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The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar in Rameswaram
October 14, 2004
There is a story often told in Rameswaram, an island in Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu, the birthplace of President A P J Abdul Kalam.
The President's brother's grandson wanted a seat in a professional college. They approached Kalam.
'If he wants to study then let him get admission on his own merit,' Kalam said. 'If he cannot get it on merit, then he does not deserve to study. I will not recommend him.'
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That, in a nutshell, is what Kalam is about.
As the President turns 73 on Friday, October 15, rediff.com spoke to some of his relatives to find out more about this most unusual and much loved First Citizen.
Muthu Meeran Labhai Maricar is the President's elder brother. He is 14 years his senior.
"There was only a primary school here so he had to go to Ramanathapuram to finish his schooling," he says. "Then he went to St Joseph's College in Tiruchi and MIT (Madras Institute of Technology), Chennai."
"He first worked in Bangalore and then Thumba as a rocket scientist. He was also in Hyderabad. Fate was not willing and so he never married.
He says Kalam calls sometimes. "I never call him because he is busy. He calls between 10 and 11 in the night."
As a child the President was very studious, according to Maricar. "He was not a good athlete but did play football and badminton.
"In those days there was no cricket craze in the country."
Syed Sirajuddin, the son of Kalam's brother, says he learned humility from his uncle.
"We never do anything that will embarrass him," he says.
His niece Ashika Begum says, "Uncle always tells us to be united."
His sister-in-law Kamal Nisha reminisces, "When I married into this family, he was already working in Thumba. He was a very serious person. I never joked with him as we normally do with our husband's younger brothers."
A S M Sekar, chairman, Rameswaram Town Panchayat, says, "His brothers have many children. The Kalam family comprises about 50 to 60 members. They are the most unobtrusive people in this town.
"They don't interfere in any public function. They go about their work."
"The President is not one to ask anything for himself or his hometown," adds R Ravanan, the public relations officer of Ramnad district.
Nothing special has happened in Rameswaram after he became President.
The collector, on his own initiative, sanctioned a new building in the primary school where the President studied.
According to Kartheesan, one of his colleagues at the Indian Space Rsearch Organisation, "He is very genial and down to earth. When he ate in the canteen, he always went to the kitchen and thanked the cook."
Image: Dominic Xavier
Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images