President Obama in India: State Dinner in Ornate Rashtrapati Bhavan

US President Barack Obama raising a toast at the State Dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan

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New Delhi – President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama along with the US delegation in New Delhi on Sunday evening attended a state dinner inside the ornate Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential palace).

President and Michelle Obama entered the grand hall with a military escort, announced by the sound of trumpets, then stood next to the Indian president Pranab Mukherje with their hands over their hearts for the playing of the US national anthem.

Obama wore a dark suit, Michelle Obama a cocktail-length silk dress, floral on navy. An announcer read the names of Indian dignitaries who then streamed past the Obamas and Mukherjee to shake hands. When the guest greeted Obama with prayerful hands at the chin, he did the same in return. The hall filled with the sounds of conversation as the guests, many wearing bright and gilded saris, made their way through the American delegation lining the wall.

An awkward moment passed as an Indian military official quickly rescued Obama by taking a red scarf for later delivery when one guest put the scarf on Obama. Interestingly the man happened to be a member of parliament and chairs the Committee on the Violation of Protocol Norms and Contemptuous Behavior of Government Officers, according to the card he gave the Reuters journalist there.

When the 200-plus Indian dignitaries passed by, then announcer named all of the Americans, who then came by the Obamas and shook hands with President Mukherjee. This was a much smaller group, with less spectacular dresses.‎ Obama laughed at something Kal Penn said to him.

The president and first lady were escorted to an auditorium at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for a dance performance. Dozens of Indian dancers performed, wearing intricate and colorful traditional costumes and showcasing five styles of dance for the Obamas. The musical performance that included songs listed in the program as “Yes We Can,” “Kawika (Hawaiian Tune)” and “Part Time Lover.”

After the cultural performance, Obama and Modi led the group into a grand dining hall for dinner. Modi gave remarks on the US-India relationship saying, “This natural sense of kinship stems from the foundational values that both our people ‎cherish deeply — the values of individual liberty and freedom, democracy, diversity and justice.”

Obama started off light with his toast, thanking his hosts for not making him dance this time, recalling an event in Mumbai last time he was in the country in which his moves failed to impress the Indian press.

He also complimented Modi’s sense of style and said he thought about wearing a kurta tonight. “The Prime Minister is a style icon. I would also like to wear Modi kurta,” the President said. It might be noted that Indian Prime Minister Modi was already seen in three different outfits on Sunday.

Going down the memory lane, Obama said, “Let me also thank my partner and friend, Prime Minister Modi. I’ve often said that my life story could only happen in America. But of course, Mr. Prime Minister, your story could only happen in India. Here this evening, we think back to all those years ago — to your father selling tea in the train station, and your mother working at other families’ homes to support her own. And tonight, their son welcomes us as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy.”

He quoted Walt Whitman’s “Passage to India” about the people being brothers and sisters, and said the poet’s words have come to pass.

Offering a toast, Obama said, “To the great partnership between our nations and the friendship — the dosti — between our peoples.”

The state dinner featured mustard fish curry, gushtaba (pounded mutton dumplings cooked in yogurt), and achari paneer (cottage cheese cooked with traditional pickle) among other dishes.

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