Kalam and his crumpled coat

The man wearing a crumpled coat caught my attention. Some noticed him  –  as someone not actually dressed properly  for the occasion. It was an ‘at home’ hosted by President R Venkatraman at the Rashtrapati Nilayam, Bolarum, Hyderabad. The “who’s who” of the city was there. I saw cricketer Mohd Azharuddin. Made small talk with him. But it was the man who was standing aloof, who grabbed my attention. Not one seemed to know him. I did. He was standing out in the motley crowd.
Never mind his crumpled coat. Never mind his unkempt hair. Never mind him being by himself. I walked up to him. He was taken by surprise that someone even seemed to know him. He wasn’t a celebrity. He wasn’t behaving like he was trying to grab attention. He stood there, where he was. Stood apart, would be a better description. We shook hands. He was pretty amused that somebody had recognized him.

Abdul Kalam was heading a defence establishment in Hyderabad as far back as in 1988-89. At that time he wasn’t in the news but those who followed developments were aware who he was. I chatted with Abdul Kalam for some time. There wasn’t much depth in the conversation because of obvious reasons. He could not divulge anything more than required about developments in defence. But the meeting with Kalam was memorable. His simplicity. His disregard for pomp.  He not feeling important, or acting important registered in my mind.

But he wasn’t the simpleton that he looked like. At work, he was cruel to himself.  A friend in the defence establishment told me that even if he had given an appointment to someone to meet him, he would refuse to see that person. The work on hand would always be more important to him, even if it meant not keeping an appointment.

And so it was that someone showed up to meet him at his office. The person waited. And then Kalam sent word through his staff to tell him that he wasn’t available. The person was aghast. He could see the light glowing in Kalam’s room. Members of his staff were going in and coming out after meeting him, and he was being informed that Kalam wasn’t there. The employee who told me this interpreted it in the right context. Work meant everything to Kalam. And if he chose not to exist to some people at that time, he was that raw a person not to even give it a thought as to what the other person would think about it.

Abdul Kalam rose. He went on to become Advisor to Raksha Mantri. Such was the aura surrounding the man and the importance he got in the government. His time was so precious that the government allowed him use of the Indian Air Force aircraft. He once landed in the University of Hyderabad for a convocation function in an IAF helicopter.

After serving the country for many years, Abdul Kalam retired. I met him at a program organized at International School, Tolichowki, Hyderabad. He had come there because his friend Dr Kakarla Subba Rao had invited him.  I happened to sit beside Kalam and we were talking. He spoke about how he wanted to fire the imagination of school students to dream big.

While we spoke, if a student were to pass by, he would pull the lad by his shirt. When the student who would turn to see who tugged his shirt, Kalam would abruptly stop the conversation we were having and ask the child: “Hey you guy, what do you want to become in life?” He did it several times. Whether it was a boy or a girl, his advice would be, “Think big. Dream big.” Just a week later, he got a call from the then Prime Minister Vajpayee when he was on his morning walk in Bangalore. AP CM Chandrababu Naidu too had called him just before that saying that he should not refuse their request to become President of India.  After Vajpayee spoke to him, he agreed. He became President of India. Lives on in the memory of a nation as the “People’s president”.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.