Yesterday, India lost a kindred soul, scientist and former President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. News reports say that he suffered a massive cardiac arrest, when he was addressing students during a lecture at IIM Shillong, on the evening of July 27th.
Referred to as the ‘People’s President’, Dr Abdul Kalam served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. Born and brought up in Rameswaram in Tamilnadu, he went on to do his aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology. He spearheaded India’s missile program and was Chief Scientific Adviser to the then Prime Minister Vajpayee during the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test. During and after his presidency, he strived to reach out to as many children as he could, to inspire them to follow their dreams.
While reminiscing about Dr Kalam, one can’t help but remember his silver locks and effervescent smile. Citizen Matters reached out to Bangaloreans who have had the pleasure of meeting Dr Kalam, to share their memories of him. Here’s what they had to say.
Amul Atri, Founder-Director, Mapbloc eSystems
I was a co-passenger with Dr Kalam on a flight from Chandigarh to Delhi around the year 1995. He was Director General at DRDO at that time, and was often in the news due to the rapid developments in India’s missile program. Alighting from his official army car and being escorted by army men, he looked every inch like a senior government official who could easily walk through the airport security with privileges. However, he waited in the queue for the security check and presented himself to the security staff, even as another familiar official, much lower in stature, bypassed security. I could see the security staff momentarily hesitate, humbled by Kalam. He however went ahead with his duty encouraged by the cooperating, high profile, well- protected passenger. I was a fan even then for his contributions to the nation and felt great standing next to him while alighting from the plane. He surely will be missed for many many reasons.
Sukrutha Cagathi, Co-founder of GALEA
On March 28th 2003, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) in Udupi had given its students an opportunity to interact with the then president of India, APJ Abdul Kalam. I was one of the lucky students representing my school.
After the security checks, we were allowed to sit in the hall right behind the media. Our teachers had instructed us to prepare an interesting question to ask the president. Dr Kalam entered with his warm smile. When he started to address us, the very first thing he did was to ask all the children to come and sit in front of the stage, which was typically maintained as no man’s land for security purposes. We were amused by his simplicity and happy that we could see him at such close quarters. He talked about why dreams are important; how dreams get converted into thoughts and thoughts into action. We repeated his lines, “Dreams transform into thoughts. Thoughts transform into action”. He encouraged us to question things and have an open mind always. His words still echo in my mind.
At last came the moment we were all waiting for, to ask him questions. Unfortunately due to time constraints, he could not take up more than two or three questions. But he didn’t forget to ask us to write to him. This event was followed by a lunch with him. Even during lunch, he spoke to us about his vision for India and how we the children could make it happen. I got an opportunity to shake hands with him. That beautiful smile of his and that moment, will always be etched in my memory. He will always be my hero.
KR Anil Kumar, Marketing head and sales coordinate, Net Soft Gyan
I was in my PUC when I got to see my hero for the first time. Every year, there is a ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where the President awards meritorious scouts. In 2006, of the five representatives that were sent from Karnataka, I had the honour of receiving the award from Kalam sir.
I am extremely happy that I got a chance to see him. A lifetime memory that I have today is the award certificate which was signed by my hero, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
Preeti Sharma, CEO, TD M2M Networks
Though I was meeting Dr Kalam amidst all the security around him, he never made me feel as if I was talking to him for the first time. The smile on his face made us relax. He made us feel important and confident.
My son who was five years old then gave him a rose. Dr Kalam accepted it and placed it in his pocket, like Jawaharlal Nehru used to, drew my son closer and asked him what his name was. My son announced that he remembered his full name, and then proceeded to share it with Dr Kalam, who then told him to always remember names which are otherwise difficult to remember. He is truly an inspiration for people of all ages. While we will miss him, his values will make him immortal to us.
Vasanthi Hariprakash, Television and radio journalist
When Citizen Matters reached out to Vasanthi for a quote, she responded almost immediately. On expressing our gratitude for her speedy response, she quipped, “Not quicker than Dr Kalam would have.
Today, I can tell you a secret. Years ago just as he would have loved it, I had a dream, of actually getting Abdul Kalam on one’s own radio show in Bengaluru. Tried too, and failed miserably! Don’t know if even one of my phone calls got past the last landline of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
A couple of years later as television reporter, I was thrilled to get to speak to him, for some three to four minutes, not more, after Teacher Kalam came out of a class at IIM where he had been asked to ‘teach values’ to leaders of the then new BJP government in Karnataka.
Here is an anecdote about the man that will stay with me: A few years back, my mother, husband and I had been to the beautiful temple town of Melkote, 150 km from Blore. At the renowned Academy of Sanskrit Research there, the founder-scholar told us, “He has so many doubts and questions about the sacred texts, that I shiver if I even hear Kalam sir is coming!”
Film maker Poojitha Prasad was around 15-years-old when she published her first book, The Wrong Side of the Bed. She sent a copy of the book to Dr Kalam, who was then the President. To her astonishment, Dr Kalam wrote her a letter.
Poojitha says, “It was a big surprise when I received Dr Kalam’s letter. I had sent a copy of my book to 30 to 40 eminent personalities, and I got only one response, that too from the most eminent of them. Not only did he write a letter, but he had also read the book! At that time, I took the opportunity to brag about it to my friends, but in retrospect, I consider it a life-changing letter, one that tells me to go on writing.”