Whenever death takes away someone dear to us, our first reaction is an outpouring of grief. Then, as emotions settle down and rational thought kicks in, we ask ourselves questions. Even in our most despairing moments we cling to the belief that every human life carries meaning, and a great life is that which leaves behind, in death, a message that helps the living.
On 27 July, 2015, Mr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the eleventh President of India, who served office from 2002 to 2007, died of sudden cardiac arrest. His list of achievements is a long one: in 1997, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. For large parts of his life he was a scientist, and served in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He was intimately involved with the development of India’s military missiles, and earned the informal title of the Missile Man of India. But if there is one enduring image of Kalam in his later years, it is of him sporting a toothy smile, seated among a group of young people, either addressing them in a lecture or answering their questions. Perhaps no other politician in India has spent as many hours as Kalam travelling to different parts of the country with no other purpose but to speak to young people; in colleges, in schools, in corporate offices. Perhaps no other public persona in India believed as much as he did in the role that India’s youth will play in the country’s future.
‘I feel comfortable in the company of young people,’ he said, ‘particularly high school students. I intend to share with them experiences, helping them to ignite their imagination and preparing them to work for a developed India for which the road map is already available.’
He was often called the ‘people’s President’. No blot of corruption is yet to stick to his name, even as his successor, Pratibha Patil, has managed to get mired in controversy after controversy. In that sense, it would not be a stretch to call him perhaps India’s best-loved politician.
He died doing what he loved best, giving a lecture to a rapt audience. The topic of his last speech is also appropriate: Creating a Livable Planet Earth.
A love for learning, a love for teaching, and a love for life in all its glory – that is what Abdul Kalam taught us.
India misses him today. India will miss him for years to come.