In Loving Memory: A President and a Rocket Scientist

Last week, India and the world paid homage to India’s former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, who passed away, on July 27.

And my thoughts went back to those occasions when I had had the honour of meeting with this legendary personality.

In February this year, in this column, I had welcomed to Bahrain, Dr Kalam, who was making his maiden visit to the kingdom. Among those three days of packed events, he also attended the 4th anniversary of our newspaper, DT News.

On that occasion, this renowned rocket scientist presented “Emerging Scientist Awards” to three young Bahrainis, on behalf of our newspaper.

I had the privilege of being with Dr Kalam, when he was received by HRH the Prime Minister and HRH the Crown Prince of Bahrain at Gudaibiya Palace. It was an honour then, for the entire Indian community, that Bahrain accorded a welcome befitting a Head of State to this former Indian President.

Even in my wildest dreams, I did not imagine that now, hardly six months on, I would pen down a homage note in memory of the most loved President in the history of India.

I was fortunate to interact with him on many occasions. It was on January 9, 2006, at the VVIP Lounge of Mumbai International Airport that I met him for the first time. Dr Kalam was then serving as the 11th President of India. He was in Mumbai to address the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the largest gathering of overseas Indians.

When I asked him for a message for the Indian expat community in Bahrain, he quickly said: “Tell them to enrich their host country with their sweat, knowledge and dignity.”

Four years later, I had the privilege of sharing the stage with him, in the city of Trivandrum, India, when I served as the Global Chairman of the World Malayalee Council (WMC). He was there then to address the selected students of ‘Altius’, a youth empowerment programme of WMC.

At the end of his speech, he allotted some time for a question-answer session.

Among the students who asked questions was a totally blind girl. And Dr Kalam was so moved and so impressed by her that after narrating the story of Helen Keller, he asked me to call that girl at the end of the session. “I want to have a photograph with that girl”, he said to me. When the girl was brought to him, he hugged her and enlightened her with a few encouraging words.

The famed scientist, who ensured India’s membership in the Space Club, was once asked by a journalist what he considered was the happiest occasion in his life.

His reply was this: “I was happy when the rocket launching mission headed by me was a success, I was happy with the success of our missile programme, I was happy when I was involved in the success of India’s first underground atomic explosion; but the happiest moment was when I saw the smiling faces of polio-affected children who was gifted by my laboratory with low weight orthosis callipers. Earlier they were wearing callipers weighing 4 kg, which now weighed only 400 grams”.

He wanted to be remembered as a teacher and his wish was to die while he was speaking to students. And, true enough, his wish was fulfilled. He collapsed and died while speaking to students of the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong in Meghalaya state of India.

The man who ignited millions of young minds to dream more and dream big is no more with us physically.

But, as thousands of students and young people had written on their Facebook posts, I too feel that RIP, in his case, should not be ‘Rest In Peace’. It should mean ‘Return If Possible’. He, truly, was one of a kind. A rare gem from India.