10 Indians Obama Should Meet [if anyone will let him]

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Issue Editor Nisha Susan

By Vijay Simha

Photo: AP

IF WE were in Washington, this piece wouldn’t be written. There wouldn’t be a special issue of a leading newsmagazine on an Indian Prime Minister’s visit. And there wouldn’t be such a fuss over what every gesture means. But this is New Delhi, and US President Barack Obama is on a State visit. He is only the sixth American president to do so and he comes when India and the US are taking baby steps towards each other. India is tentatively entering the Second World, looking for reassurance at every corner that it belongs there. The US is being drained into the Second World, wondering at each turn how its strength is ebbing so fast.

In this disorienting world, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama will spend a few weighty hours, knowing they need the other but unsure just how much of their future should be together. Both have complaints. Singh might tell Obama it won’t do to keep cheaper Indian goods off American markets, especially in agriculture. He may add that Indian people are getting tetchy about more American restrictions on visas. At some point Singh might want to air his thoughts on Obama’s $2 billion October military aid to Pakistan, which in less uncertain times could have been seen as a hostile act.

Obama might fill Singh in on how America is worrying about India’s reluctance to open up banking, insurance and retail. He probably won’t talk Pakistan and China right now. But he will want to sell us something, most likely a whole lot of fighter planes. It won’t majorly alter the $50 billion trade between India and the US; it won’t even be a patch on the $433 billion trade that the US and China do with each other. But it’ll have to do.

The Indian Obama most wants to meet, like everybody else, is the Mahatma. He will, when he goes to Rajghat. The Indians Obama should meet, he won’t. He ought to meet Krishna, the cancer patient from Delhi, who’ll tell him how American trade policy will make medicines so expensive that he’ll die because he can’t afford them. He should meet Aftab Ansari, the Muslim, who’ll tell him how his life changed when he was named suspect in a series of 2007 blasts in Uttar Pradesh.

He should meet Radha, the traveller, who’ll know what it means when her computer contents are read at American airports; Jayaben, the displaced of the Bhavnagar nuclear plant being set up by an American corporation; Zubair Ahmed, the parent who’ll share the agony of a parent trying to send a child to study in a US-style private school; Col Kharbanda, the soldier who was in Afghanistan with America’s war on; Rashid Yusoof, the Nicobar islander who is fretting about another tsunami driven by climate change; Sachin and Binny Bansal, the America-loving entrepreneurs who launched India’s own Amazon-like, Flipkart; Laxman, the farmer whose life is dominated by Bt brinjal; and Vicky and Aakash Dhangar, the dancers who love the US for adding zest to their style.

They are the real India. They are the America in India. Over the next few pages we’ll see what Obama’s trip could mean for Indians like these. One day, India and the US will meet in the Second World. Then, finally, it won’t be a big deal then if a US president is here.

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01 The Muslim: Aftab Ansari 

29, Kolkata
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02 The Patient: Krishna 

17, Delhi

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03The Traveller: Radha Dumra 

28, Ludhiana Punjab
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04 The Displaced: Jayaben Rathore

37, Bhavanagar, Gujrat

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05 The Parent: Zubair Ahmed

52, Bhopal , Madhya Pradesh
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06 The Soldier: Col Kharban

65, Noida, Uttar Pradesh

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07 The Islander: Rashid Yusoof

40, Nicolar Islands
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08 The  Entrepreneurs:  Sachin & Binny Bansal 

28 & 27, Bengaluru

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09 The Farmer: M Laxman

42, Mattu, Karnataka
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10 The Dancers: Vicky & Aakash Dhangar

20 & 17 Mumbai

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