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Obamas get to meet ’slumdog kids’ - 2010-11-07

Smita Prakash (ANI)

New Delhi, Nov.7 : It was as close to the slum-dog moment as the Obamas could get in their India tour. The US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama met with 16 children of labourers at the Humayun’s tomb in New Delhi today.

The children, aged between five and seven, do not go to a regular school because they are too poor. They receive informal education due to the voluntary efforts of Mr K.K. Mohammad, the Superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India who has taken upon himself to get some basic literacy tools to these kids.

The 2008 Oscar winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ which was a resounding hit globally had also struck a chord in America. An India visit would not have been complete for the Obamas if they hadn’t met with some children from the disadvantaged section of the Indian populace.

Back home, they would have received flak for interacting only with the rich and middle class in India. The villagers of Rajasthan, who spoke to the US President today, were not exactly rich but they spoke to him via teleconference and not personally.

Here, at Humayun’s tomb, the children attired in uniforms of checked shirt and shorts spoke in Hindi to the U.S. President and the First Lady. They had small slate tablets in their hands and scribbled with white chalk on those tablets were the words “Welcome to India, Obamajee”.

The President spoke to one eight-year-old Vishal, whose father Ram Das is a restoration worker at the Humayun’s tomb.

Vishal later told this reporter: “Obamajee ney kaha, tum bohat achcha karte ho ki tum padhte ho” (Obama jee said that you are doing very good by studying). The President then went on his haunches and shook hands with the littlest of them, who was sitting cross-legged shyly. He tapped her cheek and called out to Michelle to also speak to the little girl.

The First Lady then distributed gifts to the kids. The gifts contained bookmarks with the official seal, we were told. However, the children were asked not to open it in front of the media. They were to take it home and open it there.

Spending almost an hour at the 16th century Humayun Tomb complex, the Obamas held hands and listened carefully as the officer of the ArchaeologicalSurvey of India (ASI) explained in detail the history of the complex.

When I asked her what were her impressions about the tomb, the First Lady replied “It is beautiful, I am impressed.”

The tomb is not just the mausoleum of the Mughal Emperor but also houses the graves of his wives and other Mughals. The Obamas were impressed by the archaeological marvel. They asked a few questions about therestoration work that the ASI and Aga Khan Trust were doing.

Most of the work culminated in 2003 but the complex is so large that it needs continuous upkeep. The gardens are impeccably maintained and are a favourite with locals who come here for morning walks and picnics.

Built initially on the banks of the river Yamuna, Humanyun Tomb is probably the prototype for several Mughal tombs including the famed Taj Mahal. Though it is built in the same Persian style, the red sandstone structure is not as ornate as the poetry in marble – the Taj.

Though both are mausoleums, the Taj is a symbol of love of an emperor for his dead wife; a promise that Shah Jahan is supposed to have made to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. But the Humayun’s Tomb, in contrast, is a monument commissioned by a wife for her dead Emperor-husband. Alas, nobody remembers the love of Hamida Begum for her husband Humayun!

Today, Delhi ‘faux Taj’ probably got a status boost. We don’t have a Taj Mahal in the capital but we have a monument almost as awe-inspiring and now probably on the ‘must-see’ list of all the Heads of State. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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