Kalam@79 Photos: Saju Bhaskar, Mathrubhumi
October 14. Time: 11: 45 pm. It was all quiet and calm at the Government Guest House at Alappuzha with all VIP/VVIP guests retiring for the day. Outside, it was a fortress of sorts, with the Kerala Police personnel keeping a hawk-eye vigil on every visitor, especially those entering the ‘corner room.’ After day-long marathon meetings, we were told that their ‘very special guest’ straight away hit the dinner table along with his close aides. “The President is having his dinner,” said one of the gun-toting cops. The President in question is the former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and he is still referred to as the President by many in Kerala. Time 12:30. For a known Kalam-aide, the night was still young. But this night was special. To make the moment memorable, we passed the security test first. Armed with a chocolate cake and a bouquet, we were called in by Mr. Prasad, Kalam’s Man Friday for decades. Giving me company were my friends Dennis Marcus Mathew from The Hindu and veteran photo-journalist Saju Bhaskar from Mathrubhumi.“Did you all have your dinner?” the birthday boy enquired in his inimitable style. We quickly cleaned up the table and the stage was set for a very, very quiet, simple, celebration. India’s inspirational machine just turned 80. In the presence of his Private Secretary and trusted aide Mr. R.K. Prasad and ADA engineer Mr. V. Ponraj, Dr Kalam blew the candles and later cut the cake while we all sang the B’day song. “I am entering my 80th orbit,” he told. Looking back at 79 years, Dr Kalam said the happiest moment for him came when spin-off technology from Agni heat shield was transformed to make lightweight calipers called floor reaction orthosis (FRO). “The SLV-3 launch, the Agni missile launch, the N-blast at Pokhran, India 2020 Vision discussions and meeting close to 9.5 million youth across the country are my other memorable moments,” the man of the moment said. And then came the big surprise. He stood up by saying ‘okay, okay, okay’ took the cake tray and turned back asking his aide to open the door. The policemen outside, tired after a hectic day’s work, could not believe that the former First Citizen of India wants to share the moment of joy with them. “Come, come, come…Take, take, take,” he said, inviting everyone who were present there. When he retired for the day, past 1 pm, some of the police personnel were delighted that he had in fact agreed to their request to meet their families the next day morning. As promised, he interacted with their families, the guest house staff, the cook, drivers and every human being who was eager to shake hands with him. Every possible gadget under the sun that could take a photo went live soon. On way to the 200-year-old Edathua church, one could see people thronging on both sides of the road for kilometers together to get a glimpse of India’s missile man. Throughout the venues, he was given the welcome, befitting a king. His now-famous interactive sessions with schoolchildren, touched upon issues ranging from poverty, science, moral values, technology and of course, the power of dreams. Ten years from now, he will be 90. Then India would touchdown@2020 – his dream destination for the billion. And, that birthday will be truly special for India.