'Kalam was real people's President'
President APJ Abdul Kalam, who lays down office on Wednesday, will be sorely missed by the president's bodyguards (PBG), the smartly attired riders who perform ceremonial duties at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
PBG commandant Colonel Adil Ali Mahmood, who spent nearly two years with Kalam, felt his warmth would be sorely missed. "He was a real people's president. He was a fantastic person who believed in close interaction with the entire Rashtrapati Bhavan staff and PBG was his favourite. He believed in leading from the front, always taking a keen interest in the affairs of both men and horses," Col Mahmood told IANS.
"Even on ceremonial occasions, he made it a point to interact with PBG and when it came to special functions he made sure he spoke to the ranks. He even knew the 'sawars' (riders) by name and always made it a point to speak to them about their family and personal matters."
Col Mahmood's predecessor, Col Bhawani Singh, served three years as PBG commandant under President Kalam. And he is also full of praise for the man who was head of state for five years.
"He was known for thinking out of the box. For one, he advocated a change in the style of management - and was a firm believer in leading by example," Col Singh told IANS on phone from Kazakhstan, where he is on a personal visit.
"It was a unique experience to work with him. What made him different from others was his easygoing style and how involved he was even in the day-to-day affairs of the regiment," said Col Singh.
Both Col Mahmood and Col Singh had served as PBG adjutants before being given the command.
"It was an honour to serve a man like him, who was so down to earth. PBG affairs were always close to his heart. Sometimes he even enquired about individual horses," said Col Singh.
PBG is one of two horse-mounted army regiments in the world, the other being the Jaipur-based 61st Cavalry, which Col Singh commanded before moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan duties.
The guards are also paratroopers apart from being expert horsemen. PBG has just over 100 horses that perform at ceremonial parades, including the Republic Day gala and official receptions to visiting foreign dignitaries.
With all 6-foot plus riders, as well as sundry manpower for administrative and other duties, PBG is the largest single contingent in Rashtrapati Bhavan and is an intergral part of all ceremonies at 1 Raisina Hill.
President Kalam's personal touch has helped PBG become a more tightly knit unit, feel both commandants. "If the boss leads by example, it is so easy for the others to follow. President Kalam practised exactly what he preached.
"He will certainly be missed, though we are looking forward to the new commander-in-chief, who will be a woman for the first time in India's history," said Col Mahmood.