A few days into any presidential foreign trip, once folks seem to have heard enough about the “what” and the “why” of it all, talk starts to turn to less weighty matters: Bro-mance, diplomatic fashion statements, and (as many secretly hope there will be) high-level gaffes.
You know, the things that REALLY grab global headlines.
President Barack Obama’s arrival to New Delhi kicked off with a bang and hug, when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself – ready with a warm embrace for his American counterpart – greeted the President on the tarmac, and launched the already geared-up Indian press into declaring a full-on “bromance.”
An Indian TV station that likes to use animated intros for some of its news stories kept replaying a cartoon of Obama’s and Modi’s motorcades driving side by side, with a big red heart forming over the two of them. “Namaste, Obama!,” the taglines read.
The Indians loved that Obama mentioned how well Modi was received in Madison Square Garden during his trip to the U.S. in September, and they reciprocated by branding Obama a “rock star” by day 3 of his trip here.
The unexpected fashion scene-stealer? Well this didn’t take very long to figure out – Modi, of course, with his frequent outfit changes, scarves, bright ensembles, and modernized traditional touches.
One American official lamented that the US delegation was told that the big Republic Day parade was casual. “Really?” the official was sure to ask. “Casual casual?” Causing him to show up in jeans and a zip-up shirt– only to see the Indian delegation dressed to the nines. Modi, leading the pack in an elaborate traditional hat festooned with a zingy red plume.
And Modi took his “personalization” of his choices to an extreme level: At one point wearing a suit embellished with his own name spelled out over and over, woven into the fabric to form the pinstripes! No chance of ever losing that suit, at least.
Even Obama pointed out that Modi is quite the fashion icon these days.
But amid all the good-natured bro-ing around together, what didn’t the Indians embrace so much? Well, that old thing again: the Presidential gum-chewing. It seemed like virtually every time the cameras cut to Obama during the hours-long parade, at which he was honored as Chief Guest, he was there chomping away. The Times of India didn’t beat around the bush here, calling it an “ungainly sight.”
When we pointed out to one U.S. official that it wasn’t the politest of moves, to be gum-chewing at official events on the world stage (a fellow traveler pointed out that kids aren’t allowed to chew gum in school, after all!), he said at least it’s better for the President’s health than smoking.
Well yes a touch more discreet, as well– but maybe not by much. It was seized upon by onlookers and the press during his trip to China, and now in India too.
Meanwhile the First Lady, who also didn’t disappoint with her colorful sartorial choices, appeared visibly miserable at times during those rainy, cold, windy hours watching the military-heavy parade. The cameras at least catching her on a few occasions when maybe she couldn’t bear to smile any longer.
That would have been a good time for one of those news cartoons – a thought bubble appearing with the words “Can we get out of here now? I have seen enough Russian MiG’s on display,” perhaps.
It was indeed a busy few days for them, plus the long journey and jet lag. At the end of Monday, the President, too, seemed about ready to drop while Modi delivered a lengthy speech to CEO’s in a warm room.
The cutaway shots to the President started to make the watching press corps giggle. In one shot, yawning largely. Next, head back a bit, appearing to be trying to rouse himself. Another, touching his face. Cut again, and heavy eyelids. At least there was no gum – but that might have helped him out in this case.
When his turn came to address the group, Obama spoke to the length of time he and Modi had spent to forge the relationship: “I figured that the Prime Minister might be tired of me by now! But what’s another speech, between friends.”
The Indian press, and people, seemed to catch that spirit and celebrate it, very quickly forgiving the cutting of the trip a bit short to head to Saudi Arabia.
Plus, Obama gained an extra few points at the end when he quoted – or tried to, kind of – a famous Bollywood movie. One that strangely had the word “senorita” in it. Basically telling young people and activists not sweat the small stuff. (Like maybe, someone’s persistent gum habit…) Assuring them that progress is possible, and the opportunities are great.
The shortened trip meant that there wasn’t time for a visit to the Taj Mahal, but if the hospitality from this past visit was any indication, there’s always next time.