For a while – one presidential term to be exact – it felt good to smugly say, “Yes, the President of my country is a rocket scientist!”
And it is not often that an old man with rather unkempt hair and no sense of style to speak of gets to be nominated to be a Youth Icon. It is simply a measure of the influence this man had on the collective youth of his country.
Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam – Visionary Leader, Scientist, Academician, Author, India’s Missile Man and recipient of the country’s highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna. Those are just a few of the things he was.
He will be remembered for a lot of things, but most of all, for bringing back a sense of pride to young Indians and giving them an icon they were proud to look up to. An icon who towered above the transient glitter and glamour of movies and sports. An icon worthy of respect and pride in every sense. An icon that straddled the unbridgeable generation gap. Yes, for a change, no parent shook his head in dismay at his child’s choice of hero material.
His words lit fires in young minds and youngsters soared on fiery wings of imagination, determined to fuel their passion and find their rightful place in the sun. His vision to make India a Superpower did not just spark off a blazing sense of pride among the youth. They actually believed it was possible and started having faith in their country again and knew that one day she would rank among the developed countries. It was perhaps for the first time since the days of the struggle for independence, that such a sense of pride and belonging was returning to the youth force. This country was going places and it was beginning to look very achievable.
Such was his dedication and the message of his life. The boy with very humble origins (his father was a boatman in Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, and his mother was a homemaker) grew up to build rockets and missiles for his country and put her name in all the maps that mattered.
According to Ramayana, it was from a small hillock named Gandhamadhana that Hanuman took off with his newly discovered strength and soared into the skies on his quest for Sita. The tiny island of Rameshwaram bore witness to the takeoff and meteoric rise of the intellectual giant named Dr. Abdul Kalam too.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam believed that the nation’s security was of supreme importance and envisioned India as a Superpower. He did not believe in a nuclear arms race. Nor did he believe that certain countries alone had the right to arm themselves with nuclear arms while others stuck to misguided principles and stayed soft. If our neighbors were armed, being ready to defend ourselves was the best way to prevent a war. He believed in showing spine.
His scientific genius did not limit itself to rockets and missiles alone. He applied it so that the common man could benefit from the developments in science and technology. Along with Cardiologist Soma Raju, he developed a low cost coronary stent and also a tablet computer to help with health care in rural areas.
He was a simple man and anyone who worked with him would vouch for what an unflagging workaholic and lovable eccentric he was. Dr. Abdul Kalam was a poet and a musician. He wrote poetry in his mother tongue Tamil and played the Veena. He was the quintessential Indian who rose beyond the petty lines of politics and religion to inspire a whole nation.
The mantra of his life came from Tamil Sangam Poetry, by Kanian Poongundranar:
“Yaathum Oore Yavarum Kelir.” (The world is my village and all Mankind my kin). Incidentally he passed away after collapsing during a lecture he was attending at the IIM, Shillong, on the Livable Planet Earth.
He died as he lived, working hard till his last breath, doing what he loved the most – inspiring people to grow to their full potential. He taught the nation to dream. It is up to the nation to give wings of fire to those dreams and help her soar high!
Rest in Peace Dr.Kalam! Yours was a life well lived!