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The whole world was watching Chicago

November 7, 2008 contributor Ram Kelkar was at the Obama celebration in Chicago. This is what he recorded:

Chicago. November 4. 7.45 pm

"Just naalu (four) blocks to go saar," my Sri Lankan Tamil cabbie informs me as we drive past frenzied crowds lined up on Michigan Avenue. Thus begins this tale of a Kolkatan, a Mumbaikar, an Indian American from Hyde Park and a Kazakh-American by way of Moscow, on their way to Chicago's Grant Park to celebrate the victory of a Kenyan-Kansan-Hawaiian-American's victory in the 2008 presidential election. Only in America!

When Barack Obama's campaign announced that its post-election rally would be held in Grant Park, admission to the event became the hottest ticket in town. There was, however, a sense of trepidation about going to an event where a crowd of tens of thousands was expected, win or lose. Chicagoans and most Americans of the baby-boom generation remembered the chaos and clashes between police and anti-war protesters at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 at the same venue. Sadly, the image of Grant Park that was seared into the collective consciousness of Americans was that of cops clubbing demonstrators who chanted 'The whole world is watching'.

Could it be different this time? Could Chicago show its best face to the world?

8 pm: We are in a long queue of excited Obamaniacs, inching past the landmark hotels on Michigan Avenue, wondering when we will get into the sanctum sanctorum at Grant Park. The excitement is palpable, and everyone is trying hard not to get their hopes up too high. After all, the disappointments of an election lost in the Supreme Court in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004 are wounds that have yet to heal, and no one wants to get fooled again. There are policemen everywhere, at every corner, and not just those who are in uniform.

8:15 pm: 'Pennsylvania went for Obama -- and it wasn't even close,' reports my son Amar, texting from the Cornell University campus in upstate New York. The youth of America and Gen-Xers are all solidly for 'Change' and the excitement on campuses across the country is building. Things are looking good, with New Hampshire and Pennsylvania in the bag, John McCain has to sweep all the battleground states to win.

Hawkers are pushing their wares, from T-shirts to posters to hats and other trinkets, all festooned with Obama's face.

Searchlights are shining up in the sky, and I look to see if the Obama batsign is being beamed into the sky. It better be on a skyscraper because there are no clouds in the sky, on a beautiful Indian summer evening in Chicago, with temperatures in the 60s.

Image: For those who couldn't see the stage with Barack Obama on it because of the multitudes, giant video screens had been erected across Grant Park. Text & photographs: Ram Kelkar

Also see: Obamania sweeps the world

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