The sandstone fountains have been scrubbed clean, the marble steps and columns wiped to perfection, security details tied up and the men in uniform have been rigorously preparing to offer the Guard of Honour as U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival draws close.
This is the second visit of the Obamas to Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the President’s House is pulling out all the stops to welcome the guests.
In the kitchens, where the menu is being planned, the discussions are shrouded in as much secrecy and detailing as the U.S. President’s security. Rashtrapati Bhavan khansamas (chefs), known for their culinary ingenuity, want to outdo themselves. Prodding about the menu only elicits smiles. They are not ready to give away any information just yet.
During his last visit in 2010, Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were hosted at a banquet in the verdant Mughal Gardens of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The chefs had wowed them with achari fish tikka, chicken shami kebab, palak papri chaat, pista murgh and an assortment of breads and desserts, including pineapple halwa (pudding) and puran poli (a sweet dish).
The venue for the ceremonial dinner being hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee will be the newly opened Ceremonial Hall.
The U.S. President and the First Lady will also be treated to a 25-minute cultural programme, which will showcase the traditional dance forms of India.
Mr. Obama will be accorded the Guard of Honour on the morning of January 25 and will be hosted at the banquet the same evening. He will also attend the ‘At Home’ hosted by Mr. Mukherjee on January 26, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his entire team of Ministers, diplomats and the who’s who of society.
Mr. Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmishtha, who is contesting the Delhi Assembly polls, will not play the hostess this time. Before joining the Congress, she used to step in for her mother, Surva Mukherjee, who has not been keeping good health.