Home / Politics / Policy /  A culture capsule for Africa’s first ladies

New Delhi: If the official welcome dinner for the visiting heads of state and governments from African countries on Wednesday had the distinct touch of host Prime Minister Narendra Modi, so does the programme chalked out for the spouses of the heads of African states.

The dinner hosted by the Prime Minister on Wednesday night saw all the dignitaries sport the trademark Modi kurta and jacket.

As their spouses attend the opening session of the India-Africa summit on Thursday, the 17 first ladies from Africa are to be shown a snapshot of India, encapsulating “the classic, timeless and enduring", said Ruchira Kamboj, India’s representative to Paris-based Unesco (United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organisation). This will include a visit to the Akshardham temple, attending a fashion show and partaking an Indian meal, among others.

Kamboj, a former chief of protocol in India’s foreign ministry, has been especially called in to take care of the finer aspects of protocol during the third India-Africa Forum Summit.

First on the itinerary is a visit to the Akshardham temple—not India’s world famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal, or even the tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, made famous by the brief visit of US president Barack Obama in 2010.

A visit to Agra to see the Taj was ruled out given the four hours (of commute), Kamboj said. “We took many factors into consideration while drawing up the programme. The bottomline was to showcase Indian culture and heritage at its very best. We feel we have come up with a package that is fair given the short time that we have," she added.

Kamboj said starting the tour at the temple will showcase the classic part of Indian culture while the fashion show will emphasize the handlooms and textiles of the country.

On its website, the Akshardham temple is described as “humble tribute" to Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830), one of the sages of Hinduism. The traditionally-styled complex was inaugurated on 6 November 2005. Perhaps coincidentally, there is another Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, the administrative capital of Gujarat, the state that Modi administered for 12 years as chief minister before assuming the mantle of prime minister last year.

Next on the schedule is a meeting with some African women in India to learn the intricacies of solar electrification. The women who are illiterate and hail from diverse countries like South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso are learning the skills at Barefoot College, a non-government organization based in Rajasthan. The Barefoot College “has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable," says a post on its website.

The third item on the schedule is a “bespoke" fashion show, said Kamboj, that is put together by the Fashion Design Council of India showcasing the weaves of Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Modi. “There will be Indian saris on show as will be lehengas and salwar kurtas, besides a global collection with Benares weaves," Kamboj said.

Rounding off their introduction to Indian culture will be a meal cooked by Indian master chef Kunal Kapur. Kapur became a household name recently after he appeared on TV series MasterChef India Season 1, 2 and 3 on Star Plus as one of the judges.

Other than the visit to Akshardham, all the other events are organized in a Delhi hotel. After lunch, the first ladies are to go back to their respective hotels for a brief while, and then join the spouses for the dinner hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday evening.

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