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Two worlds greet software czars

Nov. 13: Bill Gates is in India, and they asked for his money. Azim Premji is in New York, and they asked for his religion.

When the caravan of the richest man in the world reached the financial capital of the one-time richest Indian’s homeland, hands thrust out without hesitation for a share of his millions — but for a good cause.

“We have spent $13 million on prevention of AIDS in the state, but we need an additional $16.5 million from you,” a forthright Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told Gates, who is juggling roles as a philanthropist and Microsoft chief during his four-day tour of India.

While this unusual brand of hospitality was unfolding in Mumbai, Wipro chief Premji was recounting in Gates’ country the kind of reception that was lying in wait for him there.

Asked at a luncheon in New York whether he was discriminated against because of his religion in India, Premji said “no” and added: “But since I have come to the US, I have gone to airports four times to catch flights and each time I have been profiled because my name shows I am a Muslim.”

If there was an awkward moment then, he tried to lighten the mood with a dash of humour. “I think I should change my name to A. Premji,” PTI quoted him as saying.

Premji said he would not be holding the position of chairman of a software company if he had been discriminated against in India. The Wipro chief said that in the first place, he considers himself an Indian and religion does not enter his mind.

Back in Premji’s country, Gates today squeezed in a visit to the Wipro hub in Bangalore. Gates told the developers there that a combination of Microsoft — as a software and Internet technologies leader — and Wipro — as a services provider — is better than IBM’s effort to develop a single comprehensive set-up.

Gates went to Infosys, too. But he also found time to pack a spiel for the Microsoft’s latest offering — the Tablet PC.

In Mumbai, too, Gates hardsold the Tablet, but after gift-wrapping it in a “dream”.

Addressing students at Bhavan’s Gandhi Institute of Computer Education and Information Technology, Gates said: “I dream to empower every child in this world with a Tablet PC and enable him to learn in his native language. The Tablet PC is costly today but it will be available for a few hundred dollars soon. My dream is that every child should have this device, preferably his own, to get connected to the world.’’

Microsoft will launch the Tablet PC next month in India.

But not everyone in the audience saw Gates as just Microsoft’s best-known face.

Vijay John an orphan from Jharkhand who won a scholarship instituted by Gates, said: “This man’s mere presence is inspiring. Back home in Jharkhand, there is nothing as yet. It is especially difficult for poor people like us. But I earn Rs 4,000 today, enough to look after my two brothers.”

John got the scholarship after passing an aptitude test. He has pledged to not only complete his college but also keep studying computer science till he gets the “job of my dream”.

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