NEW DELHI – Michelle Obama strolled with 15 schoolgirls and took turns holding each one's hand during a field trip Monday through a museum of Indian craft work.
She delivered a strong message to the girls, telling them to study hard and be educated. She also said she likes to exercise because "women have to stay strong."
After the tour, the group sat under a canopy of trees and shared mango juice while Mrs. Obama entertained their questions, some of which were probing.
Fourteen-year-old Manpreet Kaur, who came by overnight train from her village in Punjab, had asked the first lady if American girls struggled like India with the issue of gender preference for men.
Mrs. Obama replied that things in the U.S. had improved and that there now were as many women in universities as men.
Manpreet asked another tough question: whether Mrs. Obama or the president had to apologize first after they get into a fight. "She said of course the president makes up first," the girl said, drawing giggles from the rest of the group. The girls said they were surprised by the answer and would go home and tell their mothers.
Mrs. Obama greeted the 10- to 14-year-olds under a peepal tree, a tree of worship considered the personification of Buddha in India. Together with the museum director, the U.S. ambassador's wife and a translator, Obama and the girls toured the National Crafts museum's terra-cotta animal statues, bronzed Hindu gods, replicated village huts and painted scrolls of mythical kings.
Most of the children are the first girls in their families to study.
The low-key field trip was the first lady's last solo outing in India before the Obamas fly to Indonesia on Tuesday.
The girls, prim in braids, bows and school uniforms, pointed out elephants and tigers in ancient tapestries and listened intently to the museum director's descriptions of blue-faced Krishna dolls and a wood-carved four-armed statue of Durga, the Mother Goddess and destroyer of evil.
Mrs. Obama smiled at a giant statue, and pumping both hands in the air, told the girls "women and power."