There are people who always seem like distant stars, too big and far to touch and feel. But then you get star-crossed once in a while, right? And the monstrosity of that event dawns upon you much later. I have always known Dr APJ Abdul Kalam as our president and a great scientist. He’s been as far from my life as anyone could be; the way we read about presidents in our lives.
Cut to 2005, exactly ten years ago. I was in the last semester of my Master’s degree. There’s been a buzz before the Durga Puja holidays that the president Dr Kalam would be visiting the Calcutta University main campus for a lecture and tête-à-tête with selected students from all the departments and campuses. I don’t know how but I had been selected by the professors for this event, and I was shell-shocked to know that I had to attend it. Shocked, and not pleasantly surprised, because I was (and still am) a very shy person. I couldn’t imagine myself in the huge auditorium with a big audience and the president himself!
But the cold feet had to be warmed as my parents and professors coaxed be and helped prepare questions for Dr Kalam, should I get a chance to ask him one. The D-day came and it was perfectly in autumn, just at the onset of the Durga Puja with a festive air all around. The CU auditorium was chock-a-block with students and teachers from all over the University. People jostled to have a glimpse of the legend, but he arrived late due to a delay in his flight. We were mesmerised when he began his lecture. The first thing I noticed in him was his humility. That was perhaps the greatest trait I wished to learn from him. A person of his stature isn’t really expected to be so down to earth and friendly with students, but he appeared to be so. His lecture hovered around not only science, but life in general and was a great lesson for us, students.
I didn’t get a chance to ask him anything, but few of my fellow students conversed with him, and we enjoyed his answers, which had humour in them too. When I look back, it was perhaps one of the great moments in my life, to have attended a session with the legend we admired and respected the most as a student. Dr Kalam has not only contributed to the world as a scientist, but as a pupil’s president. He has been to innumerable educational institutions to interact with students, especially kids and inspire them to think big. I have been lucky to hear him out like many others.
A collection of memoirs on Abdul Kalam entitled ‘Pupils’ President’ edited by Satyam Roychowdhury and published by Bee Books was launched in Kolkata by Sourav Ganguly. You can