The 'likes' and 'dislikes' of Indian youth are as tough to predict as the English weather, or if you please, the next Facebook status message. They can look up to Kalam's intellect one instance and drool over Katrina's curves the next. The youth of the nation embodies all the contradictions and chaos that characterise contemporary India.
Consider the pecking order in the HT- MaRS Youth Survey 2012. Best living Indian role models? Shah Rukh, APJ Abdul Kalam, Sachin Tendulkar. Most popular global role model? Ahem, a certain Barack Hussein Obama. The American president's views on outsourcing notwithstanding, he continues to find favour with 28% respondents. And where does he get the biggest thumbs up from? Kolkata, perceived by many to be the last retreat of India's Left-leaning youth, or whatever is left of the species.
Social scientist Shiv Visvanathan isn't surprised. Obama is placed to capture the middle ground, he says. "He is a strange amalgamation of the left and the right. I expect him to top most popularity lists, with the innovators. The president of the US gets the most sound bites. Obama's a winner by default."
Survey sample size | Sexiest man alive | Sexiest woman alive | Vox pop
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was referred to as the Teflon President since none of the muck surrounding him stuck. A few desi role models appear to have developed similar powers. Whether it is unkind critics or angry fans, our indefatigable 'youth' icons continue to hold sway.
The team's fizz may have fizzled out Down Under, but the wait for the hundredth hundred didn't dent the appeal of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Ask former cricketer Atul Wassan why Sachin continues to be among the top 3 Indian role models for the second year running and he says, "Coming from a middle class background, he has achieved everything that Indian youth aspire for: the respect of rivals, material riches and the tag of a world-beater. His rise from underdog to top dog is the stuff middle class dreams are made off."
Shamsul Islam, associate professor of political science with Delhi University's Satyawati College, who has been involved in street theatre since the 1970s, says that all three top role models have left a big impact on mass media. "Shah Rukh, Sachin and Kalam are the media's darlings as they have a mind of their own and are not shy of speaking it. These are the kind of icons today's youngsters, hooked to social networking sites, identify with."
Salman Khan, often referred to as our own James Dean, Bollywood's latest hit machine, was voted sexiest man alive ahead of Rahul Gandhi, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham and Johnny Depp.
So, in the same week President Pratibha Patil was announcing that her role models were Indian women who worked in factories and farms - Katrina, voted the sexiest woman - was working the box office shaking her booty in Chikni Chameli.
If you frown upon Sallu's penchant for discarding his shirt, think again. Actor, lyricist and writer Piyush Mishra says Salman and Katrina have the X-factor. "The intelligentsia is overrated. You may debate over acting skills, but you can't argue against mass appeal. I am a big fan of Katrina's body of work. Whether it is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or Agneepath, she delivers what is expected of her. "
Rashmi Bansal, the bestselling author of Stay Hungry Stay Foolish and the editor-publisher of youth magazine JAM, says the movie Shah Rukh made this year was below standard. "For me, Aamir is a bigger icon for the youth."
But then, the Facebook generation often defies conventional logic. Don't believe us? Ask Mark Zuckerberg. He polled just 8.2 % votes in the global role model category.