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'The queen of America had come'
Archana Masih in New Delhi | March 02, 2006 19:16 IST
Last Updated: March 03, 2006 10:38 IST
Laura Bush was early.
It was just by five minutes, but when powerful dignitaries arrive before time, it does leave a mark.
So when the American First Lady arrived in her gleaming limousine at Prayas, the home for abused children in Tughlaqabad in
After that, the hour-long visit went like a dream.
Prayas had seen other important guests before -- like the princess of Bhutan, former American deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, Bollywood actors Manisha Koirala and Jackie Shroff -- but never had someone of the stature of Laura Bush come calling.
Obviously, Seema, Arti and Shilpa, who had to welcome her with bouquets, were nervous. They had stood in position for over an hour to make sure everything went as rehearsed.
Arti, 18, a mute girl, explained in sign language that they had prepared for seven days for the big day and would have liked to see Mrs Bush stay longer with them.
Seema, the oldest of the three, an alumnus of Prayas, had travelled from a shelter home in Kolkata for the event.
"She was so cute, spoke so gently and was so well dressed. In
Shilpa, all of eight years old, the youngest and most shy, pulled the gift from her lap that the First Lady gave her – a visiting card which said 'Laura Bush' and a light blue diary on which was embossed 'The Seal of the President of the United States.'
Another group of children had practiced for a dance performance for Laura Bush. Decked in traditional finery in tune with a Rajasthani theme, the kids performed a folk dance soon after the bouquets were given to Mrs Bush.
"She loved our dance, said thank you to us and we said welcome," said a little girl through her rather large nath (traditional nose ring extending from the nose to the ears). "You know who she was?" another sprightly girl questioned precociously. "
Laura Bush was accompanied by Jeannie Mulford, wife of American Ambassador to India David Mulford. Security, naturally, had been strict.
The names of all children along with details like father's name, home address, date of birth, colour of skin had been sent to the
After the traditional welcome, Laura Bush saw the various vocational training courses run by the shelter and then went on to the most important part of her morning programme – a roundtable with Sartaj, 12, Karishma, 12, Komal, 14 and Tabassum, 16.
'"Good Morning, I'm Laura Bush,' this is how she introduced herself," said Tabassum. "She said she liked talking with children and had been a librarian."
The girls asked her few questions and her answers were translated to them in Hindi. "We asked her if there was discrimination between boys and girls in
"We asked her whether poor children found it difficult to go to school like it was in India and she said that sometimes teachers went to childrens' home to teach or kids went to special centres to study," Tabassum said.
After some coaxing, a quiet Kashmira said: "We asked if children in
One child who had suffered abuse wanted to know if children suffered abuse in
The First Lady admitted there were problems of trafficking, child neglect and abuse. Most of such exploited children received foster care support.
"We liked her very much. She looked so pretty, her makeup was perfect and she wore such nice clothes," said Komal.
The First Lady gave the children diaries, White House mementoes, soft toys and sweets. While Prayas gave Mrs Bush a candlestand and a Madubani painting.
After spending an hour and eight minutes at Prayas, Laura Bush signed the visitors book and wrote: 'With thanks for your devotion to children and with much love. Laura Bush'
When the girls had woken up at they had been nervous but by they were a confident and delighted bunch. They wanted to share their experience with everyone who asked them about it and wanted their pictures shot. They danced to dhols long after Laura Bush had left and got an American to join them too.
Her husband may be the most powerful man on earth. He may have signed a landmark nuclear deal with
Photographs: courtesy Prayas
Photographs: courtesy Prayas