Visiting India an experience: Obama
Obama & Michelle were captivated at the banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan, their final engagement.
New Delhi: Lighted earthen diyas lining the steps, colourful rangolis on the floor, pretty string lights on the bushes, and the melodious welcome song - "Kesariya balam, padharo mhare des..." - US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama were left captivated during the state banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan here Monday.
The state banquet, hosted by President Pratibha Patil, was held on the lush green Mughal Garden lawns at the brightly illuminated presidential palace, specially done up to welcome the US first couple.
The Obamas called on Patil and held a half-an-hour meeting with her at 7.30 p.m. in the Morning Room of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Done up in bright yellow, the room is adorned by Ajanta-style paintings and has been personally redecorated by the Indian president.
Highly placed sources said the entire passage leading from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the Mughal Garden lawns was lit up with earthen diyas, string lights, and decorated with flowers and rangoli.
The diya lights at the entrance steps shimmered against the evening dark - adding to the grand ambience, according to sources.
Sources said after the meeting in the Morning Room, which was chosen over the North Drawing Room usually reserved to greet visiting heads of state, the Obamas were taken on a round of the beautifully lit Mughal Gardens where Rajasthani singers sang "Kesariya balam, padharo mhare des..." - meaning "welcome to my land, beloved".
In her speech, Patil said India and the US should work together for global peace and stability and be partners in diverse sectors like international economic development, clean energy, food and health security.
She also said the two countries have "responsibilities to work together for peace, stability and security in the world".
Obama once again showered praises on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying his country and India were working together to build a global partnership in the new century.
The President thanked the Indian leadership for their
"extraordinary expression of friendship" between India and the
"I propose a toast knowing that our ties subsist because
they are not of iron or steel or even of gold but of silken
chords of human spirit," observed Obama, as he said "cheers"
looking to Patil and Singh.
He ended by saying, “ You don’t just visit India, you experience India.”
Looking to Patil, the President injected some humour.
"One thing I observed during my visit was that India was doing
so well because it has so many strong woman leaders."
At another point, he said no matter how hard he tries he
cannot match his wife Michelle in dancing as she will "always
be a better dancer." Michelle, wearing a green dress, was
seated next to Patil.
Later, the Obamas met the invited guests along with Patil and her husband Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat, the sources said.
Over 100 guests were part of the banquet, including Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and business magnates like Tata Group head Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani and his wife Nita were present.
Clad in a cream and green sari, Patil had Obama, Michelle, who was in a grey dress, seated at her table, along with Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
After the Rajasthani songs, it was time for showcasing India`s cultural extravaganza in a 20-minute performance that included musicians playing Indian percussion instruments like the mridangam, tabla, ghatam and khanjeera.
The percussionist group were led by known musician Guruvar Dorai and V. Raja Rao.
Then followed a choreography titled `Maitrayee` - a mix of India`s diverse classical dances in which Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Kathak were showcased. It was put together by Seher - an organisation committed to the promotion of culture.
The 16-member Shillong Chamber Choir enthralled with a melange of songs from the northeast of India. The group had grabbed the gold at the World Choir Olympics and won an Indian reality show.
The choir also sang a friendship song from an Indian film and a song written by an American gospel singer.
"Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge.." - the hit Bollywood number - was sung by the group, bringing smiles to the faces of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama, who are known to have high regard for each other.
The cultural show was organised to showcase India`s rich culture and heritage, said the sources.
As the guests settled down to a sumptuous dinner, the Navy Band took over, playing lilting music from old Bollywood hits of the 1960s and 70s, including "Awara Hoon.."
The banquet consisted of a mouth-watering repast of Indian delicacies - from pineapple halwa, to achari fish tikka, chicken shami kebab and even palak papdi chaat.
The dishes at the state banquet were:
Vegetable clear soup,
Achari fish tikka
Chicken shami kebab
Palak papdi chaat
Makai hara pyaz
Shahi jeera pulao
Assorted Indian breads, including nan, parantha and roti
Herbal tea with south Indian coffee
The Obamas leave for Indonesia Tuesday morning at the end of their four-day state visit.