Oscar-winning performers, grand decor, a mostly green menu and a guest list boasting Hollywood A-listers and elite political and business figures from both India and the U.S. — President Barack Obama’s first state dinner had it all.
And if that’s not enough, the star-studded ‘black tie’ event attended by 338 invitees also witnessed a minor wardrobe malfunction. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first state guest of the Obama administration, and his wife Gursharan Kaur were received by the U.S. First Couple on the red carpet at the North Portico of the White House.
First Lady Michelle Obama looked stunning in a sleeveless golden-silver dress by India-born designer Naeem Khan and walked the state guests to a large heated tent in the South Lawn, especially constructed for the occasion and decorated with glittering candles, white flowers and chandeliers made of green leaves. Weeks of speculation about invitees also came to an end as the guests finally stepped onto the red carpet.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry, the former Secretary of State Colin Powell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among those present.
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg was also present at the event, which witnessed performances by Oscar-winner music maestro A.R. Rahman and American singer-actress Jennifer Hudson, apart from jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and the National Symphony Orchestra. “He [Rahman] is also an Oscar winner and he helped create some of the music for the film Slumdog Millionaire,” Ms. Obama told the gathering. “I don’t know if you guys got to see that movie — incredible movie.” Many political figures, academics, medical professionals, prominent Indian-Americans and business people, including Ratan Tata, Amartya Sen, Mukesh Ambani, Deepak Chopra, Sanjay Gupta, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sam Pitroda, Indra Nooyi, Bobby Jindal and Fareed Zakaria, were present.
In a case of wardrobe malfunctioning, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey’s cummerbund dropped to the floor just as he and his wife posed before photographers and reporters, AP said.
One of the “finest chefs” in the country, Marcus Samuellson, was invited to prepare the four-course dinner — which was heavily dominated by vegetables and herbs from Ms. Obama’s kitchen garden served on ‘Bush’ cutlery — introduced by the former First Lady Laura Bush. “We feel privileged to be invited to the first state banquet under your presidency. You do us, and India, great honour by this gesture,” Dr. Singh told Mr. Obama in reciprocation to his warm welcome.
Ahead of the dinner, Dr. Singh raised a toast to “the health and happiness of Mr. Obama, Ms. Obama, the friendly people of the United States and the stronger and stronger ties between the people of the U.S. and India.”
While he wished the Americans “a happy thanksgiving,” day, marked on the fourth Thursday of November in the U.S., Mr. Obama greeted his guests with the words — “Aapka Swagat Hai.” He pointed out that the White House had celebrated both Diwali and the birthday of Guru Nanak.
While ending his toast to Dr. Singh , Mr. Obama recalled the words of the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of India’s independence, “The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us... it is the future that beckons to us now.”