Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama-ji Storms Indian Media

I watched the news of America's $170 million dollar inauguration preparations stream in from Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi, en route to Bangalore. My taxi driver had quoted me the figure in rupees when I told him it was a very important day for my country. "This very expensive day!" he pointed out, adding that he liked Obama and thinks he will work hard to make the world a better place. In clear agreement were the Kenyans dancing on IBN7 Hindi language news, which the producers cut to in between shots of Obama grinning in front of the YES WE CAN mantra.
Though losing ground to the news coverage of Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar nods (best picture, director and score), American inauguration coverage here has been nonstop.

Shri Obama, as he is likely called in a temple nearby, has a lot of expectations to answer to. CAN OBAMA CHANGE THE WORLD? screamed the Time Now network, and apparently, 63% here think he can (he looks a bit skeptical in the freeze frame). Times of India's front page announced his MISSION AMERICA. To watch the Big Speech on January 20, I begged the bar keeper to tune the flat screen at Amnesia club to CNN. The only patron I cheered the television and showed off my Obama t-shirt to the Nepali waiters, who were not impressed. Finally, one bored French IT consultant wandered in to keep me company at the bar for a glass of Maharastran wine. As the CNN anchors roared with excitment, he looked puzzled at the fuss, finally reflecting that it is a big step for America [to elect a black man president].

Aside from gawking at the glamorous new first American couple, what do Indians want from Mr. Obama's new post? The papers say Indians want a stronger economy, action on climate change, a better relationship with India. Mainly they want an end to terrorism. The frenzy of excitement over Slumdog Millionaire, filmed in Mumbai, must be rooted in India's post "26/11" pride--like New York became a proxy for the unflappably optimistic American spirit after 9/11, Mumbai is now a touchstone for India's strong nationalism.

As a visitor, the security here in airports, hotels and upscale restaurants is unnerving. To enter the Windsor, a Sheraton hotel, our car was stopped on the main road, before we turned into the winding driveway. The vehicle's underside was inspected with mirrors. We drove to the front of the Regency-era white colloladed structure and inspector #2 peeked under the car. Entering the hotel, our bags were thoroughly searched. At some hotels our bags have been scanned as in the airport. Finally admitted, we were forbidden to access wireless internet as an additional security measure. It all kind of put a damper on the gracious welcome the man in Raj-era suit gives as he opens the door, on the other end of the metal detector.


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