Monday, November 8, 2010

Will Malia and Sasha Obama read 'A Man Called Bapu'?

Apart from all the wonderful news we received last week, we also found out that President Obama received a set of our books. This news just made our day! Yes, you read that right... President Obama now has a set of our books.. a set of Pratham Books. We were invited to take part in an event that was organized in Mumbai for President Obama's trip. 10 NGOs were asked to put up stalls and Pratham was invited and they were wonderful to take us along. Sampurna Murti (Head of Sales, Pratham Books) was representing us and here's her account of the meeting with President Obama.
What does one say to the President of America?

Hullo! Welcome! It’s a pleasure and privilege to meet you!

Well all of the above. And that’s what I said.

I got this amazing opportunity to meet Mr Barack Obama at the "Democracy and Open Government Expo" hosted by the INK conference and Motwani Foundation on Sunday, Nov 7th 2010, at the St Xavier’s College, organised in connection with the President’s visit to Mumbai on 6th and 7th November 2010.

The event had participants from 10 organisations that included NGOs (Arghyam, Pratham, Accountability Initiative etc) and government agencies (Min Of Rural Dev, UIAD etc). Pratham decided that Pratham Books would also participate as a part of Pratham and that we would display our books at the stall along with information about Pratham programs.

There was also a demonstration of the e-governance program of the Government of India, a live video connection with Kanpura panchayat, Ajmer district to talk about how villagers have been able to access government services through broadband connectivity.

All along during the runin to the expo we had been constantly reminded that the President’ s visit to the expo was not certain and also whether his schedule would allow any time for his interaction with the participants. Nonetheless, we were very happy to be participating and being there.

On 7th morning we were told that the President would be coming to our pavilion and he would go around to the various stalls and interact with the participants. We were most excited. It was hard to believe that we were actually going to meet the President of the USA – supposedly the most powerful man on earth.

We were asked to take up our positions in the stalls and were instructed repeatedly about how and where we had to stand and many dos and donts.

As we waited eagerly for him we were informed that he had arrived at the venue. Then followed this interminable wait .......

Suddenly some 20-30 reporters rushed in with their recording equipment and took up their position to record their bytes. We knew then that it was just a few moments before we would get to see the man himself.

At last, there were signs of activity outside our pavilion and in a few seconds the very familiar frame walked in. He strode in briskly and greeted everyone with a cheery hello. He watched the video conference with the Gram Panchayat of Kanpura and heard the villagers talk about their experiences with broadband connectivity and how it had affected their lives.

Then he moved towards the stalls to interact with the participants of the expo. He spent about 20 minutes with the participants of the expo and patiently heard each one and commended each on their work. He was informally dressed in a white shirt and black trousers – no tie or jacket or suit. His demeanour was most friendly and charming. His body language and attitude was extremely pleasant and he was so much at ease and that made all of us comfortable too. He joked, he spoke about how impressed he was with all our work and left everyone feeling ‘just great’.
At the briefing, the previous day , we had been told that if the President did come and spend time with us, it would be ‘the icing on the cake. Well for all of us yesterday, it was only the icing all the way.

It took us a while for the feeling to sink in and after he left we all let out a cheer of jubilation and the organisers a sigh of relief that it had gone off so well.

Oh I forgot! I got to give him some of our books - which I told him were for his daughters. He gladly accepted and reacted with a cheery ‘Thank you’ and handed them over to his Chief Technology
officer. I am quite certain that they will reach the White House tomorrow. I hope Malia and Sasha enjoy reading the books!

I even got him to autograph a copy of ‘A Man called Bapu’ for us.



How many people get a chance to even see the President in flesh and blood? We are just amazed that we got to shake hands and speak to him standing across a 2 feet table from us and leaving us with memories for a lifetime!
So, we hope that President Obama will be reading our books to his lovely daughters once he gets back home. Hooohaaaa... Pratham Books has reached the White House!

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