CHENNAI: No other son of Tamil Nadu in contemporary world could have been as popular and inspirational a figure as the former rocket scientist-turned-President APJ Abdul Kalam, who passed away late on Monday. His greatness lay not in rising from his humble origins in a remote fishing hamlet in Rameswaram to occupying the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but in remaining an epitome of modesty and continuing his mission to inspire the youth and children till his last breath.
If Subramania Bharathiar, the other famous son of the Dravidian State, had awakened the youth with his fiery poetry in the last century, it was undoubtedly Kalam who emerged as the 21st century’s national inspirational icon for the youth.
He sold to them the idea of a resurgent ‘India 2020’ and untiringly inspired them to ‘dream’ about this vision without indulging in populist rhetoric.
In an era where the youth and students were getting increasingly restless with the country’s polity and its politicians/ceremonial heads, strangely it was Kalam, then past his seventies, who began to give them hope by interacting with them at regular intervals. He would patiently answer their questions with an evergreen smile. An entire generation of school children and youth took an instant liking to him. His photos sold like hot cakes on the street sides along with that of film stars and populist leaders. Many youth took to social service like opening libraries and rural work inspired by his quotes. He was among the rare breed of apolitical men who became a familiar and beloved personality in the country.
Ever since he became the ‘People’s President’ in 2002, meeting students became a part of his official engagements.
Each time he visited a State, including Tamil Nadu, he would line up interactions with students of several institutions.
During these interactions, he would fondly cite anecdotes from his life and recall the importance of teachers in shaping the future of young citizens. “If a teacher is a failure, the students also will be failures,” he once said at the Anna University. “Our classrooms and hostels were asbestos-roofed and there were no luxurious rooms…but I still remember the classrooms, as in every class, knowledge ruled,” he said of his alma mater, the Madras Institute of Technology, Chrompet.
“I cherish the memories of my teachers as they were transferring knowledge,” he would often tell students. He meant what he said because he would recall the names of each teacher who inspired him. For the millions of youth whom he inspired, Kalam would continue to remain a teacher they would fondly recall for years to come.