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Diet of fabrics, fellowship & fruits

What was Hillary Clinton doing when she wasn’t playing cheerleader in the fight against trafficking, admiring the Victoria Memorial, chatting with youngsters at La Martiniere, or meeting the chief minister?

She was enjoying a royal stay in the Presidential Suite at Taj Bengal (that has housed Amartya Sen and Shah Rukh Khan, Jeffrey Archer and Lindsay Lohan), checking out Bengal’s traditional weaves at an exhibition initiated by the US consulate in Calcutta, and having a “light breakfast of fruits” before checking out.

The last time Hillary visited Calcutta was in September 1997, then as the First Lady of the US, to pay her last respects to Mother Teresa. At that time, she was put up in the Peacock Suite at Taj Bengal. This time, she was escorted to the Presidential Suite.

“We gave her the option of both our presidential suites. One is purely Indian. Her team picked the newly renovated one, which is more contemporary with traditional motifs on the upholstery and the wardrobe. Spread across 2,000sq ft, it is the largest suite that we have. It has a drawing room, dining room, bedroom and a pantry. It also has a lot of plants,” said a spokesperson for the star hotel.

After a visit to the ICCR and then Victoria Memorial, Hillary was back in the hotel by 6pm on Sunday. First stop, the crafts and handloom exhibition set up by NGOs and private organisations on May 6-7 in the Oriental Room and Mandarin Hall to coincide with the VVIP visit.

“The US secretary of state was very happy to see the kanthas and we chatted for about 10 minutes as she touched the various textiles. She accepted a Tagore bust in kantha as a gift from me and took a Tagore in kantha to give as a gift to the chief minister,” said kantha revivalist Shamlu Dudeja, who runs the women welfare group SHE. “She loved the stitch work and said she would like to promote it,” she added.

Hillary then toured the exhibition and asked about weaving techniques and the handloom industry in Bengal. She also stopped at a stall by Byloom, which exhibited scarves and dupattas in linen, silk, cotton and wool, in many colours, as well as notebooks and coasters.

“She seemed genuinely interested in the display and in our crafts. She said she liked the vibrant hues. She picked up a red and orange cross-flap woollen scarf,” said Byloom designer Bappaditya Biswas.

Shopping done, Hillary headed off for an “internal meeting” with the US consulate staff in Calcutta. “It was a meet-and-greet session during which she commended the efforts of the consulate staff in Calcutta and wished them all well,” said a source.

The last engagement for the day done, she retired to the Presidential Suite. The 64-year-old is believed to have skipped dinner.

On Monday morning, she asked for a “light breakfast”, a platter of fruits, before she checked out and left for the La Martiniere for Girls programme. But not before she cordially interacted with the hotel’s head of departments.

“It was truly a memorable experience to have the United States secretary of state with us. The challenge was to maintain a relaxing and informal environment in her suite, yet have everything work with clockwork precision. She had stayed here about 14 years ago, so we also wanted to give her a sense of how the hotel has evolved since then,” said K. Mohanchandran, the general manager of Taj Bengal.

Her farewell message in the hotel’s guest register? “With great appreciation for your warm welcome and gracious hospitality for me and my delegation”.

Signed: Hillary Rodham Clinton.