CHENNAI: As the nation mourns one of its greatest presidents, an intellectual giant whose most remarkable achievements literally are ‘rocket science’ to most of us, to the folk whose adoration bestowed upon him the title of ‘People’s President’, the depths of sadness his passing has brought is for one over-riding thing — they have lost one of their own.
Forget his pioneering efforts in India’s space program, his role as the missile man. For most of the everyday workforce that make up this nation, Kalam will forever bring to mind other things — his inspirational rise from a boy of a small fishing hamlet to the highest office in the nation, his overriding humility, his work in educating and inspiring youth and most of all, his love for and the respect the youngest of us held for him. For them, Kalam is a symbol of what one of their own can achieve.
“My son was in tears last night when he heard the news. He just finished his engineering recently and has always looked upto Kalam as a role model,” confessed Mohan, an auto driver, in between one of his ‘savari’ duties. Another of his compatriots Ramesh K, was taking a passenger home on Monday, when he heard the news from the passenger. “I was devastated. We spent the whole of the twenty-minute ride talking about what a wonderful man he was,” he said.
“In his passing away, we have lost an institution-builder and a team leader, a visionary and dreamer who always wanted to build a strong and self-reliant India,” said Anand Jacob Verghese, Chairman, Aeronautical Society of India, Chennai Branch.
Kalam’s humility is also a theme that constantly crops up — from tea shops to the gardens of the High Court.
“I knew of him only after he became the President. Not all leaders moved well with children, but he did. I have heard that he used to politely and patiently answer questions put forth by children. I respect him not because he was a President to this country, but for his simplicity even when he was the first citizen of India,” said G K Gajapathy (65) who works as Gardner at the HC.
But what is humility in a man of small achievements? It was Kalam’s humility in the face of his monumental efforts and successes that people hold in high regard - and the effect that had on the youth of his country. Kalam was the perfect role model.
Vijayakumar, a shopkeeper in Nerkundram, concurred. “The way he behaves, the way he talks to students and inspires them, he is more like a teacher. He is a leader who will always remain in my heart,” he asserted.
And through all the tributes made after his passing, the speeches being made from the highest echelons at his greatest, nothing sums up better the value of what was lost — “Who will be my son’s role model now?” asks auto driver Ramesh.