WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: No fallen coconuts for Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama, second left, is greeted by Indian and U.S. officials after arriving in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010.

Security for President Barack Obama’s visit to the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai, India, has included not just a vetting of staff at the historic building, but of its coconut palm trees as well.

A few days before Obama’s visit, U.S. and Indian security officials visited the small two-story building and ordered that ripe coconuts be lopped off the trees to prevent any accidental injury to the visitors.

“People do get hurt, or even killed, from falling coconuts. We had the ripe coconuts removed and some dried branches as well. Why take a chance?” said Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, executive secretary of the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum.

In preparation for the visit, the museum, located on a quiet street in India’s bustling commercial hub, was shielded from curious onlookers and neighbors by a high white tent that enshrouded almost the entire building. The street was closed to pedestrians and policemen were positioned on neighboring buildings.

If Michelle Obama goes shopping in New Delhi’s upscale Santushti shopping center, she may be surprised to see her face jumping out at her from a home linen store.

“Michelle Obama pillows,” are the latest offering from a boutique at the shopping complex, which is hoping to lure the first lady during her visit to the Indian capital.

“I saw an opportunity here. These are conversation pillows meant to start conversations,” Arpita Kalra, the New Delhi-based designer behind the square-shaped pillows, told The Indian Express newspaper.

The pillows have been reconstructed from the popular Mighty Michelle Shopper bag, which is on sale at the online shop Blue Q. The pillow shows Michelle Obama in a sleeveless red dress and pearls sitting on a swing and surrounded by smaller images of the White House.

Kalra said she made the pillows because she considers the first lady an “inspirational icon,” and, of course, is hoping to lure her into the store to present her with a set.

The first person to greet Obama as he stepped onto the tarmac in India was Ashok Chavan, the chief minister of Maharashtra state. That honor might mark one of Chavan’s final acts in office.

The politician offered his resignation last weekend after media reports revealed that his mother-in-law and other relatives received coveted apartments in a Mumbai building meant to house wounded Indian war vets and the widows of slain soldiers.

Chavan’s Congress Party had to decide whether to quickly install another chief minister to greet Obama, or to keep him in office until after the president’s visit. They decided to defer a decision on his fate.

On the other side of the Indian border, Pakistan, Obama was criticized for visiting India. Some Pakistanis said he had given priority to New Delhi despite their country’s sacrifices in the U.S. war on terror.

“People are being killed here in bomb blasts and it is only happening because of Pakistan’s support to America in war against terrorism, but look at the American president who is visiting India instead of coming here,” said Huma Nawaz, 23, a university student in Islamabad.

Javed Rashid, a businessman from the central city of Multan, also said Obama’s visit to India clearly showed that Washington had better diplomatic ties with India.

“This is the failure of our foreign policy that Obama went to India,” Rashid said, adding “I know Obama is promising to visit Pakistan next year, but I do not trust him, and he may not come here,” he said.

“Obama has insulted Pakistanis by traveling to India,” Rashid said.

Criticism aside, Obama’s visit to India seemed off to a good start. But that wasn’t the case for the corps of U.S. journalists who flew into the country with him aboard Air Force One.

They missed getting into Obama’s motorcade to the Taj Mahal hotel.

After landing in Mumbai, Obama and his wife boarded the president’s Marine One helicopter for the 15-minute ride to the motorcade, which took them to the hotel to freshen up.

The reporters travel in a separate helicopter, but it was felled by a problem that was taking too long to fix. They were moved to a second helicopter, but it also suffered from mechanical issues.

Yet a third helicopter arrived and, to the reporters’ relief, was working. But they couldn’t catch up with Obama’s motorcade in time. Relegated to buses, they were stuck navigating Mumbai’s traffic-choked streets and negotiating with police to get through checkpoints they ordinarily would speed right through had they been part of the official motorcade.

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