The music of AR Rahman. A mostly vegetarian menu. Glamorous invitees. And a line in Hindi. US President Barack Obama pulled out all the stops to charm India. Welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the White House, Obama delighted his largely desi gathering with a winning Aapka Swagat Hai (You are welcome).”
This was Washington DC’s most coveted invite this season and those who got the nod included filmmaker Steven Spielberg, industrialist Ratan Tata, author Jhumpa Lahiri, secretary-of-state Hillary Clinton, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Lousiana governor Bobby Jindal, and Pepsi’s chief executive Indra Nooyi.
The Obamas played it their way at their first State Dinner — bringing in a Africa-born chef, inviting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, decking the place with locally-grown flowers and creating a menu that featured healthy food including some produce from Michelle Obama’s own kitchen garden.
Mrs Obama dazzled in a sleeveless gold gown by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan and an armful of shimmery bangles, while Gursharan Kaur, the PM’s wife, was elegant in a black silk saree and white pearl necklace.
In his welcome speech, Obama quoted Nehru, talked of Gandhi and referred to Guru Nanak. Even the venue — a tent in a White House lawn — was there for a reason. “In India some of life’s most treasured moments are often celebrated under the cover of a beautiful tent,” Obama said.
AR Rahman’s live performance was served up as entertainment along with singer Jennifer Hudson and jazz musician Kurt Elling. Most of the food — a mix of Indian (curried prawns) and Afro-American cuisine (chickpeas and okra) — came from Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden. There was the humble daal, too. The New York Times declared the evening to be “a potent mix of politics, diplomacy and glamour.”