India’s IIT Graduates Go Mainstream: Via Campus Shooting, The American Way

Graduates of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are part of American life: professors, technology officers, and scientists at Ivy League universities, Silicon Valley start-ups, and industrial research and development laboratories.  But these are rarefied environs, exclusive precincts for the technocratic elite; the IIT graduate’s presence here places his cultural achievements in a fringe zone visible only to a select minority. But now with news of a participation in a campus shooting IIT graduates might have finally gone mainstream in the most American of ways: by using a firearm to settle a dispute.

The man who fatally shot a UCLA professor in his office before turning the gun on himself Wednesday has been identified as Mainak Sarkar. He was a former doctoral student who had once called his victim William Klug a “mentor” but in recent months he had written angry screeds accusing him of stealing his computer code.

Police have identified Sarkar as the gunman in yesterday’s murder-suicide that locked down the UCLA campus…Sarkar submitted his doctoral dissertation in 2013, and in the 2014 doctoral commencement booklet, Klug, a mechanical engineering professor, is listed as his advisor…Sarkar had previously earned a master’s degree at Stanford University and an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. Until August of last year, he had worked as an engineering analyst for a rubber company called Endurica LLC.

The academic CV follows a standard template: an IIT, a top flight American institution, some technical professional experience. And then, things go wrong: a personal relationship deteriorates:

In his acknowledgements, he wrote to Klug, “Thank you for being my mentor.” A source told the Times that Klug bent over backwards to help Sarkar on his dissertation and to graduate, even though Sarkar’s work wasn’t always high-quality. This source is appalled that Sarkar would later accuse Klug of stealing his code to give to another student: “The idea that somebody took his ideas is absolutely psychotic.”

On March 10, Sarkar wrote on a blog now archived:

William Klug, UCLA professor is not the kind of person when you think of a professor. He is a very sick person. I urge every new student coming to UCLA to stay away from this guy. […] My name is Mainak Sarkar. I was this guy’s PhD student. We had personal differences. He cleverly stole all my code and gave it another student. He made me really sick. Your enemy is your enemy. But your friend can do a lot more harm. Be careful about whom you trust. Stay away from this sick guy.

Sarkar resolved his personal crisis with his former mentor and adviser with a gun. Admittedly, only an unglamorous 9mm semi-pistol (perhaps even legally owned and registered), not one of those devastating ‘assault rifles’ that normally gets everyone ire up after the latest mass shooting. And Sarkar didn’t go for the full-fledged massacre; he settled for a ‘one and done’ deal. But in his cleaving to the Way of the Gun, he made his pledge of allegiance, his desire to be All-American, his assimilation strategy of choice, all too clear.