Mercedes, malls, marble menus: Asean tales - The New Indian Express

Mercedes, malls, marble menus: Asean tales

Published: 23rd Dec 2012 10:55:36 AM

Interestingly, the decision to pick December 20 as the main day of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit was taken only about one-and-a-half months ago. The original schedule had called for the flagging-in of a car rally on December 20, with the substantive day of discussions being Friday. “But, we finally zeroed in on December 21, as it had to also fall in the travel schedules of the 10 leaders. Coordinating the dates with 10 national heads of states is not an easy task,” said a senior official.

Perhaps, the most striking part of the preparations for the ASEAN-India summit was the use of social media, with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) even hiring an external agency to coordinate its publicity plans for the digital space. When the Indian naval ship INS Sudarshini left the shores of Kochi for its expedition, it was followed by live real-time updates on GPS, along with the regular blog posts by the Captain and even from its young crew about life on the high seas. The captain also opened his own Twitter account to post updates, videos and photos from his ship as it went around south-east Asia. The car rally, which went through 8,000 kilometres and nine countries, also had its own dedicated Facebook and Twitter posts. The summit, of course, was webcast live.

Among the visitors, the biggest delegation was probably of the tiny oil-rich sultanate of Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei had arrived with nearly 70 members in his delegation, which included his children and grandchildren. Upon arrival, the Brunei delegation, staying at Taj Palace hotel, reportedly booked 30 Mercedes for use during their stay. While the Brunei sultan and his wife attended the formal events, several members of his delegation went on shopping trips to the malls in Saket and Gurgaon, as well as, made substantive purchases in the hotel shops.

For the dozen-odd ASEAN editors invited by the MEA for the summit, the visit to the Indian parliament saw them getting a taste of “Indian democracy in action”, literally. They got a glimpse of Lok Sabha’s raucous proceedings on December 19, when Samajwadi Party members rushed to the well and opposition protests over Delhi gangrape led to adjournment of the House. “I have seen a number of parliaments, but members speak one after another, not together,” exclaimed an editor. Another one remarked on the tight security, referring to the multiple layers of x-ray scanning and frisking that all of them went through. Interestingly, one member of the delegation, perhaps, embodied the deep links between India and the region. Deputy chief editor at Tempo, a popular Filipino magazine, Yuli Ismartono had lived in India during the seventies when her father, a diplomat, was posted here. Not just that, she was also a classmate of Myanmarese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi in Lady Shri Ram college, with whom she has maintained links over the years.

In an innovative gesture, the menu of the luncheon hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday was printed on a thin marble slab, whose front had an elaborate inlay work of a necklace. Apparently, the idea was hit, with the menu given to all the guests in a velvet-line box after the lunch as a souvenir. “We had a dry run of this idea during the BRICS summit. It was successful then, so we did this more ornately this time,” said a senior official. The menu included Indian delicacies like Tawa Masala Pomfret, Gosht Barah Rogini, Goan Prawn Curry and biryani. The desserts range included old favourites like gajar halwa, kesar phirni and a selection of Bengali sweets.

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