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US Indians jive at inaugural ball…

first in barack honour

Washington, Jan. 20: Barack Obama began his final four years as US President today and Indian Americans, divided in their support for the incumbent in his first term, changed course and celebrated with another first: an inaugural ball of their own congratulating the President on his second term.

Obama sent his maternal half-sister, Hawaiian Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng, to the ball organised by Indiaspora, a California-based ethnic organisation founded last year, where she praised the Indian American community and India.

Separately, Vice-President Joe Biden was sworn in at an exceptionally early hour of 8am for a wintry Sunday, thanks to the absence of a “VIP culture” in America. Sonia Sotomayor, the judge designated by the US Supreme Court to administer the oath of office to Biden, expressed her inability to change her personal schedule for a more earthly hour like around noon when Obama took his oath of office today at a ceremony that lasted barely three minutes.

Sotomayor, the first Hispanic judge of the Supreme Court, has written her autobiography and had scheduled a book signing at a store in Manhattan this afternoon which she wanted to stick to. As a result, in a reversal of procedure, the Vice-President was sworn in before the President in one of several unusual twists to this year’s presidential inauguration.

“She is due in New York. She has to leave right now. So I apologise. We are gonna walk out. Her car is waiting so she can catch a train. I hope I haven’t caused her to miss,” Biden said as he hurried out of the swearing-in at his residence, the Naval Observatory, along with Sotomayor. Biden then joined Obama to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery before the start of their new terms.

If the mood at last night’s “Indiaspora 2013 Inaugural Ball” was any guide, Indo-US relations are on course and can hope to scale new heights in the new presidential term. Republicans, who have kept a low profile and displayed a lukewarm aloofness in the run-up to Obama’s inauguration, were unsurprisingly effusive at the ball.

Democrats and Republicans, such as Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn, respective co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus from the two parties, came together in an honorary host committee that organised the ball.

Inaugural balls are a glittering feature of new presidential terms in Washington, but this is the first time that the Indian American community has ventured into such a celebration. Ami Bera, who is only the third American of Indian descent to be elected to the US Congress, and Tulsi Gabbard, a newly elected Hindu Congresswoman who has been adopted by ethnic Indians although she is not one of them, were star attractions at the ball.

Arun Kumar, partner and board member of leading consultancy firm KPMG, a member of the leadership committee for the ball, described the event as a “coming out party for the Indian American community”.

M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, said the aim of the ball was “to convey to the President, the US Congress and decision-makers here that the Indian American community is rich, strong and vibrant, that it is a community that is ready to work with the government and demonstrate its strength”.

It was obvious that this message had got through and that Obama’s half-sister’s attendance at the ball had official sanction at the highest level because the White House has micromanaged every aspect of this year’s presidential inauguration.

When a hairstyling salon in Virginia issued a press release last week that it had been “appointed exclusive hairdresser and stylist” for Maya Kassandra Soetoro-Ng for the inaugural festivities, it was soon forced to withdraw the announcement.

Hairstyling, however, appears to be an integral part of this year’s inauguration. To mark her 49th birthday last Thursday, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, unveiled her new hairstyle: bangs, which had gone out of fashion many years ago.

In her first four years in the White House, the First Lady had become a fashion trendsetter and it is now expected that her new style will be a major talking point at Monday’s public celebrations of the new presidential term. Bets are on that she may bring bangs back into vogue among women.

Another talk of the town on the eve of the festivities was the revelation by the White House that the President took his wife for birthday dinner to a local café frequented by ordinary Washingtonians, not any fancy outfit.