When I met the Missile Man

When I met the Missile Man

While everyone shares their condolences for our former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, I have a life experience to share with you all, from the day I met the missile man.

It was 2008, and the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) in Pune was organising an event to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The honourable people’s president was expected to be the chief guest, and a handful of schools in the city, including ours, were selected to be a part of this event. Our school, being under the caring shadow of the ARDE, had the most number of participants and was also selected to sing a devotional track in praise of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and education. Fortunately, I was part of the school choir and had the chance to meet Dr Kalam in person.

After an extremely rigorous and slightly annoying security check, we were allowed into the auditorium. A few minutes before Dr Kalam entered the hall, we were all ready to sing, standing innocently on the stage, but what actually was going on in our minds was how we would handle the excitement of meeting such a great man, and how would we would introduce ourselves to him. He stepped up the dais with a warm smile on his face, waving hello to the audience. The auditorium rejuvenated with a loud cheer. The claps by the people echoed throughout the hall in unison. Children adored him and he adored them more!

Before he rested on the grand chair reserved for him, he took a moment to get acquainted with the choir group, us! He started from the right, and I was third in the line, way too excited – we were closer to him than any man in the room. The person before me, Mahesh, was so involved in this solemn moment that words were not coming out of his mouth. Dr Kalam, with a face embroidered with a great smile, asked him, “which class are you studying in?”, but my friend just stood there – the fact that he just shook hands with the missile man had sent off his mind in a euphoric state.

I turned restless after a second and said out loud – “We two are from the same class, sir”. Dr Kalam interrupted me and asked Mahesh the same question again. Finally he answered, and Dr Kalam continued forward. When my chance came, he smiled, and with the same smile and his finger pointing the ceiling as if a father was instructing his child, he said: “Now you can tell me, which class are you studying in?”. His eyes spoke more than his words, and in a split second, I knew it was a lesson for me. He had, in a very simple but in a very effective way, taught me to always wait for your chance before answering.

I stuttered, in a nervous tone and said: “I’m in seventh class, sir”. “Good!”, he replied, moving ahead of me. Embarrassment is what followed for me, but Dr Kalam was too humble to teach a lesson the harsh way. Nobody on the stage realized the true meaning of what he just said. It was only him and I, and this teacher-student moment.

The event went on fluidly with him answering the thoughtful questions of a few students and then enlightening us with his simple life lessons. The auditorium, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam DRDO Golden Jubilee Auditorium, was later named in his honour. Thank you, sir, for teaching me such a great life lesson. That moment and your visit will be forever remembered. Rest in peace, your legacy will be remembered for generations to come.

Dedicated to Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Oct 15, 1931 – Jul 27, 2015
The People’s President, The Missile Man
May his soul rest in peace.

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