'Divine made me serve Kalam'

From a small village, Hosdurg in Northern Kerala, but a short distance from Mangaluru, to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, I consider my journey as a Divine Order to serve the Peoples’ President APJ Abdul Kalam, whom I call “Manushya Deva Roopena” (a God in a human form).

After my graduation, I joined the Indian Army and rendered 17 years of service in peace keeping in Nagaland, Sri Lanka, UN Peace Keeping in Angola and Ceremonial Directorate in Army Headquarters, where I was coordinating the visits of heads of other countries’ ceremonial receptions to be held at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

During this tenure, I came across many opportunities to interact with the then president. Meeting Kalam and escorting him during Army Day reception at Army House in Rajaji Marg, New Delhi, was my first interaction with the Missile Man. After the function, when I called for his staff car and saw him off, I didn’t know that I would bid him farewell years later from the same Rajaji Marg on Gun Carriage.

Love for N-E

Kargil war, in 1999, was the turning point in my life. I had to coordinate and handle the transportation of the martyrs’ bodies to their hometowns. I dutifully attended all the cremations, which were organised in Delhi Cantonment. As part of my duty, I organised the burial at Muslim burial ground for Capt. Hanifuddin who fought bravely and laid down his life.

In July 2002, Kalam took over as the President of India. I was very delighted to attend his swearing in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan. While interacting with the presidential staff, I learnt that the post of comptroller in Rashtrapati Bhavan was getting vacant and I expressed my willingness. Few days later, I received the call for interview.

It was in September, 2002 that I was in front of President Kalam. I was garbed in my ceremonial dress with medals and ribbons. He looked at my medals and said that they were very beautiful and asked me to explain each one. When I told him about the Nagaland medal, he thought for a while and asked me what is the problem in Nagaland. I knew he was expecting a different answer.

I requested him that if President allows, I will tell a real story, to which he happily said ‘yes’. I narrated to him that when I was posted at one of the far-flung border post, there was a village across my post in the forest on the mountain. It was just two km away. But to reach the village, one had to walk down four hours and climb up another four hours. The very first week I decided to take my platoon to the village. 

When we reached the village, villagers coldly welcomed us. Kids around started calling us “Foreign Army… Foreign Army”. Feeling disgusted, we returned and again after a week, we went to the same village with chocolates which we distributed and spent some time with the children. While leaving they called us “Indian Army...Indian Army”.

After 15 days, I went again with a big cake for the village elders and chocolates for the kids. After sitting with them and distributing the cake, they offered us rice beer called Madhu. As we were ready to depart, kids started shouting “Our Army…Our Army”. I told Kalam Ji, “To change from 'Foreign Army’ to ‘Our Army’, sir, it took me only three visits.

He asked me join to Rashtrapati Bhavan immediately. The very same day he ordered to commence his first state visits from the North-East. I was very moved by his decision and his concern for region and the people there. Serving with Kalam for three years was all full of spiritual experience. Since no family members were staying with him in Rashtrapati Bhavan, we all became his family members.

Bidding farewell from 10, Rajaji Marg to Kalam was painful on July 29, 2015. I felt him around asking me to move to Rameshwaram for the final adieu. In three hours time, I was flying to Madurai via Chennai. On reaching Rameshwaram, I got a last opportunity to serve him by coordinating the burial with military honour. My salute, sir, the world will cherish your memories in the years to come.

(The writer is former Comptroller, Rashtrapathi Bhavan)

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