Yesterday on my way back from work I saw a banner in front of a tea shop, with a condolence message for the death of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. I wondered why a shop owner would display such a banner with his money. Generally people do so for political leaders and most of the time for some personal benefit. But Kalam was not a political leader, and in a country where many may not even be aware who their President is it was surprising to see common men and women exhibiting such love and affection for a President who passed away. My wonder ceased when I saw several similar banners, autorickshaws speeding with black flags and shops displaying Dr Kalam’s photos. Such scenes were common in other parts of the State as well.
Social media and other media networks had only one thing to discuss on the evening of July 27 – the sad demise of Dr Kalam. Fondly called the ‘People’s President’, Dr Kalam was always the most popular of all the presidents of India. He had a multi-dimensional personality. He was well known for his passion for and contribution to science and technology in general, and space and nuclear science in particular. He was the one who made India truly nuclear. It was in 1974 that India carried out its first nuclear test. The next was in 1998 – the Pokhran-II – and through this test Dr Kalam declared to the world India’s nuclear status with a bang. Though several countries, like the USA, strongly criticised this act, it skyrocketed India’s status in the world arena. Even some months ago his stand on the neutrino project was criticised by some leftists and environmentalists. But no one can deny Dr Kalam’s scientific ingenuity. Called the ‘Missile Man’ of India, Dr Kalam was a great inspiration for scores and scores of young minds. He always preferred to meet and talk with children. Even as a President he was never bothered about security or protocols. He chose to spend time with school and college students – just to interact and inspire.
Known for his simple living Dr Kalam was very different from other presidents. He continued his frugal living even as a President. However, he was always willing to donate for good causes. He apparently called up Dr Verghese Kurien, the founder of Amul, and asked, “Now that I have become the President of India the government is going to look after me..., so what can I do with my savings and salary?” During his tenure as President he decided to give away all his wealth and life savings towards a fund for Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA), which was one of his pet projects.
He was a simple man at heart. During one of his visits to Thiruvananthapuram, Dr Kalam invited a roadside cobbler and an owner of a small eatery as presidential guests to the Raj Bhavan of Kerala. He had known these people during his stint in Kerala. Even after assuming the highest post of the country he remembered his acquaintances and invited them.
He led a secular life. Though he was a Muslim by religion he read and often quoted the Bhagwad Gita. He played the veena and loved the Tamil language. Though he played several roles like scientist, president, humanitarian, and teacher in his life I believe he always wanted to be a teacher and voiced it on several occasions. He also proved it through his actions as he used every opportunity to play the role of a teacher even after assuming the president’s post. Maybe he was an oracle for he always used to say he would like to be remembered as a teacher. In an interview he said, “If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me…,” and even when death seized him he was lecturing students at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He believed, “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual… youth have a dream and also have a pain. The pain comes out of their dream; they want to live in a prosperous, happy and peaceful India. This type of student’s environment ignites me and leads me to interact with young minds.”
He led by example; his whole life mirrors this. Little wonder if people spontaneously showed their love for this simple but great human being.