'It's not just America, it's about the man...his wife!'

He had said: “I think this trip will be judged a success if we manage to explain to the people in both countries the tremendous importance of this bilateral partnership between the two governments and the two societies. The President is traveling...when our economies and our interests are wrapped together as never before, and this is a great opportunity to speak both to our public in the US and to the Indian public ...”

Within 24 hours of touching down on Indian soil, Obama - and wife Michelle – showed the people of India they were here to win hearts and not just minds. By the time they left on November 9, they had captured the imagination of large swathes of the Indian populace, including children, young Indians and discerning adults. The three-day visit of US’ first couple was an event happening right in the midst of people, in the open. As the President and First Lady avoided protocol glitches and mingled freely, they could relate to the people better than any first couple had done on their India visit.

Be it Obama’s interaction with the students at St Xavier’s school in Mumbai, where his informal style replete with rolled up sleeves as he strode into the crowd of youngsters made him an instant hit – not to speak of Michelle who had by then set the tone for his talk - or his visit to Mani Bhavan, the Gandhi museum where the man who swears by the Mahatma was deeply moved, or his address to top industrialists, Obama made an impression. A lasting impression.

As he kneeled down to talk to the children of artisans at Humayun’s tomb in Delhi or Michelle’s pep talk to the students from a school in Punjab, it was clear that the Obamas were here not just for formal bilateral talks. They wanted to talk to India, her people.

That was not all. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted a private dinner and President Pratibha Patil organised a cultural extravaganza while allowing the visiting dignitaries to freely mingle with the guests. At both the dinners, the couple greeted each of the guests. If Obama surprised Member of Parliament Priya Dutt saying she was too young to be in politics, he told a journalist that he was not against Bangalore. “I would like to visit your IT hub”. One guest wanted to know Obama’s White House golf handicap. No, the US CEO would not reveal his golfing secret; the president told the inquisitive guest: “It’s too high to be mentioned diplomatically”.

He knew what to say to whom. As Sitaram Yechuri ran into him, Obama told him he was glad to see the CPM leader. The visiting dignitary was briefed in advance on the key guests!

Obama hit it off well with others too. He told Tata Group boss Ratan Tata that he had a look at his ‘aam aadmi’ car Nano and liked it. He told actor Aamir Khan he has heard about him. He asked minister Kapil Sibal about his Harvard days. In between, he held a 10-minute impromptu talk with Congress scion Rahul Gandhi.

Perhaps no other visiting dignitary tasted so much success, closest being Obama’s Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton. But what added extra charm to Obama’s visit was the presence of his wife. Michelle added spice, breaking into a jig at the slightest invitation, frequently telling students that there is no alternative to education, recalling her own humble beginnings, coaxing students to ask tough questions of her husband - the President of  United States, and telling some Punjab students in no uncertain terms that it is her writ that runs in the presidential household. And when the couple have a fight, Obama better blink first, being the man, she told the girls shortly before she went broke buying Christmas gifts, which included wooden Channapatna toys from down south.

Personal touch

The gifts the Obamas carried was touching. Children at Humayun’s tomb received gifts, while the Gandhi memorial was presented a piece of stone from civil rights icon Martin Luther King’s memorial. They even remembered the last person they bid goodbye at the airport, minister in waiting Salman Khursheed. Personal touch at its best!

At the end of it all, you would be pardoned if you described this high profile visit saying: “It’s not just about America, silly, it’s all about the man... and his wife.”

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