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This morning, I hit the streets to find out what Indians think about Obama. From watching TV and reading the papers, I was pretty sure that it would be an easy task. This was the biggest event to take place since Gandhi's salt march, and everybody was chanting, “Yes, we can!”
“I don't know anything about the US president,” said Ashok, the man who does the neighborhood ironing—a.k.a. the press wallah—told me, adding a few coals to his ancient iron. “Oh, wait! He's black, isn't he? The one after George Bush? We saw him on TV!”
“The inauguration is today, right? There were so many black cars!” said an elderly gentleman seated in the park opposite my house.
“We're not at all into politics,” said 24-year-olds Rinni and Manisha—who work in PR and dabble in modeling—on a break at modern Delhi's top hangout for young people, the neighborhood cafe. “All I know is that he's the first African American to be president.”
Will you watch the inauguration tonight?
“Politics is a waste of time.”
OK, I told myself. Steady on. Those were MODELS. But I did start to wonder if I'd gotten too excited by the CNN stories of Japanese songs written in Obama's honor, towns that changed their names to match his, and all around mania.
India isn't holding any parades. Nobody is penning any paeans. And those people who DO know that America gets a new president today are no longer so sure that the change he promised will be a good thing. Today, Obama only made the front page of one of the four newspapers that I subscribe to—OK, maybe the editors are waiting for the photos from tonight—and the story had little audacity of hope. “How much will the US change is a matter of speculation,” the Mail Today quoted Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon as saying. “I am nervous about what this change will mean.” More military aid to Pakistan, interference in Kashmir, and curbs on outsourcing, perhaps, and those would be changes India could do without.
Save the world? Obviously, sometimes we Americans think a bit too highly of ourselves.