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Obama pays tribute to Gandhi

By Ed Henry, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
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Obama in India for start of Asian tour
  • Museum is a three-story home where Gandhi stayed when he was in Mumbai
  • It has historic photos and posters as well as a library with Gandhi-related works
  • Obama gets a peek at a guest book signed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1959
  • President calls visit inspiring, first lady says it was memorable

Mumbai, India (CNN) -- For a man who used to hang a framed picture of Mohandas K. Gandhi in his Senate office, President Obama declared that checking out a museum honoring the Indian independence hero's legacy was "pretty cool" Saturday.

Shortly after landing here for his first stop on a 10-day tour of Asia, the president and first lady Michelle Obama quickly headed over to this city's Gandhi Museum, a three-story home where Gandhi stayed when he was in Mumbai. It's now full of historic photos and posters as well as a library with about 50,000 Gandhi-related works.

This was like manna from heaven for the president, who once declared that the one person living or dead that he'd love to have dinner with would be Gandhi. "Now it would probably be a really small meal, because he didn't eat a lot," Obama joked then about Gandhi's fasting.

On Saturday, Obama was particularly tickled about getting to sign a guest book at the museum and taking a peek at an older guest book that was signed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who also saw Gandhi as an inspiration for the civil rights movement in America.

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"Pretty cool -- 1959," the president said after seeing King's signature.

The president spent several minutes in the library, which has Gandhi quotations on the walls, such as, "Freedom is like a birth."

Obama seemed particularly moved by another quotation: "To call women the weaker sex is a libel. It is man's injustice to women. ... If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with women."

"Look at that," the president said.

"It's my favorite," responded his guide, Usha Thakkar, a trustee of the museum.

When he signed the guest book, Obama left this inscription: "I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to visit this testament to Gandhi. He is a hero not just to India, but to the world."

Mrs. Obama wrote simply, "This visit will be one that I will always remember ..."

The Obama tribute to Gandhi will continue Sunday, when the first couple lay a wreath at his grave site.

And on their way out of the museum, the president said the couple would definitely be back someday, next time with their daughters.