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March 14, 2000
The US President was here
Onkar Singh in Carterpuri, Haryana
The village in 1978 had enjoyed the unique distinction of hosting an American president when Jimmy Carter came calling with his wife. Till then called Chuma Kheragaon, it was re-christened Carterpuri soon after the visit.
The villagers are disappointed that Bill Clinton's is not stopping at Caterpuri. In 1978 the village had suddenly found itself in media glare thanks to Jimmy Carter's desire to spend some time in the village where his mother had once worked as a social worker.
"A month before the presidential visit, top officials of the American embassy, along with central and state government officials, told us that the President of the United States would be visiting us. In a matter of days the village became one of the cleanest places in the entire state,'' recalls a villager.
Hordes of mediapersons descended on the village and began digging for stories. "We were told that the American president would spend at least an hour with us," says the postmaster of Carterpuri, Kartar Singh.
He has meticulously maintained all the correspondence the villagers had with the former US president through the American embassy in Delhi.
He proudly fishes out three letters Jimmy Carter and his wife Roselyen wrote to the village sarpanch Bhup Singh.
Carter and his wife spent more than 45 minutes going through the lanes and by-lanes of the village. "Of course, the focus of their attention was the haveli of Jaildar Mohammad Farz where his (Jimmy Carter's) mother had spent some time before Partition," says Kartar Singh.
Roselyen Carter mingled with the womenfolk freely. She in fact wore a Haryanvi dress and Carter had a hearty laugh when he saw her drawing ghunghat.
While bidding goodbye Carter asked Morarji Desai, the then prime minister, if he could do anything for the village.
"Morarjibhai told him that India would take care of the village."
A few days later Devi Lal called a meeting of the village panchayat and asked if anybody had any objection if the village was renamed Carterpuri. With not a voice in protest, Chuma Kheragoan got itself a new name.
"I very much appreciate the warm hospitality and friendship which you and all the people of Carterpuri extended to me when I visited your village. I have often referred to that visit since returning to America. It was without doubt one of the high points of my entire foreign travel and represented an experience I shall not soon forget. What I saw and heard from you and your friends and neighbours strengthened my conviction that regardless of our background and differences, all men and women share an aspiration for our freedom, dignity and a desire to improve our children's lives. Please convey my thanks to all the villagers of Carterpuri for their efforts in making my stop successful and so personally satisfying," Carter wrote in his letter dated January 24, 1978, addressed to Bhup Singh.
So pleased were the villagers with the response from the American president that they decided to celebrate January 3, the day of his visit, every year.
Now the villagers are aware that yet another American president is about to visit India and that Carterpuri is not on his list of must-sees. For them, it is a feeling of been there, done that, let the rest have their day in the sun now.
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