To us the former President was like family. We met every once in a memorable while, dined together and created some indelible memories. I even sang for him once at the end of a much delayed meeting, at 12 in the night, on his request. So, even as the country bleeds tears on his sudden demise, we, like many others who knew him closely, feel a deep sense of personal loss. We are bereaved…However, given the inevitability of death he went in a manner most befitting his glorious life.
On the fateful evening of July 28, Dr Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, known better simply as APJ, rose on a stage in Shillong, sending an audible ripple of excitement rolling around a hall packed with young management students.
The former President, among India’s most loved public figures ever, stood up, smiled at his adoring audience and prepared to do what he loved the most: ignite young minds with words that were always simple, compelling and intellectually provocative. He stood up and then suddenly in one stunning moment collapsed, clutching at his chest. Dr Kalam had passed away quietly…in view of his most passionate admirers, a crowd of young scholars.
When Kalam fell, many visions rose around him, each larger than the other: Aeronautic engineer, scientist, visionary, philosopher, author, teacher, scholar, President, friend and above all a gentle, humble and deeply spiritual human —they were giant reflections that danced around in the imagination of countless grief-stricken people around the country whose lives he had touched, silently, wearing his characteristic child-like smile.
In many Indian languages the word Kalam means pen, an instrument particularly dear to him, the author of more than 15 deeply influential books including The Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds and Inspiring Thought, each a tribute to the power and potential of the human mind and its ‘Indomitable Spirit’. Known fondly as the Missile Man for his stellar role in the evolution of the country’s ballistic missile and satellite launch vehicle programmes, Kalam rose much like his rockets on Wings of Fire, from a crucible of acute distress.
It is beyond mere words to capture the multi-faceted genius of this Bharat Ratna, but what can be retold are simply the facts which in themselves inspire awe. A P J Abdul Kalam was born to a boat owner, Jainulabdeen and Ashiamma, a housewife, in Rameswaram in colonial India. He grew up in poverty, started working as a child to support his impoverished family and decades later became the nation’s President.
Kalam’s is an uplifting story of triumph of a resolute spirit against huge odds. Over years Kalam turned India into a missile power, won the nation’s most coveted civilian awards and finally assumed its highest office.
Regardless of position, however, Dr Kalam will always be remembered for his beautiful mind and large, compassionate heart. Dr Kalam played a pivotal role in the development of SLV-3, India’s first satellite launch vehicle that propelled Rohini into a near earth orbit and India into the elite Space Club. Later, as head of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, Dr Kalam sired a range of ballistic missiles like Agni and Prithvi.
In his twilight years, Dr Kalam spent time igniting young minds at leading management and engineering schools, doing his bit to help India achieve its Vision 2020. July 28 was one such day at IIM, Shillong.