IANS | Last Modified - Nov 09, 2010, 04:32 AM IST
New Delhi: It was a solemn moment as US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle laid a wreath of white carnations at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial here Monday, saying "his light" still inspires the world. He also presented an "unparalleled" gift in the form of Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia.
During the 20-minute visit, the president jotted down a note from the heart in the visitor's book at the Rajghat memorial while Michelle stood beside him.
"We will always remember the great soul who changed the world with his message of peace, tolerance and love. More than 60 years after his passing, his light continues to inspire the world," Obama wrote. Michelle also signed the book.
The two had driven down to the Rajghat memorial - a black marble platform on the right bank of the river Yamuna, where an eternal flame burns at one end - after Obama's ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the morning.
Rajnish Kumar, secretary of the Rajghat Samadhi Committee who received Obama at the marigold adorned VIP entrance, said that he saw "deep respect" for Gandhi in the president's eyes.
"Up until that moment I had only read in the newspapers that Obama was a big fan of Gandhi, but when I received him here I could actually see the deep respect for Bapu (Gandhi) in his eyes. Even his wife looked absorbed in the sombre atmosphere of the Rajghat," Kumar told IANS.
According to Kumar, Obama asked several questions about the memorial.
"He asked me how many people visit Rajghat everyday. When I answered more than 10,000, he looked impressed. He also wanted to know if it is ever closed and when it will open to the public after his visit. I said that the Rajghat is never closed and that it will be open to the public as soon as leaves," Kumar added.
As per the protocol for VIPs, a green carpet was laid out for the president and his wife and chairs were set.
Obama and Michelle laid a wreath of white carnations, tied with a blue-red-white ribbon, on the samadhi.
"I guess he placed white flowers on the samadhi because white stands for peace," Kumar said.
After signing the visitors book, the US first couple was presented a bust of Gandhi, a khadi scroll containing the seven social sins Gandhi wrote about in "Young India" in 1925 and three books.
The books were Gandhi's autobiography, 'My Experiments with Truth', 'The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi' and 'Mahatma Gandhi in 100 years'.
As a special gesture, they were also gifted a model of a charkha or a spinning wheel which symbolises the Gandhian concept of self-entrepreneurship and played a vital role during India's independence. Kumar said that they usually do not gift this to all their guests.
Obama also gifted something to the Rajghat - King memorabilia. Resting in a gold-wrapped box, this was a piece of white stone from the Washington national memorial of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., who was greatly inspired by Gandhi.
The stone was set on a black base, which was embossed with the presidential seal and Obama's signature.
Calling it "unparalleled", Kumar said that the gift had a profound meaning.
"Gandhi stood for non-violence and so did King. So this gift has a deep meaning behind it. We will put the stone in a glass case and keep it in our Rajghat office," he said.
There was, however, something missing - the president did not plant a sapling as most visiting dignitaries do. This was because, as Kumar explained, "there was no space for an additional sappling. "Moreover, that decision has to be made by the ministry of external affairs," he added.
The US president, who had visited the Gandhi Museum at Mani Bhavan in Mumbai Saturday, wrote in the visitor's book: "I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to view this testament to Gandhi's life. He is a hero not just to India but to the world."