US President Barack Obama definitely looked like he was chewing gum, or was it nicotine gum to overcome smoker's pangs of too many minutes away from the cancer stick (assuming he still smokes)? Well, so what? Are we going to hang him for chewing gum? Do the ones who have been haranguing on twitter and other social media know that apart from their rants nothing can be done to the world's lone remaining policeman?
Thank God, he didn't smoke or else all the Twitter users of India and the diaspora would have jumped on the poor guy. Maybe the angry Twitter sena would have been happier if he had chewed paan and spat a colourful jet into a silver spittoon the government would have gladly placed at his feet. The government of India and millions of paan and gutka lovers are no strangers to splendidly white walls streaked with paan and gutka stains. Control hi nahi hota, hai na? But there's a small problem. Though there is no empirical data on what Americans feel about chewing paan but a colleague who has studied in the United States was quick to point out that the usual reaction of an American oesophagus to paan is to choke, necessitating a quick Heimlich.
The obsessive hurt being felt at Obama's chewing gum at the Republic Day ceremony harks to someone's childhood trauma at being hit on the knuckles by a very angry ruler-wielding teacher whose sense of order was disturbed by chewing on gum when the class was on. That experience may have forced the recipient of the ruler's downswing eschew the gum for life. But there's more to the world than the classroom, which is also one of the best places to develop complexes and phobias that last till death until diagnosed in couches with shrinks for company.
The entire point about being a republic is that Indians should see any other Indian as an equal, not as sir/madam, not judges as milords, and continue with the compunction of excessive deference. The republic was meant to end all that. An honorific doesn't imply respect. Similarly, Obama just chewed on gum and didn't litter the place.
To expect Obama, one of the many products of the first truly republican form of governance, to give in to the Old World's (read India, Asia and Europe) fixation on deference is silly. Besides, Obama is the president of the USA. And remember that's in the New World where they wear their baseball caps backwards just for the heck of it. If you still can't swallow the insult, chew on some paan with extra mint. In effect, chill. Or smoke the peace pipe but smoking's damn injurious to health.