| Fresh ties: Sant Chatwal with Barack Obama (Pic: Mohammed Jaffer/ SnapsIndia)
Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas
Can Sant Chatwal help in bringing President Barack Obama closer to India?
He thinks he can.
He feels he did that with Bill Clinton and, though he backed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Chatwal seems confident he wont be banished from the court of King Obama.
Chatwal is a New York hotelier who is planning to bring nine of his ultra-modern Dream hotels to India. But he is much more than just a businessman, of course.
Chatwal has his share of detractors who recall his run-ins with the US tax authorities and with banks in India. But he appears to have settled past debts and established himself as a mover and shaker on the Indo-US political scene.
He has photographs of himself with Obama (a nice guy) and with Joe Biden, whom he accompanied to India earlier this year before the latter knew he would be the vice-presidential candidate.
Chatwal points out that Obama is beholden to the Clintons — and Chatwal, one of a handful of trustees on the William J. Clinton Foundation, remains close to Bill, Hillary and Chelsea who have all been to India with him.
Obama would never have been the president without the Clintons support, he argues when we meet at Chatwals office in New York. Hillary and Bill Clinton made 120 stops, campaigning for Obama in swing states — dont forget she had got 18 million votes.
Chatwal reveals that initially Obama was not keen on the Indo-US nuclear treaty but was persuaded after he met the senator and conveyed a personal message from Manmohan Singh. A party Chatwal co-hosted in Washington to lobby for the treaty was attended by no fewer than 18 senators and 59 Congressmen, including Obama.
Some, he says, had been guests at the week-long wedding party he had given for his actor son, Vikram, in India early in 2006.
India will be important for Obama, Chatwal predicts.
With the nuclear power deal India has come much closer to America, he explains. America knows that to control China or Pakistan, India is a major strategic relationship, economically, politically, from every point of view. So this is a very open secret — the Americans cannot ignore India. They need India, India needs them.
When Clinton was President, Chatwal estimates he was invited to the White House a hundred times. With George Bush, it has been five or six.
Chatwal doesnt look like a man who has put away his white tuxedo.
Hold the front page
| PAGE ONE: Ravi Kotru with The New York Times
In an act of extraordinary generosity, Ravi Kotru, who runs a successful translating and interpreting service in New York, has gifted me his one copy of The New York Times of November 5.
Americas best known newspaper doesnt go in for big headlines but it summed up the cataclysmic events of November 4 with one word: OBAMA.
The issue is already a collectors item which the paper is selling for $14.95, compared with the cover price of $1.50. But on ebay I saw offers in excess of $600 being solicited — Get this piece of history while you still can!
On November 5, by the time I got round to trying to buy a copy, not one could be found. But at a party three days later, the host, the said Ravi Kotru, saw me reading his copy and ordered: Take it.
He added with a grin: I will be upset if I hear if you have sold it for $5,000.
Possibly Ravi Kotru has an instinctive understanding of the power of the front page, not least because his elder brother is none other than M. L. Kotru, the distinguished former resident editor in Delhi of The Statesman.
Natvar Bhavsars brush with politics has brought out his true colours: for the first time in his 45-year career as an artist, he became involved in an election campaign, attended fundraisers in support of Obama, gave money to the cause, and expresses euphoria now that his man has won.
An exhibition of Natvars new paintings opens in New York at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery on November 25 and runs until December 27.
When Natvar first bought the rambling warehouse space in Soho (not to be confused with Londons Soho) over 30 years ago, he was not to know that the area would become a sought after haven for artists. His apartment, where he lives with his wife Janet and their two sons, is filled with his huge canvases, starbursts of vivid reds and blues which, sadly have never been exhibited in India because of the size of the paintings.
Natvar enthuses: Obama is the right man for the right time. His rightness has galvanised the young generation.
It is a category into which he places himself. I have said I want to paint for a thousand years.
Today a thousand of Natvars paintings hang in museums and boardrooms across America.
Message from Mandal
| ON A ROLL: Jay Mandal with George W. Bush at the Oval office (Pic: Eric Draper, Director of White House photographers)
Barack Obamas handsome image is everywhere — on the covers of magazines such as People and US Weekly, which I bought, along with his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, which I picked from a sea of books on the President-elect at Barnes & Noble.
In an effort to understand how power works, I even popped into the Regal Cinema near Times Square to catch W, Oliver Stones new movie on the complicated relationship between Bush Senior and his troubled son.
To capture images reflecting Obamas interaction with India and Indians will be the new challenge facing Jay Mandal, the well-known Indian lensman in New York who has been to India with Bill Clinton.
Getting access to the President is like a dream, he admits.
But Jay, who has been inside the White House to photograph Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, I. K. Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — and most recently Pranab Mukherjee — is confident he will get to photograph Obama doing grin and greet or smile and shake with Indians, possibly even in India.
When Obama walks into that Oval Office on January 20 he cannot afford to ignore the Indian community in this country because they are an asset for America, says Jay, who has lived in America for 25 years. He already realises that the nuclear deal signing is just the beginning.
Among Indians, Jay has photographed Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi, Shashi Tharoor, the model Saira Mohan, Ritu Upadhyay, (a former Miss India Worldwide), Sam Pitroda, Rajat Gupta and Indra Nooyi.
Jay no longer dislikes being called a community photographer. Today when I look back I realise I am a community photographer because I cover the Indian community from A to Z. I have the wealth of the Indian diaspora in this country.
|FACE VALUE: Aishwarya Rai in the L’Oreal ad
Walking past duty free in Newark airport in New York, a reassuringly familiar face hove into view in a shop window.
Say what you like, but it is difficult to get away from this LOreal girl (not that you would necessarily want to).
Her identity on a postcard please: for the first 10 correct answers, there will be a DVD of Chokher Bali. Incorrect answers, Im afraid, means getting a copy of Balle Balle, From Amritsar to LA.