New Delhi: With camel-mounted bands on either side and another playing on the terrace, what was initially billed as an intimate ‘private dinner’ for about 20 people by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur for US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle turned into a grand affair that was described by about 60 Indian and about ten American guests as "outstanding" and "magnificent".
The dinner, on the lush front lawns of the prime ministerial residence at 7 Race Course Road, was held under a semi-open marquee that, along with the music-filled atmosphere and lights, made it, in the words of a guest, a setting "straight out of the Arabian Nights".
The bands were drawn from the Border Security Force and the Indian Navy. They played soft non-intrusive music that complimented the perfect weather and the glittering ambience.
Among those present were Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, senior politicians L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley, Bollywood veterans Shabana Azmi her husband Javed Akhtar and Aamir Khan, besides Priya Dutt and Meenakshi Natarajan, both MPs.
Also present were cabinet ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and S.M. Krishna and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. So were bureaucrats National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Manmohan Singh`s Principal Secretary T.K.A. Nair, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and India`s ambassador to US Meera Shankar.
Others to get the invite were corporate bigwigs Azim Premji, Ratan Tata, Swati Piramal and N.R. Narayana Murthy, environmental scientist Sunita Narain and and Jamia Millia Islamia vice chancellor Najeeb Jung.
From the American side were National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, US ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer and Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID.
Before the dinner, that was catered by ITC Maurya`s signature restaurants Bukhara and Dum Pukht and included both non-vegetarian and vegetarian fare representing the best of Indian cuisine, Manmohan Singh and Obama met separately, followed by a meeting between their families that included the prime minister`s daughters and a son-in-law.
Sam Pitroda, the prime minister`s adviser on technology, told reporters the setting was "unbelievable" and "done with class and thought". He said the Americans, including the Obamas, loved every moment of with some in their group overheard as saying "we could learn much from the Indians how to organise such things".
Each table was named after leading Indian Americans or Americans who either had a love for India or had worked in India.
Obama hosted the first state dinner of his presidency in honour of Manmohan Singh under a sprawling white tent on the lawns of the White House in November last year that brought together the Who`s Who of Washington and the Indian American community and made it the most talked about social event for months in the American capital.