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Bharat Ombaba comes to India

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Not to be outdone by Hillary, US president intends to create an 'Obama Platter' when he visits India in November.

If a week is a long time in politics, five months is an eternity. That's about how much times remains for US President Barack Obama's visit to India, now that he himself has scooped hacks by announcing that he will travel there early November. Well, not really. We are told the most likely dates are. . . but shushhh. . . we are not allowed to say it.

Anyway, it's one of the earliest presidential visits announced in terms of lead time, and much can happen between now and then. Remember, he was scheduled to go to Indonesia, where he grew up and went to school, last year, and that is yet to happen. The visit was postponed to March this year, and then deferred to June because of a crucial health care vote.

The Indonesians took it gracefully. Imagine if he had scrubbed a visit to India because of a vote; we might have gone ballistic and decided it was an insult to the great democracy that we are. We are like that only, no? Hopefully, there will be no mishaps when he embarks on the much-deferred Indonesia visit later this month and the India visit will remain on schedule. (The Indonesia trip was postponed again on Thursday night)

As it turns out, the India visit is also linked to a vote. Elections to the 435-member House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate (and several governorships and local bodies), takes place November first week. The scuttlebutt is that Obama wants to decamp from Washington DC fearing poor results. But a more likely explanation is that he will segue the India visit to the APEC leaders' conference in Yokohama, Japan, on November 13/14. So you do the math about when he will be in India.

Small aside. Will he come with family ? Obama didn't say. Feature writers primed to write colour stories may have to do with the Malia-Sasha angle. Looks like the daughters might miss the trip. Although the Indian invitation is for the whole family - external affairs minister S M Krishna repeatedly emphasised that a warm welcome awaits the Prez and his family - if Obama is going onward to Japan from India, then it will be too long a school break for the kids.

But them Obama had been scaring his daughters about the competition from India so it might be worth it to show them firsthand how our kids are burning the midnight candle (since vast swathes of India are in darkness because of power outages) to get ahead in life. Besides, the Potus (President of the United States, in Secret Service parlance) might fly all the way back to Washington DC to drop off Flotus and CoPotus and then proceed to Yokohama. What's another 10, 000 miles on Air Force One?

Jokes aside, this will be one US Presidential visit to India that will drive our media to delirium. When Obama wants to, he can really turn it on. He's in the Clinton league in this matter. He showed glimpses of it in his remarks at the Krishna reception, teasing his secretary of state that she's been going to India because a restaurant there is offering a "Hillary platter" (" What does it have? Chapati?" he asked her) and he will make sure there's an "Obama platter". He prefaced his remarks by greeting the audience with a "Namaste. " Well, readers, send along the sher-oshairee you want him to recite in New Delhi. He's that kinda guy.

American leaders are lively public speakers. They put in effort to lace their speeches with jokes and anecdotes that enliven the atmosphere and generate a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like Bill Clinton, Obama is a master at it. Hillary Clinton dredged up a wellknown Mark Twain quote rhapsodising about India. Obama trumped her with an even more rapturous quote about the greatness of India (Quick! Hide those dismal statistics about malnutrition, infant mortality, illiteracy etc).

Indian speechifying is, in contrast, largely pedantic, clichêd, stolid. There is rarely a good turn of phrase, seldom a lively anecdote, and most quotes are banal and delivered without verve. Far be it for Indian speechwriters to surprise Americans by telling them that Twain's contemporary Ulysses Grant was the first US President to visit India (albeit after he demitted office), or express gratitude that the architect of our constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar, was an alumnus of Columbia University (which is also Barack Obama's alma mater) and was a student of the philosopher John Dewey.

Self-absorbed with our past greatness, we often lack elementary grace.

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