This write up as a tribute to Dr. Kalam’s powerful life, and voice is my privilege.
Soon after Dr. Kalam assumed office as the 11th president, he won hearts, by simply being himself, simple, honest and accessible. His presence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan was marked by discipline, an abiding grace and a whole lot of children.
This gentleman was well known even before he became the President of India as a successful aeronautics engineer and the man behind ballistic missiles. Even today, Prof. Dhawan story never fails to impress and inspire leaders and young minds alike.
Going by all his pictures that speak volumes, Dr. Kalam’s total lack of engagement with the cameras added to the real mood which means he was always giving his best to people around him, not for the filmgoers or media. The steel in his voice revealed how much the world he was creating with the people he connected meant to him. There is no careful mix of words to hide his intentions whatsoever. Everything, really; enough to push him to the edge of human endurance apart from the inevitable tough realities, much assumed slip ups, gaffe or vulnerable moments he diligently surpassed his human limits to put things in order. One most peculiar thing about Dr. Kalam is that he never seemed to possess a way of restating known ideas. A tilak on his forehead, his passion for Carnatic music, his adeptness with Veena or his visit to Puttaparthi to meet Sathya Sai Baba were viewed with skepticism, in addition to raising doubts about what is Muslim about Dr. Kalam. All such doubts get nullified by the very fact that Dr. Kalam never had to seek succor in emotive religious issues but that he had what it took to be a proud nationalist or an advocate of Indian values and culture. Though his nomination was viewed with suspicion as a curtain on Gujarat, the dignity, respect, and reverence he earned from people belonging to all faiths were essential because of his success as a good human being.
This gentleman as President was the answer to justify optimism at the darkest heart of history and was the hopeful who could provide convincing reassurances that the flower of tragedy blooms rarely. Nevertheless, if there is anything India has learned from those silly allegations hurled against Kalam Sir, it’s that people’s identities never arise from their names but from perceptions, beliefs, morals, and values they hold close to their heart for the common good. His all-embracing culture of spiritual humanism could assuage the wounds of communal violence. His life reminds people of the Urdu lullaby (translated below) composed by Khurshid Ali Shah, a great Sufi from Basavkalyan.
When you grow up my child/This is how you should be/ free yourself from confusions of all faiths/ serve your guests like sharpness/ Practice devotion like Bande Nawaz/ Give food to the hungry/ Water to the thirsty/ And clothes to the naked/ Don’t become a Hindu/ Don’t become a Muslim/ When you grow up/ Become a good human being.
I wish every mother sings this lullaby to her child.
Generations of students have marveled at the brilliance of Dr. Kalam as teacher par excellence. Generations of readers marvel at this steely and enthusiastic, motivated and astute writer and poet who untiringly advocated simple and elegant ways to live in harmony, like no other writer or poet has done, in India. Animals, birds, flowers and anything beautiful brought out the poet in him. He was an animal lover. True to that, when he spotted a forsaken fawn with injured legs during his morning walk in the Mughal garden, Dr. Kalam ensured the fawn got enough medical care and followed it up until the fawn was able to help itself up and walk. The fawn joining the rest of the herd was such a heartening sight that Dr. Kalam couldn’t temper his enthusiasm from penning his feelings in words. Thus was born a poem for the fawn he rescued and bottle fed till it could be on its own. What made the poem even more special was that it was penned on the day Dr. Kalam bid adieu to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Each poem of his in its very brevity opens up to wider circles of discovery anchored by an infinite hope for a new India. To his immense credit, none of his books or poems failed. Poems or books, his ideas are presented with grace, care, and erudition that they take risks and survive them. Authoring 32 books in a span of 40 yrs is an exceptional feat of the human intellect. He as a writer or poet or speaker never failed in what seems to be his ultimate goal; provoke cascading thoughts. Dr. Kalam didn’t merely theorize about the present state of affairs in India. He believed in ‘Possible’ solutions. So pleased was this great soul with his market success that he attempted to tap the vast market for motivated youth even in India’s small towns and villages to transform this country. When you read his books, so beautifully written you realize the extraordinariness in him. If you happen to be one of the fact-over-fiction types, Kalam Sir’s books would be the right choice, not for the feeble or faint hearted. All of his emotions are revealed in his books for the world to look into his heart and soul.
The former president said things and discussed thoughts he apparently believed in. Anything good is possible, he asserted. He had the simplest yet sensible solution for eliminating corruption, that is, parents and a teacher with good values. His speeches were loaded with enough truth, and the audience loved him. They went back charmed with his speeches. The one peculiar yet noteworthy characteristic of Dr. Kalam as a speaker that has not been passionately discussed because of the other values that stood tall and inherent goodness of his spirit, but still hovers is how he began his talks with a personal anecdote that helped millions connect to what was in store. Since this also paved the way for an interesting lecture and response from the audience, there was no better way to make sure his lectures fell on alert ears and receptive minds. If not for a personal story, the audience may have found it little tough to relate to Dr. Kalam, The President, a successful scientist, a compelling speaker and an overwhelmingly confident person. On the dais, Dr. Kalam never saw himself as a lecturer but as one who stood the same ground as the audience, whose primary task was to listen, question and answer, more than lecture. And he seemed to know, “Being a citizen is not living in society, it is changing it.” All of his audiences were convinced of the fact that nothing makes an education deficit society worse than being information-deficient. If Kalam sir admired Finland’s education system, which is supposedly the best in the world, and insisted on specific reforms, it’s not because the success story is chalked up to Scandinavian genetics but of the teaching values, he cherished the most as a teacher himself. With children around, this man had an aura that was as enchanting as it was dynamic. Just as Finnish culture values the important role of primary school teachers as potters who mold young minds and equal opportunity to all, Dr. Kalam valued equality over excellence and primary education over anything else.
Writing or chatting or lecturing, Dr. Kalam was just content with presenting to the public in general “His good work with respect.” His ideas reached everybody with an instant universal appeal only because he never mouthed hard words just for the sake of it, but the simply connected speech was his style. A signature style that was undeniably his. All of Dr. Kalam’s works were presented in its pure and straightforward form to people who were made aware of Kalam sir’s thoughts through appropriate explanations. He only approved of this much more than the tampering of his original style for finding big words assuming them to be contemporary. His gift for mixing his serious analysis with simple examples in a simple language, as well as a pedagogic clarity that runs through all of his works, have made him a hero around the world. At the current moment, if his contributions are cherished and valued, it’s because Dr. Kalam never underestimated the power of simple yet persuasive language to put across global transformist thoughts in areas of social justice, universal human rights, world peace and harmony that are nothing but aspirations of survival and a motivating force behind all changes.
In most of his writings Dr.Kalam emphasizes intriguing but real situation- where Patriots, Democrats, many a sect and the oppressed fighting for liberation, secularists fighting against fundamentalists, minorities against imperialism, individuals against racism or classism, unique identity movements and pro-people forces have to become united in a campaign to protect people’s sovereignty. The darker side of India’s growth story has been mentioned including the problems of means and ends. Above all, the development or economic model championed by Dr. Kalam should be constructive if followed with the right spirit. More amazingly and how effortlessly, this scientist has conveyed energy solutions not only to preserve nature but enhance it. Through valuable opinions and suggestions, he expected revolutionary progress in the development of clean energy that could be tapped on a gigantic scale. As much his excitement over installing a solar panel for his 99 yr old brother at his house was so vivid, his regret about his parents not being able to enjoy such 24- hour electricity was also apparent. When Dr. Kalam inaugurated the then UP government’s dream project; a 100% solar powered village on July 7, 2015, he knew “Reignited: Scientific Pathways to a Brighter Future” had turned out to be one of his best creations. Soon after inaugurating the solar plant at Sastra University, Dr. Kalam in his trademark style went ahead with his charted out plan for Indian researchers to explore four-dimensional opportunities like smart waterways as a highway for economic prosperity, earth-moon-mars as an economic entity, solar energy from space and tailor made medicines for individuals. With all of these solutions at our behest, our future doesn’t look undeniably grim, does it?
After leaving office as President, Kalam sir adorned the role of a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong, the Indian institute of management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management Indore; an honorary fellow of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; Chancellor of the Indian Institute of space science and technology Thiruvananthapuram; professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University; and an adjunct at many other academic and research institutions across India. An invitation to Peking University by none other than its chairman Zhu Shanlu to teach his subject of choice was Kalam Sir’s another moment of hope. Not only was he granted the privilege to make Peking University his second home but also the pleasure of setting up a lab of his choice. From his life, we understand that Dr. Kalam’s story as President was not of an academic who unfortunately fell prey to the narrowness of his specialization, lacking the long range of historical perspective that is so critical to the understanding of social and political affairs. How beautifully he put forth in his speech to Peking University students that history can always be contested when people and nations put their minds towards creating harmony! Kalam Sir’s multifaceted roles and writings showed how a combination of political praxis and academic activism defined his stand on the unquestioned foundations of knowledge as well as philosophy. Delivering free lectures on a range of subjects did give a galvanizing call to teachers to engage young minds of academics in nation building. The result of all his interactive lectures was an insight into collective wisdom. This was something that not everybody could achieve-to mine the thoughts of an inspired crowd. All the tangible personal qualities he developed over the years did qualify him to dream of “confluence of civilizations” that would ensure a conflict free world.
His association with national and international educational institutions as an ambassador or guest professor was to fulfill his role in advising and guiding the teaching-learning process to make it more enriching for the student community. According to him, eradication of illiteracy and corruption, the cause of poverty, misery, and terrorism begins not just with precision and intention but with a willingness to lie awake and dream of a better country. Thus he motivated the youth to take on the reins of the country.
Having traveled regularly and widely around the world, Dr. Kalam placed great emphasis on passing on and popularizing better methods of teaching and learning, brought home solutions for constructively transforming education and technology to solve conflicts of many a kind and real life crises, sometimes even by supernatural interventions.
So supreme a trait that was visible in Dr. Kalam was his punctuality. Be it skipping a meal or switching over to a different mode of travel to be on time. In fact, he was branded for this virtue.
Acknowledging the grandiose sweep of information revolution across every section of the society, Dr. Kalam was quick enough to equip himself to connect with the technology savvy youth of the country through social networks. That he replied to every email he received was a testimony to the very fact that greatness, humility, and goodness can live together.
With his passing away, we turned out to be an unfortunate lot, for this great man had more to offer regarding deeds, thoughts, and actions. There was no one face to the grief over the loss, not confined to one state or religion. It was spread and visible all over the country and abroad. 83 years of inexhaustible desire for life and truth has come to an end. His voice will continue to resonate in our minds with strength, jubilation, joyful accord and an infinite delight.