The day is still fresh in my mind. That was the day when a moment in time froze and (now Late) President A P J Abdul Kalam waited for me. Literally! This is how it happened.
…B R Hills in Karnataka wore a festive look. Frenzied preparations were afoot to receive the President, who was arriving to participate in the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK), an NGO working for the upliftment of tribals.
The state police and his special security team had turned out in strength to ensure safety for the President. A large shamiana with an elaborate stage was erected for the function. A separate place was set aside for people who were to participate in the function. Our organisation had written a book about 25 years of VGKK and Dr H Sudarshan, the founder had very graciously invited me to receive the first copy of the book from the President. I sat in my appointed place and waited nervously for the function to begin.
Before long, a burly policeman came up to me brandishing a stick and brusquely asked me to move to a seat several rows behind. There were several bamboo barricades in between the two places. I showed him the ID card I had been given to wear and explained earnestly, “I have to sit here as I have to go up to the stage to receive a book from the President.”
“This space is reserved only for MLAs and ministers. You cannot sit here.” he said very firmly, even somewhat rudely. Helplessly, I moved towards the back row and waited. As the function progressed, I looked around for a way to reach the dais easily and despaired of ever being able to cross all the barriers when my turn came.
When my name was finally called, I dashed, pushing the policeman aside, throwing caution and modesty alike to the winds. Kanjeevaram saree hitched up above my knees, ducking below, jumping above the barricades, and huffing and panting, I reached the dais. I was aware my unruly hair, which I had pinned in a thousand places had come undone. The pleats of my saree were barely in place.I puffed up the four steps and reached the stage.
Mr Kalam stood, unfazed, with an indulgent smile on his face, book in hand, waiting for me patiently. When I reached him, still holding my saree hitched up clumsily, he did not utter a word of protest. He held the book and waited for me to finish fumbling around, regain my composure and receive the book from him. Still smiling, he asked whether I had written the book. I just nodded mutely. I hadn’t the presence of mind to even request him to sign it. But he turned me around gently, ensured I held the book till it was visible, and requested the cameraman to take a picture of us! He knew how important the picture was in my life. He then gamely waited some more for that very special moment in my life to be frozen!
I still have the book and the memories! Memories of a very special human!
First published in The Deccan Herald – http://archive.deccanherald.com/deccanherald.com/Content/Jun162007/editpage200706157679.asp
Edited version of the original.