“All birds find shelter during the rain, but the Eagle avoids rain by flying above the clouds. Problems are common, but the attitude makes the difference.” – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Today we mourn the passing of one of India’s most inspirational human beings, a brilliant mind and a visionary. Lovingly referred to as the “People’s President”, he was a role model and an icon for all. Especially to the youth of India. We bid farewell to India’s former president, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Dr. Kalam was born in 1931 in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, India. As a son to a boat man, they lived on a very humble income. He had to take up several odd jobs throughout his childhood to help support his family but never gave up on his education. He went on to study Physics and then Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Kalam was a prominent space scientist and also the mind and driving force behind much of India’s cutting edge technology and nuclear program. While he did come under some criticism for his nuclear plant involvements, he became a revered household name all across the nation. In 2002, Dr. Kalam became the first scientist to take the presidential oath to become India’s 11th president.
I vaguely remember when Dr. Kalam became the president. There was a sense of fascination, admiration and pride to know that our president came from the same state as me and spoke the same language as me (which by the way felt like a big deal in a country where there are 22 official languages). What really caught my attention was the fact that he was from Rameshwaram, which is considered to be one of India’s holy cities per the Hindu mythology. It was refreshing and encouraging to see a Muslim man who understood the essence of the Bhagavat Gita (ancient Hindu scriptures) and played the Veena (an instrument often associated with Hindu Gods) to take over the country’s highest seat.
While Dr. Kalam received many awards and much acclaim for his contributions in the fields of science and technology, another great achievement was the connection he had to the younger generation of India. A large part of his time after the presidency was spent as a teacher and inspirational speaker in several colleges around India. Dr. Kalam believed that India had the potential to become a strong presence in the world and felt strongly that it was the youth who could help build the nation. He asked that we break free from superstitions and the servitude mentality and become free thinkers. He asked that we dream big. He had a vision of India free from corruption and violence. A vision where education and healthcare reached every corner of the country no matter how small.
During an interview in 2012, he laid out three messages he had for the youth – “First, be unique. Second, remember that the 21st century India requires you to ‘work with integrity and succeed with integrity’. Third, the spirit of ‘What Can I Give’ shall replace the attitude of ‘What Can I Take’ — which is what causes greed, leading to problems like corruption, environmental degradation and moral turpitude.”
Dr. Kalam died in Shillong presenting a lecture to a group of students from the Indian Institute of Management. While the nation is poorer by his loss, the end was fitting for he died doing what he loved most. Rest in peace, Dr. Kalam for your teachings and visions live in the minds of an entire generation and your legacy will continue to inspire.
“Despite the fact that I spent my childhood in Rameshwaram, an isolated island in the south of India, I could get educated, find a job and overcome many obstacles to become the President of my country. If I could overcome all the hardships and achieve what I have, so can you or anyone else. It does not matter where you start from or what you have achieved till date, the important thing is that from this point onwards, you decide what you want and work towards creating your own future. If I can inspire even one young person to achieve his or her dream, I will feel that my effort has been truly worth it.”