"Well, Usha is more Indian than most. And she's waited long to see her husband enter Rashtrapati Bhawan," says a friend of the family. Having supported her husband in his diplomatic stints in Vietnam, Japan, Turkey and wherever. Nurturing his constituency. Hosting state banquets. Keeping conversations alive while her less gregarious husband plays a quieter host.
But Usha Narayanan is more than just a scholarly statesman's supportive wife. Her seven-year stint as president of a women's welfare NGO, Karuna, vouch many acti- vists, saw her making good use of her post graduate degree from the Delhi School of Social Work. Pointing out that Usha remains an enthusiastic patron, MP and present incumbent Margaret Alva says: "Easily accessible, Usha's done so much. She was responsible for building a working women's hostel in Ottapalam. But she prefers to be anonymous. She's not looking for front page coverage."
Media scrutiny, in fact, does not appeal to Usha at all. Careful not to compromise her husband's position by working at cross-purposes with India's policy on Burma, she is involved with democratic causes there--without hogging the limelight. "Usha feels very strongly about the restoration of unity and peace in Burma having known Aung San Suu Kyi since the late '50s," says Dr Malavika Karlekar, who works with Burmese refugee students. Adding that Usha called to inform her when a committee chaired by Narayanan chose Suu Kyi for the Award for International Understanding in 1995.
Once first lady, Usha's involvement with the politics of her native country will be low-key, predict friends. But her ties will show up in other pursuits. Like the translation of Burmese short stories by Thein Pe Mint that she does for
Frontline. The past four years, says editor N. Ram, have seen her deliver "faithful translations".
Mere acquaintances say she is a "warm person". Those who know her better can't do without mentioning her beautiful orchid collection and her interest in ikeban and bonsai. As a political commentator and close friend of the Narayanans puts it: "Usha is a wide-awake person. Becoming Mrs President won't change that."
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