Rajan Natarajan, who holds the highest position ever held by an Indian in Maryland, remains rooted to India

When making a call to Rajan Natarajan, an Indian-American raised to the position of Deputy Secretary of State for Policy and External Affairs in Maryland, I naturally expect to be answered in a burst of American English. Instead, I am greeted in chaste Tamil.

With a hint of surprise in my tone, I ask, “Is this Mr. Natarajan?”

Yes, it’s indeed him. A biotechnologist, 52-year-old Natarajan has spent around 23 years in the United States and rubbed shoulders with industry leaders and political bigwigs of that country, but remains an Indian at heart.

Natarajan is highly accomplished in academics and business — he holds a Ph.D. in bioscience from the University of Madras, an MBA from Michigan State University and a US patent, has founded a health care technology firm and worked as senior vice-president of three IT and biotech companies in the United States and served as the president of Maryland-India Business Roundtable and on the Executive Board of the Director of the Asia-Pacific American Chamber of Commerce and US-India Chamber of Commerce — and his appointment as deputy secretary by Maryland governor Martin O’Malley in June, 2011 was received with widespread approval. “In Maryland’s history, this is the highest position ever held by an Indian,” says Natarajan. The appointment is seen as an attempt at building upon Maryland’s biggest strength: diversity.

Promoting diplomatic ties and building community and industry partnerships are among the functions of a deputy secretary, and Natarajan is hailed as the chief architect of the governor’s trade mission to India in December when he visited Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Delhi.

During a recent visit, Natarajan took the mission further by exploring opportunities for partnerships with a few other Indian States. Listing Maryland’s strong points, not in any particular order — biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, IT, cyber security, education and tourism — Natarajan foresees large-scale educational and technological collaborations and information exchange.

“In my understanding, America is the land of opportunities and India, the land of talents. These realities should provide the context for partnerships between the two countries,” says Natarajan, underlining the philosophy driving the mission.

Despite a tight schedule that included high-level meetings in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, Natarajan snatched some time to visit his native village, Muttukadu in Pudukkottai district, and refresh fading memories.

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