When APJ Abdul Kalam walks out of Rashtrapati Bhawan one last time to go to his new, relatively spartan home on Wednesday, one might barely spot his faint footprints on the red gravel across the forecourt.
But in the interiors of the imposing edifice on Raisina Hill, he would have his imprint all over.
When he was set to enter Rashtrapati Bhawan five years ago, his predecessor's aides had wondered if a bachelor President would be inclined to give the presidential palace's Moghul Garden as much attention as it deserved. Usha Narayanan, the First Lady before Kalam assumed office, spent an awful amount of time, tending to the flowers and the 50-plus team of gardeners tasked on the job.
But the rocket scientist did better. Not only did he ensure that the sprawling garden, inspired by the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar and the green spreads around Taj Mahal, was at its pristine best, he even built a herbal garden and a spiritual garden. No surprise then that when Kalam was asked last week what he would miss the most, he promptly replied, "the gardens".
That, after all, was where he spent quite some time every morning, when he was not net-surfing or catching up on the news.
On his own, Kalam would have preferred to go for longer walks in the 329-acre President's Estate, as he did in the initial days after moving in. But it didn't last too long as a routine — word reached him soon enough that his tight security had turned his morning walks into a nightmare for the other residents of the estate. Kalam did, however, step out of the palace on occasion to meet staff members.
It was during some of these rare visits to other parts of the estate that some of the dilapidated buildings that were home to certain employees caught his attention. Within eight months, the employees moved either into renovated homes or into brand new ones.
"He believed that if people are to deliver their best, they should work and live in an environment that makes this possible," said an official.