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Kids take on Kalam

Chennai, Dec. 15: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam must have been astounded at the concerns and fears of 1,000-odd school children he interacted with here today.

At Anna University, Kalam allotted half his 45 minutes with the children to their questions. These came fast and furious.

A Class X boy from a corporation school asked why “we should keep nuclear weapons when we don’t intend to use them”.

Kalam’s answer was simple: “Strength respects strength. We cannot keep quiet when our neighbours and some of the bigger countries have nuclear weapons.” What came next took the children by surprise. “Our Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has assured there will be no first use of nuclear weapons by us. If somebody attacks us, then we will have to attack and this is our position,” Kalam said.

Earlier, he had pointedly said “science in the hands of good people can always be used for good things”. He mentioned C.V. Raman, Subramanyam Chandrasekhar and Albert Einstein as examples.

The brief lull in Vivekananda auditorium couldn’t have lasted long. Uma Maheswari, another student, said how in Japan “everyone saw themselves only as being a Japanese”.

“But here, it is caste, religion, community first and then being an Indian. As the President, will you not see that caste or community names are deleted from our application forms in schools'” she asked.

Kalam, visibly taken aback, said what is important “is (to) be a good human being first”. Then “you can be a good Indian”. If poverty is substantially reduced, “caste and community will vanish”.

Kalam talked of his “pet mantras” of “dreaming, thinking and acting” and said: “What more dreams can I have now… but to see that our youth become citizens of a developed country.”

A girl wanted to know if he “relished being a scientist or President more”. “You have to work hard to be a scientist, your sweat has to drop on the earth. That is how I happened to be a technologist. But becoming President was an accident, it came like that,” he said — speaking both in Tamil and English — to the laughter of children.

Kalam asked the children to mail their questions to the presidential website, www.presidentofindia.nic.in. “You will get a reply in three days,” he promised.

Yesterday, Kalam inaugurated the telemedicine programme at Anna University on its silver jubilee. He was the varsity’s emeritus professor of technology and societal information.

This was Kalam’s first visit to his home state after becoming President.

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