Saina Nehwal

The country's greatest ever woman badminton player is only 20 and recently shot to the No. 2 rank in the world. Ever since she made her debut on the national badminton circuit a decade back, Saina had been showing great promise and coupled with that she was ably supported by her parents and found just the perfect coach in former All-England Badminton champion Pullela Gopichand. Her impressive run on the international circuit in recent months speaks volumes about her hard work and dedication and in another year she could well create history by taking over the top slot. Starting with the Czechoslovakian Junior Open that she won as a 13-year-old, Saina's cache of international tournament wins includes silver at the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games, bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, gold at 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games, the 2008 BWF World Junior Championships, 2009 Indonesia Super Series, 2010 India Open Grand Prix, 2010 Singapore Open Super Series and 2010 Indonesia Open Super Series, semi-finalist at 2008 BWF Super Series Masters among others.

Sania Mirza

The glamour girl of Indian sports, 23-year-old Sania Mirza is the best ever female tennis player the country has produced. Thanks to unflinching support from her sports journalist father Imran Mirza and mother Nasima, Sania rose to prominence in the Indian circuit when just in her teens and made a smashing international debut in the year 2003, the year that she won the girls doubles title at Wimbledon teaming with Russian Alisa Kleybanova. Sania's greatest success was in the 2009 Australian Open when she and Mahesh Bhupathi won the mixed doubles title. Sania's fourth round entry in the 2005 US Open was her best performance in a Grand Slam singles event. Other memorable wins include the Gold medal in the 2006 Asian Games mixed doubles (teaming with Leander Paes) and silver in the individual and team events. Her highest ranking has been No. 18 in September 2007, an incredible achievement in a career where she had to battle numerous controversies most notably with Muslim clerics creating a big noise over her short-skirts, her comments on safe sex, and a picture of her with her feet close to the Indian National flag.

Indra Nooyi

The 54-year-old India-born, IIM Calcutta and Yale School of Management-educated Indira Nooyi earned world-wide recognition when she was named Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo in 2006. During her stint at PepsiCo which began in 1994, Indra Nooyi was the main player in the company's divestiture of its restaurants in 1997, now called Yum! Brands; the company's acquisition of Tropicana in 1998; and the company's merger with the Quaker Oats Company - the owner of the popular brand Gatorade. She is also credited with the company's rising turnover ever since she took over as their CFO in 2000. Indra Nooyi also found her name in the list of Brendan Wood International's TopGun CEOs in 2009, Wall Street Journal's 50 women to watch out for in 2007 and 2008, and Time's list of 100 Most Influential people in 2007 and 2008. Other great honours include being ranked No. 1 in Fortune's list of most powerful businesswomen in 2009, No. 3 in Forbes' list of most powerful women in 2008 and 2009; Global Supply Chain Leaders Group voted her CEO of the year in 2009. Before embarking to the United States to study at Yale, Nooyi had a very successful stint in India with Johnson & Johnson and also worked at Mettur Beardsell. And before joining PepsiCo in 1994, she worked for the Boston Consulting Group, Motorola and ABB. Indra Nooyi's career growth is truly remarkable!

Aishwarya Rai

When Aishwarya Rai won the Miss India World crown in 1994, she was already a known face thanks to her Pepsi advertisement with Aamir Khan. In fact, she was the favourite to win the crown. The winner, however was the lesser-known Sushmita Sen who went on to create history by annexing the Miss Universe crown. Later in the year, Aishwarya completed a memorable winning year for India when she won the Miss World title in London. Soon acting offers came her way and unlike Sushmita Sen who chose to concentrate only on Hindi films, Aishwarya also accepted Hollywood films and became one of the most popular Indian faces outside India. Some of the big films she acted in include 'Jeans' in 1998 (Tamil), 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' in 1999, 'Kandukondain Kandukondain' in 2000 (Tamil), 'Devdas'in 2002, 'Bride and Prejudice' in 2004 (English), 'The Mistress of Spices' in 2005 (English), 'Dhoom 2' in 2006, 'Provoked' in 2007 (English), and 'Pink Panther 2' in 2009 (English). Aishwarya's other career highs include being bestowed the Order of France award in 2009. She was in the jury of the Cannes International Film Festival in 2003 and was the first Indian actress to get the honour. She also performed at the closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games at Melbourne. She also figured in Times' 2004 list of Most Influential people in the world.

Considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, Aishwarya Rai was 9th in the Harper and Collins' 2005 list of 10 Most Beautiful Faces in the world. She is one of the few Indians whose wax statue stands at Madame Tussaud's in London. A tulip in The Netherlands has been named after her. Truly a memorable run for someone who could have easily rested on her laurels after her Miss World triumph.

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi landed in active politics a few years after the unfortunate assassination of her husband the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. An Italian national, she embraced politics of a foreign land and is now the President of the ruling party The Indian National Congress and Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha. The charismatic politician featured in the prestigious Times' list of 100 Most Influential People in the world in 2007 and 2008. She was also ranked third in Forbes list of Most Powerful Women in 2007 and sixth in 2008.

Her refusal to accept the Prime Ministerial post after her husband's death and after the 2004 elections was widely appreciated, as was her Austerity Drive for her party MPs in 2009. Her Italian origins have created many hiccups in her political journey but Sonia Gandhi has emerged unscathed on all occasions and is a great survivor.

Shilpa Shetty

A well-known actress in the country, Shilpa Shetty gained international acclaim only after her grand showing and consequent win in the UK reality show Big Brother in 2007. She also won sympathy and lot of support after the brave face she put up when in the midst of the show she had to put up with a lot of racial attitude and comments from her fellow housemates in the show . After her Big Brother win Shilpa won a lot of endorsements in England and also met her future husband Raj Kundra. Shilpa who is also famous for her fitness fetish, her fabulous figure and awesome sense of dressing also co-owns the Rajasthan Royals franchise in the Indian Premier League

Anoushka Shankar

The 29-year-old sitar player has followed her famous father's footsteps and is in a league of her own. She dropped out from college preferring to concentrate on her career and her move has paid off. She began performing in public at the tender age of 13 and released her first album 'Anoushka' at the age of 17. She also performs alongside her father. A big high in her career was when she was nominated for the Grammy award in 2003 along with her half-sister Norah Jones (who created a sensation in 2002 when her album 'Come Away With Me' won eight Grammies).

Indira Gandhi

The first female Prime Minister in the country and the longest serving female Prime Minister in the world, Indira Gandhi's political career cruelly came to an end after she fell to an assassin bodyguard's bullets. She ruled for three successive terms from 1966 to 1977 and again came to power in 1980, four years before her death. Daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first Prime Minister of the country, her initiation into politics didn't come as a surprise to anyone because all along his tenure as PM, Pandit Nehru had been grooming her. Though no doubt a very able administrator and a trendsetter for women, Indira Gandhi did have rough patches during her political career most notably the Emergency in the country during 1975-1977 when her highhandedness did not go well with many. Also in 1980, the death in an air-crash of her son and political heir Sanjay Gandhi came as a huge blow. Indira Gandhi was charismatic, had great administrative prowess, was respected worldwide and had a great political foresight. Wonder what the political scenario would have been in the country had she been alive.

Sonal Mansingh

She is one of the most famous dancers from the country. Though Sonal Mansingh's prowess is Odissi she is also very proficient in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Chau. She has performed worldwide and was the first woman dancer in the country to be honoured with the Padma Vibushan in 2003. Besides being a great dancer, the 66-year-old Mansingh is also a social reformer, philosopher, examiner, speaker, choreographer and trainer. She is twice married, first to Lalit Mansingh and later to German Georg Lechner. She met with a terrible accident when in Germany in 1974 and there were doubts whether she would be able to dance. Thanks to chiropractor Pierre Gravel she was back on her feet.

Nirupama Menon Rao

The current Indian Foreign secretary is the second woman in the country to hold the coveted post after Chokila Iyer. She took charge in August 2009. A Keralite, Nirupama Menon Rao, has held various top positions most notably the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Minister of Press Affairs in Washington, the Indian Ambassador to Peru and also the Indian Ambassador to China. She did her schooling in various cities of India, completed her graduation in the Mount Carmel College in Bangalore and was a topper in the Indian Civil Services Examinations in 1973.

Arundhati Roy

The writer and firebrand activist rose to prominence when she won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997 for her debut novel 'The God of Small Things. Though she studied to be an architect, Arundhati Roy has dabbled with many professions, including acting. She played the role of a village belle in the critically acclaimed film 'Massey Sahib'. For some time she also worked as an aerobic instructor. Born to a Malayali mother (noted women's rights activist Mary Roy) and a Bengali father, Arundhati Roy happens to be the cousin of leading media person Prannoy Roy. She married twice, first to architect Gerard Da Cunha and then to film director Pradip Kishen. She is an alumni of Lawrence School, Lovedale and the School of Architecture and Planning, New Delhi. She has actively supported the Kashmiri fight for independence, allied with Medha Patkar against the Narmada Dam Project and spoken against the US-UK invasion of Afghanistan. Recently she supported the cause of the Maoists and came in for heavy criticism.

Arundhati Roy's other achievements include winning the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004 and the Lannan Foundation's Cultural Freedom Award. The talented Arundhati Roy who dares to be different has a fair share of fans and enemies.

Kiran Desai

Daughter of famous novelist Anita Desai, Kiran Desai followed her mother's footsteps and like her has seen much success. Her novel 'Inheritance of Loss' won her the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award. Now 38, Kiran Desai spent the first 14 years of her life in Delhi. She moved to the United States and studied creative writing at Hollins University and Columbia University. Before the success of 'Inheritance of Loss', Kiran Desai also received accolades for her novel 'Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard'. The book fetched her the Betty Trask Award, an award given to writers under 35. She is currently in a relationship with Turkish author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk.

Freida Pinto

The 25-year-old model became the toast of the nation and Hollywood after her performance in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning movie 'Slumdog Millionaire'. A arts graduate from Mumbai's prestigious St Xavier's College she has had a stint in modelling with Elite Model Management. Before 'Slumdog Millionaire' took her to new heights, Freida Pinto was a familiar face to those who watched the travel show 'Full Circle' on Zee International Asia Pacific. Her big modelling assignments include Wrigley's Chewing Fum, Skoda, Vodafone, Airtel and DeBeers. She did an acting course at the The Barry John's Acting Studio which is when she landed the 'Slumdog Millionaire' role. There is also a talk that she may star in a Bond film in the future. Freida Pinto has a great sense of dressing and has featured in People magazine's Most Beautiful List as well as List of World's Best Dressed Women and in Vogue's list of most stylish women in 2009. She is currently in a relationship with Dev Patel, her co-star in 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

Mallika Sarabhai

The famous Indian Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam dancer is the daughter of famous Indian dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai and noted scientist Vikram Sarabhai. The very elegant and beautiful Mallika Sarabhai got international acclaim after she enacted the role of Draupadi in Peter Brooks play 'The Mahabharata'. Though her forte has been dancing, Mallika Sarabhai has also acted in a few films, done theatre, and writing and she in an alumni of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad). She has also done a doctoral thesis in Organisational Behaviour. Currently, she runs the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad along with her mother. She also runs the publishing house Mapin along with her former husband Bipin Shah. Both her children, Revanta and Anahita, are promising dancers. Other highs in Mallika Sarabhai's career include the Crystal Award given to her by the World Economic Forum in 2008 for her work towards promoting global peace via art and culture, a nomination along with 1000 other women for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, the French Government's Knight of the Order of Arts & Letters award in 2002 and Chevalier des Palmes Academiques in 1999.

Mira Nair

After the big success of her film 'Salaam Bombay!' in 1988, there has been no looking back for Mira Nair, the New Yorkbased Indian film director and producer. The film, which delves around the lives of street children in Mumbai, fetched the Golden Camera Award at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The success of the film and the proceeds that it got prompted her to start the Salaam Baalak Trust, an NGO that works towards the cause of street children in Mumbai and Delhi. After 'Salaam Bombay!', Mira Nair's other big films include 'Mississippi Masala', 'Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love', 'Monsoon Wedding', 'Vanity Fair' and 'The Namesake'. Mira Nair studied at the coveted Miranda House in Delhi before moving to Harvard on a scholarship. She has been married twice, first to American photographer Mitch Epstein and then to Mahmud Mamdani, a Uganda-based professor, with whom she has a son. She has won several awards national and international. Her film 'Monsoon Wedding' won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2001.

Deepa Mehta

The Welham Girls School and University of Delhi alumni, who made Canada her home in 1973, has done a string of critically acclaimed films most notably the trilogy 'Fire' in 1996, 'Earth' in 1998, and 'Water' in 2005 which was nominated for an Oscar .Her debut film 'Sam & Me' was received well at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. Another film, 'Camilla' starring Bridget Fonda was also received well. Her 2002 film 'Bollywood/Hollywood' won the Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay. Mehta also has the distinction of directing two episodes of the acclaimed TV series 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'. She has been married twice. Her first husband is film director Paul Saltzman with whom she has a daughter Devyani Saltzman, who is an author. Deepa Mehta is currently married to producer David Hamilton.

Gurinder Chadha

Though only an Indian by origin, Gurinder Chadha's films, most of them centred around Indians living in the UK, have won her plaudits from around the world, especially the NRI population. Her coterie of films include 'Bend It Like Beckham', 'Bride and Prejudice', 'Bhaji on the Beach' and most recently 'It's a Wonderful Afterlife'. She also wrote the screenplay for 'Mistress of Spices'. A Nigeria born, England-bred Punjabi, Gurinder Chadha studied to be a radio journalist and has worked for BBC Radio. She received the Order of the British Empire in June 2006

Persis Khambatta

Persis Khambatta made the whole of India proud when she starred as Lieutenant Ilia in the 1979 blockbuster movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Her western looks won over the Hollywood big bosses and she even agreed to go bald for the role. A well-known model at that time, Khambatta won the Miss India crown when she was only 15. Although she didn't get good roles after the success of Star Trek, she does have the rare distinction of being the only Indian to present an Academy Award. The 80s were a tough period for Khambatta - she met with a near fatal accident in 1980 in Germany and also underwent a bypass operation in 1983. She continued acting on American television, although most of her roles were in the form of guest appearances. She authored a coffee table book featuring many Miss Indias, the proceeds of which went to Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. She died a premature death in August 1998 after a heart attack, she was only 49.

Madhur Jaffrey

Very well-known internationally for her culinary skills and cookbooks, Madhur Jaffrey has done a lot of work towards promoting Indian cuisine in the west. The Miranda House-educated Jaffrey moved to New York from Delhi after her marriage to noted Indian actor Saeed Jaffrey. She worked for All-India Radio and is also a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She has acted in a few Merchant-Ivory films and is believed to have played a big role in promoting the duo. Her role in the film Shakespeare Wallah in 1965 fetched her the Silver Bear for Best Actress in the 15th Berlin Film Festival. Another notable film that she starred in was 'Heat and Dust' starring Julie Christie. She has also done theatre and appeared in many television series. Among the 30-odd cookbooks that she has authored, the famous ones include 'Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery', 'Madhur Jaffrey's Far Eastern Cookery' and 'Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India', all of which have been best sellers. Quite an achievement for someone who did not know how to wield the ladle till she got married. A restaurant called Dawat in Manhattan uses Madhur Jaffrey's recipes.

Kalpana Chawla

She created history of sorts when she was chosen for the elite Columbia Space Mission STS-107 in 2003, which unfortunately caught fire killing her and the other crew members. Even when she was a child, Kalpana evinced a keen interest in aircrafts and flying and was largely influenced by JRD Tata, the pioneer of Indian flying. After graduating from school, she studied Aeronautical Engineering at the Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. She went to the United States for specialisation in aerospace studies and during that time also worked as a flying instructor. She got her doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her life changed meteorically after she started working for NASA. Her stint at NASA was very rewarding and Chawla went on to get selected for their space missions. Her first ride in space was in 1997 when she was part of the six-member crew aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia STS-87 mission. Though she was initially held responsible for some of the space shuttle's malfunctioning, she was later given a clean chit. The ill-fated mission on board STS-107 was her second. Tragedy thus cut short the life of one of the most talented Indians. To date umpteen honours stand in Kalpana Chawla's name, including many that were instituted by her various alma maters.

Mallika Sherawat

Though she is more talked about for her figure than her acting, Mallika Sherawat is getting noticed internationally after bagging roles in the Chinese film 'The Myth' starring Hollywood legend Jackie Chan, the soon to be released film 'Hisss', and the currently under-production flick 'Love, Barack'. She created quite a 'Hisss' by appearing at the Cannes Film Festival with live snakes. She is definitely one to watch out for in the coming months.

Shahnaz Hussain

The high priestess of the Indian cosmetic scene, Shahnaz Husain's Ayurvedic cosmetic empire has spread to every nook and corner of the world. The Shahnaz Husain range has around 350 products. There are around 400 salons besides beauty training institutes, herb plantations, and stores. Shahnaz Husain started her line way back in 1970 from New Delhi after having trained at prestigious institutions like Helena Rubinstein, Swarzkopf, and Lancome and then studying Ayurveda back home. She has won various awards including the World's Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award from Success Group of the United States. Other big international awards include Arch of Europe Gold Star Award for Quality, the Golden America Award.

Mother Teresa

Known world over for the untiring and selfless work that she has done for the destitutes, lepers, and lesser privileged class of people, Mother Teresa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1979, was beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta by Pope John Paul II after her death. Originally an Albanian, Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in what is today Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia. As a child she was inspired by the works of missionaries and at age 12 she decided to dedicate her life to the service of God. She left home at 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto. She learnt how to speak English at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham in Ireland and then moved to India in 1929. She started a novitiate at Darjeeling and a couple of years later took her religious vows as a nun before becoming a teacher at Loreto Convent at Calcutta. She was witness to the abject misery of the victims of the Bengal famine in 1943 and the communal violence that broke out in Calcutta in 1946. So touched was she that in 1946 she decided to move over from teaching to serving the poor. Around 1950 she got permission from the Vatican to start a diocesan congregation. This laid the seeds to what was to become the famous Missionaries of Charity. Later Mother Teresa started the Home for the Dying in 1952, Kalighat Home for the Dying or

Nirmal Hriday, Nirmal Shishu Bhavan and numerous leprosy clinics for the poor. From 1983, Mother Teresa's health started failing but she carried on undeterred till her death in 1997.

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