It was just another ordinary evening, and the work week had only begun. I was back from work, attending to the chores in the kitchen. The news was on, on the television, and I heard Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is no more. My jawline dropped and I stood rooted to the spot. I was in no state to go back to the kitchen, for my mindset had completely altered in that span of five seconds; I was still letting it soak, the fact. I could not carry on like nothing had just happened. I could not treat that as just another piece of news like I would have normally done, had it been an announcement of any other eminent public figure passing away. Not with Him. My response to this man’s death was unreservedly different, a behaviour that even I did not anticipate to have reacted in. I felt sad and hollow. I wanted to know what had happened. Genuinely. It was as though a part of mine had been snatched without prior notice.
I wondered, why were the emotions this high? Why was there a sense of void inside? What had He done that led to affecting us the way it did? I had never seen or met Him in person, nor were we related in anyway. Never ever have I been so touched with a loss this personal and, as ironical as it may seem, little did I know about the man. Actually and factually. It was not until a couple of days ago, I searched Him up. His listed achievements has not only touched, but swayed the lives of countless humans. The energy, as much as He had had in about a little more than the eight decades He lived on for, spent on causes with pragmatic outcomes – including the number of people, particularly students, that He had met, the lives that He had touched, and the number of minds He had managed to influence – is ridiculous. Is it humanly even possible? I guess, one needs to be an Abdul Kalam for that. Many of us must have followed the coverage of His cremation live; I was no exception. And I cried, and cried, and cried. There was no stopping the tears.
He worried; whether it was about the personnel standing in the front vehicle of His convoy for security purposes whose legs, He felt, may have tired out from standing for over two hours, or the guards of the Indo-Tibetan border who were standing at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan who, according to Him, were braving the biting cold for no reason. He cared; whether it was for His butler whom He urged must wear a coat before carrying His luggage (it was cold outside), as they deplaned in Bulgaria, or His dated two-in-one tape recorder which He insisted on repairing every time the tape of His cassette got stuck. He encouraged; whether it was the passing schoolgirl whom He urged must ask more questions (and not just stop at one) for they (the youth) are the future of India, or the students who, He insisted, must sit in the front while the officials were to be seated on the sides, at a university in Odisha while He attended their convocation. He enjoyed having time to Himself; whether in the form of the chirping birds who, according to Him, were His source of inspiration to continue, or the time He retired to His room at night while at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and listened to Carnatic music. He relished simple food; whether a curd and brinjal preparation that apparently was His favourite, or the cost of making two vegetable dishes that prompted Him to ask His staff if it was a festival of some sorts. He embraced simplicity with futuristic ideas, and connected these very dots to national greatness. His messages could not have been more straightforward. It is perhaps this that struck a chord. Living the way any ordinary human lives. An earnest attempt to connect with the populace in an attempt to glorify India – nothing out of the way; just do your bit. That’s not asking for too much now, eh?
When was the last time we felt this way about a leader? When was the last time we had revered a public figure to this extent? When was the last time we must have dug up about the life and likes of someone who had at once served a stint at politics and had remained as untainted after their five years’ tenure? The only irony here was, it took me some time to realise the amount of admiration I had for that somebody, so much so, that they left the face of the earth.
A man with titles suited to each occasion, but preferred being remembered just by one – a teacher. A man who took the President’s Office to new legacies that now includes a digitised library, a tactile garden for the visually challenged, a health centre, streetlights and pavements, and most importantly, the Rashtrapati Bhavan made open to public. A man who not only attracted enthusiasts, supporters and adherents all alike in lakhs to pay Him homage earlier this week, but also unconventionally instilled the one characteristic that lacks usually in public gatherings, especially in India – discipline. A man who wasn’t easily available unless devoid of His calendar, and yet when He was, conversation couldn’t have been made simpler.
It is easy to list a Jack Welsh or a Warren Buffet in one’s list of inspirational leaders, a listing I’m not even sure is realistically representational. When asked earlier, I’d never had an answer to such a question. But now, I do.
You may have been taken away from the community mortally Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Yet there are minds that continue to inspire from your teachings. May your tribe increase.
PS: All listed incidents are retrieved from The Hindu, dated between July 28-31, 2015.