They break ice, but not bread

October 01, 2014 02:29 am | Updated November 17, 2021 01:01 am IST - WASHINGTON:

It’s a dinner where every detail had been discussed threadbare even before the covers were laid. Even so, U.S. President Obama’s dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to come up with some surprises for the guests, beginning with President Obama’s greeting in Gujarati, asking Mr. Modi, “Kem Chho?” (How are you), to which Mr. Modi replied “Thank you,” in English, a break from the last few days where he has stuck to Hindi for all his interactions.

The leaders then sat down for their first face-to-face meeting, where Mr. Modi handed over his carefully-chosen gifts to President Obama, including a version of the “Bhagavat Gita according to Gandhi,” based on a series of lectures the Mahatma had given on the sacred text.

The book was covered in Khadi, and is the running theme of the PM’s gifts in bilateral meetings in the past few months, as he gave Japanese PM Shinzo Abe as well as Emperor Akihito a Bhagavad Gita, and Chinese President Xi Jinping a Mandarin version of the book. Speaking in Tokyo last month, Mr. Modi had explained, “I don’t think that I have anything more to give and the world also does not have anything more to get than this.”

The White House would not confirm if President Obama had reciprocated with any gifts.

The leaders and delegations of about 18 officials then sat down to an elaborate dinner, which Michelle Obama skipped. Officials said this was not unusual, as the First Lady has her own schedule, and has missed several bilateral events including the meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

Mr. Modi, who is fasting, urged everyone else to continue with their meal, while he sipped lukewarm water throughout. The 3-course meal had a few Indian touches, much like the menu served to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009, from “roti crisps” to “saffron basmati rice”.

The main course however, was non-vegetarian, unlike the completely vegetarian meal in 2009.

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