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Crowds scramble for a glimpse. People race to shake his hand. Others frantically thrust invitation cards for his autograph.

It's a safe bet that Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar would provoke such adulation, but a former scientist with a hasty gait and an unruly mop of hair?

At Rashtrapati Bhavan, at the high tea the President of India hosts on Independence Day there are the capital's inevitable movers and shakers (Example: Sonia Gandhi), the long celebrated (dancers Yamini Krishnamurthi, Raja Reddy) and the recently damned (Jagdish Tytler), but everyone else is in the shadow of the incandescence A P J Abdul Kalam radiates that evening.

Presidents evoke respect -- some like the first three Heads of State, deep reverence -- but such animated admiration must be a first in the Republic's history.

Indians worship learning but that would be inadequate explanation for the President's mystique. There have been Rashtrapatis with more impressive CVs than the graduate from the Madras Institute of Technology -- Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, for one, was Bar-at-Law from Lincoln's Inn; K R Narayanan was educated at the prestigious London School of Economics.

The core of President Kalam's appeal lies in the Indian public applauding his inherent goodness, recognising that this is an uncommon man, someone whose humanity is so evident that it entrances even the most sceptical and suspicious amongst us.

The constellations currently above India must be in unique conjunction. We have fine men as President and Prime Minister; men of unusual integrity and comparable goodness. India must seize this moment; it may not return again.

Impressions: Nikhil Lakshman. Photograph: Sondeep Shankar/Saab Press

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