The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bellini face rings a bell for Mellini, not too many others
- Old-timers in Sonia’s hometown speak of a ‘nice, pleasant person’ who they didn’t think would become PM

Orbassano, May 16: The heat in Delhi — political as much as climatic — is quite a contrast to the pleasant environs of Orbassano.

The small nondescript town Sonia Gandhi, then Sonia Maino, grew up in is a 45-minute drive from Turin. Our taxi driver, Marcus Mellini, is one of the few here who understand English, and the moment we mention India he produces a newspaper with Sonia’s picture and a detailed article on the surprise Congress win in the elections.

He is also one of the few people in the town who recognises her. And most of them who do are elderly.

Sonia’s two-storey ancestral house is located in a middle-class area, 14 Bellini. It is much bigger than most in the locality. We ring the bell but nobody is at home. Sonia’s sister, Anushka, and niece Aruna — who runs a curio shop called Etnica that sells Indian ethnic stuff — are away, too. We then do what most journalists would in such a situation — talk to the neighbours.

“She is a nice, pleasant person. I didn’t know she is going to be India’s Prime Minister,” says Maria, whose mother-in-law was Sonia’s classmate in school.

“She hasn’t come to Orbassano in the last three years, but her mother goes to India often,” says another neighbour, Nicholas Morrani, who has lived here for the past 45 years. Sonia’s mother, Paola, was in Delhi recently but has returned to Orbassano.

Five km away from 14 Bellini, and in a relatively prosperous locality, is the Rajiv Gandhi Street. Named after the former Prime Minister was assassinated by Tamil militants, the street is deserted except for a young couple walking with their little girl.

Gorgio has not heard of Rajiv Gandhi but his wife remembers Sonia. “She went abroad to study at a very young age. Back then for someone from our town to go outside was a rarity. Then she married someone famous and went to India. I read in the papers about her and am happy for her. I hope she comes to Orbassano,” she says.

As with Sonia, those who do remember Rajiv Gandhi are the older residents. But most have shifted. The ones who are still here remember him as a “nice, young fellow with no airs”.

There are hardly any Indians in this industrial town, which has a Fiat factory, and where many are in the construction business. Sonia’s father, too, was a building contractor. The town developed in the 1950s after World War II.

The only Indian the people of Orbassano are familiar with is the town’s councillor, Awtar Singh Rana, who migrated to Italy some 50 years ago. He, of course, knows about Sonia. The only other Indian here is a man from Kerala.

“The Indian media have been very unfair to her,” says Rana. “They said she invested heavily in property here. All that is rubbish. If people of Orbassano can choose an Indian as their councillor, why can’t an Orbassano girl be the Prime Minister of India' The people of India have chosen her to lead them.”

Rana also pays a compliment to Sonia. “She is more Indian than I am,” he says.

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