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When the US prez came in an open car

As Obama was talking to residents of Kanpura in Ajmer through video conferencing, Laramada in Agra went down memory lane to 1959 when the then US president visited their village. Hemendra Chaturvedi reports.

india Updated: Nov 08, 2010 12:51 IST
Hemendra Chaturvedi
Hemendra Chaturvedi
Hindustan Times

When US President Barack Obama was having a talk with the residents of a village in Rajasthan on Sunday, villagers of Laramada in Agra went down memory lane, reminiscing a much free and man-to-man interaction that they had with the then US President way back in 1959.

"The then US President Dwight D Eisenhower came in an open car with Indian Prime Minister," says Kela Devi, now in seventies while recollecting memories of that VVIP visit at her house. Claiming that residents in Agra still cherish the memories, Kala remembers the day - December 13, 1959 when Dwight Eisenhower came in an open car with Nehru.

"They moved in the village, visiting the panchayat ghar, pond, schools and library and had a free interaction with villagers - quite in contrast to visit of the current President with the security beefed up," she says.

"I was new 'bahu' and was in my traditional 'ghoonghat' which I had removed when insisted by both leaders," says Kela Devi with a smile. "They talked with our family members and were at utmost ease while interacting," claims Kela Devi.

The present village pradhan Mahaveer Singh (43) was not even born during the visit. He says he has heard so much about the visit that he can relive every moment. His uncle Karan Singh was pradhan at that time and Pandit Nehru, along with the US president, were at their house.

Tej Singh, another witness to the 1959 visit, recollects, "The US president had expressed willingness to visit a 'true' Indian village and our village, Laramada, was chosen. We built the panchayat ghar and coloured the water in the pond to welcome the guest. A scheme with US support, known as PL-480, was inaugurated for electrification of rural area'.

"Both leaders moved freely, interacted with villagers and addressed a public meet, something unbelievable in this age of high security," recollected Tej Singh (73). "We would have loved it if US President Barack Obama had visited us. We would have arranged for his security on our own," claims energetic Mahaveer Singh. "In 1959, villagers in Laramada were told at short notice that US President is coming with Prime Minister Pt. Nehru and our elders worked overnight to upgrade the panchayat ghar along with cattle home," says Mahaveer.

"Since that visit, we have a Nehru Yuva Kendra running and memories of that visit by US President are revived whenever any of the state head of US reaches our country." adds Mahaveer. The Panchayat Ghar and library are still in village.

The official visit in 1959 was covered by Late Kailash Nath Sharma, the owner of a studio presently at Mahatma Gandhi Road and his son Dhirendra Sharma cherishes the photos of Eisenhower, along with Pt. Nehru, moving in an open car.

First Published: Nov 08, 2010 12:25 IST