April 1, 1995 in Nation/World

Chelsea Lets Her Hair Down In India First Lady, A More Relaxed And Confident First Daughter Stick Close During 12-Day Tour

Molly Moore Washington Post
 
Tags:travel

Chelsea Clinton at the Taj Mahal:

“When I was little, this was sort of the embodiment of the fairy-tale palace for me. I would see pictures of it and would dream I was a princess or whatever. Now that I’m here, it’s spectacular.”

Chelsea’s fairy tale quickly and briefly exploded this week into her mom’s press secretary’s biggest nightmare.

The press - horrors - wanted to quote the first daughter’s reaction to one of the world’s best-known landmarks. No, absolutely not, declared the protective press secretary, Lisa Caputo. Chelsea doesn’t give interviews, doesn’t answer questions and isn’t quoted in the press. Eventually, under protest, she relented. This once, she said.

Despite White House characterizations to the contrary, Chelsea Clinton is having something of a coming-out party on a 12-day sweep across the subcontinent with her mother. She stands attentively and confidently at the first lady’s side at almost every event.

She cuddled babies with Mom at Mother Teresa’s orphanage; she sat beside Mom in a hot village square and listened to a poor Pakistani woman relate the woes of having 10 children; she has charmed tour guides with her insightful and informed questions.

In fact, on a carefully staged trip in which Hillary Clinton’s official schedule revolves around women’s and children’s issues, Chelsea Clinton may be the most interesting untold story.

The Clintons have been rigorous in keeping their 15-year-old daughter out of the spotlight in an effort to allow her as normal a childhood as possible.

On this trip, the cameras have followed every move of both mother and daughter, and Caputo has issued strict instructions for American coverage of Chelsea. When she’s with her mother, the events are on the record and can be reported. When she’s not with her mother, the press traveling with the Clintons cannot report any of her activities.

But far more important and interesting is Chelsea’s symbolic role: a young woman with a bright future standing before young South Asian women who may not be allowed to finish school because they are needed at home, who will be married off at a young age to boys they have never met and who face lives of drudgery and misery.

Throughout Pakistan and India, young women have related enthusiastically to Chelsea as they accompany her through their schools, villages and homes. On Thursday, she appeared at ease sitting amid a crowd of about 250 impoverished women - ragpickers, vegetable vendors and garment makers - during a visit to a branch of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a union of poor working women.

And while the Chelsea of the first year of the administration often appeared intimidated by the crush of cameras and the curious stares that follow any of the Clintons wherever they go, she now takes it all in stride, casting frequent shy smiles toward the crowds.

According to local embassy officials throughout South Asia, Chelsea rejected a long list of “kid-oriented” programs offered at each of her mother’s stops - such as puppet shows and appearances at local American schools - opting instead for the same tours, interviews and speeches that the first lady is making.

The trip has also demonstrated a mother-daughter relationship between Hillary and Chelsea Clinton that would appear to be the envy of any mother: They are respectful and attentive to each other and seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

Still, teenagers will be teenagers the world over. What do inquiring young Indian girls with straight dark hair want to know about Chelsea?

Are her curly blond locks real or permed?

Answer: They’re real.

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