My husband and I traveled to India twice, the first time when George Bush was in office. I wrote this letter to then President Obama after our second trip. What do you think would happen if we returned under the current President?
Dear President Obama :
I’ve been meaning to write to you about my recent trip to India, but I’ve been recovering from a case of “Delhi belly.” Now that I’m no longer afraid to be more than 10 feet from the bathroom, I’m finally getting around to it.
When I told a friend that my husband and I were going back to India for the second time in three years, she looked at me as though I had a large glob of spinach paneer stuck in my teeth. Our friends think we’re nuts to travel so far to a place as well known for poverty, crowding, corruption, and abysmal sanitation as it is for beauty, technological expertise, and democracy. India is a place of contrasts -- anything you can say about it, the opposite is also true.
Two years ago, Mr. President, when I walked the streets of India, shopkeepers, construction workers, camel traders, and hotel staff, would ask us about George Bush and flash the universal thumbs down sign. This year was different, and that’s why I’m writing. I bear urgent messages for you from people who look to you as a beacon of hope. Unaccustomed as I am in recent years to being a citizen of a country that inspires hope instead of fear and anger, I feel obliged to pass these messages on.
It began in Amritsar, home to the magnificent Golden Temple and the Monty Pythonesque border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan. (I’m out of my league here, Mr. President, but I do think that goose stepping and gate slamming are far more civilized ways for India and Pakistan to settle their conflicts than blowing each other up).
In Bikaner, a desert town known for its forts, palaces, ancient painted houses, camel breeding center, and Rat Temple we were enjoying a cup of Indian chai when a group of boy scouts in blue uniforms surrounded us. There must have been thirty of them. One handsome young man (Indians are a very beautiful people) stuck his hand out and asked if he might “chat us up” about our new President Obama. We told them that we had volunteered for your campaign which apparently accorded us celebrity status. When they left they asked for our autographs and offered their hands, their schoolbooks, and some rupee notes for our signatures.
We headed west to Jaisalmer, 36 miles from the Pakistan border, where we took a camel safari into the sand dunes to watch the sunset. There were hundreds of Indian families, and very few tourists, sitting on the dunes. Everyone was having a noisy, wonderful time. It didn’t take long before we were joined by several Indian families, all eager to talk. Every Indian family, it seems, has a relative in the US and their family’s future is tied to ours. They love the US, they love you, Mr. President, and, I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings, they still love Mr. Bill Clinton. A portly, middle-aged, man in western clothing slid his way through the sand to sit next to me. He took my hand and begged me, really begged, to tell you that India is a peaceful country. Despite all their problems, Indian people want peace and--here’s where I got a little choked up--they are depending on America to make it happen. I told him you have a lot on your plate, but he wouldn’t let go of my hand until I promised to carry his message forward.
Our final stop was Mumbai. We were up at 5:00 A.M. standing on a dock, watching the fisher folk unload their catch. It was a chaos of color and noise. A man approached us, a working man wearing sandals, shorts and a t-shirt. “What country?” he asked and beamed at our answer. “I love Obama,” he said, “America is my great friend” and then he knelt and placed his head on my husband’s feet as a show of respect, not for us, but for you and for the United States. We were speechless, I can tell you.
I know you’re a busy man, Mr. President, facing enormous challenges, not the least of which is being a beacon of hope for the world. Thank you for your time and for giving me back pride in my country.