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An evening with the stars, under the stars

President Bush may have expected pleasant, unchallenging conversation at the end of a long and tiring day with his Indian counterpart. Instead, he was treated to a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation on India's energy and security needs by the scientist who currently makes Rashtrapati Bhavan his home.

'I will do what I can do to help India, Mr President,' Bush said at the end of Kalam's presentation.

That was just the beginning of an evening of surprises.

The dinner was not held in one of Rashtrapati Bhavan's stuffy banquet halls -- despite its magnificent facade, its innards reek sarkari -- but in the awesome setting of the Mughal Gardens under a clear sky, the heavens witness to a day when the historical alliance conceived nearly eight months ago was finally consummated. A meal set against the backdrop of Rashtrapati Bhavan all glitter in lights. Usually the Presidential palace is lit up only for Republic Day and Independence Day. Thursday marked the first time Rashtrapati Bhavan was lighted up for a visiting head of State.

The new location for a Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet -- the Mughal Gardens -- was launched last fortnight when one of President Bush's least favourite leaders -- French President Jacques Chirac -- came visiting. Herbicide sprays ensure that no mosquitoes trouble the guests at dinner.

Each of the 14 tables at Thursday's dinner was named for a flower that adorns the Mughal Gardens in full bloom.

The two Presidents sat at a table named Yellow Rose (others at the table included First Lady Laura Bush, Prime Minister Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur, Sonia Gandhi and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- arguably the two most powerful women on the planet -- Chief Justice of India Y K Sabharwal, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Shivraj Patil).

Image: President A P J Abdul Kalam with President Bush and Laura Bush at Rashtrapati Bhavan, just before the dinner.

Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Also See: Even world leaders have to eat

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