By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi : “What would you want to be when you grow up,” he asked. “Sir, I just hate maths and science”, I said. Telling this to India’s missile man and a science genius elicited a raised eyebrow, a heartwarming smile and words of encouragement from A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: “Do good in whatever you choose to do”.
His sudden death plunged me in nostalgia.
Early mornings were often eventful in school days. Especially the wait for the school bus in Asiad Village, south Delhi’s clean and green locality where Dr.Kalam stayed at a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) guest house for years before he became the president of India.
Oblivious of the attention he so rightfully commanded, Dr. Kalam would step out for a morning walk every now and then. Faint memories of him — passing a smile or two, waving a hello or just stopping by for a casual chat with school students scattered all along his walkway — rushed to my mind when the news of his death came out.
He remains a happy memory from my days as a student.
Days before he was announced as the new president of the country in 2002, the security cover around his guest house was beefed up. I remember how on our way back every afternoon, the school bus was always interrupted by the security barricade near his residence, and a group of us used to fool around by shouting “Bomb, bomb”. We stopped when the guards retorted with angry faces.
But Dr.Kalam, on his morning walks, sometimes, evening walks too, would always smile. When people describe him as the ‘people’s president’, I’m reminded how he was first a successful ‘people’s person’.
A personal meeting with Dr.Kalam as his personal volunteer during his visit to my Alma Mater, Bluebells School International here, for the launch of our Science Park, gave me a chance to present him with a bouquet of flowers, a painting, and a treasured walk and talk with him. It was one of those which remains etched in my mind — one which came alive when the news channels went into the “breaking” mode with news that he’s dead.
“What would you want to be when you grow up,” he asked. “Sir, I just hate maths and science”, I said. He could have walked away or said nothing. But what he said was a sign of a good teacher — “Do good in whatever you choose to do.”
That’s one me. Tough to imagine the number of lives he touched with his little ways throughout his lifetime.
Today, when I look back, I know — he said it because the future was always in his vision and making it brighter for the people, country and the world, his mission.
No wonder then that since the Bharat Ratna awardee’s demise, my Facebook timeline has been full of posts from neighbours at Asiad Village recollecting Dr.Kalam’s routine walks; or my former schoolmates recounting their moment of singing and dancing for or shaking hands with the man himself; or even teachers reflecting upon his inspirational aura.
From all of us, it’s fare-thee-well, Sir.