The anticipation was palpable and people started arriving early to catch a seat for the "O" moment. We sneaked around to where the press was at the front and a lovely AP man gave us his seat. We were less than five metres away from the front stage by this time absolutely packed with cameramen and crews.
There may have been some 17000 there and the housekeeping announcements came in thick and fast all building up to when she would be arriving. At one point the big doors at the entrance of the Front Lawns where she was going to be, were pushed open and there was a real scrum from disappointed fans who wanted entry but were finally denied it. It is moments like these that I take off my hat to the organizers like Sanjoy Roy and William Dalrymple because controlling the expectation and the crowd is no mean feat. Twice I have had friends coming to visit me in India and twice I can truthfully say we were only minutes away from a stampede. There are, as Oprah said, a lot of Indians and whereas one million here would be "a full restaurant" in the States she acknowledged that would be a lot of people.
She arrived to cheers and whoops and the press had their moment. She was tastefully dressed in sandy trousers and a shalwar kamize with a pink scarf and flat sandals. On her hand some large gold bangles. Her face radiating joy at being there – perhaps some surprise – what is it with red lights she asks ?
“Do they mean stop or are they for entertainment value only ?”
She gave out some advice – don’t text while you are driving, that is insane on these roads – the key to everything is education – people notice excellence so work at what you are good at and give to others – a piece of cake tastes better if you can share it and that tweeting was really a waste of time, well her time anyway because she could be spending the time reading a book.
Her love for books was always there but it was almost accidental that they gave books a 5 minute slot on her show – perhaps the thought was that you can’t do books on TV. Then from there and word of mouth she read more and more and started inviting the authors on to the show. She is happy to have been influential in this way as well as reviving the classics which she said she was always a little wary of reading so getting a couple of millions to read with her helped.
Oprah characterized herself as a connector, as a person who wants to give and who wants to make life better for girls and women. She spoke warmly of her Leadership Academy in South Africa and her meeting with widows here who are marginalized in society for the sole reason that their husbands have died. She talked about how she decided to share her experience of her sexual abuse to comfort a woman who was describing her own experience. How she had grown up poor, dirt poor and that she always turned her work in early, especially her book reports!
She was full of praise for Barack Obama while acknowledging that he is a man, not God and "we all make mistakes" but that she was endorsing him for another four years in the White House confident that he could do great things.
This was her first visit to India and her first reaction was that everything was pretty chaotic but behind the chaos there was a calm. She laughingly noted her surprise at Indians living with their families while an Indian asked her what is it with you westerners not wanting to live with their families ?
She said an arranged marriage was not her kind of thing. She felt that she was not a marrying kind ending with
"I am my own kind of woman." to the delight of all the audience.