Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jottings : Slice of life 143 ( Love blossoms - story of a day in the life of the Obamas)

Jottings : Slice of life 143 ( Love blossoms - story of a day in the life of the Obamas)
One of the greatest charms of the White house is the mercurial quality, intensity, stormy personal relationships, great dignity and profound respect its occupants bring to bear upon the ethos of America and elsewhere. In the eyes of the world, The President and the first lady not only represent what America stands for, but more importantly, is a personal testament of love between equals and what it means to occupy the highest office with all its professional demands, and yet remain as human and intimate as possible. This responsibly has always been a heavy cross to bear for most of its illustrious occupants. In its long history of 45 presidents, many love stories are lost in the hustle and bustle of political and social drama surrounding them. Yet, despite that, there are stories of quite a few Presidential couples whose personal relationships have survived the test of time and suffused their own political legacies with an incandescence, which only the warmth and glow of the opposite sex can give. Who could conceive of John Adams, Our second president without his brilliant, devoted and intellectual wife Abigail Adams - whose stimulating letters to her husband during the seminal Philadelphia congress not only sparkle with intellectual vibrancy, but with tremble with rare emotional depth and understanding of her Husband. Who could think of George Washington without Martha - his devoted wife ( a widow from a previous marriage), who refused to attend his inauguration as President because she didn't want him to assume the office, and who refused to attend his funeral because she couldn’t bear to see his active body lying motionless in a state honored coffin; she chose a remain a virtual recluse throughout her remaining life. Who could ever fathom the limitless passion and love Abraham Lincoln had for his controversial wife - Mary Todd Lincoln; or she for him. The gold ring, he quietly slipped into her gentle fingers during an awkward ball room dance was engraved with the words “ Love is eternal”; and it was the same ringed finger he lovingly held in his, during those final moments in the Ford theatre awaiting Booth’s fatal bullet. In modern times, the love between JFK and Jaqueline , though stressed, complicated and often tumultuous, stood the test of his short Presidency and flamboyant persona. She held the shattered skull of her Husband as the bullet went though it, and continued to wear the blood splattered dress for three more days until Lyndon Johnson assumed Presidency - unable to believe and digest that the man she loved was no more and a bright flame and era had ended so abruptly. Bill Clinton may not go down in history as a President who held high standards of sexual morality; but no matter what the world said and wrote of him; his wife Hillary stood by the man. In the worst crisis of his life, he had a strong shoulder to lay upon and possibly cry. In one of the greatest testaments of love Hillary once said with profound emotion “ No matter what happens, I know that Bill loves me very much..” A hard thing for a woman to say, when her husband’s sexual escapade was published in every language and tabloid. But love is mysterious and its roots go very deep.
The long paragraph is only a preamble to the love story between Barrack Obama and Michelle. If one walks through Hyde park, between Dorchester avenue and 53rd Avenue in Chicago, there is now a unobtrusive marker with a pic of the two, which has gained historical interest. This marker was erected in 2012 to commemorate the unbelievable love story of one of the greatest couples ever to have adorned the White house. If ones looks closely and reads the note below, it is a quote from Barrack. It reads
“On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate.”
On a day in the year 1989, when Barrack was interning in a law firm with Michelle, he invited her to attend a community speech he was about to deliver that evening. Both weren't clear if it was a formal date or just professional courtesy. But they went along. During the course of the day, inside Barracks broken car with holes showing the road below, in between his cigarettes, they drove and talked. The necessary hesitance between a conservative girl with strong family ties, and the boy who was more or less self made and independent, began with jerks and starts, slowly transforming itself into intellectual bantering, then into clash of ideologies and opinions, and finally to mutual respect. Its wasn't love or even remotely close to it. It was just a melting of barriers and an openness about each other internal universes. As they drove along the winding roads of south chicago, a dilapidated , neglected part of the city; Michelle, became less defensive, and young handsome Obama’s charm, intelligence and emotional resonance to fundamental issues of inequality and color began to transform her reticence into something more open, tangible and probably long lasting. All this during a single day. As the afternoon approached, Michelle heard Obama deliver his speech to an embittered community of Black Americans. The trademark fluidity, grace, empathy, relaxed oratorical flare captivated the young lady. In a short speech of 30 minutes, Obama soothed flayed nerves, articulated a vision and channel energies into productive directions. All done without a sense of high handedness or superiority. At this point, all the solid walls - Michelle had come equipped to deal with - were visibly crumbling. During the evening, after a couple of drinks, they watched a Spike lee movie together. When the commercially successful “Batman” was showing round the corner, they chose to watch Lee’s “Do the right thing” - a movie about black unrest in Brooklyn, which in years to come would prove one of the finest films Lee ever made before his death. An odd choice of a movie for an young couple, but a conscious choice, perhaps, by Barrack to impress upon his girl that he was willing to embrace new independent ideas. By this time, enough water had flown under the bridge between the two; the customary date kiss to forge the relationship was just an ice cream away. And that kiss happened in front of Baskin Robbins at 53rd street.
In 2016, Richard Tanne made on a movie about this day called “Southside with you”, capturing essential details, infusing his own creative imagination on how it could have happened. The result is a beautiful portrayal of the extraordinary relationship between two extraordinary people. Patrick sawyer play the role of Barrack and Tika Sumpter ( who also co-produced the film) recreates Michelle with great sensitivity. There couldn't have been better choices for the roles. Not only do they manage to physically capture the mannerisms of the Obama’s so very well, but also to subtly project the breaking down of barriers - both intellectual and emotional. At the end of the movie, we definitely get the impression that here is a relationship which promises to have far reaching repercussions. We are shown simmering discontent, vaulting ambition and deep abiding love - all coming together with artistic force. Watch it , if you can. I think it is available on Netflix.
A quick observation before I conclude. Love , as many say, requires time. I dont know if this is true or not; but if it means anything to me, it should certainly transcend chronological time. It is not the length of time in hours and days, but the depth of it. However it is only given to some fortunate people; for love to happen in an transformatory instant lasting a life time, ever renewing and ever intensifying; but for most others, it is merely a name given to a convenient relationship to lived out as amicably as possible for social reasons. Therefore too know somebody for decades, or living together does not necessarily mean love. As the great french author Collette famously wrote “ Love had nothing to do with living together”. Little would have Michelle and Barrack known on that day in 1989, the turn, twists and responsibilities that would assail them in years in come. There was a spark then between them and they trusted that spark. Even today, when you look at picture of both, there is a iridescent element of that wild spark in their eyes as they look at each other with great respect and admiration. In indescribable ways, they seek acknowledgement of their actions through relationship. Eight years in the Whitehouse, has not diminished in the least the quality of that light.
Ultimately Love is not a word given to a static relationship. If it were so, we need to call it “dependency” or “attachment”. Love is a purer term for a relationship which doesn't clip each other’s wings, preserves ones identity and yet transcends individuality. Its a rare thing, and Obamas show us what it can look like.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala