It’s been a year since we heard of the shocking news last July. The tragic news of the demise of our revered ex-president, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, was first brought to our notice by posts on a famous social networking site, Facebook. The memories are still rife: “Dr. Abdul Kalam- the people’s president is no more” was the headliner of several posts that evening. Scrolling down the Facebook tab, scores of posts by friends and news agencies proclaiming his death were encountered. In the next few minutes, the flooding of tributes followed. Such was the magnitude of the posts that from top to bottom, condolences, homage, remembrances from all possible avenues scoured our Facebook News Feed pane that night, leaving no room for any other update. It every bit resembled a national grief outpouring, albeit on social media. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, the nation was mourning the loss of a brilliant academician, a revolutionary scientist and the most beloved president ever!
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, born in the Southern city of Rameswaram hailed from a humble background. From selling newspapers after school to help ends meet, to going on to become the president of India, his illustrious career spanned more than six decades. He first graduated in Physics, but his dreams pushed him towards another subject of his fascination-Aerospace Engineering. Though he could not fulfill his dream of joining the IAF, he found solace in making helicopters for DRDO. From an application scientist in DRDO, he progressed to ISRO as a rocket engineer. After being inducted in ISRO, he led the project on development of the first indigenous SLVs and propelled himself into the exclusive international Space Club. After spear-heading several important programs in ISRO, he took up the responsibility of developing guided or ballistic missiles for DRDO. His mantra for arming India with its own set of ballistic missiles was ‘Strength respects strength’. In his book Vision 2020, he regarded his work on India’s nuclear weapons program as a way to assert India’s place in the future superpower nations. Because of his strong beliefs in the idea that research in defense sector should give rise to by-products that can be translated for civilian benefit, his multiple collaborations and vision bore fruit in the form of Raju-Kalam coronary stent, light-weight calipers and Kalam-Raju tablet. He went on to become the Chief Scientific Advisor to the PM, and eventually The First Citizen of India in 2002. He was the first vegetarian-bachelor-scientist to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan. As the president of India, he opened the gates of Rashtrapati Bhawan, especially for school-children with whom he would fondly spend hours interacting about India and its future. He would keenly listen to their ideas for a developed India, and constantly urge them to think outside the box and achieve the impossible through sheer grit and determination. Dr. Kalam was highly appreciated and also criticized during the tenure of his presidency, the latter owing to his unclear response to mercy petitions. He was against capital punishment, and therefore sent back more than 50 death petitions to the Government, for reconsideration. Due to political reasons, he could not continue a second term in office. He gracefully retired from the president’s office in 2007, after which he had been serving as visiting professor in various esteemed universities. His inspiring lectures and talks continued to draw huge crowds, mostly the country’s youth, making him more popular than several movie stars. Reports have cited him being nothing short of a ‘rock-star’, thanks to his charming crowd-pulling demeanor. Perhaps for the same reason, youth and children alike idolized this young-at-heart 83 year old man. The social outcry seen upon his death reflects his place in the minds of the new generation of India. And it was every bit deserved. After all, dreaming solely about progress of their nation is not an easy task, and definitely not something many individuals like or dare to dream about. Dr. Kalam spent his entire life chasing his biggest dream- making India a developed nation. He inched closer to his dream every day, by implementing laborious hard-work, igniting future minds with his interactions and writings, and by always, always practicing what he preached. He sacrificed his today so that the children of this country could have a better tomorrow.
He was a unique mixture of brilliance, intelligence, compassion and humility, which he displayed on innumerable occasions. He rejected suggestions for securing perimeter of the DRDO buildings by placing broken glass on walls as it might injure the birds, he acknowledged the efforts of backstage teams that put in the actual efforts before commencement of functions, and he invited his not-so-famous old-time friends as presidential guests; reminding us, that a person’s roots are important, however great a person may become. He is also known to have accompanied his junior colleagues’ children to school exhibitions because the latter would get engrossed in work and lose track of time. One of the most significant of his benevolent acts would be donating all his wealth and assets to PURA- the trust that strives to provide urban amenities to rural population. He never misused his position as the first citizen of our country; he even offered to pay for the food and accommodation of his private guests during his presidential rule. He personified the words simplicity and humility- inspite of his stature, he needed only a few books, carnatic music and his Veena to survive during his last few years!
His life exemplifies the age-old maxim that hard-work can achieve anything. His life-long desire and childhood dream to fly was finally fulfilled during his tenure as the President. He had narrowly missed getting into IAF when young, but as the supreme commander of the armed forces, he received this wonderful gift of flying the Sukhoi-30 K thanks to the IAF, becoming the oldest Indian to fly the fighter aircraft! The scientific, academic, political and humane contributions Dr. Kalam has made underline the fruitful 83 years of his existence on our planet. India, as a country, is highly proud to have borne such a great citizen. His contribution to the entire scientific community is immense. His constant motivation to think out of the ordinary and work relentlessly in its direction will continue to inspire scientists across the country. He has fuelled imagination of millions of students; his efforts will catapult science in our country to greater heights for years to come. As aspiring life-scientists, I can say with personal confidence, that his philosophy of working for the benefit of the society will encourage us to work for better healthcare and agriculture reforms. His penchant for novelty and hard-work will always motivate us to ask important research questions and push our limits in pursuit of a better tomorrow.
It is common knowledge that the rocket scientist-cum-president-cum-academician wanted to be remembered most importantly as a teacher. And he died doing what he liked best- inspiring young minds. He passed away delivering a lecture on ‘the livable planet Earth’; ironically, he will no longer be able to fight for promoting a sustainable life on Earth for our future generations. Sir, as you smile upon us from the heavens above, we, the younger generations promise to work persistently to realize your Vision of a developed India and a better tomorrow! Through your lessons on science and life, you will continue to live in our hearts forever.
Thank you for everything, Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam!