‘They played Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo At The White House’

‘It was beautifully played by an American band.’

He hosted a young ‘karyakarta‘ named Narendra Modi at his home in Chicago in September 1993.

He hosted Prime Minister Modi at Madison Square Garden in 2019 and at the Ronald Reagan Center in Washingon, DC last week.

Dr Bharat Barai was also one of the special guests at the State dinner Jill and Joe Biden hosted at the White House in the Indian prime minister’s honour last week.

Born in Bombay and raised in Baroda, Dr Barai graduated from the Medical College in Baroda and moved to the US to do his MD in oncology and in hematology.

He taught at the Indiana University Medical School for 30 years, is the longest serving member of the medical licensing board for the state of Indiana and has been actively involved with many community organisations in the Chicago area.

As the chairman of the US-India Community Foundation he was responsible for the diaspora event which was held at the Ronald Reagan Center for Prime Minister Modi during his State visit.

In the first of a three-part interview with Rediff.com US Contributor Abhijit J Masih, Dr Barai shares his recollections of attending the State dinner on June 22.

“We didn’t expect to be invited because even though we know the prime minister, I have no where the social or economic stature of a Sundar Pichai or Tim Cook or Mukesh Ambani or Anand Mahindra,” says Dr Barai.

When did you get the invitation for the State dinner?

Just a week before.

We didn’t expect to be invited because even though we know the prime minister, I have no where the social or economic stature of a Sundar Pichai or Tim Cook or Mukesh Ambani or Anand Mahindra.

So we did not even prepare for it.

Then six days before, we got a text message from the consul general (of India in Chicago), asking all the security information.

We had already provided that for the Congressional address (at the joint session of the US Congress on the afternoon of on June 22, 2023) and also for going to the welcome ceremony in the morning ( at the White House on June 22, 2023). But they asked it the third time and interestingly, this time the question was also dietary preference.

That alerted me. So we didn’t share it with anybody, not even with our children. But me and my wife thought that maybe we should be prepared.

The next day, I got the confirmation and we got the invitation by e-mail. So I had to hurry to go and get a tuxedo because I didn’t have one.

What was it like when you entered the White House in the evening for the State dinner?

Around the White House and its outer gates, there were obviously the security people. They checked your credentials, invitation, your name etc.

Then at every 10 feet or so there were immaculately dressed White House guards. They were all very courteous, smiling and said, ‘Welcome, Sir’.

I think there were 180 couples that were invited.

How were the arrangements inside the White House?

There were musicians and not one or two, probably 20-25 musicians lined up along the way as you go through.

Then we reached the room where they were offering drinks and that is where the cameras were.

They gave us two cards with the name and one of the officers asked how he should announce our names.

Everywhere there was somebody to greet you, smile at you and guide you. That’s where we met all these VIPs and talked to them.

Did the guests get to meet Prime Minister Modi and President Biden?

In the next room there was a line-up of the prime minister, President Biden and the First Lady. So one by one, they introduced you to them, got a photograph with the President and the prime ,minister and then go to the next round (of guests_.

They took us in special buses to the area where the dinner was set.

Who was at your table?

Victoria Nuland, (US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) she was sitting right next to me.

An interesting thing had happened earlier that day. I had received a call from Moscow to interview me later that night.

So I was sitting next to Victoria, and we had a nice conversation about US-India relations; she had been to India just about a month ago. And right then I get a WhatsApp message from Moscow to confirm the interview.

I just smiled and showed my phone to Victoria. She saw Moscow and was stunned. I told her, I’ll talk to them very appropriately.

What is your favorite memory of the State dinner?

There was an orchestra playing; very immaculately dressed. One of the pieces they played was Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo.

It was beautifully played by an American band.

Photographs curated by Manisha Kotian/Rediff.com
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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