"I knew what was being said was baseless. If it represented the reality, I would have been perturbed."
President Pratibha Patil
It's just a little over 48 hours since Pratibha Patil has been sworn in as President of India, and the ghost of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has not yet departed from Rashtrapati Bhavan. His portrait still dominates the succession of waiting rooms that we pass through till, finally, we walk down a corridor flanked by oil paintings of figures from India's freedom struggle, our footfalls echoing over diamond-shaped black and white marble tiles. We turn a corner and a naval ADC ushers us into a study where Pratibha Patil—dressed in an off-white khadi sari with a narrow brown border—has just finished confabulating with her new secretary, Christy Leon Fernandez.
She crosses over with a firm step and sits down, lady-like and upright, with her legs crossed, smiles and inquires whether we've had some tea. Her predecessor, she says, "used to give interviews" from his study table, but she thought this (she gestures to the conversation area we are seated in) "might be more comfortable". She begins to talk, in fluent English. There are no minders in the room—both Fernandez and the ADC have left. Soon, it is more than clear that behind that deceptively low-key, soft-spoken, head-demurely-covered-with-sari-pallav exterior, there is steel.