After Pokhran, Kalam was unrecognizable: hairstylist Amjad Habib

Story by  Tripti Nath | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 27-07-2023
President APJ Abdul Kalam with the Habib family (Sources: Family album)
President APJ Abdul Kalam with the Habib family (Sources: Family album)


Tripti Nath/New Delhi 

Hairstylist Habib Ahmed and his sons, Jawed, Parvez, and Amjad have had a special connection with the late President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Although India’s missile man passed away eight years back, the family still cherishes the memories of the extraordinary President.  

It was Amjad Habib, who gave the missile man a hairstyle that the world will always remember.  

Recalling that day, Amjad says, “It was a week after the Pokhran II tests in May 1998. Dr. Kalam would come to the salon every three weeks for a haircut but had not shown up for almost six months. So, when he walked in around the forenoon, I was surprised to see him. His hair had grown to shoulder length and his toenails had grown so much that he had difficulty walking. He asked for hair- cut and wanted his nails cut as well as they had become very hard. The pedicurist had to soak his feet in hot water for almost 45 minutes and we sent for a special tool from a barber to cut his nails.’’ 

Amjad recalls that since Dr Kalam liked long hair, he cut his hair in steps and gave him two bangs on the forehead which looked like a crescent moon. “From 1998 to June 2002, a fortnight before he took oath as the President of India, I kept altering his look to give him a trendsetting hairstyle. I succeeded because many clients came to me later asking for Dr Kalam like hairstyle. He liked the hairstyle so much that he never changed it for the rest of his life. He would also care for the shampoo boys and the cleaners.’’ 

Amjad first met Dr Kalam around 1986 when he was working with his father Habib Ahmed in his salon. 

“I cut Dr. Kalam’s hair for 16 years. Around a year before he became the President, Dr. Kalam came to our salon at Delhi's Lodhi Hotel. He seemed a little upset and he asked me to change his look. Within 24 hours, he called me and said that he wanted to go back to the old hairstyle. After a month, I restored his old hairstyle. Dr. Kalam had frizzy hair. He liked long hair and wanted to keep them slightly long but he wanted a tidy appearance and hair that was easy to maintain. The style I chose for him is called ‘reverse graduation’ and had been a favorite of rock stars and pace bowlers. He liked using the serum we made and resumed using it after he ceased to be the President.’’ 

Amjad who is now in his 50s can never forget how Dr Kalam comforted him when he lost his first-born Ashma due to wrong medication. “She was only one and a half years old. I was very upset and wanted to file a case of medical negligence against the hospital. Dr. Kalam’s words: ‘Yeh toh Kudrat ki di hui cheez thi. Kudrat ke saath chali gayi’ were very reassuring. He even contacted the hospital to find out what went wrong and advised me not to revisit my pain.’’ 

Amjad says that Dr. Kalam advised me to read some ‘Aayat’ from the Holy Quran and offer Namaz five times a day. He told me that when I have my next child, he would name him or her. When my son was born in 2001, I called him up to share the news. He exclaimed ‘ Mashallah’. He will be called Azhaan outside home and Ayaan at home.’’ 

Azhaan is now enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in Business Application (BBA) at Amity University, Noida while his younger sister Aaliya is pursuing law from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Both help Amjad in business. 

Amjad has vivid memories of the time when Dr. Kalam invited his father and their family to Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2002. “While walking with us in Mughal Gardens, he told us about the medicinal value of plants especially Aloe Vera in the herbal garden he had created. He suggested that we make a product with Aloe Vera. We came out with a shampoo and a conditioner. The product was very well received. We wanted to gift him a sample of the Aloe Vera hair products but he said that he would not accept any gift during his Presidency. I also remember that we had been allotted 15 minutes to meet him that day. So, the security people came in because we had already spent 45 minutes but Dr Kalam told them that we are his family.’’ 

Describing Dr Kalam as truly extraordinary, Amjad remembers that his playful child who was only two years old patted Dr Kalam on his chin when the President took him into his arms. “I scolded Azhaan but Dr Kalam checked me. He said that my son was just a kid, a shining star who could not understand who he was meeting.’’  

A third-generation hair stylist, Amjad also distinctly remembers a mysterious visitor who walked into their Lodhi Hotel salon after the Pokhran II tests. “He sat around the shampoo station briefly and asked if India had done a nuclear test. This man was probably a spy and he knew that Dr Kalam was our client. When Dr. Kalam came to the salon, I told him about this man who was asking about the Nuclear test. Dr. Kalam asked me to be very careful in sharing information with anybody.’’ 

When Dr. Kalam’s name was nominated for the post of President, Amjad asked him how he felt. Dr Kalam said, “I am human but I am not a politician.’’  

After he became President, Dr. Kalam followed protocol and began to get his hair cut by the barber in the President’s Estate.  

Amjad says he wants to visit Dr. Kalam’s grave in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu to pay his respect. “I had very cordial terms with him and I would also take the liberty to joke with him. I even dared tell Dr. Kalam once in the late 90s t that I was looking for a match for him. To this, Dr. Kalam laughed and said, “I am already married to my missiles. I would ask why he was always wearing a blue shirt. He would tell me that blue being the colour of the sky was his favourite colour. He was always very simply dressed and was fond of wearing brown sandals. He would spend 30 to 45 minutes in the salon and ask his security men not to come inside.’’ 

Amjad recalls another incident while he was at a South Indian restaurant in Lodhi Hotel, the steward dropped piping hot sambar on his shirt. I happened to have walked in to greet him but I was surprised to see that Dr Kalam did not scold the steward. Instead, he asked the manager not to scold the steward or throw her out.’’ 

Amjad’s father Habib Ahmed who met Dr Kalam a week before he passed away, has vivid memories of his friendly conversations with India’s missile man. 

The senior Habib who has also cut Dr Kalam’s hair, says that Dr Kalam would offer ‘Namaz’ for 45 minutes in the evening as he was not able to offer Namaz through the day. “He was very fond of listening to South Indian classical music.’’