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The Mumbai school Barack Obama will visit for Diwali

Last updated on: November 3, 2010 10:40 IST

Obama's Diwali with Colaba schoolchildren

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Barack and Michelle Obama will have a Diwali morning at the Holy Name High School.

Juzer Furniturewala has been obsessively practicing the little speech he will give US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama about his project, that focuses on protecting planet earth, every hour in front of the mirror, or for the approval of his elder brother, for the last few days.

Says the energised Class 10 student and head boy of the Holy Name High School, Colaba, south Mumbai, "I was a little nervous at first, but now I am very excited. I am very happy. At first I could not believe (when I heard that I would be meeting President Obama). I always wished to meet him. I know a lot about him and used to read his articles in the newspaper."

Furniturewala, 15, who lives in the city's Bhendi Bazaar area, and whose family runs a hardware factory at Darukhana, central Mumbai, is one of the 20 students (Holy Name has 2,000 pupils) and two teachers who will meet Obama when he visits the school on Sunday morning.

Juzer has bought a new uniform for the occasion. One parent of each of the 20 students will also be allowed to attend the event. Juzer's mother will attend with him.

"My mom had a wish to meet him, so my father said she should go," he explains.

Rakhi Issai, who also studies in Class 10 at Holy Name, will brief Obama about her project on an eco-friendly Indian village.

Rakhi lives near the school, quite close to the Leopold Cafe on Colaba Causeway, which was attacked by terrorists on the night of November 26, 2008.

Her father is no longer alive, but her mother, who works as a domestic help, will attend the event with Rakhi.

Says the girl, "I really feel good. I am very excited to speak to him. I am nervous, but not that nervous. I am (as keen to see) both of them (Michelle and Barack Obama). (When I first heard that I would meet them) I felt like I was flying in the sky!"


Image: Juzer Furniturewala will explain his environment project to Barack and Michelle Obama at the Holy Name High School
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com
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'The students gave out a big cheer'

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Father Michael Pinto was informed by US consular personnel in Mumbai only about 15 days ago that the Holy Name school was where President Obama would spend Diwali with a few schoolchildren.

Holy Name, which was founded in 1939, is a convent school attached to the Holy Name Cathedral that educates children of all income backgrounds in south Mumbai.

Feels Father Pinto, "They (the Americans) liked our cultural activities, projects and our hall."

Other than that, the priest is not sure how the Americans chose his school where he has been principal for the last three years.

He had heard that the Americans considered other schools in the Colaba area, but those schools were ruled out for various reasons.

"I asked (the consulate people) if I could share the news that our school had been chosen for a visit by President Obama. And when I told the students before the school closed for the Diwali holidays on Friday, the students gave out a big cheer. Oh yes! They all know who President Obama is!"


Image: Holy Name High School students prepare welcome charts for President Obama
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com
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Holy Name welcomes Obama

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The Holy Name High School premises hums with barely concealed excitement on Tuesday morning, five days before the Big Visit.

Printouts of photographs of Obama and his family change hands between the students.

Paint, rulers, coloured paper, markers float around the place as groups of boys sit in the corridors adding finishing touches to their neatly drawn welcoming posters for the Obamas.

Another knot of students sets up the environmental projects that the Obamas will view under the supervision of a few teachers.

Continuous dance practice is on in one of the classrooms on the ground floor, from where music floats by.


Image: Obama will see this model of an ideal Indian village made by Class 7 students
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com
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Holy Name is abuzz with media, police and more

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Television crews roam the premises capturing footage of the school as it gears up for the president.

A few Mumbai police jeeps, along with a car bearing personnel attached to Obama's security team, take a round of the school.

For security reasons the exact timing of Obama's visit has not been revealed.

Father Pinto has been told to expect the president sometime after breakfast.

The students and teachers will congregate at the school long before -- at 6 am! -- in their crisp grey and white uniforms and ties.

"The Mumbai police, the FBI and others were here till 10 pm last (Monday) night," says Father Pinto.

A giant tent, he adds, will be erected for security reasons in the school just before the event, presumably to prevent media teams from shooting the visit from the high-rise buildings located around Holy Name.


Image: A US security team pays the school a visit
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com
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A Koli dance for Barack and Michelle

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When Barack and Michelle Obama visit the Holy Name school, they will be greeted by a samai (diya) dance and a Koli -- the Kolis, Mumbai's fishermen, are among the oldest communities resident in the island city -- dance, performed by the students in saris, in the air-conditioned school hall, that will be adorned with posters, kandeels (paper Diwali lamps) and some magnificent rangoli.

Obama is expected to light a diya, something he did at the Diwali event he hosted at the White House in October 2009. He will give the children some gifts and they will present the president with a gift as well.

Then the Obamas, who have two young daughters and are no doubt familiar with the hectic world of school projects, will be taken to the first floor where they will be shown two of the school's environmental projects.

Juzer and his partner Adnan Tinwalla will do the honours.

Obama is expected to be in the school for about 30 minutes.

It is a proud moment and an unexpected honour for the Holy Name school. And a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for 20 delighted children. Nods Father Pinto, "He's the most powerful man on earth."


Image: Juzer with the Taj Mahal hotel, where the Obamas will stay, clearly visible from the school
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com
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