Obama and young India

I got this note from a well-respected and well-placed member of one of our rightwing political groups. It was sent to ‘undisclosed recipients’ but on occasion in the past we have disagreed with civility.

Reproduced is an excerpt from his letter followed by my rather long response:

Enclosed is a link to a video of two questions that were asked of Obama in his interaction with the students. One girl, from Xavier's College, asked him about his opinion on jihad, and a boy, from HR College, asked him a question on spirituality and materialism. I thought the questions reflect very well on the young generation of India. The first would indicate that issues like jihad are being discussed by the youth, and perhaps they are not carried away with the negationism being indulged in by the supposed intellecutals. The second was put forward in an intelligent manner, and also a topic that one may not associate the youth to be so involved in.


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Dear Shri X:

Thank you for sharing your views. Barack Obama, like most of the US leadership in the past, tends to be not quite upfront and dangles carrots while using the stick.

I do not agree at all with your views on the young generation and their concerns. Is this the representative sample of the youth of India – the urban kids who get to spend quite a bit of money, go on annual vacations, are clued-in to trends and hanker after, if not possess, the latest gizmos? Is this the representative youth that will not mind working at KFC and McDonald’s but would titter at the local vendors of essentials? This is the Americanised young generation and their curiosity is US-centric.

Asking Mr. Obama about his opinion on jihad is playing to the gallery created by the President’s predecessors and backroom boys. Did those young people ask him why he has chosen selected people in his cabinet with what is referred to as Hindutva leanings? Why does he choose a minister to deal specifically with the Islamic world as though it is a conglomerate of Dirty Harrys? Did this section of ‘aware’ youth bother to question him about terrorism elsewhere and of other kinds? Does discussing jihad necessarily mean that “they are not carried away with the negationism being indulged in by the supposed intellectuals”? Can one assume, then, that they are being carried away by another sort of intellectualism that strives to thrust one version of cultural hegemony over another?

Jihad is a most discussed topic, so for young people to talk about it is not unexpected. It is the new soccer. I’d have said cricket, but it is so third world for this young generation.

I fail to understand how you believe that questions about materialism and spiritualism reflect well on the youth only because it is not a topic you associate with them. There are a few factors here. Growing up includes dealing with internal turmoil and it does spark off interest in what may be termed a spiritual quest. It has been a constant since ages. Besides, these queries have also become part of money-spinning feel-good and how-to books, again not a recent phenomenon but more sharply evident of late. Then, there is the influx of pop spiritualism on the web and on the airwaves, the mode being of American televangelism. Gurus speak the language of Now and their celebrity devotees ensure that they become immensely desirable. The young generation is likely to be enticed by this as they are by social networking sites.

The point is they are not interested as much in real issues or, if they are, they do not voice it. When I write about the Sikh riots or the 1993 Bombay riots, there is ennui and a disdainful attitude towards what they deem to be obsession with history.

Like you I am more interested in what our young people think rather than what the US Prez says; the difference is that we are on different sides of the spectrum. I see it as a good thing and wish the youth would be able to stride across thought processes rather than follow tried-and-tested paths. I am not too sure if the so-called intellectuals that you hold in contempt would want a blinkered following. If they do, then their vision is as narrow, and I believe it is so in many cases. But let us not tar every segment with one brush.

Jihad and spiritualism are gainful, and some instances opportunistic, pastimes for such youth. Curiosity ought to lie in the details, not mere chatter of the times.

Namaste and best regards,

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There has been further correspondence from the gentleman. Here follows the exchange in dialogue form:

Dear Farzanaji,

Thank you for your message.

The negativeness that I see in your message does not make for pleasant reading.

Dear Xji:

Thank you for taking this further. It was not meant to be pleasant, but I do not see ‘negativism’ the way you do. One may wonder why they asked negative questions about subjects like jihad and did not concentrate on positive subjects. I am not suggesting that they ought to have done so; it is only to emphasise my point about negativity.

There were six questions that were asked. Given that ALL of them were what I consider to be mature and intellilgent ones, and not frivilous that one would normally associated with what is called the MTV generation, it is only correct to conclude that more questions would have been of the same quality.

I do not know how the colleges were chosen and how the students within each colleges were chosen. I would like to know, and perhaps you could use your journalism contacts to find out.

It seemed to me that Obama chose the students who asked the questions quite randomly. I have seen a video at:
where two of the questions and their answers are available. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that at least some of the questions were of a nature which did put him on the defensive. If the organisers made a show of randomness, then they surely botched the whole exercise.

I think maturity and intelligence can be selective. You have not noticed that I specifically alluded to their NOT asking certain questions. I hope you agree that these same young people will not question the US establishment or any other forms of terrorism, subjects you too have avoided in your response.

While there is a frivolity in the MTV generation, those who stick to MTV and its allied ideas can be granted some honesty. I am afraid but I do not have journalistic contacts of this nature, but it isn’t merely about the choice of college; it is the whole urbanised movement that has taken over. In this case, it is what India sees as important to deal with the outside world that is disconcerting.

It really does not matter that Obama was put on the defensive. He might have been so even if they had asked about the US policies in Iraq, Afghanistan or its history of slavery or of him being the totem Black President. The more important factor is that India is dependent on US goodwill and many other things, which I wrote about in Obama’s Hawk Policy in India.

To say that they were NOT representative of the thinking of the educated youth in Mumbai trivalises the sincerity of those who asked the questions. The nature of the questions tells me what are the issues that the youth are discussing, apart from holidays, latest gizmos, KFC, etc.

I reiterate that they are not representative of the educated youth. Of course, we will then have to question what education is. I have already stated that such ‘interests’ work as much as trendy talk. It does not trivialise anything but seeks to examine the mindset beyond the trivial.

Let me tell you an incident from Mahabharat. One day, Yudhishtar was asked to go into the town and come back with one bad person, while Duryodhan was asked to go into the same town and come back with one good person. Both came back empty handed. Yudhishtar found at least one redeeming quality in every person he met, and Duryodhan found at least one bad quality in every person he met.

Thank you for this enlightening anecdote. But, as you are aware, it was Duryodhan who sought to make the ‘outsider’ Karna king and an equal of the Pandava, Arjun. Therefore, the good and bad are perceptions, not necessarily real.

And please do use this exchange, too, in your blog, without mentioning my name.


It has been an interesting exchange. And you shall remain anonymous on the blog.



  1. Hello Farzana,
    be generous .Obama does not deserve beating.Give kids break .I think they were trying one upman ship and impress themselves .They talked well and did not fall down or stutter.Cheers.
    Better relations with USA are in the cards ,thanks it was worst when they were bad.
    Then again you may find heaven very cold and sterile.I think it to be so.
    kul bhushan

  2. Obama's intellect is just a bubble supported with crutches of teleprompt and if telepropmt is off Obama's intellectual bubble gets burst..........

    Obama is an empty pantsuit with mere shallowness.


  3. Hello Kul Bhushan:

    You might find the update of my correspondence interesting...and forget about my beating Obama or the kids, I do not spare myself too, but you don't notice :) Btw, if heaven is cold and sterile, then can we deduce that any cold and sterile place is heaven?


    "empty pantsuit" had me chuckling for verrryyy different reasons! I think Obama's teleprompter was that fly he had to shoo off once in a TV studio...

  4. FV is pissed off because Obama visited her country of residence but not the country where her heart really is.

  5. Arjun:

    So we are into heart talk now? To celebrate, Eid Mubarak to you!


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