A president’s welcome

In Rashtrapati Bhavan,imperial stuffiness is slowly being replaced by democratic bustle.

Published:December 14, 2013 12:42 am

Kalidasa,reclining among the lotuses,saw stories in the clouds. Amid the fountains of Fatehpur Sikri,Faizi wrote poems of love. Now,the poet will be looking out on the nodding pansies of the Mughal Gardens. And the backdrop will be the classical grandeur of the presidential estate. Writers,artists and scholars will now be invited for a month’s stay at Rashtrapati Bhavan,President Pranab Mukherjee announced on Wednesday. The sylvan settings,it is hoped,will get the creative juices flowing.

For decades,the imposing presidential estate has been mysterious and aloof. Half hidden from view,only a few sections of the historic building were thrown open to a wondering public. President Kalam was called the “people’s president”,but in Mukherjee’s tenure,there has been a further softening of the imperial facade. To mark his first year in office,Mukherjee inaugurated a library that would be open to the public and a school within the presidential estate. Rooms that were locked and shuttered for years have been opened up,renovated and made accessible to the public. What’s more,this November,the walls of Rashtrapati Bhavan shook with rock n’ roll music — quite a departure from the stately classical concerts it usually hosts. Imperial stuffiness is slowly being replaced by a demotic bustle. Last year,Mukherjee made it known that he would prefer a simple “sri” before his name instead of regal prefixes like “honourable” and “his excellency”.

Inviting artists and writers seems to be another phase of the rashtrapati’s renaissance. From being a remote symbol of state power,the presidential office could become a vibrant institution engaged with the cultural life of the country. Some might even say that Rashtrapati Bhavan is finally with it.

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