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The Rediff Special/ Dr Surat Singh

Barack Obama, as I knew him

November 05, 2008


Dr Surat Singh
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Coverage: US Presidential Elections 2008

I knew Barack Obama [Images] from his days at the Harvard Law School. He was doing his three-year law degree from August 1988 to June1991. Till 1990, I was doing my doctorate there.

I cannot invent intimacy with Obama now that he has become the world's most powerful person; I knew him as one of the hundreds of students who attend law classes at Harvard. But a couple of things impressed me about Barack even then in the interactions I had with him.

One, he was extremely friendly and warm.

At Harvard Law School, 80 per cent of the students are Americans doing their three-year JD programme; foreign students make up just 20 percent. And, there is not much intermingling. But Barack was extremely friendly with foreign students.

His perspective was also global, not just America-centric. He was able to look at issues and how they would affect the rest of the world � not just America. He would say that we are born in a certain race but that does not exhaust our identity.

Barack also came across as equally smart. He was the first African-American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review, the prestigious Harvard Law School magazine.

He was nice, but he was not naive. He knew that having good ideas is one thing, but getting them implemented is quite another. He would say that truth does not win itself; you have to build a working consensus around it to make it win.

You could say he was both lion and fox � a combination of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt, if you will.     

Another remarkable quality of Barack is his dogged determination. Once he starts a venture, he will finish it.

During this election campaign, in several e-mails to his supporters, his message was: Though we are leading in polls, we should not slacken our efforts.

He wrote on October 17: 'Anyone who tells you this election is already decided is dead wrong. Let's not forget the 2000 election, when Al Gore [Images] was up by double digits in October. The surest way to lose a race is to slow down with the finish line in sight.'

Till the last day, Barack and Michelle exhorted everyone not to become complacent and to ask all friends and well-wishers to go out and vote.

Even after the landslide victory, he has been saying 'we have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track.' 

That is quintessentially Barack: Never relenting, never yielding, working hard, making others work hard.

And always sharing the credit. 

Dr Surat [Images] Singh is an attorney with the Supreme Court of India


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