Opinion: Diet-schmiet, Obama packs away the exotica at India state dinner

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No, Mr. President, you don’t eat the hot towel.

The very first state dinner that the already departed social secretary Desiree Rogers threw at the Obama White House was for Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, not to be confused with the gatecrashing Salahis, who attended anyway and have been milking their infamy ever since. State dinners aside, the Obamas have roiled the Washington social set with their new rules prohibiting mingling and a reception line.

But in New Delhi, Singh returned the favor for the Obamas on Monday night, sitting on the American president’s right while India’s president, Pratibha Patil, sat on Obama’s left.

And what a spread the hosts laid on for their 170 guests.

No cheesburgers with mayo and fries or pastrami with cole slaw for the nation’s First Family of Fast Food Eaters. But both the Democratic president and his ardent healthy-eating advocate wife, Michelle, appeared to enjoy themselves.

They had fish tikka achari, shahi zeera pulao and chicken shami kebab.

Also pista murg and balak papri chat and sunehri kalai lamb.

And for dignitary veggie lovers, mahrani hara pyaz, kyoti dal and the always popular bharwan parwal.


Herbal teas, of course. And breads from rotis to naan. Also churipayas.

The magnificent setting was the sprawling Mughai Gardens in an open tent. An Indian....

...naval band played popular Hindi and English music. And last Tuesday’s disastrous midterm election results seemed six days away. In a gross breach of FDA protocol, the official menu did not include a calorie count or fat content, saturated or otherwise. Also, as is the custom, there were toasts all around. Being a Real Good Talker, Obama’s was four minutes long. Full text down below.

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- Andrew Malcolm

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President Obama’s toast at the India state dinner, as provided by the White House


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Madam President, thank you for your very gracious words and for the example of your leadership that inspires so many women, as well as men, across this nation. I was observing that one of the reasons I think India is doing so well is because it has so many strong women leaders. (Applause.) I want to thank you and Dr. Shekhawat for hosting us this evening, and your extraordinary hospitality.

To our dear friends, Prime Minister Singh and Mrs. Kour; to distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Michelle and I, we just want to thank you for this extraordinary expression of friendship between our two nations.

I’ve done a lot of speaking today, so I want to be relatively brief. We’ve learned several things from this trip in India. We’ve learned that despite geographic distances between our nations, we are now closer than ever before. We’ve learned that although we may have traveled different paths to reach this moment in history, that we can walk towards the future together. We’ve also learned that no matter how hard I try, Michelle will always be a better dancer. (Laughter.)

Let me say it’s been a particular pleasure to be here during Diwali. And last year during the state visit when Prime Minister Singh and Ms. Kour came, it was during our Thanksgiving season. And the fact that we can share some of our most meaningful holidays with each other speaks to the closeness of our countries and the values that we share as well as the common hopes for the future.

To my good friend and partner, Prime Minister Singh, from humble beginnings to high office, your life reflects all the progress and possibility of this great nation. And so all of us thank you not only for leading this nation and our partnership to new heights, but for the spirit with which you’ve led your life -- with compassion, truth, commitment, humility and love.

And to all who are gathered here tonight, and to the people of India, for the past three days you’ve opened your country to us. Like so many before, we learned that you don’t simply visit India, you experience India -- in the richness of its traditions, in its diversity, the optimism and the warmth of its people.


From extraordinarily difficult circumstances, India has achieved what many thought was impossible. And in doing so, you captured the imagination of the world. Now our two nations have a chance to do what many also thought was impossible, and that is to build a global partnership in a new century.

And so I’d like to close with the words that your President spoke in this building on the day that India declared itself a republic -- words describing how this diverse nation has stayed united and strong and because they speak to the spirit that binds our two countries together as well.

I propose a toast, knowing that our ties subsist because they are not of iron or steel or even of gold, but of the silken cords of the human spirit. Cheers. ####