Dr. Srinivasan Sundarrajan worked under the Late President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam for well over a decade. Here he shares with us some of his more personal experiences with Dr. Kalam, during his famed morning walks.
The morning walk was one activity Dr. Kalam never missed throughout his life. I had the opportunity to join him on a number of occasions. It was his private time and he generally preferred to do it alone. I understood this thus I quietly listened to his views on nature for most of the time. My interactions with him during our morning walks started after he moved to Delhi. Of course, it was also a special experience to walk with a person with Z security with armed guards moving along with us. This was the time he kept himself totally free from formal thoughts and spent his time enjoying nature, talking about the flowers and trees.
On one of those occasions, he was explaining to me the power of prayers. We normally pray to God for our well-being. The effect is more when somebody else prays for us. The Supreme effect could be experienced when society prays for you. He brought out the point to serve society rather than self. During those days, a Tamil magazine had a section on mass prayers were structured and planned society prayers were done for those who needed divine intervention. He liked this concept. He also linked Veda Parayanam (chanting of Vedas), prayer meetings in Church and Mosques to this effect. He used to talk about the rocks of Hyderabad and the need for green cover. Perhaps he was using morning walks to develop his passion for writing poetry and develop his ideas for the messages he later conveyed in his books.
I used to enjoy the morning walks with him. There were a couple of occasions, however, when I was caught on the wrong foot and spoiled his mood. Due to a perceived familiarity, I crossed my limits, took liberty and passed on my comments without realizing the reaction. I would like to talk about two of these instances.
The first came when his maiden book of poetry was published. Dr. Kalam had always been a very passionate poet. I came to know from his classmates during his college days that he loved to write. When we noticed him writing something during meetings, we thought he was noting down points. During one such occasion, I casually peeped to see what was the writing. It was a Tamil poem. He wrote only for his personal satisfaction and at the time did not realize the power of his messages. His first book of poems was translated into English and released in Administrative College of India. During the morning walk the next day, he asked me about my impression of the book. I did not realize that he was so enthusiastic and happy about the release of his maiden attempt. My immediate reply was that the poems translated into English by a third person lacked the punch provided in the original Tamil version. He gave a very disappointed look and walked away from me. At a later stage, he published many books. Even though at that instant I felt right to communicate my frank opinion, I realized that he expected a lot of appreciation for achieving what he wanted to after many years and the first book even though a translated one, must have given the highest sense of achievement to him.
The second occasion was a more serious one. Dr. Kalam was declared as a Presidential candidate when he was at Anna University, Chennai. The next day after the announcement, he was at DRDL Hyderabad. I went to meet him during the early morning hours. The entire guest house area was cordoned off by police and they did not permit me to get in. I was standing in the garden when Dr. Kalam came out and asked me to join him in the walk. Of course this time, apart from the Z security guards, a big crowd of officials followed us at 100 meters distance. It was an hour long walk. He was very happy to walk in the place he had developed into a great campus. He was recalling his visit to the same place years before he joined DRDL and he had felt a positive energy that indicated to him the power of the place. I jovially mentioned to him that I purchased a number of wall hangings depicting messages from the Bhagwat Geeta and passed on to those who had depression. He liked the verse I narrated.
“ Everything was good yesterday; Everything is good today; Everything will be good tomorrow; Why are you worried? Whatever is yours today will belong to somebody else tomorrow. All have been taken from Me and all will come back to Me; Go ahead with your work”
Things were going well when all of a sudden, Dr. Kalam shot me a question “What is the reaction of people on my getting nominated for the President position?” I was not ready for the answer to this. I replied immediately that all were very happy about the decision. I went on to say that some were not very sure about his performance since he was not exposed to politics. I should have stopped with this. Without knowing the implication, I added further that those persons did not know what he was capable of. This answer irritated him a lot. He raised his voice and asked me “What are you saying? Do you mean I am a politician?” I realized that I had spoken too much and to pacify him and to justify my statement, I went on to say that he was in Delhi for a long time, moved with politicians, ministers, and prime ministers. Persons moving closely with politicians were bound to be more comfortable to handle the position of President. He was not happy with my answer. He walked ahead. We sat for a while on the steps. He called his car and moved out. The crowd of officials who were witnessing was very unhappy with me. They charged me saying “He was OK in the beginning and you spoiled his mood”.
Later in the office, he addressed a small group of scientists. He was happy when one of my friends mentioned that all these days we were knowing the President and now we can boldly say that the President knows us. He then left for Delhi.
I came home and was watching TV that evening. The news channels were telecasting a live interview with Dr. Kalam in front of the guesthouse where he was staying. One of the reporters asked him how he could be a Presidential candidate being a person with no political background. Dr. Kalam gave a prompt reply “Who says that I am new to politics? I have handled a number of prime ministers, ministers and members of parliament at Delhi as Secretary of DRDO. I am fully aware of the system” The next question was “What is your message to the nation?” He replied with a rather familiar quote from the Bhagwat Geeta “Everything was good yesterday; Everything is good today; Everything will be good tomorrow; Why are you worried? Whatever is yours today will belong to somebody else tomorrow. All have been taken from me and all will come back to me; Go ahead with your work”.
I was speechless. I realized that he triggered me to speak more and took clues from my replies.My discussions during the morning walk with him were limited but remain fresh in my memory.
Former scientist at DRDO and ex-director, NIT Trichy