Kalam: A remarkable People’s President

Dr Avul Pakir ­Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam’s life as a student was very challenging, filled with hardships and struggles. There was a time when he had to sell newspapers from door-to-door to support his family and for his education. He came from a very modest background and journeyed from Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, and became the President of India. He was truly the People’s President. He contributed immensely to the development of the country both as a scientist and as a president. He was an exceptional teacher, an aerospace scientist and a staunch nationalist who was a great dreamer and visionary at the same time.

PRIP Rajendra Saboo with former President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam during his visit to the Bhavan Vidyalaya in Chandigarh.

Kalam really caught the imagination of the children and the young. He was convinced that children were our future and we had to ignite their minds and after becoming the ­President of India, the first thing he did was addressing 50,000 children.

I met Dr Kalam in March 2000, when the American President Bill ­Clinton visited Hyderabad for an important event under the polio eradication programme. Since I was involved deeply in Rotary’s prime project PolioPlus, I, along with Deepak Kapur and some other Rotarians, also went to attend the event. After his address, Clinton greeted us and enquired about the status of polio. We followed him to the Mahavir Trust Hospital, where he administered polio drops to children and saw the ­lightweight calipers for polio-stricken children developed by Dr Kalam in 1993. That was where I met Kalam for the first time.

A People’s President, a great son of India and a role model for the youth, Dr Abdul Kalam set a remarkable example for generations of Indians.

In August 2004, I had the honour to meet him again at the Rashtrapati ­Bhavan with the then RI President Glenn Estess and his wife Mary, then PRID Kalyan Banerjee and PRID Sudarshan Agarwal who was then the Governor of Uttarakhand. The next day, President Kalam was the chief guest at the International PolioPlus Summit at Vigyan Bhavan, where he spoke movingly about the eradication of polio to save the children of the world. Also present were Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Aishwarya Rai, who was the brand ambassador for polio, President Glenn Estess, PRIP Carlo Ravizza.

From L: Vinita, spouse of PRID Sushil Gupta; PRIP Saboo; Mary, spouse of PRIP Glen Estess; PRIP Carlo Ravizza; Dr Kalam; PRIP Glen Estess; PRID Sushil Gupta; PRID Sudharshan Agarwal and PRIP Kalyan Banerjee at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

In October 2005, at the H N Bahuguna University, Garhwal, President Kalam came as the chief guest invited by then Governor of Uttarakhand Sudarshan Agarwal. I received an honorary doctorate degree from him and we had a detailed interaction. In March 2006, I received the Padma Shri Award from President Kalam where we talked about the polio status in India. This gave me inspiration to do even more for polio. Again, in March 2007, I received the D Litt degree from ­President Kalam.

Dr Kalam with PRID Agarwal and PRIP Saboo at the H N Bahuguna University, Garhwal. Usha Saboo is seen second from right.

In November 2008, he was the chief guest for the Children’s Day event at the Bhavan Vidyalaya in ­Chandigarh, which completed its 25 years. The Bhavanites had the rare opportunity of meeting one of the most influential figures of India in this century. ­Addressing the students, he said, “India is not far from becoming a superpower and its greatest asset, the youth, will lead it on the path of glory”.

An ex-student of Bhavan ­Vidyalaya, Prabhman met Dr Kalam in 2015 on a flight. He was delighted to hear Dr Kalam recall his visit to the school. During the conversation, Dr Kalam told him that he would revisit the school. But that was not to be as he passed away in July 2015.

Dr Kalam bestows the Padma Shri Award on PRIP Saboo in 2006.

My wife Usha and I were privileged to have interacted with the great humanitarian Dr Kalam several times on poliomyelitis, children’s education and other social causes.

Dr Kalam said, “Ultimately, education in its real sense is the pursuit of truth. It is an endless journey through knowledge and enlightenment.” He headed the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, was associated with India’s space and missile development programmes, and hence called the Missile Man.

A People’s President, a great son of India and a role model for the youth, he set a remarkable example for generations of Indians.


The writer is a past president of Rotary International


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