Obama’s background makes him pro-Indian: Historian Simon Schama (Interview)

January 29th, 2009 - 12:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) New US President Barack Obama’s background makes him pro-Indian and “he is going to do a lot for India before this spring is out”, says noted historian Simon Schama.A professor at Columbia University in the US, British historian Simon Schama foresees a favourable run for India vis-a-vis bilateral ties with the US during Barack Obama’s government.

Why? “Obama’s background - his mother was a hippy adventurist and his Indonesian link - makes him very pluralistic and very pro-Indian,” Schama told IANS in an interview.

The man hailed as one of the best historians and art writers of our times held forth on a variety of subjects like politics, art and music in Jaipur recently.

The author of 14 books, Schama writes for “The Guardian” and the “New Yorker” and has presented more than 30 movies for the BBC Television and the Emmy award-winning “Power of Art”.

His new book, “The American Future: A History”, explores how the American optimism about the infinite possibilities of its land and resources may be snuffed out. His other books include “Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution”, “Landscape and Memory”, “Rembrandt’s Eyes”, “Rough Crossings: Britain, the American Revolution and the Slaves”.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What kind of future do you foresee for India during Barack Obama’s tenure?

A: If George W. Bush was hospitable to India, then Barack Obama’s background - his mother was a hippy adventurist and his Indonesian link - makes him very pluralistic and very pro-Indian. He is very anxious to make it work for India and is going to do a lot before the spring is out - he will go to the Middle East - especially to West Bank and Gaza - and then come to India. He will also appoint a new Indian ambassador.

I think Hillary Clinton will be the key to the appointment because she is so pro-Indian and will not be telephoning every five minutes to ask who’s good for India. Moreover, the fact that Bill Clinton was so engaged in Kashmir will give her a better perspective.

Q: What do you think of the war on terror, the recent terrorist strikes in India and nuclear proliferation?

A: For me, the issue is whether it has been contained. It is very easy to get uranium and make dirty bombs. John McCain had declared during the US presidential campaign that “I know where Osama bin Laden is. I will track him down.” It sounded so silly - almost like an American cowboy rhetoric from 1950 American B-movie.

Mumbai was a devastating slaughter - how did the terrorists find ways to come to the city by boats? That is the issue.

And as the US senator from Indiana Richard Lugar says, ‘Illicit trafficking in nuclear material is the most serious direct threat to US interest today and in the foreseeable future’; we must investigate into the disposal of n-waste, global trafficking in n-material and where all the stuff in Ukraine has gone.

Q: What is your favourite medium - television or books? What are you working on?

A: I love both television and books. But if someone asked me give something up - I would give up television. I am primarily a writer. However, I learnt how to edit, dub and how to produce for television at the British Broadcasting Corporation. I would describe television documentaries (he has made 30 for BCC) as a collaborative craft.

I often make changes on the spot. I am making a film on John Donne - as part of a series on poets who have changed English poetry and I am constantly changing.

But I love writing, there’s a kind of lonely sovereignty.

There is one book I would like to go back to in a couple of years and finally write it. The book is set in the 19th century. It is called “Merchant of Venice” - and it spans three generations of women - a woman banker in her 40s, her mother and daughter.

Q: What kind of art do you like? Which according to you have been the most productive periods in the history of art?

A: I cannot talk about any particular period - but there have been breakthrough moments between Raphael and Goya, which was marked by a new way of realising figures. It brought about three-dimensional human beings. The period between 1890 and 1920 was also astounding.

But I am a great defender of contemporary art. I love video art and some works by Damien Hirst because of the way he explores western traditions of Christian sacrifice - though he has been written about very badly and accused of making money.

Q: Since you also write about popular music, what kind of music do you like?

A: I love Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the old guys. But I also like listening to P.J. Harvey and punk rock bands like Nirvana.

I love David Bowie and the noise generated by “Sex Pistols” and the “Clash” (the leading bands of the British Punk Rock Movement of the Seventies). As I was born in 1945, I grew up on Beatles, but given a chance I would always vote for “Rolling Stones”. The Stones are more physical…

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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