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Obama Makes Guest Appearance On Modi's Radio Show


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken to moonlighting as a radio host. He hosts his own show once a month. And for his latest episode he had a special guest - President Obama. The two leaders recorded the show Sunday during Obama's visit to India. And as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, the broadcast aired across the nation today, and millions tuned in.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Modi set the ground rules. The questions would come from the heart, he said. That way we'll get new energy, said the Indian leader, an inveterate tweeter who had solicited questions from the public on his account. This installment of Mann Ki Baat, or Voice From The Heart, did have a homespun feel and gave two leaders a chance to talk more personally about themselves and their improbable rise. Modi, a tea seller - Obama, the son of a single mother. Modi said some people wondered what the president's name meant.


PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: In Swahili it means one who is blessed, Modi explained. He went on. "The ancient African idea of Ubuntu," he said, "alludes to the oneness in humanity." The same ancient tradition, he said, that has guided India since Vedic times. "This unites us," he declared. Modi is relatively new to this radio business, as all the papers rustling near the president's microphone suggested. The president opened with a traditional Indian greeting.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Namaste. Thank you, Prime Minister Modi.

MCCARTHY: Obama was relaxed, or jetlagged, and distinctly different in tone from this morning when he pointedly took India to task over religious intolerance. The president said he has made common cause with Modi to uplift the poor and empower women. He invoked Gandhi to describe how he viewed his job.


OBAMA: And that is we should endeavor to see God through service of humanity because God is in everyone.

MCCARTHY: One questioner asked the president, would he go shopping for his daughters? Answer - yes, but a staffer would do the footwork. Modi spoke of Obama's affection for his daughters an inspiration for India's families who put a premium on sons. Modi waxed nostalgic about an old snapshot of him that has surfaced since he became prime minister, picturing him as a young man standing before the White House gate on a visit to the U.S.


MODI: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "Of course," Modi said, "I never thought that I would have the opportunity of actually going into the White House," which he did last year. Another questioner asked did you both imagine you would reach the positions you have reached today? President Obama said just as Modi had, he too once stood outside the White House gate. He talked of both of them - two men from humble backgrounds ending up leading their countries and the importance of educating everyone.


OBAMA: Because you never know who might be the next prime minister of India or who might be the next president of the United States. They might not always look the part right off the bat and they might just surprise you if you give them a chance.

MCCARTHY: Modi said he did not focus on being somebody, but doing something. The president concurred.


OBAMA: If you're helping somebody else, the satisfaction that you can get from that, I think, exceeds anything else that you can do, and that's usually what makes me inspired to do more.

MCCARTHY: And who inspired Modi, the prime minister who is early to rise? Benjamin Franklin, of course. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.