The time I spent with Dr Kalam is no less than a legacy that I have inherited. We met for the first time during my IIM-A days in 2009. He was visiting our campus as co-faculty for a course in nation building and I was one of the few students in his class.
What followed were a series of interactions during the classes and a chance meeting with him after the course got over — and life took a 180-degree turn. One moment I was geared to go for this MNC job and the next moment I came face to face with a truth that was embedded in one simple question he asked: “So, Srijan, you have been gifted with the best education, blessed with high intelligence and you have acquired the much sought-after golden recognition. Don’t you think that it is now your responsibility to use all this not only for your own progress, but also for the progress of the nation and for solving the problems of the world? Wouldn’t that be doing true justice to your abilities?”
In what one would term as a snap decision, I had made up my mind. And thus, began my journey with my childhood idol.
From 2009 to 2015, I witnessed immense humility, simplicity, profound wisdom and the sheer spirit of giving to others unconditionally — the core values by which Dr Kalam lived his life.
I was part of the countless lectures he delivered and listened to his thoughts and ideas that he shared with people. We shared conversations during our many lunches, dinners and walks; and each of these associations ignited new thoughts and ideas in me. As I write this, I am reminded of all the brilliant thoughts he sparked and how each of those thoughts helped me to learn, evolve and transform. My learning with him was just not confined to mere ideas that we shared but also in making me a better human being for I witnessed not just a pragmatic boss but also an emotionally thoughtful human being.
One of the things that really inspired me was Dr Kalam’s sensitivity towards the people he called his friends. His love for friends and his thoughtfulness were commendable and taught me a lot about the strength of the bond of friendship. A very simple but touching incident that I have mentioned in my book – What Can I Give? Lessons from My Teacher, APJ Abdul Kalam – comes to my mind.
Back in 2014, Dr Kalam and I were visiting the Scottish city of Edinburgh, known world over for its research. As was his schedule during most of our trips, a series of visits were planned to various laboratories. One of the visits was to Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology clinic headed by Professor Siddharthan Chandran. He showed us all the work being conducted in this small but cutting edge laboratory and we were quite impressed by what we saw.
As we were about to conclude our meeting, we came across the last researcher — a young lady from England. She was working on a very special technology to regenerate speech and her project was aimed at helping those who were suffering from brain degeneration leading to loss of the ability to speak over time.
The innovation she was working on to fix this problem was called voice banking which could be used to store a person’s voice and later be used in communicating with others. While we were all quite impressed, Dr Kalam had a very particular interest in the said technology. He asked a series of questions to understand more on this and left saying he would like to know further.
Unable to curb my curiosity over his keen interest in the voice banking, I asked him the reason for the same to which he replied, “I have a friend, a wonderful man whom I respect a lot. He was a great orator once but now he has a lot of difficulty in speaking fluently. I want to hear him speak beautifully again. You know who he is?”
Before I could reply, he answered his own question: ‘Vajpayee ji.’
It was extremely touching and endearing to see Dr Kalam’s love, and compassion for his dear friend, whom he hadn’t met for so long. Due to my schedule, I would often lose touch with my friends and disconnect. That incident taught me a valuable lesson about the strength of friendship and how it transcends geographical boundaries.
(The author is an IIM-A graduate who co-authored many books with Dr Kalam. This is an abridged extract of Srijan Pal Singh’s upcoming book to be released on July 27)