The initial euphoria over Modi’s visit to US soon turned to fear among the Americans, especially the businessmen, CEOs and Senators. The American public were initially amused by the presence of several media vans in their cities. But when TV crew from these vans pounced on them suddenly asking them questions for which they did not have answers, they started panicking.
At the last count, there were twenty three Indian TV channels on the streets of New York and/or WashingtonDC each having at least five journalists on an average. Then there were countless Indian newspaper reporters, who were however the safer lot with just notebook and pen in their hands than the TV crew who were heavily armed with huge video cameras, club like microphones and other paraphernalia.
Several Americans were caught in the competition between vying TV channels that were trying to dominate over them. Which ever direction they turned, there would be two different TV crews ready to attack them. Once caught in the middle, there was no escaping. Some members of the public were seen pleading with the TV crew to let them go. Some of them were close to tears, having answered the same set of questions by multiple TV channels, and in some cases by the same channel again and again. Americans of other than Indian origin had a tough time differentiating between Indian American citizens and those Indians who had landed in US for covering Modi’s visit. But they wouldn’t take a chance and hence kept away from both the groups.
The usual questions asked of people were “What do you think of Mr. Modi?”, “What do you think of Indo-American relations?”, “What do you think will be the outcome of Mr. Modi’s visit?” One of the Americans who confessed that he did not know who Mr. Modi was, was mobbed and hounded by the TV crew and another who admitted to his ignorance of Indo-American bilateral issues was admonished and asked to come back the next day after studying the subject. In one particular instance, when an American, when asked what he felt about Modi’s rule so far, said he had no idea, the interviewer was seen insisting “What is your answer? Come on tell me. Our nation wants to know. You should never, ever, ever say ‘I don’t know’. You are on Indian national television, the number one news channel of India. Now tell me, what is your answer?”
While some of the American public somehow escaped the predicament, the CEOs and Senators were not that lucky. Well groomed and smartly dressed, they were an easy prey for the hounding journalists. They tried looking away or hiding behind pillars. Some changed to beach clothes or Hawaiian ethnic costume in order to avoid any attention. Again, the standard questions to them included “Do you think US investment in India is enough?”, “Do you think US is fair to India?” and “Will you invest in India?” Having never been paid so much attention in their lives or asked for opinion on profound matters, they felt very self-conscious. Some felt this was a punishment for their mismanagement of companies and went into depression. CEOs of three top companies were so stressed that they resigned their jobs so that are not approached again. Those that did not resign, along with the senators, finally put up stalls where any Indian journalist could walk in and interview them. They even handed out printed answers, as they already knew the questions.
The interview process became so standard and routine that an enterprising Gujarati quickly wrote a guide book titled “How to answer questions about Modi, Gujarat and India”, which incidentally sold like hot cakes. Another innovative TV channel ran a referral program in which, a CEO or Senator who brought in another of the same kind for an interview, would be well rewarded – he or she would be allowed to duck a question. Overall, it was a tense situation, with CEOs and Senators running helter skelter, tripping over cables and running into each other.
In sharp contrast to the above plight, NRIs (Non-resident Indians) seemed to be enjoying the attention they were getting. When one of them was approached with a question, the entire family would come forward, answer questions that were not even asked and take selfies with the TV crew. Some of them even revealed their salaries, the make of the cars they own and how much premium they paid for the ticket to Modi’s speech. Each one had an advice to Modi on how to make NRIs feel comfortable when they visited India. One software engineer, who travelled to US as a substitute to his sick colleague for a two week project and was astray in New York because of a missed connecting flight, had suggestions that sounded more like instructions, for both Modi and Obama and also offered to facilitate a dialogue between them if they both approached him.
There were a few interesting situations too. A naïve reporter approached the very man Modi himself who was coming out of a meeting, and asked “Sir, you look just like our Prime Minister Mr. Modi. Is this a costume? Where are you from? When did you come here?” Taken aback but not showing it, Modi answered, “I am from Gujarat. I came here two days ago. I can’t help looking like Modi.” The reporter continued, “Sir, did you come here just for this event?” To which Modi answered, “Yes, I came just for this”, smiled and walked away.
In another incident, a middle-aged woman was asked “What is your take away from this event?” to which she answered “Fries and cheeseburger from McDonalds.” The reporter didn’t quite understand the answer, but further asked, “How much do you think McDonalds will invest in India in the next five years?”
A young American however summarized the entire situation in a very interesting way. Asked “What are the three things that you learnt from this event?” he said, “The three things I learnt are – Pakistan is India’s neighbour, Auto rickshaw fare in Ahmedabad is ten Rupees per kilometre and that, India wants every American to like and admire everything about India and invest in India.”
The latest update is that all the on-site Indian journalists have petitioned Mr. Modi to extend his stay in the US by one more week or come back real soon, as they have not got answers to all the questions they had.