At his At Home, President Pranab gives tradition a break

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, Jan 26 (IANS) As a pleasant winter sun shone on the manicured lawns of the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Pranab Mukherjee mingled with dignitaries at a reception he hosted here Saturday, and in a break from tradition, walked up to the guests and exchanged greetings with them.

At the traditional reception, or At Home, the president hosts on the occasion of Republic Day, Mukherjee did away with protocol as he ambled along among the guests on the lawns of Rashtrapati Bhavan, exchanging 'Namastey' greetings with them and even shaking hands with some.

"Sir, your speeches are really nice," the IANS correspondent told the president, to which he smiled, and said "Thank you!".

Many guests introduced themselves and their spouses to the president, who smilingly accepted the greetings from the excited gathering as his splendidly liveried guards tried politely to keep the people from coming too close.

In another break from tradition, the reception saw Bangla tunes being played by the band.

Two of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's compositions "Anondo Loke Mongola Loke" and "Gram Chara Oi Ranga Mati" formed a delightful background music as President Mukherjee chatted with his special guests - the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his young and beautiful wife Jetsun Pema.

Maroon dahlias, pansies and roses were in full bloom in the neat beds bordering the lawns, while gladioli were bunched together in bouquets in huge brass pots, adding colour to the serene surroundings as the president chatted with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

The president's wife, Suvra Mukherjee, who was brought in a wheel chair, appeared to enjoy the Bangla tunes, tapping her fingers to "Anondo Loke, Mongola Loke", and chatting with Gursharan Kaur.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani and his wife among others exchanged greetings with one another. They also went on to mingle with the dignitaries, including foreign envoys and their spouses.

President Mukherjee went up to Advani and spoke with him.

Matar aaloo samosas, chilli paneer, plum cake, patties, pastries, Caribbean delight made of fish were among the snacks on offer, as women, mostly attired in elegant saris, and men in suits, tucked in and watched the proceedings.

Red liveried presidential guards, with their gold-red turbans brought tray loads of the snacks for the president and the other dignitaries, including the Bhutan king, who were seated under an umbrella-shaped marquee. All around the massive garden, snack stalls were set up for the other guests.

President Mukherjee, a few months after he was sworn in last July, had issued an order doing away with the colonial era of addressing the president as "His Excellency".

He had also directed authorities to organise government functions for him within Rashtrapati Bhavan premises in order to avoid inconveniencing the public.

Last month, in an effort to make Rashtrapati Bhavan more accessible to the public, Mukherjee directed that it be opened for public viewing on Sundays and for increased hours.

An online system of booking for tours of Rashtrapati Bhavan has also been launched.