The Best Gift

The Best Gift

The auditorium reverberated with a thunderous applause of the clustered audience that had packed the wide hall to suffocation. 

Time seemed to stand still as I soaked in the vibration emanating from the guest of honour standing at the podium waving to the humongous crowd. 

Tacitly, I shed tears of ecstasy and chanted a silent prayer, “Thank you Lord for this blessing. If not for You, I could not have been blessed with this moment of sheer bliss.”

I also shed a quiet tear in fond remembrance of my maternal grandfather because of whom I could witness this euphoric moment and unforgettable scene today. 

I was, after all, standing there in the backstage with a potted plant and shawl in my hand all neatly arranged on a tray. 


It was fourth of January in the year 2012. I was super excited and looking forward to this day since long. 

A special year and a super significant day; for reasons more than one. Primarily, it was my birthday. It was made even more special as I was turning a tricenarian. And this was not all. I was attending the annual day program of my school from where I had passed out over a quindecinnial ago.

It wasn’t just another annual day celebration. It was a moment of great prestige, pride and pleasure to be part of such a distinguished event this year. 

I was the alumna of this school called ‘Vani Vidyalaya’ in a suburban station popularly known as Mulund in Mumbai. This school was like a second home because my maternal grandfather was the founder member of this institution. 

My maternal grandfather whom I fondly called ‘tatha’ was my role model and someone whom I deeply idolised since childhood. My tatha had shaped ‘Vani Vidyalaya’ up to create a niche and mark and had elevated it’s standards to make it one of the most talked about educational institutions in the place. 

His efforts were rewarded fruitfully and the school had earned a reputation for itself. Today, however, he wasn’t present in person to witness the diamond jubilee celebrations of this age old institution.

To commemorate and honour the celebration to make it special, a few sources were contacted and it was decided to invite one of the most revered personalities in the country.

It was the former President of our country, a mentor for many and one of India’s greatest scientist and human being, Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. 

The very thought of having been blessed with a chance to meet him held me enraptured. It was on this day that some of life’s best experiences were to be unfolded. 

While I was already in my thirties officially, married and settled in the City of Joy – Kolkata, West Bengal, at this time, I was coincidentally staying at my parents place in Mumbai.

I was undertaking a course in the bachelors of education from a prestigious college and was nestled at my parental home in Mumbai exactly at a time when this grand programme was being planned.  

The news of Dr. Kalam’s visit on the occasion of the school’s diamond jubilee celebrations were announced and word had spread like wild fire.

Everyone wanted to be part of the prestigious event to at least catch his glimpse and hear him address the audience. 

While the aspirants were innumerable, the passes were limited. It was practically impossible to permit so many people to be a part of the audience.

People were willing to pay any amount to just be able to get a seat in the audience. The rush and excitement was maddening. 

Though the school authorities had anticipated this mad rush, the response was overwhelming and beyond ordinary. 

Initially, the issue of passes were limited to two per individual but within two days the entire tickets for seating were sold out. 

People still demanded more and the auditorium authorities had to be contacted to seek a solution.

The auditorium had balcony seating available too and they said they could arrange to set up the place to accommodate more people. The school management felt a bit relieved but they still were apprehensive. So, they limited the pass issue to just one ticket per individual. Despite this, the tickets were sold out within a day. 

People were willing to pay even three times the price to actually just get an entry and attend the event. 

Amidst all the chaos, I could never seem to really hold a chance to be a part of such a prestigious event. But two things that never left my side were hope and faith; hope of a brighter tomorrow and faith in the Supreme Divine Mercy to whom I prayed sincerely every single day.

The principal of the school was looking for sincere volunteers to help with a smooth flow of the event. 

I had put in a word to my mother to help me get an opportunity to be a part of this unimaginable moment. She was working with the institution as the head of administration. She was getting regular updates on the course of preparation for the event and that is when the news of volunteers reached her.

Even without asking me, she signed up my name to the list. When she later told me the good news, I was elated. 

A group of volunteers were called to plan and execute the event to success. From decorations to rangoli, lamp lighting to gifts, presentations to sequence of events were highlighted to be worked upon.

I was thrilled to bits and enthusiastically went about helping the school unveil the best possible set up.

The confirmation arrived from the office of the former president about his arrival and schedule. Dr. Kalam’s personal secretary was extremely particular about the timings, course of events and mentioned that Dr. Kalam could not wait for more than an hour. He mentioned that the itinerary had to be submitted in advance to the office and a review will be given and suitable changes will be declared, if necessary.


The D- day arrived. Dr. Kalam was picked up from the airport and escorted to the car. He was first driven to the school premises where he was welcomed on a floral carpet. Here, he was requested to light the lamps indicating wisdom. 

I stood there as witness in awe of each of these blessed moments unfolding. My pounding heartbeat was the sole witness to the level of excitement contained within. 

After the lamp lighting, a small prayer song was performed by a group of trained students after which he was escorted to the auditorium. 

When the announcement of his arrival was made on stage, the entire assemblage stood up to offer a remarkable welcome to the former President. 

That is when I was called up on stage to present the tray to the member of the managing committee who offered Dr. Kalam the shawl and potted plant. 

I touched Dr. Kalam’s feet on stage and felt the jubilant gush of joy within. The moment felt blissful and time just stood still.

I noticed the calm demeanour of this vibrant personality who stood in front of me. I just couldn’t take my eyes off him. It felt like I was witnessing The Divine Almighty standing in front of me to bless me with my heartfelt desires.

A few performances of three to four minutes each was scheduled to be executed by students. 

Since ours was a South Indian Organisation institution, the school had students who were well versed in Tamil too. 

Tamil was Dr. Kalam’s mother tongue and he was mighty impressed with one of the students delivering a Tamil speech in honour of Dr. Kalam and his contribution towards the nation. 

I stood there on the backstage watching revered Dr. Kalam deliver his speech. 

He opened his speech with his favourite, “All of us do not have equal talent. But, all of us have equal opportunities to develop our talents.”

At one time, he mentioned, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”

He also added, “Failure will never overtake us if our definition to succeed is strong enough.”

To the students, he specifically mentioned, “Don’t take rest after your first victory because if you fail in second, more lips are waiting to say that your first victory was just luck.”

He also offered another important message to all the students, “To succeed in life and achieve results, you must first understand and master three forces— Desire, Belief and Expectations.”

He concluded his speech with a very powerful message. He said, “If you fail, never give up; because FAIL means ‘First Attempt In Learning ‘. Remember this and you will surely reach up the success ladders.”

Each message left a deep, profound impact on my mind and I felt determined to carry these treasures with me forever. 

As Dr. Kalam concluded his speech, he presented a few autographed books of his works to the school library. It was time for the icon to finally depart. The audience once again stood up to honour the icon who lived to serve the nation and set and inspiration to all alike. 

I still fondly recall this prestigious moment of my life that remains etched into my Soul. I feel blessed to have witnessed this historic moment that offered me these rich, priceless and valuable life lessons.
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Lakshmi Ajoy
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