The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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School borrows ‘class’ for Kalam
- Children and computers imported to impress guest President

Bhopal, Aug. 12: President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was pleasantly surprised last Tuesday when he was greeted at a government school by a volley of questions ranging from black holes to the Milky Way.

If the President now drops in at the school on the outskirts of Bhopal unannounced, he will be in for a bigger — and not very pleasant — surprise: most of the bright and beaming faces that fired away the questions will be missing.

The President’s visit ignited minds in the district administration so much that they thought up an idea more ingenious than any expounded by Kalam in his best-seller, Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India.

The administration carted students from some of the elite institutions in Bhopal to the Eintkhedi Government Higher Secondary School to ensure that “English-speaking” inquisitive minds were at hand when the President took the podium.

The administration was not disappointed. One question Kalam had to field was on the work of astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Out of the around 10 students who got to ask questions, eight are thought to be “guests” brought in from schools in the city.

The “imported” children were not the sole showpieces. An array of computers and exotic plants completed the picture that was made more pretty by a fresh coat of paint. Two days after the spectacle, only the paint and a few portraits of Galileo, Einstein and Newton have survived.

Even the brand-new cables and electricity poles had been uprooted.

Reporters who went to the school were told “two computers” had been returned to the state government but “everything else is in place”.

What about the “village” students who interacted with Kalam' The children in the school would not say — not when an official from the collector’s office is keeping a close watch. The school’s principal was only willing to say that he was “surprised” to see so “many outsiders” on the premises during Kalam’s visit.

But the question that impressed Kalam most was asked by an authentic student of the school — and it had nothing to do with rocket science.

Prashant Jaat, a Class X student from a village, struck a chord in Kalam by asking if rural India would ever get urban facilities. The President’s reply was equally poignant: “The small boy asked a big question that needs to be addressed by all planners and politicians.”

On the same day, the President, while inaugurating a conference on alternative strategies for development, had made a strong case for providing urban amenities in rural areas.

Kalam left, but the conference continued. Today’s chief guest at the seminar, Sant Asha Ram Bapu, called for “sacrifice” and cutting down on needs. He said the poor should learn to survive with less while the rich should offer more “seva” (service).

The preacher, a regular on devotional TV channels, soon turned his speech into a religious discourse with the Assembly auditorium booming with chants of “Hari Om” and “Jai Ramji”. As Bapu raised one religious slogan after another, ministers, senior bureaucrats and NGOs repeated after him.

The preacher also seized the opportunity to promote vegetarianism and wondered how a society would progress with campaigns like “Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande” (Sunday or Monday, have eggs everyday) beaming on its TV channels.

Chief minister Uma Bharti, who was on the dais with Bapu, sought to equate him with the President. “As I looked for direction from the President, I seek Bapu’s guidance to run the government,” the chief minister said, adding that she considered both her “saints”.

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