Sunday, September 28, 2014


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fast During White House Dinner

Indian Prime Minister's Visit to U.S. Coincides With Strict Religious Fast, Posing Etiquette Challenge

Sept. 25, 2014 5:52 p.m. ET
During his visit to the U.S., Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has plans for a private dinner with President Barack Obama and lunch with Vice President Joe Biden. There's one complication. He won't be eating.
Mr. Modi arrives Friday in the middle of a strict nine-day religious fast, raising a delicate question for the White House: How do you host a dinner for a foreign leader who is forgoing food?
Such visits are meticulously choreographed, with months of planning and entire dossiers devoted to guests' dietary restrictions and religious beliefs. An extended fast is an unusual challenge, said Walter Scheib, a former longtime White House executive chef, who said he couldn't recall a similar situation.
Every leader "has different concerns, from the prosaic, such as I don't eat garlic, to this one—I don't eat," Mr. Scheib said. While he noted that the White House is adroit when it comes to etiquette, the arrangement at dinner has the potential to be slightly awkward. "It's very bad form to sit in front of fasting guests and eat heartily," he said. "It's just not polite."
Administration officials have been tight-lipped about what, if anything, the president and vice president will eat during meals with Mr. Modi. During the nine days of Navratri, a Hindu festival, the menu for the prime minister consists only of water and perhaps a bit of lime water.
"No food, no juices, no substitutes," said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The prime minister has been observing the fast for 40 years and it doesn't affect his energy levels or his work, Mr. Kohli said. This five-day trip could test that proposition. Mr. Modi has an ambitious schedule encompassing nearly three dozen engagements in Washington, D.C., and New York, including addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Australia
Enthusiasm is building for the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who will be arriving in New York this Friday, September 26, 2014. Adapa Prasad of the Indian-American Community Foundation believes, “It is the biggest event ever for any state head visiting the United States.” Modi’s Madison Square Garden address tickets are selling out quickly as city planners ramp up their efforts to run additional trains and subways to meet audience demand. Other methods of support are also making an appearance, strangely enough, in the form of ink. India’s Daily News and Analysis reports that some Modi fans are endorsing the Prime Minister’s visit by tattooing themselves with the faces of Modi and Obama.

The Prime Minister’s visit is definitely creating a sense of excitement, as well as diplomatic concerns in other areas. Traditional protocol for the White House is to provide a state dinner for visiting diplomats like Prime Minister Modi. However, on this occasion, the Prime Minister’s visit coincides with the nine-day observation of the Navratri, a Hindu festival that begins on September 25 (2014) and ends on October 3. And while Navratri Vrat rules do make allowances for several flours, grains, spices and herb -  strict Hindus will maintain a liquid fast for the full nine days. Prime Minister Modi has kept the appointed fast for over 35 years. Narendra Modi does allow himself the intake of lemonade and honey.

I can definitely say that this kind of situation has never happened in the 11 years that I was there.  However, I will also concur that the White House staff and the first families will go out of their way to provide a gracious and hospitable visit to all guests. I’m certain that the Prime Minister will be cared for and all of his needs will be satisfied. Besides that, it is also a great opportunity for the beekeepers at the White House to make Prime Minister Modi’s visit a little more comfortable by providing him with some of the homegrown honey from the garden. 

Prime Minister Modi with School Children

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I will never forget the brave young wish kid that I met during the Clinton administration while at the White House.  This kid, who was carrying the burden of a life-threatening illness, had been granted a wish to meet President Clinton.  I would describe him as being somewhat of a sage, way beyond his 12 young tender years.  I greeted him on the tour and we had a chance to talk.  I'm not sure how our conversation started, but he must have sensed something in me that expressed a note of sorrow. He looked at me and stated very matter of factly, "The only difference between you and me is that I know when I'm going to die.  You've got a problem in the meantime.  Because right now, I'm going to live my life."

The knowledge and courage that was expressed from this young guest at the White House still echo at me. His words instill a sense of humility and mindfulness of the short time we have been allotted. 

Recently, I received a phone call from Make-A-Wish Southern Florida Foundation.  They asked me to help them with a dinner.  I played a small role in hosting the talk that night, but I was more than happy to help out.  It is truly an amazing thing to know how little efforts can help grant wishes that fuel a multitude of dreams.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is guided by the principle that one wish can be life changing.

Margie, a mom whose son received a granted wish, said it best - "Spending time in and out of hospitals is a stark reminder of the fragility of Elias' condition and the need to make the most of every moment with him.  The wish experience did just that; it gave us so many memories to remember - moments of joy.  Elias' wish day is still remembered by our family as the most joyous experience of our lives."

More wish stories here