The boy the Obamas wanted to meet again

TH21_OBAMA_VISHAL__2295588fU.S. First Lady Michelle Obama with Vishal, whom the Obamas met during their last visit in 2010, at a function in New Delhi last Tuesday.

When K.K. Muhammed received a phone call from the U.S. embassy in New Delhi on January 19, six days before the U.S. President, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, arrived in New Delhi, he was unnerved. The caller asked Mr. Muhammed, former Regional Director (North), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), whether he could give him the address of Vishal, a young schoolboy. Mr. Obama and his wife wanted to meet the boy during their visit to New Delhi from January 25 to 27.

They had met Vishal, along with a group of children, when Mr. Muhammed took the Obamas on a tour of the Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi on November 7, 2010, during their previous visit (The Hindu, “Mission Conservation,” Friday Review, November 12, 2010). Mr. Muhammed was one of ASI’s Superintending Archaeologists then. The children were the sons and daughters of itinerant labourers, who were engaged in the restoration of various monuments in New Delhi.

Since these workers from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar travelled from place to place, their children could not receive a steady education. Mr. Muhammed, his ASI colleagues and well-wishers taught about 500 children Hindi, English and mathematics on the premises of these monuments, which were being restored.

Mr. Muhammed was worried when he received the phone call from the American Embassy official this January, because tracing Vishal and his parents would have been difficult as the labourers had dispersed to various places. The American Embassy official, however, insisted that Vishal be located. “I had forgotten Vishal, but the Obamas did not!” joked Mr. Muhammed.

But Vishal’s father, Ramdas, tried to throw a spanner in the works. He demanded that some facilities be provided to his village near Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh. However, he was mollified and on January 27, not only Vishal, his father, mother and sister also turned up to meet the Obamas at Siri Fort auditorium.

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