By ALISON BETHEL
I know a girl named Bhakti Tambe, and she loves Barack Obama.
While for many of you, your first thought might be, “Join the club,” read this first.
Bhakti is a 20-year-old Indian woman. And her crush is deep.
So when former President Barack Obama left office last week, she was fit to be tied.
“It was during the last three years that I fell in love with him,” she says. “The first time I heard the name of this man and saw all the headlines in the news … Once I started learning international relations, I fell in love with him.”
She is not alone. Across the globe, people felt the pain at the departure of arguably one of the most intriguing U.S. presidents of all time, a lot of it because of the proliferation of the digital media. But not only did they watch his political moves, but the love he felt for his wife and the role he played as a father and mentor.
According to a June 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Indians had a lot, or some, confidence in Barack Obama to “do the right thing in world affairs.” And in May 2016, he recorded a whopping 84 percent job approval rating among Indian- Americans.
But for Bhakti, it has never been about national popularity or confidence surveys. It’s personal. She was 12-years-old when Obama entered office. She says that, like most pre-teens, particularly in developing countries, she had no concept of the power of the United States or of the office of the U.S. presidency.
In a country like India, with a population of 1.25 billion people, American politics is not typically on the radar of farmers, laborers and others worried about day-to-day affairs in their own country. (America’s population, by the way, is 318.9 million.)
But Bhakti has never been able to shake the image in the newspapers of the handsome and well-spoken man who sat in an oval office 8,040 miles from her hometown of Pune, India.
When she became a teenager, she came across a book printed in her regional language about the plight of minorities in America. “I read that book and realized about the struggle and wanted to know more,” she recalls.
That book encouraged her enthusiasm, and she wanted to know more about the U.S. and black/white relations.
It wasn’t until her international relations class in college that she realized the power of the United States on the global landscape, she says, and the power of the role of the United States’ president. It was then that she understood the magnitude of Obama’s place in U.S. and global history. “I think whenever I talk about Obama, people say, ‘Well even he makes mistakes.’ I’m not saying he doesn’t make mistakes. He may make mistakes, but he never seems small,” says Bhakti.
After eight years of watching every speech Obama has ever made, Bhakti sat down last week to watch the final speech. It wasn’t easy. And although she sat thousands of miles away from America and although she has no real stake in the game, she wept.
“I was crying like anything. I was talking to my friends … Can’t he just have a few more years? Because of hatred and different cultures, he won’t [be president].
“He did so many good things and I don’t know how America selected a man who is on the complete opposite end … When I think of this I am so afraid,” she said.
“My friends say, ‘That is the United States. He is not even your president. Why are you crying?’ I am just worried. He has created a good breeding ground for good policies and I just hope that the next president continues the policies that work to make the world a better place.”
So enamored with Obama is Bhakti, that images of him are on both her laptops and her cell phone. “I don’t care what other people think and I don’t care what political scientists and others have to say about him. I just wish that he was going on another four years.
“But I have to accept the truth.”
Bhakti adds: “Obama is not afraid to cry. He is just like normal people. I don’t know how to describe such a man. He is just so amazing. How can one person have so many talents and personality? Wherever he goes he does not just speak to Americans … when he talks about his daughter or when he talks about his wife … he is just sooo … amazing.” Despite what her friends and neighbors think of Obama or U.S. politics, says Bhakti, the U.S. “has its role everywhere in the world, and that cannot be denied.”
“I just hope history will be kinder to Obama as much as I am,” she says, adding that she “hates” motivational speakers and avoids them at all costs. But when she feels down, she listens to Obama.
“He preached the politics of hope these last few years and I am just afraid that the politics of hate will now take over.”