It was the mid-afternoon of October 17, 2014, when Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran, then MCCI President Rokia Afzal Rahman and I were waiting at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, with keen anticipation, to welcome former Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. This was not his first visit to Dhaka, but, as fate would have it, it was his last one, which left indelible memories in our minds and warm feelings in our hearts.
The Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry had invited Dr Kalam to be the Guest of Honour at the chamber's 110th anniversary celebration to deliver a keynote speech. The celebrated scientist had graciously accepted the invitation, with one condition that he be allowed the opportunity to address science students studying at Bangladeshi universities.
We were happy to oblige, and the simple but giant of a man travelled to Dhaka for a period of just about 30 hours to be in our midst.
The aircraft bearing him landed on time, and he quickly disembarked and walked out on nimble feet with natural aura wafting around him. He smiled and humbly accepted the flower bouquets we had carried for him, and, very businesslike, started to briskly walk towards the exit with us following sharply. This was startling, given that he had just observed his 83rd birthday two days ago.
He seemed to be a man in a hurry, and that there was little time to waste and he must get going with the work that needed to be done.
His meeting with the science students was early that evening, and as he came into the ballroom of Sonargaon Hotel, where over 700 eager, bubbly and enthusiastic students from 17 universities were assembled, his face became radiant at seeing the young people and he happily greeted all present.
He quickly commenced his address without wasting anytime. He radiated the feeling, again, that time was short and every moment must be optimised. He entranced the students and all others present that meaningful evening, electrifying the audience with his unique style of speaking. He related his own humble beginnings as a poor student, and how he went on to study science and aeronautical engineering before ascending to the highest position in India.
His anecdotes included an amazing one of when he was the President of India and how he flew a jet-fighter at the age of 76.
The next day at the celebration of MCCI's anniversary, he was eager to get going and gently prodded me to commence the proceedings.
His presentation was well-researched, elaborate, and he spoke about how agricultural processes could be revolutionised to benefit mankind. Dr Kalam listened with rapt attention to the questions posed to him, and each time he wanted to know the name of the person and what profession s/he was in.
As soon as the Q&A session ended, the vote of thanks delivered, he quickly descended from the stage and made his way to the exit.
That was the last we saw of him. Rest in peace, President Kalam. You have left behind memories which will remain etched in our minds forever. You have touched our hearts with your gentlemanly manner and that incredible smile!
(The writer is managing director of Mutual Trust Bank Ltd.)