Dr Kalam left the way he would have liked to, talking to his favorite audi- ence, his favorite constituency —
And look what he was talking about —
The Liveable Planet.
When I first met Dr Kalam in 2006, he
was the President of India, a title he carried
very, very lightly. It never came in the way
of how he interacted with anyone, be it of
any office, any standing, any profession.
I had been reading his speeches and
found them inspiring. I could see how they
could be put together as a fantastic book.
During the course of finalizing
Indomitable Spirit, I had the occasion to
meet him a couple of times.
Sometimes, a 15-minute meeting would
spill over into 45 minutes. As President,
Then, when the book got published,
I went and presented it to him. Then
we did another book and another
I last met him July 2 at 6.15 pm — I
can’t believe it was this month only!
— and had a long conversation with
him on the phone last Wednesday
(July 22). It’s come as a huge shock
that he is suddenly no more. It’s left a
void in my life.
He was a living embodiment of all
that is good — truthfulness, simplicity, hard work. He never had any airs
We were once at his house at 10,
Rajaji Marg — this was where he
moved to after he demitted the
President’s office — and we were
doing a photoshoot and an interview
for a newspaper. As we were going
about it, the electricity failed. Dr
Kalam got up, made his way in the
darkness and returned holding a battery emergency light.
After checking that all of us were
comfortable, he smiled and said,
“Okay, now we can carry on.”
As a former President, he had his
staff around him, but he didn’t call
out to anyone.
He interacted with I don’t know
how many millions of people across
the country, but he also had this great
ability to connect with you at an individual level, no matter who you were. He
was always concerned about your well-being and always wanted to know if you
were well taken care of.
More than the qualities of the head,
which were amazing, it was the qualities of
the heart which impressed me.
Over the years, I must have had over two
dozen meetings with him — some lasting
for a long time. His last question, when I
got up to leave, would always be, “You have
a vehicle to go back?”
If I had ever answered no, he would prob-
ably have said, ‘Okay, let me make some
And his tone (laughs) it was always like
that of a teacher. Like a teacher would ask,
‘Have you done your homework?’, he would
ask, ‘Have you got a vehicle to go back?’
Even when he spoke to an audience
(laughs), it was always like a teacher to a
student. He would invariably say, ‘Have you
understood? Raise your hands’ or ‘Repeat
That quality of being a teacher, and the
style of speaking like a teacher, stayed with
After he demitted the Presidency, he kept
himself busier than before. He had had
taken on so many engagements. He wanted
to charge the youth of this country, the people of this country. He wanted to reach out
to them. He was a man on a mission.
He was constantly travelling. Sometimes,
I would tell him, “Sir, why don’t you take it
“No, I am fine,” he would say. “I enjoy it. I
like meeting people.” I think that’s what
kept him going, really.
Occasionally, he would look a little pulled
down. Physically, he had started to look a
little older. Yet he would be working on so
many ideas at the same time.
His energy and his enthusiasm, even at
the end of the day, had to be seen to be
He would always tell me, “I am a teacher
at heart. I’ll always go back to my first love,
teaching, which is what he was doing.”
He was a genuine human being. He was
very transparent and very principled. He
had a mind that was razor-sharp.
If he felt something was not right, he
would not agree, no matter what. You could
not budge him from his stand.
He was very clear that he would never,
ever lower the dignity of the office that he
had held. It’s been almost eight years since
he demitted office, but not once did he for-
get that he still carried that legacy.
Raising his voice was not part of his
make-up; he too gentle and soft-spoken for
Yes, he could express his displeasure but
raising his voice? No. Instead, he would
discuss and debate.
Considering we are so close to 2020 and
he had developed and marketed the idea of
India 20/20, people would ask how close
we were to his vision. He would never show
a defeatist attitude, a negative attitude or a
cynical attitude. He would say, “It’s a big
country, we are getting there, we will get
He was a great achiever and had worked
very hard to reach where he did. He
lived by the principle that if he could
do it, anyone could. He always said
that nothing can hold you back. Like it
says in our first book, an indomitable
spirit stands on two feet — vision and
He himself was a living embodiment
of that. He never expressed dejection
or disappointment — only enthusiasm.
I never ever found any trace of cynicism in him despite the fact that given
the conditions in India are not the
best of conditions and can pull down
even the most positive person.
He was a visionary. His thoughts
were far, far ahead of most of us. In
one of his books, he visualizes that we
will run out of space on Earth and go
and inhabit Mars. Now one may laugh
at it, but who knows?
He was always very clear that it was
the duty of every citizen to support
whatever government was in power
and it was the duty of the government
to look out for the welfare of the people.
He strongly believed that education
holds the key to building character,
especially in the initial years when a
child is still very young and you can
mould him or her.
He believed in proper education and
the proper imparting of moral values
through traditional moral science
classes. He said he himself had bene-fitted greatly because that’s where he
heard, and was inspired by, the
achievements of people who had reached
These are the things that will stay with
me forever. I have been very fortunate to
have had the opportunity to interact with
him over all these years.
Every time you met him, you went back
with your batteries charged.
To think that in this day and age, there
can be a man like him reinforces your
strength in humanity and all that is good in
it. He really was a unique human being.
Meera Johri is Managing Director, Rajpal
and Sons, which has published eight of Dr
Kalam’s books, the latest being Forge Your
Future, which released last October. She
spoke to Savera R Someshwar.
‘every time you met him, you went back with your batteries charged’
To think that in this day and age, there could be
a man like A P J Abdul Kalam reinforces your
strength in humanity and all that is good in it,
says Meera Johri.
President a P J abdul Kalam with Meera Johri. KInD CoUr TeSy Meera JohrI