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In PHOTOS: Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

November 06, 2013 11:38 IST

In PHOTOS: Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

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Aziz Haniffa

US First Lady Michelle Obama had a filmi Diwali! She "thinks she can dance", she said after she performed a Bollywood dance number with choreographer Nakul Mahajan. 

Later, addressing guests at the White House Mrs O paid a tribute
to Oak Creek gurdwara victims. Aziz Haniffa reports    

Three generations of Indian Americans were among about 200 guests invited to the White House Diwali celebration Tuesday afternoon where United States First Lady Michelle Obama stole the show. In her remarks reflecting on the message of Diwali of good over evil, she recalled the horrific massacre of Sikh worshippers at the Oak Creek gurdwara last year, as a manifestation of evil.

Emphasising the triumph of good over evil, Michelle told the captive audience in the East Room the way the Sikh community had rallied with the unstinted support of the broader community at large, showed how this awful incident had brought out the best in terms of people’s goodness and forgiveness.

After greeting the audience with a cheery "Happy Diwali", the First Lady said, "But as we gather here this Diwali, we remember that there is still evil in the world. And I’m thinking today about what happened in Oak Creek, Wisconsin just last year when an act of unthinkable violence shook a community to its core.”

”But I am also thinking of how in the face of such evil, we also witnessed the power of goodness and forgiveness,” she noted.

Michelle, who had represented her husband President Barack Obama at the memorial service, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, said, “The families and community leaders I met when I visited Oak Creek just weeks after the tragedy, they showed us such courage and grace.”

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Image: First Lady Michelle Obama joins students for a Bollywood dance in the State Dining Room of the White House along with choreographer Nakul Mahajan
Photographs: White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy/Flickr

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Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

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Aziz Haniffa

She spoke of how, “Instead of giving in to bitterness or despair, they honored those they lost through service. They honoured those they lost through educating others about their faith and standing up to prejudice in whatever form it takes.”

“I’m also thinking of all the people across America and around the world, who held prayer vigils during that time and sent messages of love and support, and held the people of Oak Creek in their hearts,” she added.

At the outset, after greeting the enthusiastic audience who had given her a sustained, standing ovation, Michelle said, “It is a pleasure and an honour to welcome you all here as we celebrate Diwali.  I want to start by thanking Lt Colonel Chaudhary for his very kind introduction, but more importantly, for his outstanding service to our country. I also want to recognise Kiran Ahuja, who is working very hard in this administration, for her leadership.”

Ahuja is the executive director of the President’s Council on Asian American and Pacific Islanders that is based within the White House.

Michelle then gave a shout out to Nakul Mahajan, the famous Bollywood choreographer of the ‘So You Think You Can Dance Show’ fame as well as the choreographer of Miss America Nina Davuluri, who had earlier in the afternoon led Bollywood dance session with the First Lady and several Indian American students from the DC area in the White House State Room.

“I want to give a special hello and thank you to Nakul, who is here.  I know he is in his jeans and t-shirt now, but we got to practice a little Bollywood this afternoon,” she said to peals of laughter.

And Michelle added, acknowledging some of the students who were seated in the first row, “We have many of the young people who were there with us today.  We got moves, right?” 

“But Nakul is here from one of my favorite shows on the planet -- ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’  It is.  And, of course, as you all know, I think I can dance,” she said to more laughter. “But not as good as they can dance,” she said, pointing to the children again. “But we had a wonderful time, and I think, as Nakul pointed out, it was the first time that we did Bollywood in the State Room here at the White House. So well done, to all my fellow dancers.”

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Image: Mythili Bachi chairperson the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple garlands Michelle Obama at the Diwali celebrations


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Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

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Aziz Haniffa

And Michelle wasn’t done, giving the kids their more than a few minutes of fame. “We had a wonderful time, didn’t we, kids?  All the -- hands of the kids who were there. We had fun! It was fun!  And they did a great job.  They did a wonderful job.”

Then it was time to give the [resident a plug as the first president of the history of the United States to have attended a Diwali celebration in the White House.

Although the tradition began in the George W Bush administration, President Bush never attended any Diwali bash at the White House, being represented by either his senior adviser Karl Rove or some other senior White House official.

The First Lady said, “As you may know, we’ve celebrated this holiday here at the White House every year since Barack took office. And there’s a reason why we've done that, and I mentioned it to the kids -- when we say that we want to make the White House the ‘people’s house, we mean all people.”

“We mean that we want to honour and embrace all of the many cultures and faith traditions that make us who we are as Americans.  And Diwali is very much one of those traditions,” she said. 

Michelle added, “As you know, this holiday is celebrated by members of some of the world’s oldest religions not just here in America but across the globe.  Diwali is a time for celebration. So we learned today -- children, all smiles. Smiles. As Barack and I learned during our visit to India, it’s a time to come together with friends and family, often with dancing and good food.”

“But Diwali is also a time for contemplation and reflection.  It’s a time for us to think about our obligations to our fellow human beings, particularly those who are less fortunate than we are. And as we light the diya -- the lamp -- we recommit ourselves to the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil,” she said, and then referred to the Oak Creek massacre.

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Image: Lt Col Ravi Chaudhary with Michelle Obama at the White House


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Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

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Aziz Haniffa

In this regard, Michelle said, “Today, as we further reflect upon the power of courage and grace, I am also thinking of all of the women and men of every faith and background who are serving and enriching this country so greatly every single day -- folks like Lt Colonel Chaudhary, and so many men and women here today who are serving our countries as well as their families, who serve right along with them and make that service possible.  I'm thinking about all of you today.” 

“I'm also thinking about folks like Nakul, and the members of Goldspot, who are leaders in the arts and bring us joy through music and dance. I'm also thinking of folks like Kiran, and so many others who are in leadership in this administration, who make our work so completely possible through their dedication,” she said.

She then showered kudos on the Indian American community, saying and the people of the Diaspora, saying, “All of you, all of you here, all of you around the world, you all are the bright shining lights for this country and such extraordinary role models for all of the young people who are here with us today.”

“And I want our young people, as you sit in this room, to think about all these wonderful role models are doing and how it is our expectation that you too live up to that, right, with smiles on your faces. And I am so proud and so honored to be celebrating this beautiful holiday at the White House with all of you.  I want to thank you for everything that you do for our communities and for this country.”

Then once again wishing everyone Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak, she lit the diya while Janaki Ram Marthi, a priest from the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple recited a shloka and Mythili Bachi, chairperson the SSVT garlanded the First Lady and gave her a big hug.

Earlier, Gautam Raghavan, associate director at the White House Office of Public Engagement for Asian American and Pacific Islanders, who organised the event, welcomed the guests and pointed out, “This is the fifth year in a row that this administration has celebrated Diwali at the White House, and this year, we are so, so honored to be joined by a very special guest.” He then called on Chaudhary to introduce the First Lady.

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Image: Michelle Obama hugs Lt Colonel Chaudhary


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Michelle Obama's Bollywood Diwali bash

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Aziz Haniffa

In his rousing introduction, Chaudhary said, “It is my special privilege to introduce an individual who embodies the spirit of Diwali…each and every day, by inspiring Americans from all walks of life to pursue careers of service.”

“From addressing childhood obesity to ensuring all our children reach their full potential in school, she truly brings out the best in all of us -- and to be as Gandhi put it -- the change we wish to see in the world.”

But Chaudhary said, “It is her work supporting America’s veterans and their families that has truly captured my heart. She has delivered their story directly to communities all across America…and made supporting military families a national priority.”

“Some of these heroes are sitting among you today…their proud uniforms on display, ready to give their all and say, ‘Send me’ without a moment’s hesitation,” he said.

Chaudhary added, “Through her leadership with ‘Joining Forces’ our veterans now have a stronger voice, and a bright diya charting the path through the periods of uncertainty that military families often face. And it is her unwavering spirit of devotion and commitment that the men and women serving in bunkers, ships and aircraft all over the world can be thankful for on this Diwali.”

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Image: Michelle Obama with Mythili Bachi at the White House Diwali bash


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