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HindustanTimes Wed,23 Apr 2014

Obama's unexpected invitation

Rajesh Krishan   April 02, 2013
First Published: 09:31 IST(2/4/2013) | Last Updated: 09:33 IST(2/4/2013)

In November last year when I shot off a letter to Barack Obama to congratulate him on his reelection as the President of the United States, little did I know the turn of events that was to follow. I received a thank you letter back from the White House last month, four months after I wrote to him, saying that I was among the top 10 people to congratulate him on his second term. The letter, embossed and hand-signed by the President, came in a premium-grade envelope with stars and stripes on it.

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The letter was an invitation by the President of the United States to this writer to attend a state dinner at the White House alongside his family and the country's dignitaries. The White House also offered free flight tickets and an accommodation in a five-star hotel.

It's not everyday that you get an invitation to dine with the President of the United States, so I hurriedly applied for the visa, which was granted to me in no time. The embassy even waived my visa fees. I boarded my flight from New Delhi and was received at Dulles Airport (IAD) by the White House staff, who drove me in a luxury car to a hotel in Washington DC.

After a day's rest and some sightseeing in and around Washington DC, finally, the big moment came. I entered the most-watched building in the US: the White House. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the grand mansion represents a beautiful building steeped in history and character. It was refreshing to see the sprawling Rose Garden and, of course, the neo-classical federal-style architecture of the grand mansion left me in awe.

Walking into the President's dining room, I had butterflies in my stomach as I was told that the President's family members had already arrived. As I entered the hall, I was welcomed by First Lady Michelle Obama and secretary of state John Kerry. I also had the fortune to speak with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who was sitting right across me.

In the brief conversation I had with Michelle, she told me that the White House cooks had prepared a lavish line-up of dishes especially in my honour, and that many of the ingredients used in preparing the dinner were derived from her White House garden. I also conversed with the President's daughters, Sasha and Malia.

I was treated not only to a fine feast but some great music as well. Providing entertainment was Grammy and Academy award-winning musician AR Rehman, who was especially invited to add Indian flavour to the evening. Oscar-winning actor George Clooney made the guest list, as did the billionaire American hotelier of Indian origin, Vikram Chatwal.

Barack Obama, who was wearing his signature navy-blue suit, was the last to come to the table. After greeting everyone, he came straight to me and sat beside me. He extended his hand to offer a handshake when my phone suddenly buzzed. I excused myself to read the message. It was an SMS from a friend, saying "Happy April Fool's Day!"

writings.rk@gmail.com

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