The meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York on September 28 last year did not follow the planned sequence. It was the fifth meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama in the same calendar year.
Coming out of the elevator, Modi was about to enter the designated meeting room when Obama, with a coffee cup in hand, called out to him. Modi slowed down. “You are looking good in white,” Obama commented on Modi’s outfit - a white kurta teamed with a white Modi jacket.
Modi, who had not been briefed about the possibility of such a chance encounter, replied, “Thank you, Mr President.” As always, the two leaders exchanged a warm embrace before settling down for the meeting. When they met, they have often greeted each other with a hug, followed by their beaming smiles.
Throughout their various meetings, photo-ops and any occasions to talk or write about each other came up, Modi and Obama have praised each other effusively.
In his first visit to the White House in September 2014, Obama greeted Modi at the doorstep by saying, “Kem chho?” — the Gujarati equivalent of “How are you?” Modi replied, “Thank you very much, Mr President”.
“It is an extraordinary pleasure to greet Prime Minister Modi to the White House for the first time.” That’s how Obama had welcomed Modi to their official meeting.
And when they met in the Oval Office of the White House on June 8 this year — their seventh meeting — Obama said, “Welcome back, my friend Prime Minister.”
In between, there were many instances of the two projecting their personal chemistry. An article in the Time magazine said that the Obama-Modi chemistry “transcends ancient and modern”.
Modi calling Obama by his first name was perhaps the first instance of an Indian head of government addressing an American president in delectable familiarity.
There are many ways to look at the personal chemistry or friendship between two powerful politicians. But for Modi, any stamp of approval from the president of a country that had declared him a pariah would be a sweet sign.