Bahoot Dhanyavad!

Dear Barack,

What a dream break the India trip turned out to be! Both Michelle and you, it seemed, had the entire country eating out of your hands. A politician lives on the life-blood of public adulation, and no one would’ve faulted you for wishing you could unload the aircrafts that flew in with your entourage, and stuff them all with the goodwill that rained on you in that all-too-brief week, so it could be credited to your domestic account.

U.S. President Barack Obama dances with children at a Diwali celebration in Mumbai.

Talking of blood though, an interesting story is doing the rounds here. When a dignitary — Indian or foreign — plans to visit Mumbai, one state-run hospital stocks up 12 units of that dignitary’s blood-group as a routine emergency measure. In your case, not one, not two, but three hospitals — two of them privately-owned — had on the ready as many as 15 units of all blood-groups! A bit over the top, wouldn’t you admit?

In addition, 12 doctors from the state hospital were recruited as food-tasters for you during the Mumbai leg of your trip. And that’s besides your own tasters and the massive medical team of ambulances, surgeons, physicians, anesthetists and para-medics who trailed you all along.

Honestly, how much of the behind-the-scenes ruckus were you privy to? Do your chaps tell you what really happens there, and does it really matter to you? I’m sure you were mighty amused to hear that three of Mumbai’s top chefs prepared three dishes which are now part of the culinary lexicon as Surf-and-Turf Barack (a platter of lamb chilli and jumbo prawn), Barack-Oh-Obama (tenderized lamb meat over a piece of banana truck), and O’Barry Pie (a chocolate dessert which uses 44 ingredients in honor of the 44th US President).

But do you really know, for instance, of a stand-off between your security team and the Mumbai police over the presence of a secret service sniper atop the St. Xavier’s College building? The point is not about who finally won and had their own man up there, but that Mumbai’s police commissioner has written to New Delhi about the “high-handedness” of your men.

Let me also inform you that your two-day trip to Mumbai turned out to be a nightmare for city’s old and infirm. Ambulances were forced to take inordinately long and circuitous detours to conform to the traffic diversions. People recalled that the city had never been turned into such a fortress even during riots, leave alone the odd dignitary cruising to or from the airport. I have no count of how many people were inconvenienced, but you and Michelle should be thrilled to know that a pregnant Vibha Soni spent two full hours getting past your security men before delivering a baby-girl she has named Michelle. A boy would have been called Barack, I reckon.

The delicious irony: Ms.Soni gave birth at a hospital just 50 feet from the spot where you and Michelle were at that very moment schmoozing with college youths in the campus next-door. Rest assured, Michelle Soni will remain a life-long reminder of the disruptive influence of your security detail on the city’s already chaotic traffic condition.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visit a memorial for the victims who died in the Nov, 26, 2008 terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai.

Okay, Mr. President. Enough of the trivia over which you have no real or direct control. Let’s talk about what you personally accomplished on this visit. First, pat yourself — or whoever suggested it — on the back for making Mumbai the real hub of your visit. Heads of state, by way of crusty habit, always head for and stay put in New Delhi as if India begins and ends in that governmentally gloomy city. By spending two full days here and doing more than the perfunctory 26/11 site rounds, you put your finger — albeit momentarily — on the pulse of urban India. Mumbai is a happening place, even if a lot of undesirable things have happened here of late. But it is in many ways the country’s microcosm, showcasing the zest and optimism of its billion-plus people. A city that epitomizes the “audacity of hope” and promises therefore to usher in “a change we can believe in.” Smart move.

Another smart move was to admit up front that the American economy is on the decline and nowhere as dominant globally as it once was. No big secret of course, but a strike in favor of your honest and realistic approach to problems. Human rights activists also loved the way you chided India for its silence on the troubles in Myanmar.

Not so smart were your record-got-stuck comments on Pakistan. Where was your celebrated candor? Remember what you said post-26/11, before taking over the White House? That India, in that circumstance, would be justified in invoking its right of self-defence to attack and demolish the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil. I expected you to reiterate that point, and additionally tell India that you need Pakistan as a real-politic ally for your Afghanistan policy, and that the United States should not be expected to fight India’s battles. A tad harsh, maybe. But utterly understandable, coming from the U.S. President.

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lighting a lamp to celebrate Diwali at Holy Name School in Mumbai.

The English-newspapers in India went mushy before the collective Obama charm, so get your translators to tell you that at least one Urdu daily, unimpressed by your platitudes on terrorism, has reminded your Indian hosts that you are still shielding David Headley, who carries a sackful of terrorism-related secrets and whom you have refused to hand over to the region’s biggest victim of terrorist attacks — i.e. India.

Trust the fawning English-language media, which dominate press meets, to let you off the hook on your outsourcing-related policies. I wish you were hauled over the coals for what is clearly a narrow-minded and ill-conceived act of blatant protectionism, something you otherwise strongly denounce at every opportunity. Outsourcing is nothing but a political (specifically, electoral) issue in your country because the actual revenue involved is a pittance of the American economy.

I will not belabour your offer of $10 billion worth of business deals or your vocal support of India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat. The first, as you said, will create 50,000 jobs in America. The second, given India’s growing clout in international forums, is an idea whose time has come. Thanks for gift-wrapping it for us.

Don’t get me wrong, Barack. I’m not suggesting that your trip gave us nothing. It sure gave us flesh-and-blood proof that the world’s oldest democracy, despite its occasional lapses, can still elect a chief executive whose worth as a presidential candidate is measured neither by his pedigree nor by the color of his skin.

And, before you consider me for a speech-writing job, let me reassure you that I don’t intend relocating out of Mumbai — a city that’s my birthplace, and that regained a hint of its old persona during your visit. Forget the intrusive snooping and the transportation hassles that are a concomitant of high-level security. For the first time in decades, entire streets were scrubbed clean, trees planted along them, the road-dividers painted a bright yellow, red and black, and public urinals sanitized so your stay and your commutes would be pleasant and stench-free. Even the ear-splitting Diwali crackers were silenced. I loved it.

My wife always berates me for my untidiness at home, and says only the imminent arrival of a guest spurs me into a clean-up. Now I know why. Bahoot Dhanyavad — many thanks — Barack, for visiting. And see you back soon.


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