New Delhi, Dec.6 (ANI): Her birthday falls on the 23rd of December, but little children today at the Naz Foundation serenaded the French First Lady.
Some twenty HIV positive children, aged between 3-14, sang "happy birthday to you" to Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who seemed to have a tough time keeping her eyes from welling up.
One young boy sang her a song after saying: "I know you are a wonderful singer, I am no good compared to you, but I will try to sing to you."
She listened in rapt attention and applauded enthusiastically at the end of the song.
She even sang along with them when they sang the popular song "We shall overcome".
She promised the children, "India is beautiful. My regret is that I am here only for four days. Next time, I will come for four weeks."
The children presented the French First Lady with a stole and some paintings while she sat cross-legged on the floor with them, with utmost ease.
She picked up one sleepy little child who didn't want to pose for a picture, placed him in her lap and cuddled him, but the little chap seemed more keen on heading to his bunk bed to grab a nap. Very pertinently, she planted a firm kiss on his cheek. The message wasn't loss-that kissing doesn't transmit AIDS. She repeated this message at least three times during the day.
Bruni spent almost an hour at the Naz Foundation interacting with the staff and children. Anjali Gopalan, who suddenly found a six-year-old child abandoned at her doorstep one day, set up the Naz Care Home in 2000.
The child was HIV positive and no institution would agree to take care of him.
Slowly she learned how to care for the child herself, and now, there are 28 children - 15 of them HIV positive in the home. Staffed by 12 people, one doctor and some part time volunteers, this is one of the six community care centers (CCC) for HIV-affected children in the country.
The Naz Foundation is a pilot scheme directly supported by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO).
NACO officials explained to the French First Lady in great detail the difficult and enormous task they face in the country to remove the stigma associated with AIDS.
Bruni has been the brand ambassador for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Since its creation in 2002, the Global Fund has become the dominant financer of programmes to fight AIDS.
For Bruni, this issue is close to her heart. Recently, she told a magazine: "Because of my brother, of course, I am very sensitive to the issue of AIDS. "
She lost her brother to an AIDS-related illness in 2006.
To this reporter, she said: "It's because I have come here that you are here at NAZ. Suppose I had not come, would you have reported it?"
I said No. To which, she smiled triumphantly, and said: "See, that's what I mean, I want to draw the attention of the world to AIDS prevention, and, if by visiting these places, I can contribute to the cause, isn't it good?" Everybody in the room nodded.
Carla Bruni had pertinent questions to ask from Gopalan, the foundation chief, such as how early do children get to know about sex? When do you tell them when they are HIV positive? What are the hurdles in Indian laws? Are the medicines easily available?
Dressed in a blue pantsuit, Carla Bruni was picture perfect in understated charm. She allowed herself a fairly large bejeweled hair clip, small drop earrings and a very thin band of diamonds on her ring finger. She wore no bracelet or watch. A blue pashmina shawl was wrapped tightly around at all times.
She smiled and spoke encouragingly to young HIV positive mothers at the Safdarjung Hospital. Sensible black drivers meant that she could flit in and out of five floors at the Safdarjung Hospital without the need to take the elevator.
The media huffed and puffed behind her. Clearly, the French First Lady is in better form than the press corps.
Bruni met with a young HIV positive pregnant woman, who was undergoing treatment at the hospital. Encouraging her, she said: "You are very brave, keep taking your medicines, your baby will be healthy."
She also met with a voluntary worker, Hari, who was once a wrestler. Today, Hari helps young children take up the sport. He is undergoing treatment at the hospital.
Hari presented Bruni with a watercolour of Lord Krishna that he had made for her.
Bruni spent an hour-and-a-half at the Safdarjung Hospital, not rushing through any department. She followed the route typically followed by pregnant women coming to the hospital for regular antenatal care and HIV-related services.
Her staff and security did not try to rush her through or bar people from meeting her. It was a welcome relief from some of the oppressive security that prevailed during a recent presidential visit to New Delhi. But that is another story.
Bruni's charm is natural. She speaks in soft voice, makes girlish gestures and smiles shyly, almost like Princess Diana in her early years.
If it is practiced charm, then she performs well. She is a natural for the job of First Lady. From the time that she has landed in India, whether in Bangalore, Agra or Delhi, Bruni has been a picture of elegance and almost regal charm.
Her interaction with the media has been minimal-she throws in a namaste here and wave there, but that's about it. As she disarmingly said today: "I didn't know I was so popular in India." By Smita Prakash (ANI)