State Dinner Perfect Mix Of Personable, Formal

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At President's Obama's first state dinner Tuesday night, the menu was largely vegetarian in homage to India's Prime Minister Singh. Guests feasted on red lentil soup and roasted potato dumplings or green curry prawns. Plus an arugula salad from the White House garden and pumpkin pie to top it off.


Out of respect for the Indian prime minister, the menu at last night's state dinner was largely vegetarian. Guests feasted on red lentil soup, roasted potato dumplings and green curry prawns, plus an arugula salad from the White House garden, and pumpkin pie.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there.

ANDREA SEABROOK: It may have some of the trappings of a Hollywood red carpet event, but nothing tops a state dinner's guest list.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and Gentleman, the president of the United States and Mrs. Michelle Obama accompanied by his Excellency the Prime Minister of the Republic of India and Mrs. Kaur.

(Soundbite of "Hail to the Chief")

SEABROOK: The two couples glided into the darkened room and began greeting guests. Director Steven Spielberg, entrepreneur David Geffen, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There were also many prominent Indian Americans: Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, physician and author Deepak Chopra, and many more.

President BARACK OBAMA: Good evening, everyone. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. (Hindi spoken)

SEABROOK: In Hindi, you are welcome here. The tables, draped in apple green linens with vibrant purple centerpieces and flickering candles, were spread throughout a tent on the south lawn of the White House. The ceiling was vaulted and transparent, and 12 enormous chandeliers hovered below, their arms wrapped in ivy. The whole room had a kind of "Midsummer Night's Dream" feeling, and the president seemed to echo that in his toast.

Pres. OBAMA: For it's been said that the most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us. Mr. Prime Minister, today we work to fulfill our duty, bring our countries closer together than ever before.

SEABROOK: Mr. Obama spoke of the more than two million Indian-Americans in this country, with leaders in science, history, art, and government. He likened the two country's great moral leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, and he toasted to the future of the United States and India. Prime Minister Singh responded.

Prime Minister MANMOHAN SINGH (India): We are overwhelmed by the warmth of your hospitality, the courtesy you have extended to us personally, and the grace and charm of the first lady. Mr. President...

(Soundbite of applause)

SEABROOK: Singh tried to go on, but - spontaneous applause from the dinner guests praising First Lady Michelle Obama. By now, Mrs. Obama is expected to be the perfect mix of personable and formal, poise and personality, and she did not disappoint. She looked stunning in a glittering strapless dress, the color of champagne, her arm lined with dozens of Indian bangle bracelets twinkling in the camera flashes. It was a detail that reminded you that this dinner was an international affair and that while by now Americans are used to saying President Obama, the rest of the world is still impressed by his election to the nation's highest office. Singh said it best.

Prime Minister SINGH: Mr. President, your journey to the White House has captured the imagination of millions and millions of people in India. You are an inspiration to all those who cherish the values of democracy, diversity, and equal opportunity.

(Soundbite of applause)

SEABROOK: He finished his toast saying India and the United States must play a leading role in building a shared destiny for all humankind. One last surprise to the evening, as waiters whisked away dessert plates, the back wall of the tent, which had been draped in green, suddenly opened like a curtain.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentleman, Marvin Hamlisch and the National Symphony Orchestra.

(Soundbite of applause and music)

SEABROOK: It was fitting mix of glamour and diplomacy for President Obama's first state dinner.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)


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