Naatyachaarya V.P. Dhananjayan
My midnight meeting with Dr.Kalam: (2002, 31st July or 1st August)
I have always been a great admirer of Dr. Kalam from the time I read his “Wings of fire”. I wanted him to inaugurate our Bhaaskara Center for Arts in the north Malabar in 2000 when he was the Head of Defense Advisory Board of the Prime Minister’s Defense Advisory Council. He was to visit Ezhimala Naval Academy which is hardy 10 miles from Bhaaskara site. He promptly replied to my letter accepting to inaugurate and open the institution. But as luck would have it the Pokhran blast in Rajasthan was having some controversy and he had to cancel his trip to North Malabar. Promptly came an apology letter personally signed, saying he is unable to come due to unforeseen circumstances. This gesture speaks volumes about the greatness of a man who has been an inspiration for the generation of the past, present and future.
Rukminidevi used to tell us that there are only two styles of Bharatanaatyam namely Good and Bad…
– Padma Bhushan awardee Sri V P Dhananjayan
Later when he assumed the Post of Rashtrapathi on July 25th 2002, I wrote to him for an audience in Delhi Rashtrapathi Bhavan while we were performing in New Delhi during a week of July 2002. There was no reply, but a surprise sprung upon us to meet him in Chennai Rajbhavan at midnight 12 o’clock, on 31st July. This was his first visit to Chennai after assuming the office of the Rashtrapati. We were in the Delhi Airport returning to Chennai that late evening around 11 PM. My office informed me of the message received from Rajbhavan (Guindy) that Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam will meet us there at 12 midnights. So when we arrived at Chennai Meenambakkam airport, we drove straight to Rajbhavan (Guindy). We were taken to the VIP enclosure bypassing several visitors waiting to meet him for the first time after he became the President. A lot of his relatives from Rameswaram were also there in the lounge. WE WERE THE FIRST ARTISTES TO GET AN AUDIENCE WITH KALAMJEE AFTER ASSUMING THE POST OF RASHTRAPATHI.
The collector of Rameswaram at that time came up to us and said Sir will meet you last, almost an hour later than the appointed time. Of course, we did not mind that and anxiously awaited the doted moment. After sending away all the visitors Kalam walked up to us and guided us to a seat exclusively giving us an intimate chat. We had nothing much to talk except to present him my book “Dhananjayan on classical dances”. Our conversations were throughout in Tamizh only; knowing our Kerala connection a few sentences in Malayalam came in between. Then only I realized that he loved and enjoyed his stay in Kerala as the head of ISRO, Tumba. He was very much interested in knowing about Kalakshetra and Rukminidevi and what was happening in the institution after Rukminidevi etc. Incidentally, he also asked about Bhaaskara in Payyanur and promised that he will make a visit if he comes to the Naval Academy where he owes a visit.
He expressed his keen interest in watching a man Bharatanatyam artiste and especially a couple dancing. I was quite surprised that he was aware of some of the top Bharatanatyam artistes and enquired about the style differences, and he was much amused when I told him that Rukminidevi used to tell us that there are only two styles of Bharatanatyam namely Good and Bad.
He conversed with us nearly 15 minutes in spite of crossing 1.30 am when the Government officials reminded him of his bedtime and next early morning engagement. We took leave of him and a memorable meeting of a man as great as Mahatma Gandhi or Swami Vivekananda will remain in our memory forever, a lifetime achievement indeed.
Later in 2011, we met him again during the convocation of Vel’s University where I received an Honorary D’lit from him. He remembered our midnight meeting and congratulated me for getting the honorary degree that day. Actually, I feel elated to receive the honor from him and I boldly told him, we should have received the Padmabhushan from his hand while he was the Rashtrapathi of Bhaarat. His inimitable humbled smile spoke volumes to me. He was a man of the century and continues to inspire the generations to come.
This is my humble tribute to that great soul – the wings of fire shall ever shine in the horizon as Druva nakshatram.