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September 18, 2000



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The Vajpayee visit E-Mail this report to a friend

Stars glitter at Bill & Hillary's dinner for PM

Savera R Someshwar in Washington DC

United States President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a state banquet at the White House in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's honour.

The banquet was Vajpayee's last formal function in Washington.

Earlier in the evening, the prime minister received a ceremonial sendoff from Blair House, where he has been living while in Washington from September 13. Two bands struck up tunes as the prime minister thanked the staff at Blair House. The cavalcade then departed for the White House.

The PM wearing yet another crisp black bandhgala -- arrived at the south portico at 6.45 pm. He was warmly received by the First Couple as a ceremonial band played a welcome tune in the background. Hillary Clinton, looking particularly attractive in a maroon-red strapless gown embroidered with gold, a small shawl resting on her elbows -- held Vajpayee's hand in a double-handed shake as she exchanged pleasantries with him for a couple of minutes.

The president dressed in a black tuxedo then escorted his wife and the prime minister to the pavilion on the lower south grounds of the White House for dinner. The only other leaders for whom an official banquet was hosted on the South Lawn were Japan, China and Nelson Mandela.

Earlier in the week, Clinton admitted he was receiving an unprecedented amount of requests for the dinner. This, despite the fact that the banquet he would host for the prime minister, would see the largest number of invitees 698 in particular -- for any official White House dinner in his administration.

Chandeliers gleamed in the south lawn pavilion; beautiful cream curtain graced its walls. The tables were set with gold base plates; cream china was used for service. Gold flatware was set on pomegranate bonaventure damask tablecloths. Gold hurricane candles adorned each table, surrounded by an abundance of fall fruits grapes, lychee nuts, pomegranates and pears. Flowers like the wartah protea, ambiance, message roses hydrangea, bromelaid stems and pepperberry were also used in the centerpieces. Crystal votive candles completed the centerpieces.

The president's oval-shaped table, centred at the front of the pavilion, was raised on a dais. Besides the president, his wife and the prime minister, the table also seated Ranjan Bhattacharya, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Najma Heptullah and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra.

For the toast, the president chose from a wine list that included Wolffer Vineyards Chardonnay 'Estate' 1997, Callaghan Vineyards 'Buena Suerte Cuvee' 1997 and Tualatin Estate 'Semi Sparking' Muscat 1999.

The menu included Darjeeling tea smoked poussin, chilled green pea and cilantro soup, marble potatoes, wild copper river salmon, red kuri squash and rice bean ragout, Swiss chard custard, garlic-Chanterelle emulsion, young greens and herb salad, heirloom tomatoes, dry aged cheese blossom and 25-year-old sherry dressing.

For dessert, the guests had a choice of mango and banner lotus, litchis and raspberry sauce, 'a majestic tiger's delight,' honey almond squares and chocolate coconut bars.

Following the dinner, the guests were entertained with selections of Mozart's music by the Lincoln Centre's Chamber Music Society, New York's premier repertory company.

Spotted among the invitees were Sycame chairman and billionaire Gururaj Deshpande, McKinsey Managing Director Rajat Gupta, InfoUSA Chairman Vinod Gupta, former finance secretary and currently India's representative to the IMF Vijay Kelkar, Silicon Spice founder Vinod Dham, United Airlines President Rono Dutta, Vijay Amritraj, Sabeer Bhatia, Dr Deepak Chopra, Tarun Das (director general, CII), Mrs Zakir Hussain and their daughter Anisa, Farooq Kathwari, Pulitzer award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, Shashikant Ruia (chairman, Essar), astronaut Kalpana Chawla and director Manoj 'Night' Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) and his wife, CNN anchor Riz Khan, Miss World 1997 Diana Hayden, apart from actress Goldie Hawn (escorted by companion Kurt Russell's son Boston), her former co-star Chevy Chase, singer Melissa Etheridge, author Elie Wiesel, South Asia expert Dr Francine R Frankel, and model-activist Christie Brinkley.

Later in the evening, Clinton presented Vajpayee a Tiffany's hand-crafted sterling silver cache pot with an engraved inscription. Its etched border design was inspired by a cornice found in the president's Oval Office. It also has an etched floral design taken from the fireplaces in the Green and Red Rooms of the White House. The flower in the centre is a dogwood blossom, a common tree in the president's home state, Arkansas. The presidential seal is engraved on the bottom of the piece.

The cache pot was exclusively designed as a gift for Clinton to present to his guests on the occasion of an official visit.

He also gifted members of the Indian delegation with unique Gray Hawn watercolour portraits, with an inscription commemorating Vajpayee's visit to Washington.

The prime minister, in his turn, gifted Clinton a glass sculpture of Lord Ganesha, specially created by Anjolie Ela Menon. He also presented Hillary Clinton with a diamond bracelet.

Vajpayee was more animated during the dinner than he had been on most of his trip in the US. After the meal, the prime minister was driven to the Andrews Air Base, where he was received by the US chief of protocol. After a 19 gun salute, he bid farewell to senior members of the Indian embassy in Washington before he flew back home via Frankfurt.

rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!

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