Call me a romantic, but every time I enter a new country or start to get to know a place, it suddenly feels very important. When in Israel, I felt that my internship and the news about continued direct talks made me feel like it was an exciting time to be in Israel. By the end, most of my optimism for peace had faded away. That’s not to say I’m a pessimist; I’m just a little less naive and a lot more skeptical of politics. (I should add that my frustration with politics extends well past just Israeli politics.)
Anyways, I entered India on 4 November—exactly 6 months into my trip. President Obama’s official visit (as part of his Asian tour) began in Mumbai on Friday and it’s been nonstop news ever since. (Whether he knew of my travel plans in advance, I can’t say.)
Billboards and newspaper ads are everywhere welcoming him Some news is a bit negative—trying to make a controversy out of the trip. His visit obviously affects a lot of people, but I think ultimately it’s all for the better. Yes, most of the tourist areas in Mumbai were closed last weekend. Yes, lots of shops were forced to close. But hopefully the spotlight will then shine more on India by the end of his visit. Like I started to mention the other day, there are a lot of misconceptions about India.
Obama recognizes India as a world leader
In one of his speeches, President Obama said something about India and America being the world’s two largest democracies. I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes some sense. Sidenote: it feels good to be in a democratic state again…Israel, though mostly democratic, didn’t always feel like one to me. China, though obviously one of the world’s biggest superpowers, is not a democracy. From what I know about India, it does feel like a democracy and I think it’s definitely moving in the right direction, whether slow or fast I can’t yet say. The country is undoubtedly going to be important for the future and the fact that Obama is here certainly demonstrates that.
Obama values young people, students
One article I read in The Economic Times mentioned how often Obama speaks in front of college & university students. In Mumbai, he gave a speech and then took questions from students of St. Xavier’s College and other local schools. I think that’s really smart. If you can inspire young adults now, they may just be inspired forever. I have no doubt that twenty-somethings are an important social group to invest in. Disclosure: I am a twenty-something.
Pakistan & Islam
Several students in his Mumbai town hall mentioned Pakistan and why the US hasn’t taken a hard line against them. This has just underscored my desire to learn more about India-Pakistan relations. So far, it seems awfully similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One student also asked about Islam and jihads. It’s extremely disconcerting to hear such irrational generalizations about Muslims in yet another part of the world. I’m slowly learning that racism is one of the few things you can find everywhere in the world.
Quotations from Obama’s visit in Mumbai
On the need for young people in India to not just get involved in the private sector, but also in government. “There is a healthy skepticism about politics. In the US the people hold politicians in low esteem.”
On Islam. “The phrase jihad has a lot of meaning within Islam. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and more than a billion people who practice Islam, an overwhelming majority, view their obligations to their religion as one that reaffirms peace, justice and fairness.”
He also mentioned Gandhi several times throughout his trip, including a visit to a site here in Mumbai. It’s so encouraging to see such a powerful person so enthralled with other cultures, peoples and histories. It justifies my belief that seeing and knowing a wide range of things is important to defining who you are and understanding the world just a little bit more.