Souvenirs and firecrackers as Mumbai awaits Obama

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 5, 2010 

MUMBAI — President Obama's arrival here tomorrow already is having a ripple effect in this megacity of roughly 18 million people, where slums swirl around pockets of commerce and taxis stop for cows.

Various Obama-themed souvenirs are for sale. Moshe’s Café is selling “O’Barry Pie,” with 44 ingredients (named for "Barry" Obama, the 44th U.S. president) that include Kenyan coffee and cocoa, fruits and grains from Hawaii and Indonesia, and chocolate. One waiter said they were sold out, but another scrounged up a slice. It was tasty though the banana drowned out much of the other flavors.

For a while last night and early this morning there was a scare when a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam made an emergency landing in Mumbai with reports of a suspicious package on board, but it turned out to be nothing.

Security precautions have sealed off Mani Bhavan, a former home to Gandhi and now a museum and memorial, because Obama’s expected to stop there.

Boat trips are curtailed from the Gateway of India, a major attraction for visiting Indians as well as foreigners.

It’s just across the street from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel where Obama is to stay. Today, that whole area was sealed off to car and even foot traffic.

An international crew of divers, on assignment in Mumbai to salvage materials from a shipwreck, complained that Obama’s visit has added hours to their ability to get out on the water, and reduced their productivity.

Police presence is thick, and major backups are expected tomorrow for flights into Mumbai’s airport as well as traffic around the city.

Security precautions and related inconveniences are always an issue when presidents travel. This can especially be true in big, chaotic cities, such as during Obama’s visit last year to Cairo. There’s heightened sensitivity now because of the latest explosives threat from Yemen and because of Mumbai’s terrorist attacks two years ago.

The Times of India reported some local politicians were considering boycotting Obama’s planned remarks Saturday to commemorate the so-called “26/11” attacks because they’re offended they were asked to provide personal documents and identification.

Some residents of South Mumbai are grumbling that the local authorities won’t permit them to set off their Diwali firecrackers once Obama arrives. But today, at least, the popping, banging, crackling, smoke and sulphur stink are pervasive.

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