(Published in IndraStra Global 28 Jul 2015, ISSN 2381 3652)
I had the good fortune of associating with the “Missile Man – Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam” for a period of nearly three years. There are many tales but the few that remain etched in memory are given below.
- The first time I received his phone call I was at a loss of words since he himself had dialed the call without his PA coming on line first. Thereafter it became a periodic routine. He wanted status reports on the spot and directly from the ground.
- Once I received him as he alighted from an Indian Air Force helicopter and gently guided him to his designated car, he however, opened the passenger side door of my Armada and said he liked that vehicle and if it is not a problem, could he travel in it?
- Once I accompanied him for lunch with a large group of scientists and others, two large tables were laid out in the dining hall one for the senior personnel and one for others. He chose to stop and pick up a plate from the table laid out for junior personnel and asked whether food at both tables was the same. There after he mingled with youngsters and talked to them until the end of the lunch!
- On one occasion he asked whether the shoeshine machine was a new addition, I informed him it was, and that it also dispensed shoe cream. I asked him if he would like to try it, he looked at his shoes for a long moment and said, ”No, I haven’t polished them for so long, they are OK as they are.”
- Once I was accompanying him in a small boat and the engine sputtered and stopped, unruffled he said just let the other boat come, don’t inform any one especially the security since, they will get worried right up to Delhi.”
- In another boat journey he asked me whether I knew of his origins and proceeded to tell me about the his humble background, his early childhood, his tiny hutment and his village.
- On another occasion he recounted how his father used to give him one paisa for bailing out water from their tiny “Dongi” when they used to go out for fishing.
- Once, after getting wet in the rain in the afternoon he locked himself in the guest room and did not come out until nearly nine thirty in the evening, causing anxious moments for all. He emerged smiling saying he had not brought a change of clothes so had to remain in his room in his “lungi” till his only dress was dried and ironed for reuse.
- One day I met him with my daughters,when he asked them if they believed in dreams, and asked them to dream, for dreams lead to visions and visions to actions to make dreams come true.
- On one occasion due to bad weather he could arrive only around midnight for a meeting that was scheduled for late afternoon. He asked for everyone to be available at 2 am for the meeting since he had to go back the next morning.
- Once when he became President I requested time convenient to meet him and pay my regards, his staff asked me to come at 1430 on a working day in about ten days time. Closer to the appointed day I got a call that the President desires that I come and meet him in the evening accompanied with my wife.
All his interactions ended with his characteristic disarming smile!