When N. Balakrishnan, Professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, was informed of the hospitalisation of the former President Abdul J. Kalam, he brushed it aside as another rumour. It was only when it appeared on television did the news sink in.
“Every two months or so, people would send me messages of him falling ill or being in ill-health. I would dismiss them, just as I did the first information of him being taken to hospital on Monday…This is a shock and is sudden, because he was not in ill-health,” he told The Hindu .
As recently as Saturday, it was the former president who sent a video message for a programme felicitating N. Balakrishnan.
“He gave a fabulous speech that day,” he said.
Having first interacted nearly four decades ago, the two scientists have stayed in touch regularly. “It is mostly about technical matters, for Mr. Kalam is very interested in knowing the new technologies. For instance, when talking about using technology to spread quality education, he would send me and other people mails to know the latest technology in the field… he may not derive formulas now, but he knew the technicalities of nano-technology, wind energy and others,” says Mr. Balakrishnan.
V.K. Aatre, former head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), described him as man who was “extremely passionate” about technological self-reliance of the country and the need to take this message to the youth.
“Two years ago, we went to a school in my native place of Kalkunte. There were around 7,000 children gathered there and all wanted to shake his hand. It was difficult to keep Kalam away from children and children from him."
"We knew each other for 24 years. He was a patient listener, and I never saw him get angry at anyone even once. Even if someone annoyed him, he would only say ‘you are a funny Guy’, which was his worst abuse."
- V.K. Aatre (Former head of DRDO who succeeded Kalam as Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister)
"Kalam was an extremely simple man who would remember the tiniest issues of people around him – even what the driver ate or the long hours of security men! He knew how to touch people’s hearts and get the best out of them".
- K. Jayaprakash Rao (Former DRDO scientist who translated Mr. Kalam’s autobiography Wings of Fire to Kannada)
"I had met him about a month ago at Raj Bhavan. He was very happy when I informed him of the latest progress of GSLV rockets which are in the crucial cryogenic stage. A great unique soul and our big loss."
- A.S. Kiran Kumar (Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation)