Obamas show how to win hearts - and do business too!

By Quaid Najmi, IANS
Sunday, November 7, 2010

MUMBAI - US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama endeared themselves to all sections of Mumbai society, winning hearts and doing business for their country, during their two-day visit here.

They reached out to the common Indians and touched the hearts of all with whom they interacted -

schoolchildren, collegians, youth, Gandhians, survivors of the 26/11 terror attack, farmers, and businessmen.

They emerged with flying colours - leaving a deep impression with their simplicity, sincerity and

visible affection for Indians, be it at social, cultural or business meetings.

Obama exploited the festive ingredients of Diwali to the hilt. So, at most venues, he began with a ‘Namaste’ and ‘Happy Diwali’, perhaps hoping Mumbaikars would forgive them for disrupting their

festival holidays due to the tight security arrangements for the visit.

Michelle Obama also contributed handsomely to leave a mark on Mumbaikars. At the University of Mumbai Saturday, she danced with youngsters to a song from ‘Rang De Basanti’ movie playing in the background, and to a Marathi folk tune with young students in the Holy Name School Sunday.

On Saturday, the duo also went around the Mani Bhavan and viewed Gandhi memorabilia, feeling deeply touched and inspired by the contributions of the Father of the Nation to humanity.

Preceding this, Obama interacted with some of the

survivors and families of victims of the 26/11 terror attack - the most solemn and symbolic of all the events he attended in Mumbai.

Chief Minister Ashok Chavan presented Obama a coffee-table book, “Maharashtra”, brought out by the state government on the occasion of the state’s Golden Jubilee Year this year. Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal gifted Obama him a book on the US slave trade penned by the state’s great reformer, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule.

On Saturday evening, in Hotel Trident-Oberoi, Obama appeared almost unobstrusively to address the

US-India Business Council Summit. A sharp announcement, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States’, and he briskly walked on

to the stage and the august gathering belatedly shuffled and stood up in his honour.

Obama greeted the gathering on Diwali and also with a surprise ‘Saal Mubarak’, or Happy New Year as per the Hindu calendar.

After the 25-minute speech, interrupted almost half-a-dozen times by loud rounds of applause and during which also he took a dig at himself for

the recent US electoral reverses - besides announcing deals worth $10 billion, Obama was rewarded with a thunderous standing ovation by the elite gathering.

The director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Chadrajit Banerjee, later remarked that Obama came across as very sincere in his efforts to augment business ties between India and the US.

Then Obama did something unprecedented - he came down the stage and waded into the business crowd - many of the accompanying US officials and media persons.

For nearly 10 minutes, Obama interacted with the businessmen, shook hands, touched their shoulders

or arms, smiled and spoke briefly to many others before his security detail whisked him out through a private exit.

“Very charming and inspiring, he expressed great appreciation for our efforts in the education sector and suggested we should do more for the underprivileged masses,” said Grace Pinto, head of Ryan International Group of Schools, among the few Indian women entrepreneurs to meet Obama and shake hands with him.

Later, many of the still-dazed businessmen were cheered and slapped on their backs by their envious colleagues. “Ab to tumhare liye White House ki ghanti bajegi! (Now, you will get a call from White House!), one of them was heard remarking.

On Sunday morning, more love and affection for Mumbaikars came to the fore at the Holy Name School in Colaba, when the Obamas participated in symbolic Diwali celebrations with the schoolchildren, appearing refreshed after a quiet evening

at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

The duo enjoyed a traditional Kathak and Koli dance staged by the school students by clapping, tapping their feet and nodding to the tunes. Once

more, Michelle Obama took the stage and joined the students in the Koli fisherfolk dance from the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra.

Even as the gathering watched her, the president himself got up and danced for a few minutes with the children attired in colourful fishing folk costumes.

The similar was the Obamas demeanour at the interaction with farmers and students at St. Xaviers College. They shook hands with the

students and Obama energised the youngsters, inspiring them to join public service.

The Obamas left for New Delhi Sunday afternoon on the concluding day of their four-day visit to India, leaving behind memories that will endure for long.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

Filed under: Economy

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