Om Sweet Om

Here’s a free tip for anyone who is lucky enough to be a guest at the White House: if you return from the restroom to find an exuberant blond lady in a red sari in your seat, taking Facebook-bound pictures cheek to cheek with the Vice President, call someone quick. The Secret Service, Homeland Security, the National Guard. Oh, and of course, the media.

The Salahis acheive the Holy Grail: the Obama handshake

Yes, I’m referring to the Salahis, the infamous gate-crashing couple who, ironically and regrettably, are now the SOLE story in the mainstream media about President Obama’s state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

By the way, the irony of a fame-seeking couple becoming, well, famous, was not lost on funny-man Jon Stewart, who called it out brilliantly on The Daily Show:

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The Salahis, with their slimy maneuvering and plastic smiles and blatant attempts to be something that they are not, evoke our scorn. But if I am honest with myself, I will have to admit that I see a little bit of the Salahis in me. 

I wanted to be at that dinner. I so wanted to be at that dinner.


I wanted to be there when I saw the initial press coverage and snazzy photos. I wanted to be there when I read my Beliefnet colleague Deepak Chopra blog about his experiences there. I wanted to be there when I heard about the menu — apparently almost entirely vegetarian. I wanted to be there when I learned that some of the most dynamic and progressive Indian-Americans I know (some of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting; others whom I have not) would be there. And yes, I wanted to be there to meet A.R. Rehman (whose compositions I am listening to on my computer as I type this blog).

I wanted to be there, because — and I know that I am committing the ultimate faux-pas by actually admitting this out loud — it was the coolest place to be.

There’s a fine line between wishing and envying. 

The Salahis may not be such an anomaly after all. Maybe they just take the green-eyed disease to the next level. They have the nerve (or shamelessness?) to act out the fantasy. Sure, its more exaggerated, extreme, and grotesquely humorous when they do it; but even if they’re a distorted fun-house mirror reflection, they’re still reflecting something within me that I have to come to terms with.

A mentor of mine within the Hare Krishna movement, who pioneered ISKCON’s communications efforts, once shared with me his frustration about some Krishna devotees who had a particular public relations strategy. Somehow or other these devotees would manage to land up wherever there were celebrities gathering– political functions, charity events, red carpet awards receptions, whatever. Charming and supernaturally confident, they’d simply glide up to the celebrity du jour, offer them a copy of the Bhagavad Gita as a special gift, and then ask to have a photo snapped together. The photo would then end up getting plastered in newsletters, magazines, or (once the internet came along) websites and blogs. Net result: photo opportunity, unwitting celebrity endorsement for the Bhagavad Gita, and… nothing much else.

My mentor disparagingly called these devotees “assassins” — they lock in the celebrity target, and then move in for the kill (metaphorically, of course). As an accomplished communications director (with more than a few celebrity contacts, including members of The Beatles, in his Rolodex), he couldn’t stand the cheapness of it. He preferred to build relationships the old-fashioned way: integrity, honesty, and shared values and common concerns. It often meant honoring and protecting a celebrity’s privacy, and almost always resulted in something far more valuable than a photo op.

I am indebted to him for teaching me that. And I am indebted too, in a way, to the Salahis, for reminding me how slippery of a slope taking the cheap route can be.

I want to be at a state dinner. But I want to be there, because my work with the Hindu-American community will have earned me the right to be there. I want to be there because I have something valuable to contribute to the gathering and to learn from the others there. I want to have my name on the guest list, because it needs to be there… not because my ego is massaged by seeing it there. Til then, I’ll wait it out on this side of the velvet rope.

And if  when it happens, I may even choose to leave my camera at home. Well, maybe.

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