What’s common between Barack Obama and Santa Claus?
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What’s common between Barack Obama and Santa Claus?

President Obama’s three-day visit to India was like Christmas eve. A kind of fever picks up earlier: frenzy of shopping for Christmas cards, gifts for relations and friends, a Christmas tree to decorate the interior, a sprig of mistletoe to hang above the door, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Nov 21, 2010 01:32 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times

President Obama’s three-day visit to India was like Christmas eve, Christmas and Boxing Day in a Christian home. A kind of fever picks up earlier: frenzy of shopping for Christmas cards, gifts for relations and friends, a Christmas tree to decorate the interior, a sprig of mistletoe to hang above the door; so you can kiss everyone who comes.

On Christmas eve children hang large stockings on their bedsteads in the expectation that when they are asleep Santa Claus will come down the chimney and stuff the stockings with goodies — candy, toys and much else. On Christmas day they examine what Santa has left for them. On Boxing Day they get rid of empty boxes, cartons and wrapping paper.

Santa Claus is portrayed as a white old man with a long snow-white beard hanging down to his navel. He wears a red dressing gown and the only words he can utter are Ho, Ho, Ho. By contrast Obama is a strapping, athletic, six-footer young man — half-black, half-white with an incredible power of oratory. Santa does not have a wife. Obama has a very pretty one, almost as tall as him, as brown a pigment as his, impeccably turned out in the latest designer clothes and oozes charm.

In the three-day stay they managed to steal the hearts of all Indians; Obama’s speech in parliament was the highlight of the visit. He spoke for 45 minutes without a note in his hand. There was no rhetoric, no gestures used by rabble-rousers: it was dignified and to the point. He covered every aspect of India’s problems with its neighbours. He was applauded every ten seconds and given a standing ovation. The only thing I felt uneasy about was the lack of spontaneity; it was too meticulously rehearsed in detail to perfection by both sides.

You could see its impact on the face of our Prime Minister. He had a smug smile, his eyes beamed with self-satisfaction as if saying: “See what I have done for my country!” It was the high watermark of his career as a politician.

Now that it is over we have to examine what the United States has promised to give us and what it expects us to give the United States in return. There is an element of mutuality in the deal. We get a promise of support in our quest for a permanent seat in the Security Council, an assurance that our neighbour Pakistan will not provide havens for anti-Indian terrorists, a promise to help us in rapid industrialisation. They get more jobs in their country, more Indo-US trade and more people to people exchange. All we need to see is to keep our fingers crossed and pray it works out as well as we hope.

Fathering books
It gives me vicarious pleasure when I can persuade any of my lady friends to write a book. I boast “I did not write that book but I fathered it.” That also ends the friendship early. The latest example is the publication of Eternal Romantic: My Father, Gemini Ganesan by Narayani Ganesh (Roli Books). There is quite a story behind it.

Some years ago I befriended Narayani Ganesh of Times of India. I was quite taken by her. She was a slightly enlarged version of her younger half-sister, the actress Rekha, and had been through a couple of marriages. I often invited her over for chit-chat. One evening while she was there, Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books dropped in. Promod has a very sharp nose and smells out books which bring money. He had made a killing, publishing a series of illustrated books, written by sons and daughters of men who had made it good.

Amongst them were Anoushka Shankar’s about the eminent sitar maestro and Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar and my son Rahul’s account of my life. Pramod smelt money in Narayani talking about her father. He asked her if she would like to write about him: I urged her to say yes. She did so and signed a contract with him. I signed as a witness.

Thereafter every time she dropped in I asked her how the book was doing. She showed me the material she had collected: his letters and lots of photographs. He was a very handsome man whom many women found irresistible. As a gallant gentleman, he responded to their overtures. One of them was Rekha’s mother. All it needed was a week or so to put it together in book form.

But every time I asked Narayani how the book was coming on, she made some excuse or the other, as she had took much work on hand. She had to travel to distant places to fulfil her official assignments etc etc. I began to nag her. She stopped coming to see me. I have not seen her for some years. But at long last it has been published; I can claim I fathered it. She acknowledges it in her opening lines. But our friendship has ended.

Ma-in-law’s Medicine

Husband and wife had a tiff.

Wife called up her mum and said, “He fought with me again, I’m coming to live with you.”

Mom said, “Nahin beti nahin, he must pay for his mistake…I am coming to stay with you.”’

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 21, 2010 00:03 IST