Obama made impression on student

Gautam Ghosh and wife Ceilia Novero with son Emilio Kumar (2) at their Roslyn, Dunedin, home...
Gautam Ghosh and wife Ceilia Novero with son Emilio Kumar (2) at their Roslyn, Dunedin, home yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter.
For one American living in Dunedin, the inauguration of Barack Obama as president tomorrow will have extra significance.

Gautam Ghosh is a history lecturer at the University of Otago's summer school, but in the mid 1990s he was a PhD student at the University of Chicago where Mr Obama was a law professor.

Mr Ghosh said he encountered the future president many times on the university's basketball courts when players gathered in the gym for casual "pick-up" games.

Sometimes he played with Mr Obama, sometimes against him.

He did not know Mr Obama's name at the time, but because he was so young and athletic, he assumed he was a student rather than a member of the academic staff.

But it was not Mr Obama's ability on court that had stuck in Mr Ghosh's memory. It was the way he conducted himself on the sideline when his team had a loss.

"There were times when I would screw up and basically lose the game. And, literally, nobody on my side would speak with me. Except for him.

"He would make a point of coming over and he wouldn't even make a big deal out of it - none of the platitudes like 'oh it's just a game, don't worry about it'.

"He would just come over and we would chat about politics, or the game we were watching."

Mr Ghosh said Mr Obama was an excellent athlete but it was not until months later that he learned his basketball team-mate had political aspirations.

"He didn't speak about himself. He would ask about me, about what I was studying.

"Obviously, he was a smart person. But he was curious and you didn't get the sense that he was schmoozing.

"He was just sitting there."

The last time he saw Mr Obama, Mr Ghosh asked how his political career was going.

"He just laughed andsaid, 'we'll see'."

The presidential inauguration will screen on Dunedin's Channel 9 from 4am and on TV One and TV3 from 5.30am.

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