Kalam Salam

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A poignant account about one of India’s greatest Presidents written by one of his closest associate… Read on for insights!

This is neither a eulogy nor a catharsis but a snippet of my contemplations that I penned after Dr. Kalam passed on…  Every experience I had with him as his colleague and as his personal secretary after he became the President – while travelling to lectures across the world, just being around in a team, early morning walks, discussions and private talks – all form major part of my life.  They are simply pieces that, if put together, would create a beautiful picture called friendship.  To me, he came across as a sensitive, intelligent man with a perfectly normal personal life.  He was always cheerful in a restrained sort of way even during tiring schedules and hectic travelling.  When the going got tough, he preferred the word ‘different’ over ‘difficult’.  After he drafted his lectures, we often sat down for a one-on-one honest open discussion or debate.

I was learning with every discussion because for him, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ needed to be supported by enough facts, credentials, reasoning and, in rare cases, with examples too.  Nobody could pretend to navigate or bluff through conversations with him.  Beneath his simple smile and soulful eyes were great depths of wisdom and knowledge.  He never displayed his grand oracular voice when students sought his help to clarify ideas but helped them with the best possible answers and expressions.  During lectures, I saw a speaker, whose presence when he spoke was paramount because he gave himself in a direct, profound and honest way that was both too simple and too deep for an assessment by smaller minds.  It did take a while before I discovered that Kalamji was never torn between dreams of his disparate worlds and the urges of his different personas.  For Dr. Kalam, every twist and turn signalled a new beginning.  The ‘Fortunate Person’, as I would call him, was the one who played and listened to music, appreciated art and literature and had enough experiences that resonated with what he was at that moment of his life.  Being with him as he penned ‘Wings of fire’ and ‘Vision 2020’ was a moment of personal triumph.    His mission was to encourage future generations.  I admired him for his courage to admit his humble beginnings and his endurance and spirit in the phase of physical troubles when he started his climb.

I was his ‘Funny Guy’ when I said the right thing at the right time, when I took a great lesson from him, when I willingly unlearnt stuff, when I differed with him and backed it up with a convincing and logical reason and especially when we were strengthened by the most perfect feeling anyone can ever have – bonding.

I couldn’t help but be impressed when he made difficult decisions.  It was such a wonderful and liberating feeling when he called me the ‘Funny Guy’ because that meant a lot of things to both of us.  I was his ‘Funny Guy’ when I said the right thing at the right time, when I took a great lesson from him, when I willingly unlearnt stuff, when I differed with him and backed it up with a convincing and logical reason and especially when we were strengthened by the most perfect feeling anyone can ever have – bonding.  He also gave me an image, as worthy as our friendship with a title, ‘My Guy’.  Everyone in his circle knew what it meant.  True to his word, throughout my association with him I was entrusted with planning his daily schedule that involved meetings, travels and lectures, thereby helping me believe that I too had an incredible amount of input into what I was moulded to be.  He was someone who valued his team as much as he valued Indians and his faith in God.

During my last tour with him in July 2015 across Tamil Nadu, as always, he interacted with a lot of students without displaying the slightest discomfort despite travelling through Chennai, Tiruchirapalli, Ariyalur, Cholamadevi, Aravakurichi, Dindigul and Madurai in just two days.  While surrounded by students, he had a mixture of grandiosity, childlike excitement and curiosity –  an endearing cocktail that made him the most popular President among children.  With every opportunity, Kalamji reclaimed his identity, clarified values and made memories with children and I was fortunate enough to learn so many lessons on what love for humanity can achieve.  His last meeting with his teacher, Rev Father Chinnadurai at Beschi illam was beautiful, revealing another aspect of his personality.  And today, I have come to realize that during the prime of my life, I was shaped by his love.  I regard him as someone so infinitely precious because he introduced me to the world as his friend.

Above all, how the food I eat, looks, smells and tastes isn’t the same anymore.  We filled our plates and talked and laughed and ate.  How he relished helping me eat what I liked and desired!  The simple act of eating together was bigger than just the food.  In addition to some great discussions and lessons, there was this bonding that nourished my soul even as I joyfully lost myself in the sheer delight of tasty food.

My perception of reality is intact, yet the absence of his physical being troubles me beyond comprehension.  We as a nation, will certainly succeed in escaping the darkness that has engulfed us through the loss of this noble soul and we shall definitely carry his dream of India forward with an indomitable spirit.  For the enlightened minds of our country, the successive years will be a series of milestones, changes and transformations.  It takes a unique mind to inspire so many in myriad interesting ways.  Dr. Kalam did just that, much to the appreciation, admiration and adoration of his fans around the world.  Hundreds and thousands of curious, excited eyes that followed him, people who lined up for his autograph and fans who clicked photos with him have their own stories to narrate about this great man who was accessible and acknowledged love without fear or fuss.  They will take strength from his quotes and thoughts to dream big.  Is there an iota of doubt that

Dr. Kalam lived his life to uplift our country?

It did take a while before I discovered that Kalamji was never torn between dreams of his disparate worlds and the urges of his different personas.  For Dr. Kalam, every twist and turn signalled a new beginning.

Our relationship was built on more than mutual respect, trust and ‘being there’ for each other.   Ask me if there is such an entity – ever understanding, sensitive, all forgiving and non-judgmental, that I could turn to or rely on as a friend, then my answer would be an emphatic ‘yes’ followed by my mentor’s name.  With him, there were only hits, no misses.  At times he was the near-invisible observer and archivist of the unutterable mysteries that underlie everybody, and this is visible in most of the poems penned by him.  Morning walks with him at the Mughal Gardens during his ‘Beautiful and Eventful Years’ left me in awe of his capability to commune with nature.  Reading his poems always slowed time down, leading me to places where beauty meets eternity – a subtle and elusive combination.  The impression he left with every visitor, both in and out of Rashtrapati Bhavan, was a quiet, pondering sort of thought – one that echoes the sentiments of a personal fulfilment.  The connect was immediate with no membranes of ego and fear in between.

In this troubled world, Dr. Kalam has equipped enough youth to carry forward his legacy of service and compassion.  As Dr. Kalam’s chosen friend, I’m more than conscious of my responsibilities to uphold the ideals this great gentleman represented and shall live the life he chose to live.  I find no greater way to honour him.

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