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“Never before, never after”: The People's President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
August 1, 2015, 11:38 am
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“Not as President of India, not as a missile man, not as a scientist; I would like to be remembered as a ‘teacher’.  I would also want my good bye to be really small not the big one.” — A.P. J. Abdul Kalam

As the sun settled down on 27 July leaving a golden twilight behind, little did anyone in India know that the curtain was finally falling down on the life of India’s great scientist and its former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam far away in Shillong.   By 7.45 pm, official communication came that Dr. Kalam had died due to massive cardiac arrest in the north eastern state of Meghalaya before medical aid could reach him.

The nation was stunned to hear the sad news and never before such an outpour of grief, tears, loss, shock and loneliness swarmed the Indian horizon.  Truly Kalam was the people’s President, greatly loved by every Indian cutting across religion, region .

 “Dr Kalam was awarded Bharat Ratna and credited with all the other top civilian honours even before he assumed office as the President of India,” said S. M. Khan, his former Media advisor. “This alone speaks of his great achievement”.

S.M.Khan had a long stint at Rashtrapati Bhavan for five years and had some close interaction with Dr. Kalam recalls that “in my first meeting with him .Dr Kalam spoke his mind when he said that he wants the huge doors of the President House to be opened to ordinary people especially the children and students.”

All along his stay as President he not only ensured this but also ensured that wherever he used to go on official assignment in any part of India he would visit two to three schools to interact with students.  “More than often he would insist to meet students in rural areas even at the remote end,” Mr. Khan said

When Dr. Kalam was sworn in as President in 2002, many of his relatives and family members came to Delhi from Tamil Nadu and stayed for many days.  “Can you believe that he paid for their stay from his own pocket and made a payment through cheque when the hospitality could have been provided by the President House,” recalls Mr. Khan.

A simpleton and stickler for rules, Dr. Kalam never accepted any gift from the visitors. Once a visitor presented a small gift to the president and when Dr. Kalam enquired, he insisted it is just a small token of love.  Hardly had he stepped out of Rashtrapati Bhavan that the visitor was summoned back and his gift returned as Dr. Kalam found it to be rather expensive.

“ I came to Rashtrapati Bhavan with two suitcase and will leave with two suitcase. Yes, I will take my books also.” Dr. Kalam told a function at India Islamic Cultural Centre, a couple of days before he demitted office. He told the gathering, “I never carried any extra baggage.”

It was his simplicity that attracted everyone. "Have you ever been to Mughal Gardens? Oh It is a wonderful place. Every morning I go for my walk there, so many flowers and so many colourful birds and so serene an atmosphere.. You must visit. This morning while I was walking I composed these two verses in Tamil."

This is how Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam spoke at the valedictory session of the Pravasi Bharatiya conclave perhaps the last he attended as President in 2007.

Dr. Kalam redefined the contours of Rashtrapati Bhavan as never before. He brought Rashtrapati Bhavan closer to people. As a devout Muslim, he prayed namaaz regularly and in his own persona embodied everything that India stands for.

Little did Jainulabdeen and Ashiamma know that their son would grow up to be the first citizen of India. An Indian scientist and administrator, Kalam served as the 11th President of India from 2002 until 2007. One amongst the most respected people of the country, Kalam contributed immensely both as a scientist and as a president. His contribution at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was immense. He was responsible for numerous projects such as Project Devil and Project Valiant and launch of the Rohini-1, besides developing missiles under the missions Agni and Prithvi. For the same, he was popularly tagged as the “Missile Man of India”. Kalam was honored with great laurels and awards for his work by both the Government of India and other countries. After completing his term as President, Kalam served as a visiting professor in various esteemed institutes and universities of India.

Amazing as it may sound, Dr. Kalam had a degree in aeronautical engineering from Madras Institute of Technology, but he was awarded doctorate degree as an honour by several universities.

Kalam succeeded K. R. Narayan to serve as the 11th President of India from 2002 until 2007. It was a highly one-sided contest. With his appointment, Kalam became the first scientist and first ever bachelor to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhawan. 

During his tenure as a President, Kalam was both appreciated and criticised. The latter was mostly due to his inaction in deciding the fate of 20 mercy petitioners.  Kalam was totally against death sentence and in fact had written to the Government of India and later to Law Commission suggesting its abolition.

In addition to all the profiles that Dr. Kalam held, he authored numerous influential and inspirational books. Amongst all his books, “India 2020” was the widely read and appreciated one. It forecast an action plan which advocated India turning into a knowledge superpower and as one of the developed nations of the world by the year 2020. His other books include, “Ignited Minds”, “Mission India”, “Inspiring Thoughts” and “The Luminous Sparks”.  

In 2011, he launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the “What Can I Give Movement” with the main aim to defeat corruption in India. 

After completing his term as President, Dr. Kalam served as visiting professor in various esteemed institutes and universities of India, such as Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indore. He also served as Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore).

Dr.  Kalam achieved the pinnacle of success in his life time with his hard work, integrity, and commitment, but what he achieved in his death was purely providential and divine blessings.  He died as a ‘teacher’ in the midst of delivering a lecture to the students of IIM Shillong and that his Good bye was indeed very short.  “He was two minutes into his speech, he took a long pause after completing a sentence and then collapsed,” recalls his advisor Srijan Pal Singh. The death was so sudden and indeed a very very small goodbye to all his friend and countrymen, perhaps the shortest.

He triumphed in death as much as he did in life.

 Syed Ajaz Haider Rizvi

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