ABU DHABI // A select group of pupils will ask India's first female president today about women's empowerment and the challenges of leading the world's biggest democracy.
Pratibha Patil, the 12th Indian president, is on a four-day state visit. She will make a brief stop at the Abu Dhabi Indian School for an hour this morning to talk to the young people and watch several dance performances.
"I feel really lucky that even living outside India, I get to meet the president," said Sania Zia, 17, the student "head girl", a leader of the student body.
A handful of the children were picked to meet with Mrs Patil for eight minutes, after she delivers a lecture.
"We did some research and combined that with our curiosities," Sania said.
Queries also will include the president's expectations of Indian youth.
Rimna Fathima, 17, and Akanksha Bindal, 16, both assistant head girls, will perform a traditional Arabic dance.
"I am not nervous about the dance," Rimna said. "I am just nervous about meeting her."
Although the Abu Dhabi Indian School has more than 5,000 pupils, only 1,000 were selected to listen to the speech, given the size of the auditorium.The children who were selected are from Grade 4 onwards. Of the 1,000, 150 are from 20 other Indian schools across the UAE, according to Vijay Mathu, the school's principal. Teachers selected the pupils based on academic aptitude.
"We are deeply honoured that the president has chosen our school to address a wide spectrum of students," Mr Mathu said. "There are over 80 or 90 schools, but we are one of the oldest and biggest schools in the capital."
One young student also hopes for a chance to ask Mrs Patil about the pressures of being a president.
"I would like to ask her many things like, 'Is it a lot of pressure?'" said Shyam Hari, 10, a Grade 5 student from Our Own High School in Dubai's Al Warqa'a area. "I would like to ask her about her responsibilities and whether it is a nice job and if she likes it. I think it will be really cool to see the president of a country."
Two other students, Austin Mendonca and Shreyas Eswaran, said they read about the president's visit in the newspapers. They are excited to be among 10 students from Grade 5 and 6 who will represent the school at the meeting.
"The fact that I will be meeting a president is hugely exciting," said Austin, 10. "She is a really important person and I have read that she has come here to improve relations with the UAE."
Shreyas thought it would be interesting to meet a senior political figure. "It is an honour," said the nine-year-old student. "It is difficult now [to be a politician] because there are always so many controversies, but a president is above all that. I'm a class monitor and I know about discipline so it will be great to see a president."
For the pupils who will not be joining in the president's festivities, "school is on" as usual, Mr Mathu said. "Once she leaves, even the ones participating in the cultural programmes will be going back to their classes." .
* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam