Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been busy on his U.S. visit. Since he arrived last Friday, he’s laid flowers at the 9/11 Memorial, suggested implementing a World Yoga Day to the UN General Assembly, and filled the stands at Madison Square Garden. Less publicly, he has a string of high-level meetings with politicians and business leaders, including a private dinner with President Obama at the White House tonight. And he’s doing it all on an empty stomach.

Mr. Modi is observing a nine-day fast for the Hindu festival Navratri, something he has done for decades according to the Wall Street Journal. Over the course of his hectic five-day U.S. visit, Mr. Modi is consuming nothing but water or lime water. This has no doubt caused a massive headache for both the PM and his hosts, who need to gracefully figure out the correct protocol for a highly unusual dining situation.

Mr. Modi addressing the UN General Assembly. (Photo: Narendra Modi official website)

Mr. Modi addressing the UN General Assembly. (Photo: Narendra Modi official website)

Is the President going to eat while Mr. Modi abstains? Will he limit himself to beverages? Does soup count? These are the hard-hitting foreign policy questions our commander in chief (and his no doubt exasperated staff) must have been grappling with in the weeks leading up to this visit. Adding to the potential awkwardness of the meal is the number of taboo conversation topics. Protocol School of Washington president Pamela Eyring points out in the WSJ that food, a usually innocuous subject of small talk, is literally and figuratively off the table.

A salad served to François Hollande during a White House dinner in February. (Photo: Getty Images/ Wall Street Journal)

“Oh, sir, it’s only a tiny, little, thin one.” “No. Fuck off. I’m full.”
A salad served to François Hollande during a White House dinner in February. (Photo: Getty Images/ Wall Street Journal)

Something else they’ll be taking pains to avoid mentioning is the fact that, until he was elected Prime Minister in May, Mr. Modi was actually banned from entering the U.S. due to allegations that he failed to stop bloody anti-Muslim rioting when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. And last week, in the lead up to his arrival, a New York court issued a summons for him to respond to a human rights abuse lawsuit relating to the riots.

Although, if POTUS tries to press Mr. Modi on that or any other uncomfortable issues, he is perfectly placed to deflect questions by following the advice of What To Talk About authors Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker:

“Spoken with confidence, these words will get you out of any exchange: It’s been so nice talking with you. Then fake-faint until the other person walks away.”

[via the Wall Street Journal]