CHENNAI: The year was 2001 and it was the months that preceded his becoming the President of India. He was right here in a quiet corner, in the heart of Chennai working on his pet projects, excited to wake up everyday to go to his research station at Anna University.
Rhymend Uthariaraj, who is now secretary of admissions at the university, was then assigned to meet Dr. Kalam’s computational requirements on campus.
Recounting everything from his simple diet to his endearing gesture of remembering everyone he met, Uthariaraj who worked closely with him for 8 months and had known him dearly even longer, spoke to Express about the man that Kalam was.
It is a little surreal, hearing from someone who had seen him not as the Chief Scientist, ISRO, a former President of India or the architect of Pokhran mission, but as a colleague who came to work everyday and left late at night.
The things that remain stark in Uthariaraj’s memory are Kalam’s love for answering questions, the respect he gave to every person he met and his quiet and constant love for the campus where he kept coming back for years after his term as President.
Here he met people, conducted his research and at other times stayed in his little room at the Ramanujan Computing Center on campus, a place he held dearly. A place that homed one of the most brilliant minds of the country, yet only a simple, functional room. Since his leaving till this day, it remains undisturbed, “and will continue to be so, in his memory” adds Uthariaraj.
“He would visit us every time he came to see the Governor. And every single time he came back, he would ask ‘What’s new? What has been improved since last time’.”
These are questions that reflected his nature, his constant focus on innovation and taking the step forward. Although being a ‘people’s President’, Uthariaraj also remembers him for the true disciplinarian he was, who never went back on principles like punctuality and hard work.
He is remembered by old students and professors as taking early morning walks around campus, stopping not only to greet students and answer their questions but leaving them with more questions.
“He used to meet everyone who came to see him. From old classmates, colleagues to teachers and students, he was a people’s man through and through. He loved talking to young people and understand their vision and always pushed them to go after their dreams,” reminisces Uthariaraj.
Uthariaraj expresses how none of these honours and distinctions, no Bharat Ratnas or halls in his name ever took away even a little bit of his humility, and of course the nation’s love that it earned him.