Why Indian-American Frank Islam Got a Call from Obama

Why Indian-American Frank Islam Got a Call from Obama

File photo of US President Barack Obama (Associated Press)

Washington:  One fine morning this summer, Indian-American Frank Islam received an unexpected call from the US President, Barack Obama.

The call was neither for a fund raiser, nor for discussing any policy issues, but to "appreciate" the desk in Islam's library, which is a replica of the Resolute, the desk in the White House's Oval Office.

The replica of the iconic Resolute desk, first placed in the Oval Office by President John F. Kennedy and used by Obama, is not the only US Presidential memorabilia in Islam's newly built mansion in a 10 acre plot in Potomac, one of the richest suburbs of Washington.

The grand foyer has a domed ceiling, reminiscent of Capitol Rotunda or Statuary Hall. There are also hand-painted murals depicting Maryland landscapes.

Obama, during the conversation said that Vice-President, Joe Biden told him about his mansion and described its unique features, including the exact replica of the presidential desk at Oval office.

Obama's call to Islam came after Biden attended a fundraiser event at his house on July 11 and described the house as "beautiful with gorgeous landscape".

Islam moved into 'Norton Manor', as he and his wife Debbie Driesman call their new house, last year and have been receiving steady stream of visitors since then, including politicians, bankers and journalists.

The house, built on a sprawling 47,000 sq feet area, also has a 9,000 sq feet five-bedroom guest house and a tea house.

There are 14 bedrooms, 22 bathrooms, a movie theatre, a gym and 60 chandeliers.

Built over a period of seven years and costing USD 1.5 million a year in maintenance, 'Norton Manor' boasts of several man made water streams, fountains and gardens, which are replicas of some of the historical gardens of the West.

For instance, one garden is inspired by the Hampton Court Palace in England, while another is inspired by the historic Rose Garden at the White House.

In front of the Norton Manor is a reflecting pool.

"I got the idea from the Presidential Palace in India. The Taj Mahal also has a beautiful reflecting pool. It is indeed very nice in the evening, you can see the reflection of the house in the pool," Islam said.

Islam said, he and his wife Driesman were personally involved in every architectural aspect of this house.

Furnishings, fixtures, colour schemes, artwork and untold yards of richly textured fabrics were all personally selected with the meticulous guidance of local designer Skip Sroka. Its facade is inspired by The Elms of Newport, Rhode Island.

The much talked about replica of the presidential desk is one of the greatest attraction of this house.

The real desk, gifted by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, was first placed in the Oval Office by President Kennedy, who also immortalised it in the iconic picture of his son John F. Kennedy Jr crawling out of the middle of it, while the president is busy typing a letter on the desk.

Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley after visiting the mansion recently, described it as the "one of the most beautiful house he has seen".

Speaking to PTI, Islam described his new house as a "humble home, not a mansion" and said that he built this house as a tribute to their adopted country.

Born in Azamgarh to a peasant father, Islam moved to US when he was only 15 years old, with less than USD 500 in his pocket, to become a successful entrepreneur.

He bought a struggling IT company in Maryland in 1993 with USD 50,000 raised by mortgaging his house.

Islam sold of his IT company in 2007 to spent rest of his life in philanthropy, both in India and the US and lends his palatial house for fund raising activities - for both political and charitable events.

The multi-million dollar Norton Manor has held nearly 15 charitable events in the last one year and several more are scheduled in the coming months.

On board of several think tanks, academic and cultural organisations including Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts, the Brookings Institute and US Institute of Peace, Islam feels it is time for him to give back to the society he comes from and work towards strengthening of India-US relationship, both at the government level and between people to people.

"Being the oldest and the largest democracies of the world, we are natural partners," Islam said.

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