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Chai with the President

August 16, 2007

They must really reserve the first row for women," says the lady behind me, annoyed that her view of the proceedings is blocked by "these men." "After all, what's the point in having a lady President?"

We are At Home with the President -- twice a year, on Independence Day and Republic Day, the First Citizen hosts a tea party at Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] for about a thousand people.

This year's At Home is different. It is the first event hosted by the new President, and a lady President at that. It is also the Delhi elite's first glimpse of the new Rashtrapati in person.

The At Homes hosted by the previous incumbent were notable for the response they evoked -- as noted earlier by this correspondent, they were akin to receptions for a rockstar.

The folks who circle the area around which the President, vice-president, prime minister etc sit are not several layers deep as in A P J Abdul Kalam's time, but the reception is curious, and respectful.

Though she has been a politician for over 40 years, Pratibha Patil [Images] is clearly not one of those excessively enthu netas who kisses kids and works the crowds. Nor is she like her predecessor who knew exactly how to get the audience on his side. There is a quiet dignity about her at the event that confounds and eventually impresses the diehard sceptic.

Unlike the At Homes of the last five years, this one is unusual that it has the President's family in attendance. Dr Devi Singh Shekhawat, the President's husband, in whose name the invitation also went out, seems rather lost early in the evening as Sonia Gandhi [Images], Gursharan Kaur, the prime minister's wife, and former First Lady Vimla Devi confer with each other, unused to the presence of a Presidential spouse, and a man at that, in their midst. President Patil's extended family is also present -- a motley crew of women, who like her, cover their heads and kids who are trendily attired.

Text: Nikhil Lakshman | Photographs: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Next: The Folks at the 'At Home'

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