Since there is a meaningless sartorial debate raging..... here's my take on the American First Lady. As for Carla.... I hope and pray she and hubby Sarko do produce their 'Made-in-India' beta - the one they prayed for at the Ajmer durgah .
Forget her funny frocks (whatever happened to the famous Lady O style?), and focus on her funny lines (“Ask my husband tough questions,” she urged students in Mumbai – and they did!). Michelle Obama won the popularity stakes hands down even as Barack, the ‘Most Powerful Man on Earth’ (still?) attempted and failed the charm offensive. You know why? Michelle was herself, while the President was programmed. He may have one of the toughest jobs in the world, but hey – hers is not that easy either. If anything, it’s equally demanding and less acknowledged. Being First Lady is not what it used to be. The birdlike Mrs. Reagan had perfected the ‘the gaze’, Mrs. Clinton, the scowl, while nobody remembers what it was that Mrs. Bush contributed to her husband’s presidency. But here comes Michelle – a strapping, handsome woman with a Harvard law degree, who started her innings rather shakily with a couple of unorthodox remarks that shook the establishment and got the media on high alert. Perhaps the President’s minders advised her to back off and zip up, for after those early, unguarded provocative comments that were dubbed ‘racist’ ( sweet irony), the first Black American woman to occupy the White House has won admirers across the world for her warmth and spontaneity. In fact, her ratings are at an all time high, even as Barack struggles to deal with a major setback in Congress back home. His India visit couldn’t have been worse timed – for him and us. He picked mid-Diwali to visit. It’s a little like Manmohan Singh picking a X’Mas or Thanksgiving weekend to call on the Obamas and expecting the average Joe in Washington to hang around and welcome him. Well, Singh may be King in India, and the comparison isn’t too apt, but you get the drift. Michelle was expected to make up for her husband’s glumness and lack of charm, which she did in abundance. Now here’s the catch – she did not take the old route where all the First Ladies were required to do on state visits was look good and smile a lot ( yoo hoo Jackie O!). Michelle, in her own special way, demonstrated an important trait – she was convincingly her own woman, speaking her mind spontaneously and reaching out generously to one and all. Michelle won our hearts. Obama’s job was to win our minds. Between the two, it was clearly Michelle who emerged the real star.
It takes a great amount of intelligence for a woman in her position to underplay her own personality without it appearing fake. My guess is the Obamas are on to a good thing in their marriage. She has no ego issues, and neither does he when it comes to his wife. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who often came across a bit too strongly and appeared unattractively feisty, Michelle’s personality is appealingly non-threatening - to men and women. Kids, of course, adore her – she speaks their lingo and accesses their world effortlessly ( playing hop scotch in Mumbai didn’t look like a staged photo-op at all ) . Her smile reaches her eyes and when she listens to her husband, she does so attentively but not rapturously. This pleases the feminist in all of us.
Much has been written about her dress sense and how local fashionistas were disappointed that she picked frumpy ‘safe’ outfits in drab colours for her India trip while her myriad fans had hoped for brights and bling. I had visualized her in a vibrant rani pink saree with chunky accessories or something a little more exotic (would have happily settled for a peacock brooch!). But it was her extraordinary ability to connect in a sincere and transparent way that shone through. If her husband ( Mr. Teleprompter ) managed to salvage his rather lackluster Mumbai chapter when he addressed both Houses of parliament in Delhi and came up with a few sparklers, it was Michelle Obama who walked away with our genuine admiration. As she waved her final goodbye, I found myself singing an old Bollywood hit picturised on Zeenat Aman several moons ago…. “ Chura liya hai dil…”
Barack Obama – we love your missus.