A Mind Without Borders: A Dean’s Passage From The Old World To The New

Anjani Jain

Yale School of Management Deputy Dean Anjani Jain

Editor’s Note: Academics born in India have had a monumental influence in business and management education all over the world. On April 15th, a ‘Minds Without Border’ event in Atlanta will celebrate the powerful achievements of Indian educators in the realm of business and management. To commemorate the occasion, Poets&Quants asked Yale School of Management Deputy Dean Anjani Jain if we could publish this personal reflection after a recent conversation.

As an immigrant who reached the American shore well over half a lifetime ago, I sometimes give in to musings about how my passage from the old world to the new, and my frequent travels between them, have shaped my identity and outlook. I continue to marvel at the improbability of that passage, given my antecedents in the provincial small towns of central India in a region still regarded within the country as ‘backward.’

The world of my childhood was tranquil and often bucolic, but also confined and isolated. I cannot recall when or how America entered my consciousness as a place and as an idea, but despite our isolation it happened remarkably early. Almost no one we knew had travelled to the U.S., and the occasional American movies that made their way to the local cinema theatres were incomprehensible because the schoolbook English we were taught was useless for deciphering conversations.  Yet, by the time the space race was heating up and the adventures of Yuri Gagarin and other Soviet cosmonauts were splashed across local newspapers, I, still in the first decade of my life, was beginning to root for America.

In my insular world, short-wave radio was the main source of news about what was happening elsewhere.  Television, regarded by the government as an unaffordable luxury, existed only in distant Delhi, and the local newspapers printed a few scraps of man-bites-dog stories that came over the transom from the West.


But in the remotest places where even the government run medium-wave broadcasts faded out, short-wave offered the richness and first-hand reporting of BBC’s World Service, the urbane and often whimsical programming of their Hindi Service, Voice of America’s Jazz Hour, its offerings heralded by DJs of impossibly deep baritones, Deutsche Welle, which also had a Hindi broadcast, and Radio Nederland, which beamed cheerful top-20 pop hits from an exotic place called Hilversum.

My father monopolized the radio for long periods, listening to Radio Multan’s broadcast of Sufi music and poetry of his ancestral land.  Several frequencies on the dial were occupied by Radio Moscow’s broadcasts in almost every Indian language.  I liked tuning in once in a while to listen to its native Russians who spoke chaste Hindi in cadences that I found endlessly funny.

The Soviet Union projected itself into our small world with earnest endeavor.  Color magazines with photos of folk dancers, cosmonauts, and factories were delivered free of cost in our mail. Bound volumes of science textbooks and translations of Tolstoy and Pushkin were sold at near-zero prices. (A few years later, I was to immerse myself in the 900-page calculus tome by N. Piskunov.)  The American presence was a lighter touch, a pull rather than a push. The U.S. Information Service published a magazine called Span which carried vignettes of American life, its photographs strikingly un-staged.  Reader’s Digest offered up jokes and cartoons interspersed among lighthearted pieces.  Reports of the civil rights movement, the soaring oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, had begun to attract the local newspapers’ attention.


Lacking sophistication and the language to articulate the reasons, I began instinctively to ascribe greater credibility to the news that came out of America, and regard the Soviet magazines as contrivances. By the time I entered my second decade and began to follow NASA’s extraordinary advances, my allegiance was unquestioningly to America. I learned everything I could about the Apollo missions, and listened live to Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon, incomprehensible though they were because of the static and the American accent. It was a moment of unalloyed jubilation. A few days later I had convinced my parents to let me send an aerogramme (which cost a day’s supply of vegetables) to NASA telling them that I wanted to be an astronaut, so will they please take me.

My coming of age was intertwined with the quest to learn more about this remarkable place in which the human spirit seemed exuberant and individual liberty fiercely protected, where cities touched the sky and universities attracted the brightest minds and produced scientific discovery at an astonishing pace, where advances in technology continually made living conditions better.

I saw America as a society capable of critical self-examination and committed to improving itself continually, with democratic institutions robust enough to investigate and impeach a president in office. I admired the country for opening its doors to people fleeing persecution and for using some of its growing wealth to provide generous aid to poor nations. I knew that my image of America was incomplete and idealized, but this ideal exerted a powerful influence on my adolescent thinking about the values that should undergird India’s own place in the community of nations.


The idea of pursuing an advanced degree in the U.S. was still several years away, and when it came it wasn’t to pursue physics, which had fascinated me throughout high school and college. But in my adolescent mind America was already the shining city upon a hill which captivated my imagination. In my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, the quest for higher education took them to the United Kingdom. In mine, the destination had unequivocally shifted to the U.S.

A few years ago my daughter, then in 9th grade, was helping me pack books in my office when a friend called to ask why after 26 years I had decided to leave my former university. We chatted, and among other things I mentioned that I needed to remind myself that I was an immigrant who should not get too tied down to one place. This casual comment troubled my daughter who scribbled a note and showed it to me.  It said, “Daddy, you cannot play the immigrant card anymore! You have been in this country half your life. Like it or not, you’re an American!”

am proud to be an American, I later thought, and I am immensely grateful for all the education, opportunity, and warm-hearted welcome I have received.  I am equally proud to be an Indian and grateful to have grown up in the embrace of a loving family amidst a rich cultural heritage. My immigrant’s passage to America is quite unremarkable. I was not fleeing war or persecution or economic privation or even the lack of opportunity. That I did traverse the passage had much to do with good fortune, but my aspiration to come to America was shaped subtly and substantially by the moral force America exerted decades ago in the distant lands of my childhood.

Anjani Jain is Deputy Dean for Academic Programs and Professor in the Practice of Management at Yale School of Management. Born in Indore, India, Jain grew up in Madhya Pradesh and first came to the United States in 1982 to pursue a PhD in operations research from the University of California, Los Angeles. He had earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Indore University in India and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He joined the faculty of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1986 and served for 26 years before joining Yale SOM in 2012. The views expressed here are his own.



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