Not so very long ago, black people in America were called negroes, niggers, blackies, and treated as third-rate citizens only good enough to mix with other blacks. Those who accepted their lower status without protests were known as 'Uncle Toms', those who became uppity were lynched by gangs of the Klu Klux Klan. Slowly white Americans' outlook changed. Instead of using ugly, racist denominations, they began to call dark people Afro-Americans. Then all of a sudden there was a change in the mindset of the whites. They elected an Afro-American, son of an African Muslim father and a white American woman, as president of their country which is the richest and most powerful nation in the world — with a thumping majority. Obama became the most feared and respected man on earth. It was a miracle. What is more, his wife Michelle Obama who had a similar background and was as good looking as her husband, became the icon of the fashion world.
How the miracle took place is well told in a recent publication titled Michelle Obama: First Lady of Hope by Elizabeth Lightfoot (Om Books International). It traces her childhood in Chicago, his education in Princeton and Harvard and her first meeting with Obama. She shared her husband's dreams of the future, "We are driven by the simple belief that the world as it is just won't do — that we have an obligation to fight for a world as it should be. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight when the current of history meets the new tide of hope."
More miraculous than the rise of the Obamas is the pre-eminence achieved by Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur. After Bhindranwale's fall, Operation Blue Star, the massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi who couldn't have ever dreamt that a Sikh would be chosen as the prime minister of India for a second term, and his wife would be the first woman doing the job expected of a prime minister's wife — it all happened. Gursharan used to visit me occasionally. But ever since I started bullying her to write her autobiography, she dropped me. The only difference between the Obamas and the Singhs is that Obamas are at least a foot taller than the Singhs and while Barack Obama is the head of the most powerful nation in the world, Manmohan is heard with respect as the wisest of the world's leaders today.
Delhi, oh delhi!
There was a time when my wife, I and our closest friend, our pet — Simba (a German Shepherd), used to do the rounds of Khan Market after dinner every night. Simba would leave us with no choice. No sooner would we finish dinner, he would bring my walking stick and put it in front of me with a pleading look. So we would step out with him. He would get ahead of us and stand by the ice-cream vendor's cart, wagging his tail. So we would buy him an ice-cream cone, which he gulped down with great relish. We would then proceed to the paanwala... That was long time ago. Simba died and we gave up chewing paan. Our visits got rarer. Till a couple of years they got restricted to meeting the dentist, Dr Mehta. When he moved to a different location, I had to find a new dentist. I heard good reports of Dr Dhiraj Vohra, who along with his father had a flourishing practice in Khan Market. I made an appointment for the afternoon when the market was likely to be less crowded. So I went to Khan Market after two years, and was in for a nasty surprise. It looked as if the whole area had undergone a blitzkrieg: roads and footpaths were reduced to debris of bricks and stones; cars clogged every inch of space, and everyone moved at a snail's pace. Cars were parked so close to each other that there was no space between them. That made getting in and out very difficult. I managed to find the clinic and was struggling to step over piles of rubble when the younger Vohra spotted me and came out to lend a hand. He introduced me to his father — both handsome men. And what a fancy clinic — spick and span with the latest gadgetry, apparently from New Zealand. I asked him if the business in the market had suffered because of all the modernising of the city for the Commonwealth Games. He replied, "You can image it yourself having seen it with your eyes. I have complained often that the government gave the game business high priority and is wasting too much money which could have been spent building more schools and clinics for the poor."
Treading the Gandhian Path
My lauding of the Sikhs in a Punjabi village rebuilding a mosque they had destroyed during the Partition riots in 1947 and handing it back to the Muslims has brought a similar gesture of goodwill towards Muslims.
One instance is that of Tejlok Bharati of Dwarka in Delhi. He is closely associated with Muslim organisations set up by Hakim Ajmad Khan and has adopted an orphaned Muslim girl of a destitute family and arranged marriages for their daughters bearing all the expenses. He is also active member of a Hindu orphanage run by the Arya Samaj which provides educational facilities to children of all communities. It was founded by Swami Shradhanand. All I can say to Bharati is shaabash.