the New York Times Book Reviews, a rare feat for a work of non-fiction.
What's Next: Despite the overwhelming response to the book, the author doesn't intend to turn a fulltime writer. Practising and writing about medicine is what he would like to stick to.
Cool Fun Fact: He's been known to say, "people first train in medicine and then get fascinated by cells. It happened the other way around for me," as he's a cellular biologist turned oncologist.




16. Sachin Tendulkar
Location: Mumbai
Who is He: Cricketer
Why is He Cool: The greatest run-scorer of all-time scored an epic double hundred runs including six sixes in the one day international against South Africa in February in Gwalior, India, which catapulted him to the league of cricketing greats whose records will remain unsurpassed for a long time to come (unless cricketers also start using Steroids, do they?). He created a record of sorts by hitting his 50th test century against South Africa.
What's Next: The batting maestro never ceases to amaze us creating a higher benchmark for himself year after year.
Cool Fun Fact: He holds the record as the youngest Indian to make an international debut and got the highest number of Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards in One Day Internationals (ODIs).




15. Adnan Virk
Location: Connecticut
Who is He: On Air Sports News Anchor/Sportscaster
Why is He Cool: Global sports broadcaster ESPN hired him in April, 2010. That makes him one of the countable few South Asian faces to bring in the best of national sporting events to drawing rooms of millions.
What's Next: He's on a two-year contract but given his flair, we sure hope to see him around for a long time to come.
Cool Fun Fact: He was previously an anchor for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment's Raptors NBA TV, Leafs TV, and Gol TV. Until June of 2009 he hosted several programs on The Score in Canada and was previously an associate producer for Sportscentre at TSN. In 2007 Virk hired an agent who soon secured for him an interview at ESPN. Virk impressed his interviewers but was victimized by a hiring-freeze at the Disney-owned network. "The ESPN guy told my agent afterwards, 'If I had an opening, I'd hire him tomorrow,'" he told the Ontario Whig Standard. Not one to give up, he kept a follow up and three years on, he finally made it to what he calls "the Mecca of sports television."




14. Vijay "Jay" Chand Gandhi
Location: California
Who is He: United States Magistrate Judge
Why is He Cool: Gandhi is the first Indian-American federal judge in California, and only the second Indian-American federal judge in the history of the United States.
What's Next: Until his second term after eight years, he'll be busy ensuring that law and order is in place in the largest district of the nation.
Cool Fun Fact: He is 38 and currently the youngest federal judge in the Southern California area and one of the youngest in the country.




13. Archie Panjabi
Location: London, New York City
Who is She: Actress
Why is She Cool: She bagged the best supporting actress award for her role of Kalinda, the street smart in-house investigator in CBS's hit legal drama "The Good Wife" at the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards.
What's Next: She's picked up projects, which have won her accolades along the way. Be it Best Actress award at Reims Festival for her role in 'Yasmin' or critical acclaim for her role as a journalist in Anjelina Jolie's 'A Mighty Heart'.
Cool Fun Fact: Winning an Emmy is a dream fulfilled for Archie. As a kid she aspired to be a TV actress as "film was just impossible - you never got any Asian women in Western cinema." She's also known for her roles in 'The Constant Gardener', 'Bend It Like Beckham' and 'East is East.'




12. Kumar Barve
Location: Maryland
Who is He: House Delegate
Why is He Cool: He was reelected to the Maryland House of Delegates for District 17. He continues to serve in his incredible leadership role as Maryland House of Delegates Majority Leader.
What's Next: He mentored two other Democrats Sam Arora and Aruna Miller who also won their elections. Just proves his able leadership and commitment towards the Desi community too.
Cool Fun Fact: He's the longest serving Indian American in elected office.




11. Vijay Iyer
Location: New York City
Who is He: Jazz pianist, composer
Why is He Cool: His album "Historicity" has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category. And the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards recently named Iyer their 2010 Musician of the Year, an honor previously awarded to jazz legends like Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman.
Cool Fun Fact: A polymath whose work has spanned the sciences, arts, and humanities, Iyer holds a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale College, and a Masters in Physics and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley. He was chosen as one of nine "Revolutionary Minds" in the science magazine Seed, and his research in music cognition has been featured on the radio programs This Week in Science and Studio 360.




10. Aarti Sequeira
Location: Los Angeles
Who is She: TV news producer turned food blogger turned chef
Why is She Cool: She won the sixth season of Food Network's reality TV show The Next Food Network Star by weaving Indian flavors into American classics! That also got her a dream job - she now gets to host her own show, Aarti Party on the network.
What's Next: More Desi flavors, more fun and a permanent spot, not just on the network but in public memory with her touch of humor and on-screen charisma.
Cool Fun Fact: Aarti's passion for food started before she could even talk. As a toddler, she sat on her mom's kitchen counter, secretly sneaking slices of raw onion into her not-yet-toothed mouth whilst her mom was cooking. She never considered food as a career, though.




9. Sarina Jain
Location: New York City
Who is She: Fitness trainer and innovator
Why is She Cool: She brought the Masala Bhangra routine into the fitness industry lexicon and celebrated its 10-year mark in 2010. Add to it, she was selected as the new face of Nestle Fitness' "Flat Belly" campaign.
What's Next: She just introduced Bar Bhangra and expanded her presence to as far as Tokyo. You can imagine what's next.
Cool Fun Fact: Sarina says she loves learning, culture, why people do what they do, politics, reading and last but not least, cooking and eating! As for the last one, she sure can afford to indulge because burning calories is pretty much on her schedule all the while.




8. Aziz Ansari
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Who is He: Actor and Standup Comedian
Why is He Cool: He's been a fixture on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" as Tom Haverford, the witty and sometimes desperate ladies man. Aziz has been busy touring with his sold out standup comedy tour 'The Dangerously Delicious' show. He also hosted the MTV 2010 Movie Awards - a rare achievement for a Desi celeb. He's been appearing in countless hit films and has developed a good presence in the Comedy world for himself, paving the way for others. He has been named "The Next Big Thing" among 17 stars to watch by Forbes.
What's Next: If not acting he is touring with his standup comedy and vice versa. He's always been up to something creative. An entertainer to the core. He's earned himself a three-picture deal with Apatow and GE's Universal Pictures. With his partner Jason Woliner, Ansari is working on a movie about Raaaaaaaandy (the character he played in Funny People) as well as a road trip film about two motivational speakers.
Cool Fun Fact: Ansari's performance on Parks and Recreation has received notable praise from critics, including Entertainment Weekly naming him one of 2009's "Breakout TV Stars," TV Guide naming him a "Scene Stealer" and Yahoo! TV placing him in the number one spot on their list of "TV MVPS."




7. Russell Peters
Location: Los Angeles
Who is He: Errr... you know him, don't you?
Why is He Cool: He is named as No. 7 on Forbes's list of the Top 10 Highest Grossing Comics ($15 million, earned from June 2009-June 2010)
What's Next: Peters will star in his own sitcom on NBC. The comic has teamed with "Cheers" writer Rob Long on a half-hour comedy that will be based on his own life, as a child of Anglo-Indian immigrants and will likely be called "I'm With Russell."
Cool Fun Fact: During a recent tour of Dubai, Russell sold tickets at the rate of one ticket every two seconds - crashing all the online sales outlets as soon as the tickets went on-sale!




6. Aasif Mandvi
Location: New York City
Who is He: Actor, Writer, Comedian
Why is He Cool: All for the satirical and witty insights on daily happenings, he's also one of the biggest reasons for us to stay addicted to 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.' 'Today's Special' - which he adapted from his one act play Sakina's Restaurant received rave reviews at the film festival circuit and is on its way to reaching the mainstream.
What's Next: For someone who knew from age 13 that he wanted to act, Aasif has been pursuing it relentlessly and getting a thumbs up for a job well done with his integrity in place. We see Aasif heading into even greater places.
Cool Fun Fact: Spiderman is his favorite superhero and he played Peter Parker's boss at the Pizzeria in the sequel of the film!




5. Irrfan Khan
Location: Mumbai
Who is He: Actor
Why is He Cool: Give him a role and he'll turn it into a memorable character with his histrionics. He's Bollywood's most notable export to the West in recent times. After fortifying a place in public psyche with his portrayals in 'Namesake', 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'A Mighty Heart' he managed to become the 'most interesting patient' in the TV series 'In Treatment' this year with what New York Times called a deft and compelling rendering of a grieving Indian émigré struggling to retain his dignity in an alien culture.
What's Next: He has been cast as a second villain 'Van Adder' in the 3D 'Spider Man' due out in 2012 and will be seen in Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's bestseller "Life of Pi."
Cool Fun Fact: Slumdog Millionaire maker Danny Boyle says Irrfan "is a touchstone connecting two worlds." I personally enjoyed him in "The Warrior" - fantastic film!




4. Vinod Khosla
Location: California
Who is He: Billionaire Venture Capitalist and cofounder Sun Microsystems
Why is He Cool: He is featured in Vanity Fair's annual listing of The New Establishment 100. He comes in at #71 (Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is at #1 and Apple's Steve Jobs at #2) on the list of "The 100 Most Influential People of the Information Age."
What's Next: He plans to start a VC fund to invest in companies that focus on the poor in India, Africa and elsewhere by providing services like health, energy and education.
Cool Fun Fact: Khosla Ventures has made one direct investment in India - $3.35 million in an electrical utilities company. He also invested in a Tamil Nadu based microfinance institution, through his non-profit private foundation, Amar Foundation.




3. Fareed Zakaria
Location: New York City
Who is He: Editor, Columnist, TV Host, Commentator, Author, Foreign Policy Expert
Why is He Cool: Global magazine Foreign Policy named him one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. Plus, in January, Zakaria received "Padma Bhushan", the third highest recognition awarded to civilians by the Indian Government. This was for his contribution to the field of journalism. He has become the voice of authentic journalism on TV and in print. In an age where the word journalism has become myth with tons of personalities over-shadowing the news and stories, Fareed's voice of objective thought and analyzing sets him apart from every single individual in his business.
What's Next: More accolades, more hard-hitting journalism, he's a brown Walter Cronkite.
Cool Fun Fact: Before joining Newsweek in October 2000, he was managing editor of Foreign Affairs for eight years, a post he was appointed to at only 28 years old!




2. Nikki Haley
Location: South Carolina
Who is She: Governor of South Carolina
Why is She Cool: She's the first woman of South Asian origin to win the Governor's race in any US State. This is no minor achievement ladies and gentlemen, for she faced quite a difficult campaign and withstood her many opponents. It isn't enough that she became Governor, but that a woman with the ethnic background she has became governor of the state of South Carolina is quite a feat and she proves that no challenge is too daunting.
What's Next: Nikki is already being mentioned as a "long shot" Presidential/VP candidate in 2012.
Cool Fun Fact: According to CNN, she was the "fastest rising" political figure searched for on Google in 2010. Among all the political fresh faces and new names Googled in the United States in 2010, "Nikki Haley" was the search term that spiked the most from last year to this year.




1. Kamala Harris
Location: California
Who is She: Attorney General
Why is She Cool: She's the first woman of South Asian origin to be elected to the post anywhere in the country. She has been called the female "Barack Obama" but we like to think Kamala Harris will be spawning many male and female Kamala Harris's now and in the future. There is a bright star that shines on this well poised woman who has set out to make some drastic changes in the way California deals with and enforces the law. What she has accomplished through her mainstream and grassroots efforts is truly inspiring and a sign of things to come.
What's Next: At the moment, her top priority is to try new approaches to reduce the state's high recidivism rate - the term technically means, after having served the sentence and released, criminals getting back into prison for committing felony again. Given her track record (she's responsible for increasing the trial conviction rate of gun felonies to 90% while serving as San Francisco District Attorney, previously), the voters won't be disappointed, we hope.
Cool Fun Fact: Last year, she was named by the New York Times on a list of 17 women most likely to become the first lady President. She has been featured on the Oprah Show and in Newsweek as one of "America's 20 Most Powerful Women." We will be hearing this name over and over and over again, that we are certain of.



Also read our Top 50 Coolest Desis lists from previous years:
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2009
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2008
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2007
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2006
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2005
DesiClub.com's Top 50 Coolest Desis of 2004

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