Reminiscences of President Pranab Mukherjee on former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalama as conveyed to media on board his aircraft en route to Delhi from Bangalore on July 28, 2015
I am deeply saddened by Dr. Kalam’s unexpected demise. He would have completed 84 years in October this year. There is only a four year difference between us. He was born in October 1931 and I was born in December 1935.
My first interaction with Dr. Kalam was when he was Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri. After the Pokhran blasts, Prime Minister Vajpayee invited leaders of the Congress Party for a briefing. I, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and a couple of others were present. The technical aspects of the tests at Pokhran II was explained by Dr. Kalam through an impressive presentation. Vajpayeeji, Ministers and other political leaders analysed it from the political angle.
I congratulated him when he received Bharat Ratna in November 1997 and when his name came up for Presidency. But, we had formal interaction only after 2004. I was Defence Minister in the UPA-I Government when he was President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He asked me to support the Brahmos missile project. His direct encouragement resulted in the Brahmos being used by all the three services. Initially, it was a surface-to-surface missile. But now we have adapted it and there are surface-to-air, air-to-air, and naval versions. Dr. Kalam and his colleagues developed this indigenous cruise missile of India. Dr. Kalam’s contributions enhanced our defence capabilities.
Dr. Kalam used to often write poetry. Sometimes, while paying respects to departed soldiers at Amar Jawan Jyoti, he would compose a poem and quietly pass it on to me. I received two/three poems like this.
Our friendship developed because we had a common passion –books. He loved books and lived amongst them. His world revolved around books. Many years ago, I read in college a poem ‘My days among the dead are passed’. Dead here means authors who are no more. I am always surrounded by books. He too was always surrounded by books. Moreover, he was a prolific writer. This passion brought us together. When we met and the few times he came to see me, we would discuss books. What each one was reading or what he was writing. He chided me why do you not write? You read but your production is poor compared to your reading. Why don’t you write?
After my becoming President, he visited me several times and we discussed many things. On his last visit, he presented me his book ‘Beyond 2020’.
I was shocked when I heard the unexpected news of his demise. A sense of tremendous loss overwhelmed me. Dr. Kalam was always jovial but carried his years lightly. His mind was ever agile. He was humble but had a mighty mind. He was the people’s President during his tenure as President and will continue to remain so in the hearts of people after his demise.
No President was ever loved so much. Jawaharlal Nehru received a great deal of love and affection from children and the people. After that, it has been Dr. Kalam. Watching Dr. Kalam enjoy the company of children and students, it seemed as if he was Nehru in another form.