While ecstatic revellers thronged the streets of USA yesterday rejoicing over Obama’s election for a second term as US president, there were some individuals in Mumbai who celebrated with them, in spirit. While some of them stayed glued to their television sets all morning keeping their fingers crossed for Obama, others are now busy planning a party to mark the occasion.
In the wake of Obama’s re-election, MiD DAY sought out certain people who had the privilege of meeting him, and exchanging words with him, during his 2010 visit to India.
During his 10-day visit to India, one of the longest to any Asian country undertaken by him, Obama touched the hearts of many Mumbaikars when he and his wife Michelle chose to stay at Taj Hotel and Palace, as a mark of solidarity and respect for the landmark that was savaged by the gruesome 26/11-terrorist attack.
Obama had spoken of the US first couple’s “decision to begin our visit here in this dynamic city, at this historic hotel.” He said, “To those who have asked whether this is intended to send a message, my answer is simply, absolutely! … Mumbai is a symbol of the incredible energy and optimism that defines India in the 21st century… the Taj has been the symbol of the strength and the resilience of the Indian people.”
In course of his journey, he had halted at various significant spots, which are integral to Mumbai’s vibrant cultural, educational and economic life.
Dr Usha Thakkar, secretary of Mani Bhavan at Laburnum Road, reminisced about her memorable encounter with the US president, and the touching message he penned in the visitor’s book. “I am very happy to see that he has been re-elected as president. He is a very impressive person and I am sure his concern for human values will take him a long way.
I was glued to the TV all morning, as the contest between Obama and Romney was neck-and-neck. I am happy to see him back as a president. He is a person who connects well with people. He and Michelle were well-read and well informed about Gandhi’s writings and his philosophy. I remember him writing that Gandhi is not just a hero to India, but to the world. Michelle too was very supportive and I am sure their democratic values will work wonders for the entire world. He is a peace-loving person and his approach towards the world has made him the president again,” she said.
Venugopal Dhoot, chairman and managing director for Videocon Industries Limited, remembers the re-elected president as someone who saw promise and potential in India. “Obama has a special affinity for India. I still remember that during his last visit to India, he had met several Indian businessmen. He said that the next 20 years belong to India and that he had already started learning Hindi, as he would be frequently visiting India,” he said.
He added, “I think that while Obama wasn’t too happy with outsourcing, he was open to the outsourcing of work to technocrats and the IT sector, only to Indians. He also wanted to encourage manufacturing, as he wanted to shift some purchase from China to India. Obama has a global vision and he always looked upon India, after China, as the fastest growing country. Also, Obama wants to see India grow, and shares a special friendship with our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Videocon Industries has already set up oil fields, factories and even a technical team in USA. I am very happy that Obama has been re-elected as the President of USA.”
Afsheen Irani, now a bright-eyed 21-year-old law student at KC Law College, is still remembered as the teen who stymied diplomat-par-excellence Obama with her question on the US’s blindness to Pakistan’s terror links. She was then a student at HR College. “I was watching the news on television since morning at my Jogeshwari residence, to follow the election results. Throughout the campaign, which I followed closely, I was fervently hoping that he would emerge winner. There was stiff competition between Obama and Romney. Obama, however, is an outstanding speaker, his public addresses were fantastic,” she said. Asked about the googly she threw at him, she said, “I remember asking him a question that seemed to catch him unawares. ‘Why is Pakistan so important an ally to America in so far that America has never called it a terrorist state?’ I asked.
Obama was very diplomatic in giving an answer to the question. He explained for a while and paused before answering my question initially. I was dissatisfied with the answer he gave me at the St Xavier’s campus, but I was happy when he addressed the issue of terrorism in our parliament. I respect Obama. He inherited America during the financial crunch and despite that, he tried and improved the economic situation. I was one of the 20 representatives from HR College. I was sitting quite a few rows behind, but still got the chance to ask him a question. I am very glad he won. He is pro-India and our nation can benefit from this.”
Meanwhile, students of Holy Name High School are going to party to celebrate his victory. Michael Pinto, then principal of the school, said, “My students had participated in the Koli dance when Obama came to India. They prayed for him and told me that if he won, we would all party. We are going to party today to celebrate. My students are going to send a congratulatory letter to Obama tomorrow. I was touched when I met Obama. He praised my work with the children. He called Michelle and introduced her to all my students. He motivated them with his speech and also danced with them. He got both his daughters to see my school and meet my students. He is a very down to earth person.”