Hyderabad, March 3: Rajasthani women in colourful lehengas swarming around him, showering rose petals and sprinkling gulal, and a boyishly handsome Bill Clinton shaking a leg and lapping it up'
If that was the most famous freeze-frame of Clinton’s 2000 visit, the surprise peck by an excited woman agriculture worker on George W. Bush’s cheek would run it close.
As the US President today did the rounds of Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, going from demo to staged demo, a field assistant suddenly drew close to him, pulled him by the hand and planted a kiss on his cheek.
For a split second, the most powerful man in the world was stunned. The next, he gracefully pulled himself away from K. Padmavathi and started patting her on her shoulders.
“The President was so patient with us that he even bent down to catch what I was saying,” gushed Padmavathi, who had vigorously shaken hands with him before going for the cheek.
“I was just charmed by the handsome looks of the tall President who had come all the way from America just to listen to our narration on soil-testing methods,” she said later, explaining the peck was a spur-of-the-moment thing.
Padmavathi might just have tried her hand ' sorry, lips ' after word spread about the experiences of 32-year-old Akula Baby, an assistant professor of agronomy at the University.
“It was such a nice feeling to receive an affectionate hug and a peck from the most powerful man on earth,” Baby beamed.
“He is so human, he never threw his weight around the 90 minutes he was with us.”
The President mixed freely with several agriculture staff in the university, much in the manner of Clinton with the women of Naila, without the waving and the swaying, though.
He watched a programme of folk dances, listened intently to a presentation on the latest trends in agriculture and took a good look at handicrafts made by women’s self-help groups.
“Good show. Nice work. Cool. Keep it up,” he is believed to have told the excited flock.
Baby, who felt extra special because Bush spoke to her for eight minutes, said: “Perhaps, he is the only dignitary who did not go visiting Hitec City but displayed interest in the Indian farmer and the livelihood of people in Indian villages.”
Bush had a date with a buffalo and a bull, too. A high-yielding Haryana buffalo was specially flown in for the President, who is believed to have said he wanted to see one.
“We had planned to give him a demo of milking the animal but gave up the idea,” chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy said. But he didn’t miss the chance to parade the famous Ongole bull, well known for its size.
At a news conference after Bush left, Reddy said the President had been impressed with the products made by the self-help women’s groups.
“We are very poor in marketing,” Bush is believed to have told him while comparing the produce of his Texas ranch with that of the women’s groups.
Bush had enquired after his family too, Reddy said. “When I told him I had married early and my two children were also already married, the President said he was getting ready for the wedding of his grand-children, perhaps this summer.”
The good times for Hyderabad had begun even before Bush landed in Delhi. A few hours earlier, the American embassy announced a consulate would be set up there to facilitate grant of visas to NRIs and IT workers.
“The consulate will be fully operational in its own building by October 2007. It will begin functioning immediately from a government guest house at nominal rent,” Reddy said.
Bush also visited the Indian School of Business, addressing a small group there. A student, Annie Mathew, said: “The President’s visit will give us a brand value and showcase our institution before global companies.”
A wooden carving of Lord Krishna and a replica of Charminar were among the gifts given to Bush. Wife Laura was presented a Pochampalli sari, a veena made in silver filigree style and some pearl jewellery.