I remember my first stint as a book reviewer for a journal was for the book “Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India”. I was handed over that book by a common friend as a farewell gift. I had then never realized that “Ignited Minds…”, the book by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam would stay with me for long, before I again touched upon his other books at a later stage.
I must admit that reviewing “Ignited Minds…” wasn’t easy. I couldn’t finish the book at one go. Each chapter was so alluring, that I had to turn the pages back again and again. The words were simple, yet captivating. Each sentence was thought provoking and compelled the readers – at least me – to think about the next step of my life. I too dreamt. That was the year 2002, when Dr. Kalam assumed the office of the president of India.
It was a pleasant moment when after almost a gap of four years in 2006, that I happened to meet the man, whose book had left me awestruck. In the years that passed since 2002, I had grown closer to Dr. Kalam because he was more often in the news – he definitely never wanted to be talked about – for many silly issues concerning him such as who would stitch the bandhgala for him or who would be his hair dresser, or would he prefer keeping his locks in the manner he always did or style it otherwise, and so on.
There was also another reason for me – and people of my age or younger to us – to get closer to this president like never before. Here was Dr. Kalam initiating his conversations with youth on models of development, science and technology for rural India, empowerment of the girl child and so on. Here was again the same man interacting with children in rural villages, schools in far and wide in different parts of the country in a manner that came as a breath of fresh air to many of us who directly or indirectly became part of such creatively energetic conversations and interactions, where a man in his mid seventies would become a child with children and make them his own.
He became the ‘Children’s President’ or as someone in one of the television channels while paying his tributes to Dr. Kalam – it was perhaps General Shankar Roychoudhury -called him the ‘eccentric grandfather’.
His building of a personal camaraderie with men on duty at the border areas or at the base camps won the heart of a nation of over a billion people. He became the ‘People’s President’.
Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (GSDS) had invited Dr. Kalam to inaugurate the World Peace Gong that was donated to Gandhi Smriti by the World Peace Gong Committee of Indonesia and handed over by the ministry of external affairs. A communiqué from Rashtrapati Bhawan – during the security drill – was that Dr. Kalam would want children by his side during the inauguration ceremony. This was followed exactly.
What came next was most inspiring. I still recall how Dr. Kalam had almost sprinted after the formal inauguration to join his favourite friends for a small interaction. This short moment of five-minutes with the children brightened each child, as they sparkled in the glory of meeting the Scientist, the ‘Missile Man’ and most importantly their preferred friend who was the president of India.
The next occasion was during the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations in Gandhi Smriti, when Dr. Kalam led the entire nation to pay rich tributes to the Father of the Nation. The year was 2006. Almost 400 plus children from different schools of Delhi and NCR had joined to pay a musical tribute to the Mahatma. I fondly recall how almost entirely during the programme, Dr. Kalam – while sitting in reverence at the prayer ground – smiled at the children, sometimes slowly waving at them. The child in him always found an outlet amongst the children. He later broke all security protocols and joined the children. I stood near him and was lucky to hear him speak to the children. He was indeed addressing an entire generation of people – and that included me too – on his vision of a future India.
That was the last time I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Kalam in person.
Strangely in the afternoon of July 27th, some of us were discussing about how a patriot and visionary like Dr. Kalam would be an able statesman and a true visionary to take India to the new millennium. But the evening brought in a spell of darkness after hearing the sudden demise of the 83-year-old dynamic stalwart.
There was though one satisfaction. He was at the best place where he always desired and deserved to be – talking to the youth at an academic circle – the Indian Institute of Management in the northeastern state of Shillong, which also happens to be my hometown.
Farewell to the scientist, engineer, professor, author and president. Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam – (October 15, 1931 -July 27, 2015). Rest in Peace, Sir.