NEW DELHI: There have been scholars like S Radhakrishnan, labour activists like V V Giri, the odd-one-out like Zail Singh, and those who rose to eminence the hard way, like K R Narayanan.
But, the halo of popularity never hung as a nimbus over Rashtrapati Bhavan quite like the time when Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam became its resident.
The prime reason for that is the fact that no first citizen before or after saw the presidency as a role that called upon one to engage with all the other citizens of India.
The very setting and architecture of the President’s abode-its British vice-regal distance-seems to forbid any connection with the masses. But breaking through that, and making the presidency a continual conversation with India, that was the special Kalam signature. If the huge, stately mansion breathed a hyper-royal air, Kalam ensured he was the ordinary Indian extraordinaire.
A Gandhian simplicity of living was his calling card, as much as his fondness for children.
Out of an office that’s always described as august and ceremonial, he crafted a digital chaupal, quite literally. If part of his popularity preceded his presidency, on account of his ‘Missile Man’ aura and public association with the nuclear test at Pokhran, a more endearing Kalam became visible after the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government chose him as a popular Muslim figure. His piety and spiritual leanings were universal too, as someone who read and relished Hindu texts as much as those of the religion of his birth-quite the masterstroke by Vajpayee, someone who knew as much as anyone else how to read the pulse of the people.
The humility of Kalam’s manner owed a great deal to his origins-having been born to a fisherman father in Rameswaram, and having seen days as a newspaper delivery boy. There was an educationist, even a pedant in him-his books outsold bestsellers, laying out the vision of a rosy technocratic future for the country. The pedantry, always endearing, would see him say “repeat after me” after delivering aphorisms like an avuncular schoolmaster to his lecture audiences. To the extent that he made Prince Charles repeat the names of rare plants in the Mughal Gardens.
A five-times-a-day namaazi, a veena enthusiast, he was also a man brimming with ideas.
The river linking project was one such that he championed. But his visions were always offered in and oriented towards practical situations.
After a horrific spell of rains in Mumbai in 2005, when the Mithi river overflowed, every other leader expressed the usual statements of regret. But Kalam made a trip to Mumbai to understand the problem and give a plan of action. Alas! it was never worked upon.
If he could talk with Nelson Mandela like a long-lost friend, the same energy and affection was visible in all his public interactions.
It’s no small irony that he breathed his last while giving a lecture to students in IIM Shillong.
It was a package hard to resist. Mulayam Singh almost broke with the UPA’s choice - after the non-descript tenure of Pratibha Patil - to support a fresh stint for Kalam. That was not to be. Kalam was not ready for a political fight that could sully his legacy. So, he remained a pendant, by choice, till the very end.
We have lost a great son of India who dedicated his entire life for the welfare of the motherland and its people. Dr APJ Abdul Abdul Kalam was a people’s President
— PRANAB MUKHERJEE, President
India mourns the loss of a great scientist, a wonderful President and above all an inspiring individual. Always marvelled at his intellect. Rest in peace Dr Kalam
— narendra modi, Prime Minister
Dr Kalam gave spine to Country’s self-defence. His demise is a great loss to the nation. I deeply mourn the demise of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam
— venkaiah naidu, Urban Development Min
Dr Kalam was a man of impeccable character, indomitable spirit, profound knowledge and firm conviction. His death is an irreparable loss to this nation
— rajnath singh, Home Minister
We were colleagues in the Defence Ministry. He had good relations with everyone. He maintained relations even after he became President
— Anil tipnis, Former Air Force Chief
I am deeply pained by the sudden death of Dr Kalam. I have several fond memories of him. He was a dear friend and one of the noblest human beings I have met
— Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Min, AP
We lost a great scientist, statesman & glorious icon for youth. Our deepest condolence on the sad demise of former President Shri Abdul Kalam
— rajiv pratap rudy, BJP MP
If I were to sum up what I feel his personality indicated, I would say that he was a unique combination of science and spirituality. My homage to the great soul
— lk Advani, BJP President
Pearls of wisdom
You have to dream before your dreams can come true
Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work
Thinking should become your capital asset, no matter whatever ups and downs you come across in your life
Thinking is progress. Non-thinking is stagnation of the individual, organisation and the country. Thinking leads to action. Knowledge without action is useless and irrelevant. Knowledge with action, converts adversity into prosperity
When you speak, speak the truth; perform when you promise; discharge your trust... Withhold your hands from striking, and from taking that which is unlawful and bad...
What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and to remove the wrongs of injured...
Away! Fond thoughts, and vex my soul no more! Work claimed my wakeful nights, my busy days. Albeit brought memories of Rameswaram shore. Yet haunt my dreaming gaze!
I will not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can be a role model for anybody; but some poor child living in an obscure place in an underprivileged social setting may find a little solace in the way my destiny has been shaped. It could perhaps help such children liberate themselves from the bondage of their illusory backwardness and hopelessness?..
Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended