Being an ardent fan of writer Sujatha, I got to know that Dr Abdul Kalam and he were college mates in St Joseph’s college, Trichy and Madras Institute of Technology, Chromepet. At the latter named institute, the former pursued Aeronautical Engineering while the latter chose to master in Electronics. They also secured first and second positions respectively for their projects. Their association was to continue well into their twilight years. President Kalam , ever the student-centric teacher at heart that he was, wanted to write a book for children simplifying science and technology . He requested Sujatha, a scientist himself and popular writer with mass readership, to co author the same. Sujatha is supposed to have remarked, “I’m ready anytime you are, Sir”. Had that collaboration come through, it would’ve been a best seller translated into every language under the sun!
There never was one before or after, who re defined the Presidency as he did. Here was a President who stuck to his oily hairstyle making quite many stylists tear their hair in despair. If his thick grey locks shaped like inverted commas framing the forehead were not shocking enough, the disarming disregard for protocol surely was. He was far too distinguished (already a Bharat Ratna) , even before he became President a good five years later, which can’t be said about some of his predecessors or his successor. Every other First Citizen of the nation has maintained a distance from the common man he/she represents while Kalam reached out to them through the world wide web. A student had casually written to him , inviting him to his college. Prompt came the reply from the President’s office that His Excellency would consider the request anytime he visited the student’s town. Imagine the lad’s surprise a few months later when he actually received a call from Raisina Hill asking whether such and such a date would be fine for the college for his proposed visit! Sweet dreams are made of these…who am I to disagree…
Time was when skeletons were tumbling down the closets of several politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats, film stars, sports stars, spiritual gurus even. A thoroughly disillusioned 20 something of a PYT would tell me, “Aunty, the day I hear of a scam involving Abdul Kalam, I swear I’ll give up all hope on humanity!” Personal and professional integrity, simplicity, humility as character traits and eminence in the hallowed field of space science and defence technology made him an awe- inspiring icon way more than any rock star or movie star ever could.
How able was he as a President? I’ve heard of controversial decisions like declaring President’s rule in Bihar, sitting on mercy petitions indecisively and such. The jury is still out on those. What can you say when given a choice, he would rather teach than receive dignitaries, confer awards or administer oaths?
He once wished to become a pilot in Indian Airforce. He didn’t quite make it and went on to become a scientist. Decades later by virtue of being the President, he would become the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces combining not just the air force, but army and navy as well. Yet he didn’t get to be the fighter pilot he originally wished to be, you say….
Well he did, almost half a century later in 2006 when he flew as a co-pilot in a Sukhoi-30 from Pune’s Lohegaon Air Force Base. These are tales one loves to tell one’s children and grand children to ignite their minds to sour on wings of fire…Thank You Sir, for being the teacher who taught by example. Thank You Sir, for giving us pride! Thank You Sir, for giving us hope!