Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Mr. Subbaraman Goes to Washington (Part 1)

The last few weeks have been truly incredible. I was invited to do my first ever TEDx talk, and then out of nowhere I open my email to see an invitation to the White House for Diwali. If I were to say I haven’t felt this honored in years, it would be quite the understatement.

The honest truth was that when I opened the email from the White House with the invitation, I didn't believe it. Who would? I literally thought it was some sort of internet phishing expedition. The email was accompanied by an RSVP form, which asked for all sorts of personal information, which would make sense both from a White House security standpoint and a phishing standpoint. I felt bad for Gautam Raghavan as I sent multiple emails to figure out whether I could actually make the event. I almost didn't go. The thought of a last minute ticket as well as figuring out where to stay coupled with the last minute expense made it a tough decision. All that being said, it boiled down to one thing: “How often does one get an invitation to the White House?” I called a friend from college and was lucky that he was free and willing to let me crash at his house (thanks, Tariq Haddad)! I booked a ticket and was off!

I can’t quite tell you the feeling that runs through your mind as you walk up to the White House – and are invited to actually go through the gate. I kept thinking that my father had landed in the US in the early 1970s with $7 in his pocket, and his son was going to the White House. (It seems that EVERY Indian came with $7 in their pocket back in the day. I used to think it was a tall tale, but it was actually confirmed by my grandmother before she passed away).

I went through the first ID check at the Southwest Gate. We walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and into the South Court Auditorium for the event. It was truly a blast to walk into the room and see so many Indiaspora Alums! There were so many, it is tough to name them all. You’ll see the famous Indian painter Raghava KK in many of my pictures. I sat next to NPR Morning Edition’s Madhulika Sikka for the performance portion of the event. There were approximately another 20 Indiaspora alums represented!

Before I describe the event, I have to thank Gautam Raghavan. He is the Associate Director of Public Engagement in the White House Office of Public Engagement. He arranged the event. I can’t imagine how much work went into planning, putting together the guest list, and getting everyone together to make the event as wonderful as it was. (I have to say – given that I was on the guest list, what a great job with the guest list!)