India’s Modi brings comedy game to big White House dinner in his honor

Jun 22, 2023, 12:29 PM | Updated: 8:00 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Indian Prime Minister Joe Biden wanted him to eat even though he was fasting and how well Indians and Americans are getting along.

Not really known for having a sense of humor, the prime minister kept the Jill Biden before dinner was served.

“I know your hospitality has moved your guests to sing. I wish, I too, had the singing talent,” Modi joked. “I could have also sang before you all.”

He was referring to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who surprised guests when he got up onstage during a White House state dinner honoring him in April and belted out a rendition of “American Pie,” one of his favorite songs, to raucous applause.

Modi is on a state visit designed to highlight and foster deeper ties between India and the U.S. He said that with every passing day, Indians and Americans are getting to know each other better.

“We can pronounce each other’s names correctly. We can understand each other’s accent better,” he joked. “Kids in India become Spider-Man on Halloween and America’s youth is dancing to the tune of ‘Naatu Naatu,’” a catchy song from the Indian movie “RRR.”

Modi said Thursday’s dinner would give him a chance to make up for not eating during a banquet that he said Biden hosted for him in 2014. Modi was observing a religious fast at the time.

“I remember you were asking me and asking me again and again what I could eat during my fast. But it was not possible for me to eat anything and you were quite concerned about it,” he said. “Well today, I’m making up for it. All that you desired at that time with so much affection is being fulfilled today.”

Biden, who was less humorous in his toast, recalled that he said two decades ago when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the world would be safer if the United States and India “grew to be the closest friends and partners in the world.”

“I believe that even more today now that I’m president,” Biden said.

The leaders addressed each other before an audience made up of titans of business, fashion, entertainment and more, with the likes of designer Ralph Lauren, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan and tennis legend Billie Jean King rubbing shoulders with tech leaders from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Shyamalan powered past reporters as he arrived, declaring it “lovely” to be at the White House. Lauren, who paired his tuxedo with gray New Balance sneakers, revealed he had designed the first lady’s off-shoulder green gown, calling her style “chic and elegant.” And violinist Joshua Bell, part of the after-dinner entertainment, said the evening was a “little different than anything I’ve done before.”

He said he would “skip out” of dinner early to practice. Bell played a rendition of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Summer.”

Saris — some thoroughly modern and including a Barbiecore hot pink one — and sequins were prominent among those lucky enough to attend the black-tie affair with a guest list heavy on prominent Indian Americans. Politicians of both parties also made the cut, notably including Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, along with Aruna Miller, Maryland’s recently elected lieutenant governor.

Other notables included social media influencer Jay Shetty, big Democratic donors like Florida lawyer John Morgan and civil rights activist Martin Luther King III. The CEO contingent included Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.

Guests dined on a plant-based menu of millet and corn salad, Portobello mushrooms and strawberry shortcake, catering to the prime minister’s vegetarian tastes. For guests wanting something more, roasted sea bass was available upon request.

Despite deep differences over human rights and India’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Biden state dinner, a high diplomatic honor that the U.S. reserves for its closest allies.

Biden hopes all the pomp and attention lavished on Modi — from the thousands who gathered on the White House lawn to cheer his arrival in the morning to the splashy dinner at the end of the day — will help him firm up relations with the leader of a country the U.S. believes will be a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come.

Guests rode trolley cars down to a pavilion erected on the White House south grounds decorated in the green and saffron colors of India’s flag.

Despite concerns about backsliding on democracy in India, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said she was attending to send the message that the nation of 1.4 billion people is important and “we must call out some of the real issues that are threatening the viability of democracy in all of our countries.”

A group of more than 70 lawmakers, organized by Jayapal, wrote to Biden this week urging him to raise concerns about the erosion of religious, press and political freedoms with Modi.

Pichai said he looked forward to the dinner as “an exciting time for U.S.-India relations.”

“I think we have two countries which have a lot of shared foundations, large democratic systems and values,” Pichai said earlier Thursday in an interview. He cited technology as one area of mutual interest between the nations. “So I think it’s an exciting opportunity. I’m glad there is a lot of investment in a bilateral relationship.”

Jill Biden enlisted California-based chef Nancy Curtis to help in the kitchen. Curtis specializes in plant-based cooking and said the menu “showcases the best of American cuisine seasoned with Indian elements and flavors.” Saffron risotto accompanied the mushroom main course, and dessert was infused with cardamom and rose syrup. She used millet because India is leading an international year of recognition for the grain.

Lotus flowers, which are native to Asia and featured in Indian design, were visible throughout the pavilion, along with saffron-hued floral arrangements that differed from table to table.

“We hope guests feel as if someone has set that table just for them — because we have,” the first lady said as she and her staff previewed the setup.

After-dinner entertainment also included Penn Masala, a South Asian a cappella group founded by students at the University of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Marine Band Chamber Orchestra.


Associated Press Philanthropy Editor Glenn Gamboa in New York and AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

National News

FILE - Traffic streaks by the Cuban Embassy in Washington early Saturday morning, Nov. 26, 2016. U....

Associated Press

Molotov cocktail is thrown at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, but there’s no damage and no injuries

WASHINGTON (AP) — At least one Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, but there was no significant damage and no one was injured. U.S. law enforcement officials were investigating. Secret Service officers were called around 8 p.m. Sunday to respond to the attack on a busy street in the Adams-Morgan section […]

4 hours ago

FILE - The Amazon app is seen on a smartphone, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Marple Township, Pa. Afte...

Associated Press

Amazon is investing up to $4 billion in AI startup Anthropic in growing tech battle

Amazon is investing up to $4 billion in Anthropic and taking a minority stake in the artificial intelligence startup, the two companies said Monday.

4 hours ago

Associated Press

South Carolina high school mourns after shooting kills 3 teenage students

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina high school is in mourning after three teenage students were killed in a weekend shooting. Sheriff’s deputies responded to the shooting in Columbia, the state capital, just after 2 p.m. Sunday, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release. They found four people with gunshot wounds, […]

4 hours ago

FILE - A passenger disembarks from Amtrak's Sunset Limited at its final stop in New Orleans, Nov. 2...

Associated Press

Biden administration announces $1.4 billion to improve rail safety and boost capacity in 35 states

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it has awarded more than $1.4 billion to projects that improve railway safety and boost capacity, with much of the money coming from the 2021 infrastructure law. “These projects will make American rail safer, more reliable, and more resilient, delivering tangible benefits to dozens of communities […]

7 hours ago

FILE - Sweat covers the face of Juan Carlos Biseno after dancing to music from his headphones as af...

Associated Press

After summer’s extreme weather, more Americans see climate change as a culprit, AP-NORC poll shows

Kathleen Maxwell has lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years, but this summer was the first time she felt fear, as daily high temperatures soared to 110 degrees or hotter and kept it up for a record-shattering 31 consecutive days. “It’s always been really hot here, but nothing like this past summer,” said Maxwell, […]

9 hours ago

Hudson, 7, left, Callahan, 13, middle, and Keegan Pruente, 10, right, stand outside their school on...

Associated Press

More schools are adopting 4-day weeks. For parents, the challenge is day 5

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — It’s a Monday in September, but with schools closed, the three children in the Pruente household have nowhere to be. Callahan, 13, contorts herself into a backbend as 7-year-old Hudson fiddles with a balloon and 10-year-old Keegan plays the piano. Like a growing number of students around the U.S, the Pruente […]

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

India’s Modi brings comedy game to big White House dinner in his honor