The swearing-in of Barack Obama as the first African-American US president has unleashed a tidal wave of joy, exhilaration and hope around the world. Israeli pilots rave about Obama as they plan their next Gaza bombing, Taliban mullahs bless him before torching another girls’ school, and tribesmen in the Congo cheer him before sallying forth to massacre their neighbours. Unconfirmed reports say that after watching Obama’s inaugural ball, Mayawati and Mulayam were spotted dancing together at a party in Lucknow. Black people, White people, Brown people and even Michael Jackson have enthusiastically welcomed the multi-racial, multi-hued president. A stock market trader cried like a child at having to miss the new president’s inaugural address. “I started selling after the first two minutes and so couldn’t hear the rest of the speech,” he sobbed bitterly.
Political leaders around the world have wondered about the secret of Obama’s attraction. Could it be his good looks, his skills at oratory, or is it something else? Some say Lalu Yadav has decided to take basketball lessons. Others claim to have seen Pranab Mukherjee practising Obama’s speeches in front of a mirror. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a depressed man these days. “I assumed it was because of the economic recession,” said a maid at No. 10 Downing Street, “till I saw him wringing his hands and muttering, ‘Why, o why can’t my ears be as big as Obama’s?’” Reports say that impressed with Obama’s crew cut and clean-shaven looks, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren has decided to cut his flowing locks and scraggly beard. Others have pooh-poohed these efforts. “The secret of Obama’s success clearly lies in his superior education,” said a Delhi politician with several small children, “but it’s useless for us to go to Harvard Law School.” “Which is why,” he added, “I’m sending my kids to the school Obama attended in Indonesia.”
Meanwhile, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is overjoyed at Obama’s reference to Hindus in his inaugural speech, when he spoke of the United States being a “nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers”. “It shows what an important part Hindus play on the world stage, thanks to our untiring efforts,” said a VHP organiser. He said they were planning a yagna for the US president soon, where bhajans would be sung in his honour. They also plan to present him with a trishul. Some Jains, though, were disappointed at not being mentioned in his speech. “Does the new President know we could close down all the motels in the US?” muttered Mr Patel darkly.
The Obama inauguration has also had some rather strange reactions. “It was a good speech,” admitted George Bush, “but he needn’t have used so many French words. Words like, you know, ‘forebears’ or ‘dogma’ or ‘recriminations’.” Mayawati has decreed that statues of Obama be installed alongside hers in every village in Uttar Pradesh. “Just as a black man has become president of the United States, so too should a dalit become the prime minister of India,” she allegedly said. “Even better, the dalit leader should be a woman and her name should start with M,” she added. “I’m certain Obama is part of some sort of imperialist plot, though I’m unsure exactly what sort,” Prakash Karat supposedly said. According to unreliable sources, Sanjay Dutt said he was happy Michelle Obama had taken her husband’s surname after getting married.
Some veteran Indian politicians were however completely unimpressed with Obama’s speech. “What’s the big deal?” said a grizzled old politico. “We’ve been making similar promises for the last fifty years.” In Pakistan, politicians and military leaders have dismissed it as not being good enough. “This is information, not evidence,” pointed out their foreign minister. “We need to be sure this speech is not a figment of an overheated Indian imagination,” said a general with the ISI. “Who is this Obama? Where’s the proof he’s a US citizen? Does Obama exist?” he asked.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint