NEW DELHI – India finally got to see Oprah Winfrey doing what she does best – keeping an audience spellbound while spanning a range of topics, from her India experience to Barack Obama‘s chances for a second term. Dressed in a traditional salwar-kameez outfit by Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Winfrey addressed a jam-packed hour-long session Sunday at the Jaipur Literature Festival (about 144 miles from the capital Delhi) which was exclusively televised on leading English news channel NDTV (New Delhi Television).
“I believe in him… I love him, I appreciate him,” Winfrey said when asked by NDTV group editor Barkha Dutt about Obama’s chances for a second term. “Of course you make mistakes. You are walking into the White House. You have the whole world watching you,” Winfrey also cautioned. “And he is a man. And I mean that in the best way, he is a man, meaning a world leader, he’s not a God. And so as a man you make mistakes in the world sometimes. I think the world forgot that we were on the brink of a depression in our country and nobody knew whether we were going to have bread lines, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But he was able to stop that from happening… I think that its a difficult job and I think that his next four years are going to be even more successful for our country and that people are going to get back to work. Its going to be a really good thing that he remains in office. I feel very strongly that he will remain in office. I am not being overly confident about it but when you look at the other party, I’m just saying…,” Winfrey smiled to raucous cheers from the audience.
As for her experience visiting India for the first time, Winfrey said, “I came here with an open mind, and it has been expanded… It’s the greatest life experience I have ever had. You feel like you’re in the centre of something bigger and greater than yourself.”
Like most first-time visitors to India who are flummoxed by the country’s chaos, especially the traffic which she experienced on landing in Mumbai last Monday, Winfrey said, “I was overwhelmed by the chaos, the traffic and people who never stopped for red lights, by men riding donkeys, women wearing helmets with saris and oxen-drawn carts laden with steel… It made my head spin – I felt like I was part of a video game. I don’t know which way to look. It’s a bit chaotic, but there’s an underlying calm, a flow, that you all seem to understand. India is a paradox.”
In her week-long visit, Winfrey had a varied Indian experience, from a glamorous high society Bollywood party in Mumbai and a guided visit to one of the city’s slums with Australian convict-turned-author of the famed novel Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts, to a visit to a widows ashram in the North Indian holy city of Vrindavan before rounding off with a trip to the famed Taj Mahal in Agra.
“It was important for me to go to the slums but not show the worst of the worst, but show that people can live in poverty and still have hope and meaning in their lives… I will take with me a sense of calmness, and a genuine respect… people don’t talk religion here, they live it,” Winfrey said.
“A family of four generations in one house — I really get it now. This is a country that has no respect for nursing homes, because you take care of your families,” Winfrey said to a thunderous applause.
Dismissing earlier media reports in which she was quoted stating that she would not return to India, especially after the chaos outside the widows ashram in Vrindavan where some of her bodyguards (hired from an Indian security agency) got into a tussle with local journalists, Winfrey said, “You think you can understand India through its clichés, but you can’t – you have to come back again… And I will come back.”
Of course, no conversation in India can end without discussing marriage and when asked by Dutt why the 57-year-old never married, Winfrey said, “I am not the marrying kind. I know that in a country like India where women have arranged marriages that turn into love, it may seem like a mystery as to why. But if we (referring to her partner since 1986 Stedman Graham) were married, by now we would be divorced.”
Click here to see the video of the entire session.