Goats and Soda

How Did Obama Play In India? We Ask 4 Villagers To Weigh In


Our correspondent Wilbur Sargunaraj, clad in his trademark lunghi pants, poses with sports-loving Simpson.
Leelvathi Rajendran for NPR
Our correspondent Wilbur Sargunaraj, clad in his trademark lunghi pants, poses with sports-loving Simpson.

What do the villagers of India think of the Obama visit? To find out, our intrepid village correspondent (and creator of the "Village Way" video for Goats and Soda) interviewed four residents of villages in the rural parts of Tamil Nadu, a state in South India.

Meet the villagers:

Simpson: The 25-year-old came back to his native village of Ayartharmam after earning a bachelor's degree in theology and religious studies. Simpson speaks English and is passionate about his rural home. He loves sports and reading.

Manju: A soft-spoken girl of 16 and an orphan, she works as a domestic helper in the village of Kondayampatti and lives with her employer. Manju studied until the seventh grade and enjoys drawing.

Elizabeth: A survivor of domestic abuse, 32-year-old Elizabeth (who asked that her real name not be used) is a strong-willed single mother of four who works hard to support her family. Elizabeth loves to sing and dance. Her native village is Perayuru.

Alagarsamy: Alone in his old age with no family, Alagarsamy, 73, works as a watchman in the village of Kalikudi. He enjoys reading newspapers and keeping a journal every day. He reads and speaks English fluently.

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What are your thoughts about President Obama?

Simpson: He is better than Mr. Bush, I think! I also salute him that he takes a stern stance on terrorism. I am confused why he is black when America is white.

Manju: I don't know who he is ... but I am happy that I know now after you told me.

Elizabeth: I have read about him in a newspaper. I think he is bringing America up and helping the black community in the country.

Alagarsamy: I'm not so much interested in the political affairs of America. I saw pictures of Obama during the Republic Day parade.

What do you think of Obama's promise to loan money to India to improve living conditions?

Simpson: I think he is trying to capture the hearts of the people of India, but only to make us enslaved in debt.

Manju: I am not sure! I really don't follow politics.

Elizabeth: I feel that Obama is going to do something good for India.

Alagarsamy: Many people were coming to do business in India before this visit with Obama. The Obama [promise of loans] is putting some conditions on India.

If you had a chance to talk to Prime Minister Modi or Obama, what would you ask them for?

Simpson: Modi, please give us the freedom to be ourselves with our backgrounds and religion. Mr. Obama, there are so many more poor countries than India in the world, why are you specifically focusing on India? Already India is in debt. I am not sure that this loan of 4 billion USD will help us.

Manju: I would ask both people to build us schools.

Alagarsamy: I would ask both of them to help in regards to more employment of the people in Indian companies.

Elizabeth: Modi, please close all the wine shops that make men drunk and abusive. Please offer protection for ladies across India. I am still suffering because of this. Obama, what do you feel about the growth of India and what are you going to do for my country?

Obama spoke about bringing electricity to all of India. Is that the most important thing you need? What other things should the U.S. help India get for its citizens?

Simpson: Yes, electricity is important but more than this I think proper sanitation is very important. Just recently in a nearby village close to ours around 18 people died of dengue fever because of poor and pathetic conditions. Hospitals would be great around the village as people have to travel far distances to get there.

Manju: I am in need of a house as I don't have parents and need water and as I said before I need a proper school to go to. [Note from Wilbur: "Having your own house is a big deal in India."]

Elizabeth: I feel there is lots of electricity in the village. What I need is proper transportation as the villages are not connected well by bus.

Alagarsamy: Electricity is a big question in Tamil Nadu for so many years, so yes it is important. But I think Obama should help set up local industries in the village. There have been many government plans in the village to help us and most of them have failed.

Obama has said America will help build India's infrastructure. Do you care about roads, ports, broadband connections?

Simpson: In the village, broadband connections or beautiful roads are not most important. I see education being very important. But if you are going to make us roads, make them proper and first class like you would in America!

Manju: I have a desire to know how to use Internet so it would be great to have Internet connections and schools set up so I can learn this skill.

Elizabeth: Yes, this is very important for India's growth. In the village, tar roads, schools and hospitals would be wonderful. I don't use the Internet so that is not an issue.

Alagarsamy: What is a broadband connection? I like reading headlines on the newspapers.

If Obama came to your village, what would you show him and what would you offer him to eat or drink?

Simpson: I would show him the famous Sriviliputur Aandal temple and give him the famous palcova sweets [a cake made with condensed milk] and Tirunelveli Halwa! [a flour/sugar/nut butter combo].

Manju: I would take him around the village and show him the coconut plantation. To drink I will give him tender coconut.

Elizabeth: I would go to Madurai city and buy the famous jasmine flowers and present them to him. I would give him a traditional Tamil Nadu style lunch on a banana leaf with payasam [a South Asian rice pudding dessert made of vermicelli, milk and sugar].

Alagarsamy: My village is a very rural and backward area so he may not be interested. Maybe I would show him village farming. I would give him tea and vada [a deep-fried snack that looks like a doughnut].

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