One of them was already married; the other found his first love in college here in the United States. Within only a year or two of their arrival in America, both men became fathers to their first-born sons, and both of those sons were skinny kids with funny, ethnic names.
When he was in his teens, the older kid, who lived in Hawaii, began going by the nickname Barry. The younger one, incredibly, when he was only four years old, demanded to be called Bobby after the kid on “The Brady Bunch.” His parents, as he tells the story, reluctantly obliged to the demands of their precocious toddler, though they never legally changed his given name, Piyush, which roughly translates from Hindi as “milk.”
Barry’s father fled back across the ocean- to Kenya- when he was still too young to understand or know any difference. Bobby’s father settled with his wife in a modest home in Baton Rouge, and within a few years, they had another son.
Barry’s father was a Muslim, and his mother, though she had grown up in Kansas as a Christian, considered herself to be a secular humanist. But his grandparents, who raised him for much of his childhood, were still practicing Christians.
Bobby’s parents were devout Hindus. They read the Vedas to their two boys at least once a week, and, on the weekends, they climbed in the family car and headed over to puja services at the homes of other Indian expatriates.
To the disappointment of his parents, Bobby became a Catholic, shortly after a high school classmate impressed him by confessing her ambition to become a Justice on the United States Supreme Court in order to strike down laws permitting abortion. He never shed his nickname, but he too flirted with the fringe of his newly-adopted religion. As an undergraduate at Brown University, he participated in an unusual and unsanctioned exorcism. He wrote an essay about his experience and even managed to get it published in one of the world’s most notable Catholic journals. He thought, at the time, that the exorcism had cured his friend of skin cancer. Today, though, he considers the whole thing “goofy.”
Both Barack “Barry” Obama and Piyush “Bobby” Jindal have been able to catapult into political leadership and captivate the attention of the entire country because, in part, both men offer compelling and exceptional personal narratives. They both appeal to the notion that their success, their smarts, their ambition is something that could only happen in America.
When he was a young man, Obama became the first-ever African-American editor of The Harvard Law Review. Jindal, as a young man, turned down Yale Law School and Harvard Medical School in order to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.