The Hari Putar Dialogues - 41
(The Tribune ; 20 January ; Washington :A black American President, a concept which was till now confined to the reel life in Hollywood, turned real with Barack Obama's inauguration. The concept of an African-American president started in Hollywood many years ago with a movie depicting a black as occupant of the White House. In 'The Man' released in 1972, when the President and Speaker of the House are killed in a building collapse and the Vice-President declines the office due to ill-health, Senate President Douglas Dilman (played by James Earl Jones) suddenly becomes the first black man to occupy the Oval Office.)
Putar: There is a report in the Tribune today that Hollywood made a film about a black US President as far back as 1972.
Hari: Really Putar? What was the story about? It's extraordinary and almost unbelievable that we could have a black US President event even today. In 1972 it would have seemed a completely unlikely event.
Putar: The film producers did try and create a plausible scenario. In that particular movie he President and Speaker of the House are killed in a building collapse. The Vice-President declines the office due to ill health. At that point Senate President Douglas Dilman (played by James Earl Jones) suddenly becomes the first black man to occupy the Oval Office.
Hari: Truth is certainly stranger than fiction. In the movie, a black President comes to the Oval Office because the white President and Vice President and Speaker are killed. Now it will be the other way around, should anything happen, God forbid.
Putar: Do you remember that Ronald Reagan the former President of the United States once tried to be an actor in Hollywood?
Hari: I seem to recall something like that.
Putar: The story is that he was once shortlisted by some film producers to play the role of US President in a Hollywood production.
Hari: And then?
Putar: He was rejected after an audition. The director of the film didn't think he would make a plausible President of the country.
Hari: Bad judgement there.
Putar: Sometimes it's difficult to imagine how things will eventually turn out.
Hari: That's true. Part of the White House building was built by black slaves. Who could have ever imagined that there would in the future be a black President occupying the building?
Putar: The slaves building the White House could never have imagined this. Could you imagine one slave telling the other: 'In the future, brothers, there could be one of us living with his wife and children as the principal occupants in this house?'
Hari: Even had one of them imagined such a possibility the others would have sneered at him.
Putar: 'It can never ever happen, brother', they would have most likely have responded.
Putar: 'And there may be some white people serving us and looking after the house,' our hypothetical slave may have continued, to which his comrades would have responded with: 'You better be getting on with your work, and stop dreaming these crazy thoughts.'
Hari: Martin Luther King had the dream, didn't he?
Putar: Yes, he did. And look at the coincidence. By an amazing twist of fate, the Presidential Inauguration was held just a day after Martin Luther King Junior Day is celebrated in the US.
Hari: But I thought the Presidential inauguration date is fixed under the American Constitution, so it should be after Martin Luther King Day everytime.
Putar: No, it isn't. Martin Luther King Day is not a fixed date you see. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January each year, so the Presidential Inauguration may not have been the next day.
Hari: In history, there have been cases of slaves coming to power. There have even been Slave Kings before. There was even a Slave Dynasty in India. But those were kingdoms established by use of force, as matters went in those days. Not through democratic elections.
Putar: We have a Sikh Prime Minister in India, don't we? From a minority group. What makes the Obama election different is that Sikhs haven't had a history of suffering discrimination in our country.
Hari: Although some Sikhs did try to say that discrimination existed a couple decades earlier.
Putar: That was patently false. The Sikhs have been a well-to-do community. Such suggestions are sometimes even today sponsored by overseas Sikhs who have lost touch with the Indian reality. It's good to see that overall in the country little angst remains over those days with the success of 'Singh is King' and having Mr. Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister.
Hari: I agree.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Obama has many challenges in front of him. Do you think he should take things slowly, or act fast.
Hari: Act fast. The economy is not looking too good. People have great expectations from him.
Putar: And he is on a groundswell of public adulation. Let him take decisions fast, while the public mood is that he can do no wrong.
Putar: But people may have unrealistic expectations from him. There are so many issues: problems with the economy, with global warming and dangerous conflicts in many parts of the world. He doesn't have magic bullets to get rid of all these problems does he?
Hari: No, he doesn't.
Putar: But perhaps to begin with if he can remove or lessen the use of ordinary American bullets all over the world to begin with, that will be achievement enough. Don't you think so?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.