When President A P J Abdul Kalam consented to appear on the Rediff Chat on November 14, 2005 -- which also flagged off rediff.comís 10th anniversary celebrations -- he was only taking forward what he had initiated when he moved into Rashtrapati Bhavan in July 2002: Meeting young Indians from all walks of life, and exchanging ideas with them.
rediff thus was the perfect vehicle: given its phenomenal reach especially among Young India, the President cut across geographical barriers. The Internet as a medium reflected his passion for science and technology.
But, as always, it is all in the details. And the nitty-gritty of the chatís actual execution was taken care of by the President's Office.
His knowledgeable Press Advisor S M Khan suggested that selected questions be submitted beforehand, giving the President enough time to have his responses ready. This way, he could answer many more questions than are done in a regular 45-minute Internet chat. Thank you, Mr Khan, for the idea.
Rashtrapati Bhavanís technology anchorperson V Ponraj suggested posting the Presidentís replies via three computers, instead of the usual one. The three monitors were plugged into large, flat-screen monitors, which enabled the President to see both the question and the answer before they were posted, and to amend his reply if he felt the need to do so. Thank you, Mr Ponraj, for the idea.
Thanks to Mr Khan and Mr Ponraj, President Kalam, in the 75 minutes he spent on the rediff Chat -- as against the promised 45 minutes -- responded to an awesome 63 questions, but there were others from the Presidentís Office as well to who we owe a note of thanks: his OSD, Major General Swaminathan (retd); Nitin Wakankar; Sheridon; Radhakrishnan; S G Sharma and Raj Kumar.
Given the Presidentís infectious enthusiasm he could have gone on for longer but for understandable constraints on his time.
For those from rediff privileged to be present in Rashtrapati Bhavan during the Chat, it was a moment that brought home the Presidentís amazing grace, his endearing humility and his acute attention to detail.
This President stands less on pageantry, and even less on protocol, as can be seen from this incident: As the questions were being posted, he would turn to one and ask, 'How many have you posted?' 'Ten sir.' 'And you?' 'Eleven sir.' 'Very slow, very slow,' he would gently chide, with a charming smile, urging everyone to make the most of the time available.
'Your questions reflect an urban bias,' he remarked to us in his direct, but inoffensive, manner. 'You are yourself from an urban centre, so it is natural. But I want to address questions from rural India, from remote parts of the country, where the Internet connectivity is not what we are used to.' So the President again went through all the questions posted by you, dear readers, and chose the most interesting ones he wanted to answer. That, in one stroke, tells us volumes about the President's mindset.
Like everything else, this Chat was also a result of teamwork, but if anyone were to be singled out, it is rediff Senior Associate Editor Onkar Singh, who painstakingly followed up with the Presidentís Office for four months and finally saw the event happen on Childrenís Day.
Click here to see for the questions you asked.
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda
Design: Uttam Ghosh