Silence descends on 10 Rajaji Marg

Empty spaces

On the evening his body was taken from 10 Rajaji Marg, a hush of silence had descended on everything around, from the roads, trees, neighbours to the cook and bodyguard at late President A P J Kalam’s home.

Everyone, guests, his elder brother and family members, political leaders and the media in a mark of respect had proceeded to Rameswaram to accord the People’s President a dignified and honourable passage into the other world. But here in Delhi, close to Udyog Bhawan Metro Station – the place that houses all the big names in the Defence Services, Legislature and Judiciary – the mood and ambience was grieving and sombre.

Even the autowallahs felt the angst of driving commuters towards 10 Rajaji Marg. , “Ab toh Kalam Sahib nahi rahe…ab uss taraf jaane ka hi mann nahi karta…” an autowallah and diehard fan of the late president told Metrolife.

One feels a certain amount of distress and trepidation at visiting the house after its ‘guardian’ has passed away. It is just an ordinary house, shorn of its glory and trappings, another address in the upscale neighbourhood. A sad, forlorn ‘house’ with bundles of carelessly placed files, empty rooms, offices and libraries.

“Ek Kohinoor heera pehele chori hua tha, doosra heera ab chori hua hai,” says bodyguard Gokal Chand, who was on duty on the evening of July 29.

Deeply affected by Kalam’s daeth, he talks candidly to Metrolife about his current state of mind and the pleasant moments of the days of yore.

“Just the evening before leaving for Shillong, Sahib was enjoying a pleasant evening walk in the gardens here. He used to go for a walk daily in these gardens. This Arjun tree (pointing towards the 100-year-old tree in the garden) was his ‘best friend’.

The monkeys here (pointing towards the primates swinging on the trees outside), Sahib never let us shoo them away. He said, ‘let them play here, the garden is for them to play.”

The garden that day didn’t have his steady footsteps walking through it. It was instead, filled with unkempt chairs, half-pulled down tents and the yawning, silent space.

Chand had been serving Dr Kalam as his bodyguard for the past two years, but never felt like he was one. “Sahib bahut achche se rakhte the humein,” he adds, “Since he always spoke English, we didn’t converse much, but still I was very comfortable and happy guarding him.”

Just then Dr Kalam’s cook, Sanjeev Mandal, who used to prepare his favourite dishes for him for the last five years, enters the conversation in a bemused state.

“Humare liye woh bhagwan the,” says Mandal. “He passed away in such a sudden and shocking way, that we still cannot believe that we are in the same house without him.”

“He used to travel and be out a lot, but then we always had the hope and looked forward to his return home. Today we know the vacuum can never be filled.” Mandal fondly recalls his time with Dr Kalam, each anecdote peppered with sadness and joy at having been part of the great man’s universe.

“And he loved my cooking,”says Mandal a sudden spark lighting up his sad eyes. “He never complained about a single thing and used to praise me in front of his guests.I
used to cherish that the most,” he adds.

Learning these little details about the late president, which perhaps no one knows, makes one feel the pangs of loss that the country and the people have suffered.

With a heavy heart
Metrolife attempts to enter the house. The room where public meetings used to be held, just had two framed photographs of him, with rose garlands adorning them.
You look at the paintings around, and you get to know that he was above and beyond being a President, a scientist and The Missile Man. While walking towards the kitchen, the cook yet again succumbs to his emotions. “Just three days back I had got this ration (groceries) for Sahib,” he says with a heavy voice while restlessly opening and
shutting the kitchen cupboards and shelves.

Pretty much the situation when any family member passes away. With family members busy with last rituals at Rameswaram, the house is empty save for these more-than-family domestic helpers, taking charge of the house and attending to visitors and their queries.

His personal assistants and secretaries are busy clearing the files and sorting the house. Metrolife requested them to speak about Dr Kalam,  and was handed cold replies, “We are not in a mood to talk”; and “We don’t want to say anything.”

At this moment, another bodyguard who was on duty says, “Sahib toh kabhi kisi ko mana nahi karte the. Jo aata tha sabse milte the.”

We can only hope for 10 Rajaji Marg to be as welcoming as it has always been.

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