By Vijay Darda | 29-07-2015
At 83, with his youthful energy former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam showed no signs that he was living in the sunset years of his life. Indeed, moments before the missile man actually flew into the stars, he was preparing to offer an assignment to the students of the Indian Institute of Management at Shillong – how to make the Parliament function. We now have the full import of his statement that good byes should be short. Even in his passing away he gave us this lesson of life. Teaching was his passion and he wanted us to remember him as a teacher. So, as I say – Alvida, Kalam Sir – with a heavy heart my mind goes back to the umpteen lessons he taught me with utmost care and personal affection during our numerous interactions.
It all began at the dining table with my telling him that I am the ‘son of a freedom fighter and patriot’ and ‘social welfare and not power politics were my concerns’. In a spontaneous gesture that overrode all presidential protocol, he promptly offered me his plate with his characteristic humility in a gesture to honour the spirit of sacrifice that embodied the freedom movement. From that moment onwards, he was care, warmth affection and guidance personified.
There were searching questions about the people of my constituency in Yavatmal, and after a brief while he stopped.
“I am meeting all the MPs from Maharashtra, we will discuss other things then,” he said and within a few days all of us were there in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Right from the then home minister Shivraj Patil, everyone was literally treated like a student in Kalam Sir’s class as one by one we were questioned about the development profile of our constituency. As usual, he was ready with all the facts and figures, on a separate blackboard for every constituency, and most of us were looking like sheepish students who had not done their home work. Fortunately, I had some inkling and had come prepared, so it went off more or less well for me. Then there was a memorable trip to Yavatmal. He was impressed with what he saw at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Amolakchand Mahavidyalaya. An institution started in 1956 in the backward area of Vidarbha with just 40 students has truly fulfilled Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s prophecy that it shall become the biggest college in the region. The fact that Babuji (my late father and freedom fighter Jawaharlalji Darda) had the foresight to bring science education into the region left Kalam Sir deeply moved and he spent a few quiet moments sitting near his statue. He also had a warm exchange of pleasantries later at our home with my mother.
“Call me professor,” he told an inquisitive student during the question answer session who wanted to know as to how he would like to be addressed after he lays down the office of the president. His term was about to end when he visited Yavatmal. Dr Kalam also shared his mail id with the student.
We all know he transformed India’s presidency. From being an aloof figure, he was a president you could touch and feel. The young and the students who are usually shooed away from adult company were made to feel like VVIPs in his presence and at public functions. He actually bridged the gap between preaching and doing. His life was a living example of the fact that education can do wonders for you. Once you have the right education, then your origins are not a limitation for your growth. It was for this reason that he was a sought after public speaker. His words meant action. In an era, where we are facing an acute dearth of people who can inspire the youth by their own example, his passing away is a great national loss. Alvida, Kalam Sir.