A perfectly adequate quartz table was laid out to welcome the world’s most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, to a press interaction with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Sedona Hotel where the PM was staying.
Suddenly two young hotel employees dashed in, whisked a ceremonial blue table cloth on the table, quickly tacked on satin napery on the front of the table, repositioned the flowers –- and brought on two copies of the Yangon telephone directory, wrapped in cloth -– because the microphones were too low and needed to be elevated. They then withdrew, panting slightly.
This was in vast contrast with the arrangements in Myanmar’s administrative capital Naypyitaw -– run and controlled almost entirely by the military -– where every blade of grass was manicured and the roundabouts blooming with flowers -– banks of plastic flowers ‘planted’ to add colour.
Suu Kyi looked a bit drawn but dignified and elegant. She was dressed in a pale lilac lungyi and blouse, Myanmar’s national dress, and as always, wore flowers in her hair –- pink and white miniature roses.
Observers were quick to comment that while the one-on-one meeting of the two leaders went on for about 40 minutes, she spoke for barely three or four minutes at the joint interaction. By contrast when she met the President of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak earlier this month, her speech after the meeting went on for 30 minutes. With British Prime Minister David Cameron too, her speech was much longer.
However, government sources pointed out that meeting leaders like Suu Kyii – the only other instance was Nelson Mandela – was unusual for an Indian Prime Minister. “That is not the Indian style. You have to consider how many Memoranda of Understanding David Cameron signed with Myanmar” he said “Our Prime Minister signed 12”.