| Kalam interacts with students at Science City in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Calcutta, July 13: Some 200 children from 30 schools, a clutch of teachers, a packed Nandan auditorium ' it was just the setting for the President to ignite a few young minds during his whirlwind tour of the city.
Only, the children seemed a little too grown up.
At a question-answer session this afternoon, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam received a flurry of profound questions that seemed obviously a product of tutoring.
A Class XII boy wanted to know about the impact of terrorism on child psychology. On the podium, the President ' a little startled ' paused, gave the questioner a good look and replied, “Let the politicians handle terrorism, which is a global thing, and children concentrate on studies.”
But the children weren’t done with grave issues. A girl rose to ask: “How would it be possible to ensure primary education for all in a situation where there is an increasing attempt towards privatisation of education'”
Kalam explained he had signed a bill that will ensure free and compulsory education for all children till they are 15.
A Class X girl went into a lengthy description of how, in her locality, poverty kept children out of school and forced parents to marry their daughters off early. “Against this backdrop, how can one aspire for higher education'” she asked. As she continued in Hindi, the President cut her short.
“Your question is very long. What is it that you want to know'” Kalam asked. Having taken in the question, he took pains to explain why one must never lose hope.
“If you don’t do anything, there is no problem. But when you do something, you are bound to face problems. Let me assure you, if you have good results, there are banks who will offer you loans.”
The profoundest query was still to come. “How does one pursue value-based education'” a boy asked.
“Simple,” said the rocket scientist. “Learn from your parents at home and teachers in your school.”
A few hours later, as he addressed students at Bengal Engineering and Science University, Sibpur, which he formally inaugurated, the President didn’t go in for a question-answer session.
Kalam attended two more functions, at Jadavpur University and Mahajati Sadan, before he faced the city’s students for the last time today ' at Scottish Church College’s 175th-year celebrations at Science City. Here, he wasn’t disappointed.
When the President asked what they would like to be, the answers came in a torrent. “Doctor”, said one. “Teacher,” said another. A few others wanted to be cricketers.
“Politics, anyone' None of you want to be a politician'” asked a surprised President.
“No,” they roared.
And out came the smile. The President looked genuinely happy.