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A book, a bill and Obama’s viewpoint

When President Barack Obama wanted to make a point about small businesses, he bought Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland from a DC bookstore.

world Updated: Dec 02, 2013 00:18 IST
Yashwant Raj

When President Barack Obama wanted to make a point about small businesses, he bought Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland from a DC bookstore.

When he wanted to make a point about immigration reforms earlier in the week, he had Geetha Vallabhaneni, an Indian-born techie, introduce him at an event in San Francisco.

And just the week before, his handpicked assistant secretary of state for Central and South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal took office in a major milestone for the community.

Obama’s Saturday book buys were in support of an initiative he started in 2010 called Small Business Saturday. But it was not clear who asked for The Lowland. Lahiri is a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which has Michelle Obama as honorary chairwoman.

Vallabhaneni fronted the president’s other leading initiative — a comprehensive immigration reform.

A bill passed by the senate, for instance, makes it difficult for Indian IT firms to continue to operate with their H-1B-dependent business model. But the bill makes it easier for Indians like Vallabhaneni who come to the US to study and then wish to stay on.

Within 10 months of getting her green card, Vallabhaneni started her own company Luminix. “Needless to say, I would have started my company sooner if the system had permitted me,” she said with the president within earshot.

That is what Obama wants to change. Lahiri and Biswal were luckier. Their paths to citizenship were paved by their parents. Lahiri parents came to the US from London, where she was born. Biswal’s parents came to the US from Gujarat when she was six. Neither, therefore, had to struggle for a green card -- their parents went through the process much before, and at a time when applicants didn’t have to wait long.