As expected, visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi drank only warm water at a dinner given by President Obama in his honor at the White House Monday night.
For more than 30 years, Modi has been observing the annual nine-day religious fast called Navratri, an auspicious period in the Hindu calendar that also marks the coming of autumn. Modi was in the fifth day of his fast when he arrived on the Obamas’ doorstep Monday evening. He is staying at Blair House across the street.
The two leaders spoke face-to-face for the first time over a long table in the Blue Room, flanked by Vice President Biden, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Michelle Obama was absent, but the event had been billed as a working dinner.
Guests dined on avocado with goat cheese and bell pepper, crisped halibut with basmati rice and mango crème brulee.
A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, said in a briefing that the Prime Minister had said before the dinner that he did not want to “embarrass anybody," so he insisted that meal go forward as planned.
“He requested that they continue with normal practice of having the dinner while he would have his warm water,” Akbaruddin said.
The fact that the Modi, 64, was fasting throughout during his first high-profile visit to the United States has been much discussed both in majority-Hindu India and in the U.S. The stamina shown by the new leader -- who boasted of his 56-inch chest on the campaign trail -- has resulted in fawning headlines back home such as this one from the Times of India: “Narendra Modi hasn’t eaten for four days, baffles Americans with vigor.”
Scrutiny, and expectations, are high for the visit, the first meeting between the two leaders since Modi became prime minister in May. The true work of the summit begins Tuesday, with discussions of defense cooperation, trade and climate change.