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'It was an outstanding vegetarian meal'

By ABHIJIT J MASIH
June 30, 2023 12:29 IST
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'I was amazed at how tasty it was.'
'They did a good job with millets and lentils, which Mr Modi liked.'

IMAGE: Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria, left, with Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani at the State dinner for Prime Minister Narendra D Modi at the White House, June 22, 2023. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria

Born in Amritsar, Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria now lives in the Washington, DC area and can be found in all the high places.

He was invited to the State dinner at the White House last week in Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's honour.

Dr Sekhsaria considers himself a data-driven scientist who did a fellowship of four years in allergy, asthma and immunology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under the broad guidance of the celebrated Dr Anthony Fauci.

Besides being a busy physician, Dr Sekhsaria has also been actively involved in community service and politics.

He was instrumental in the campaign of Aruna Miller becoming the first Indian-American to be elected lieutenant governor of any State in the United States.

"I think Jill Biden and President Biden paid attention to every minute detail of the State dinner." Dr Sekhsaria tells Rediff.com US Contributor Abhijit J Masih.

 

How did you get involved in community service and politics?

I'm born a Hindu. I don't know what it exactly means, but for the last 30 years, the only faith I worship and practice is Sikhism.

I truly get a lot of meditative peace from the Guru Granth Sahib. To me, that is my guide or mentor.

Most of my community initiative is just humanitarian service.

I truly, truly, believe that is part of our duty.

It is your duty in life to help the needy and impoverished. God has given you that duty.

IMAGE: Dr Sekhsaria with External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the State dinner. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria

How did you get involved in Aruna Miller's campaign to become the first Indian American lieutenant governor in the US?

About 10 or 12 years ago, I had hosted Aruna Miller at my house for a fundraiser, when she was running for a delegate seat initially.

Since that time, I found her to be such an amazing person, very warm, and very sincere.

You won't find all these politicians to be sincere. They just take your money and then barely know who you are.

She, on the other hand, is just the opposite of that. She's very sincere to each individual and the community.

Since that time, I've been very closely involved with her.

Who would you root for in the 2024 Presidential race?

I'm a very hardcore anti-Trump person, given the fact that he's throwing the democracy of our country or at least tried to. So, I don't stand for that.

It's a little bit of a dilemma. I will not support Trump at all.

Biden has done some good work.

However, his age does bother me a lot. By the time he'll be done (if he is elected to a second term), he'll be 86 years old.

I also worry that if he is the nominee that is facing a younger Republican nominee, can he beat that person?

IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden raise a toast at the State dinner at the White House, June 22, 2023. Photograph: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

You were invited to the State dinner at the White House during Prime Minister Modi's visit.

I was not, of course, high on the list.

I was given an invitation approximately a week before the meeting.

I only had one slot so I went there without my wife.

She's a very low-key person, but this is the one event that she wished she would have attended.

She was almost tearful, given the fact it was a State dinner.

What was your impression of the State dinner?

I was completely blown away by how they do it. It is so amazing.

It is like an event you can't even dream or imagine.

The walk to the White House, displays right from the moment you start, people performing with their instruments along the way for you.

Their faces are so warm, they welcome you to the White House. It's an outstanding event.

I don't think you will ever get the red carpet treatment, as in this State dinner.

IMAGE: Dr Sekhsaria with Victoria Nuland, the US under secretary of state for political affairs. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria

What was it like when you entered the dining area?

There were several hundred people from the armed forces welcoming you.

Then you finally reach the main hall, which was a tent created outside on the South Lawn of the White House.

The tent itself was mind-blowing. It was so beautifully constructed.

I think Jill Biden and President Biden paid attention to every minute detail of the State dinner.

They were highly involved with every little planning and did a fantastic job with all the decorations and all the food.

How was the meal?

It was an outstanding vegetarian meal. I was amazed at how tasty it was.

They did a good job with millets and lentils, which Mr Modi liked. They were healthy for us anyways.

The salad was outstanding and the main course was vegetarian but very good, and each person had the option of getting fish.

Who did you sit next to?

It was a table of 10 people. I was sitting next to Victoria Nuland, who is a pretty smart and amazing lady.

Also next to Dr Rahul Gupta, who is the drug policy director for the country.

Mr Sanjay Govil, a very amazing businessman who has started the new MLC (Major League Cricket) called Washington Freedom.

Mr Modi in his speech spoke about cricket coming to America. So it was very good that Sanjay Govil, a close friend, was at my table.

IMAGE: Dr Sekhsaria with US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken as Blinken's wife Evan Ryan, a cabinet secretary in the White House, looks on at the State dinner. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Sudhir Sekhsaria

Did the guests get a chance to meet or speak to Prime Minister Modi?

It was difficult. We all had to go to a photo-opp room where each individual got a picture with Mr Biden and Mr Modi.

Subsequently, at the State dinner, you could go and talk to him briefly for a minute or two.

He did converse with anybody who went up to him for like two to three minutes, some people even longer.

I saw him conversing with a Bohri person for at least five to ten minutes.

He also conversed with Sanjay Govil for a few minutes about cricket.

People could go around the room and talk to all the other luminaries.

As you can imagine, there were some major, very smart, CEOs of major corporations in this country including Google (Sunder Pichai), Microsoft (Satya Nadella), Micron (Sanjay Mehrotra) and FedEx (Raj Subramaniam).

Did you attend the official welcome ceremony?

Yes, I did. The welcome ceremony was totally outstanding and so beautiful. So well done again by the White House.

I have to give the White House all the credit for that planning and organisation.

They opened the doors for so many Indian Americans to witness the ceremony for a foreign dignitary, except for the Pope.

What do you think of Prime Minister Modi's visit?

It was a clear message of the very strong relationship between the two countries.

I think the friendship has grown and grown to a very strong level.

The State visit ended up being very good from an economic and defense perspective.

Overall, I would appreciate if there was peace and prosperity amongst the world and especially amongst India and its neighbors. Only then can people prosper.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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