An associate as well as a disciple of Dr. Kalam, Srijan Pal Singh has composed a memoir, ‘What Can I Give: Life Lessons from My Teacher, APJ Abdul Kalam’, dedicated to his mentor in which we come across many unknown anecdotes from the life of the great scientist. One such interesting thing revealed in the memoir is Dr. Kalam’s special fondness for a tree. The ‘Life Tree’ that Dr. Kalam spoke of in the lines mentioned above too is apparently a poetic idolization of nature inspired by that real tree that he was once ‘acquainted’ with.
As revealed in the memoir, it is an Arjuna tree situated in the presidential residence that once had been home to the late former President. People who visited there to meet Dr. Kalam were indeed asked by the president if they knew his ‘friend’, Arjuna. Dr. Kalam would himself escort the guests to the front garden, where Arjuna stood, and introduce the tree to people as ‘a wonderful fellow’.
This unique love for the tree was not only because of its natural essence but because it seemed to him a witness of the past, an entity which survived through it. The hundred-years-old tree was almost the same as Dr. Kalam’s parents — his father a 103-years-old and mother (over 90) when they departed. The tree that had seen the tumultuous times, the freedom struggle, its leaders and flag-bearers, the transition from one period to another, was a living testament to life itself, one that unfolded many secrets of nature to Dr. Kalam.
It is told that Dr. Kalam would walk up to the tree daily and, through a silent mode of communication, they seemed to exchange their thoughts. No one could understand what relation the Missile Man had with this tree and why he showed much interest in it, but somehow they made each other wiser. Dr. Kalam would often thank Arjuna for taking care of the presidential abode through the ages and for helping so many buds to grow under its care.
During one such personal moments of adoration for the tree, Dr. Kalam would go to philosophize it and say, ‘Diamonds are found in the depths of the earth, and not at the height of the sky.’ Every time Dr. Kalam saw the majestic tree, he used to marvel at this darling form of nature from which hanged a beehive containing kilos of honey. The tree was frequented by the flock of birds like cuckoos, mynas, sparrows, etc. that would indulge in endless chatter, while Arjuna provided them with shelter.
When asked about his affection for the tree, Dr. Kalam once said, ‘Arjuna lives to give and anyone who lives to give needs to be venerated’. To the then president, Arjuna’s reason behind standing steadily at such an age was its mission in life that had always been to ‘give’ whatever it could, to let other get benefit from its presence.
The great man did not stop there and went on to highlight how many lives depended on Arjuna. The tree, dense with foliage that carefully shielded its inner branches, supported runner plants around it and several nests, besides offering life-sustaining oxygen. Also, hidden in the thick bushes, growing around the base of the trunk was a peacock’s nest with eggs. The little chicks that came out of those eggs were called ‘Pea-children’ by Dr. Kalam. These little creatures too became a part of the president’s family, and he would regularly ensure that they were fed in the courtyard. Of course, soon many other birds like pigeons and parrots joined these pea-children. This established a tradition which had to continue for years. When the president was not in the town, he would leave his instructions to the staff to feed them. And, when he returned, he used to check on them.
Now that the great soul has departed, he has left us his lovely memories and great messages. He is no more to talk with his friend, Arjuna, the tree. He is no more to feed those birds. However, birds are still provided there with food, and probably will be fed forever in the remembrance of the people’s man. And, the tree still is there at its best business that is to ’give’. And, we wish in the words of the poet, ‘May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse’.