K Kasturirangan is former Isro chief, recalls his association with former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
My first interaction with Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was when I was a research student at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad. He had come to meet Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who was at that time shaping India's space programme.
That was just a casual meeting.
We met again as colleagues at the Indian Space Research Organisation(Isro) but the talks were mainly confined to our work.
Our friendship grew more intimate when he became the head of Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO) and I was the chairman of Isro. I used to go to Delhi for official meetings and we used to meet in the evenings. We used to discuss many subjects and not just science.
Later when he became the President of India, he invited me one day to have dinner with him at Rashtrapati Bhawan. I was touched by his humility. He had got South Indian food -- dosa, vada -- cooked specially for me. He made me sit at the head of the dining table. I was embarrassed but he made me feel comfortable and asked me not to bother.
Later he took me around the Rashtrapati Bhawan. I was amazed at the collection of books in his library. Then he showed me the room where he slept. It had a simple cot, a lungi(dhoti), a veena and a few other essential items. There was no show or flamboyance. His behaviour was as informal as earlier with no distinction that he had been elevated as the first citizen of the country.
Then he showed me the room where he did his technical work. I was speechless at his level of energy. Even at 70 years of age, he worked like a 40-year-old.
What struck me most was that even as the President of India, he led such a frugal, spartan life.
His love for children was always evident. I have been with him at many programmes, where as soon as everything was over he would cross the barricades to interact freely with the children, speak at length with them, and motivate them to take up challenges.
My last meeting with him was in 2014 when I was shifting from Delhi after my stint as member, Planning Commission. It was 8:45pm when I went to his house. He was teaching young students. I was awe struck to find so many youngsters hearing him with rapt attention even at that hour.
We had some informal discussions and exchanged notes. Before leaving I asked him to see my reports -- one on waste energy and one on Western Ghats. " I will surely have a look at them buddy," he said.
(As told to Vanita Srivastava)