Thursday, July 26, 2012

Welcome to your new house, Mr President

Now that Pranab Mukherjee, India's former finance minister, has been sworn in as India's 13th president, he will move into one of the largest government residences in the world.

The Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, was designed by the architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens for Britain's viceroy to India and as the permanent seat of British Empire in India. With construction starting in the early 1900s, it took 17 years to complete the residence. Eighteen years after it was finished, India became an independent nation.

This mansion has four floors, 340 rooms and a total floor space of 200,000 square feet. It was built with 700 million bricks and three million cubic feet of stone. Hardly any steel was used in construction. Its Durbar Hall has a two-ton chandelier hanging from a height of 33 meters, the Ashoka Hall features a Persian-style painted ceiling and the Banquet hall displays portraits of all the former presidents.
For Mr. Mukherjee, 76, it is a large leap from the village of Mirati in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, where he grew up in a family of freedom fighters. As a child, he used to study by the light of an oil lamp. He studied history, political science and law. In a political career spanning more than four decades, he was elected to Parliament seven times and held several ministerial positions, including defense and foreign.

In his acceptance speech Wednesday, Mr. Mukherjee took note of his progress. "I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi," he said. "There is no greater reward for a public servant than to be elected the first citizen of our republic."

The office of president is considered largely ceremonial, and Mr. Mukherjee's swearing-in ceremony didn't disappoint. It took place in the central hall of India's Parliament in the presence of the former president, the prime minister, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and others, and was followed by 21-gun salute. India's independence was declared in the same hall on the night of Aug. 14, 1947, and India's constitution was also drafted there.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Mukherjee was taken to Presidential House in a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by mounted presidential guards.

For the next five years, Mr. Mukherjee will be living in the mansion. It's a good thing that one of his hobbies is gardening, as the presidential house has a huge garden behind it, known as the Mughal garden. It has two water channels, six lotus-shape fountains and more than 250 varieties of roses.
Besides the mansion, the job comes with two retreats: a wooden house in Mashobra, in the Himalayas, and a 70-acre spread in Hyderabad called Nilayam.