The sudden and sad demise of the Peoples’ President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam came as a bolt from the blue. Each and every Indian was overtaken by a deep sense of personal loss. An unprecedented outpouring of love and admiration for the “uncommon common man” was palpable across the vast land. What is most remarkable is that everyone – young and old, men and women, high and low, living in Kashmir or Kanyakumari, Ahmedabad or Arunacahal Pradesh, were touched to the core of their being. “Gentlemen” in public life have become so rare that a rare feeling of adulation and love for the true gentleman, an unusual nationalist and a patriot in the best possible sense of that word, swept the nation. Kalam’s transparent love for all, simplicity, integrity, dedication, and irrepressible optimism had a magnetic effect on one and all. He was a role model par excellence in an age and a country where good human beings are woefully scarce! What is remarkable is that throughout his life, especially after he ceased to be the President of India, he toured the nation, inspired youth and children to dream, and work hard to turn their dreams into reality. He believed that science and technology would enable them and the country to realise their goals.
As a scientist and leader in public life, he did everything possible to harness science and technology for the welfare of the common people, especially the poor and the vulnerable. For instance, Kalam partnered with scientists in the bio-medical field to develop and market a cheap and affordable stent for polio victims, by using the materials he helped create for the “nose” of his missiles! In the words of a polio stricken young lady from Hyderabad, “God has given me ‘janma’ (birth), but Kalam has given me ‘punarjanma’ (rebirth)”.
The way he lived and conducted himself, whether in the imperial precincts of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan or in the mundane bylanes of Rameshwaram, were reminiscent of the fabled ‘Karma Yogi’ extolled in our scriptures. Though born into a poor Muslim household, he respected all faiths. His love for Carnatic music and veena are well known. He loved M.S. Subbalakshmi (MS, as she was popularly called) on par with his mother, who influenced him profoundly. While he was the President of India there was an occasion when the great MS could not attend the concert he was to inaugurate, because she was unwell. Throwing all protocol out of the window, he directed his convoy to go to her house and called on her to enquire after her health! At a formal treat he hosted for all the Rashtrapathi award winners he had a chair fetched for an elderly lady who had difficulty in standing. Then he personally served her snacks! People around him were aghast. But for Kalam, it was the most natural thing to do!
Let me recount another episode. A scientist colleague in Kalam’s office told him that he had promised to take his children to an exhibition in the evening. But once in the lab, he got absorbed in his work and forgot all about it. He later found that Kalam had sent a manager from the office to take the children to the exhibition! That was how Kalam was made! The greatest tribute we can pay to the departed soul is to work hard to fulfill his dream of transforming India into a developed nation with urban facilities in all villages.