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At home with the President

President A P J Abdul Kalam has done a lot to change the way Rashtrapati Bhavan works. Perhaps nothing is as refreshing as his decision to let his guests wear what they want at the 'At Home' events he hosts every Independence Day and Republic Day.

In his predecessors' time invitees had to wear the 'national dress' or suits to gain entry to what must be among the capital's most sought after tea parties. Now, the line Attire: National Dress/Suits no longer appears on Rashtrapati Bhavan's At Home invitation cards. And if the Independence Day At Home last August had very few people in bandh gallas and suits, Thursday's At Home to mark Republic Day even has a couple of jeans and skirts, and one T-shirt (worn under a coat) on display.

If one felt the near hysteria the President evoked at the Independence Day At Home was an aberration one is quickly corrected. The crowds that gather all around the special enclosure -- where the President and his most important guests are seated -- go ga-ga when the Rashtrapati does his walkabout, signing autographs and dispensing homespun wisdom in Kalamesque style. Even tough army folk appear to go weak at the knees at the sight of their supreme commander; one senior officer is overheard requesting a Presidential aide for an autograph.

As the President does his rock star number for about 20 minutes, one wonders what King Abdullah, the chief guest at this year's Republic Day, makes of the sentiment the Indian head of State evokes. The monarch's face is impassive, his eyes hidden behind the dark glasses he favours, but one spots the royal neck occasionally turn to observe the magic of Indian democracy and secularism where a villager's son from Rameswaram is almost certainly the most popular President India has ever had.

Also See: Republic Day Special: 'We are soldiers'
All set for R-Day
The King in India

Text: Nikhil Lakshman. Photograph: Rashtrapati Bhavan

President Kalam, Prime Minister Singh with Saudi King Abdullah at the President's At Home reception on Republic Day at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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