As director of the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai, Arvind Paranjpye knows that the earth rotates on its axis. Yet, even this man of Science, would suspend disbelief if he was told that on Monday, July 27 night, even our planet stopped rotating for a few seconds in shock at the death of A P J Abdul Kalam.
As the tributes fly thick and fast, Paranjpye says, “His death is untimely because even at 83, I felt he had many more years to give us. I had a couple of opportunities to meet him and what stood out most was his humility. I remember nearly 15 years ago I was Scientific Officer at the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune.
We had invited Kalam to interact with children. At that time, Jayant Narlikar was director of the IUCAA. “Kalam was so humble. He asked a boy what would he like to be. The boy said, ‘I want to be a scientist like you.’ Kalam had replied, ‘I am a technocrat. If you want to be a scientist, be like Jayant (Narlikar)’.”
Paranjpye also remembers Kalam speaking to a well-known scientist who was a student then, called Varun Bhalerao. “The students were making telescopes and that was when Kalam took out a card and gave it to Varun. There were some words written on the card, I am sure Varun must still have this card and cherish it still.”
Paranjpye recalls meeting Kalam on other occasions too, “At a college function, once, he was to give a speech and a number of senior staff persons were seated in the front row. He said that, ‘I want the young people to come and sit in front’.”Paranjpye added that it was a cocktail of Science and secularism that underlined the late Kalam.
“Absolutely secular, you could discern that even in his conversation,” he stated. He added that Kalam did not believe in any kind of mumbo-jumbo as a Scientist When he was elected President he was asked if he wanted to move into the Rashtrapati Bhavan on a particular day, if he thought it auspicious.
He replied, ‘Every day is auspicious for me, as long as the earth rotates on its axis’.” Signing off, Paranjpye voices the sentiments of many as he says, “On Monday night, I was in shock. Now, I feel there is a hollow somewhere, beneath my feet that is the vacuum he left behind.”