Last day of APJ Abdul Kalam – He went away teaching all of us

Last night, one of India’s most respected and loved personalities, Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam passed away in IIM Shillong. He was there to deliver a lecture on ‘Livable Planet’ but collapsed 5 minutes into his speech. Dr Kalam’s life has been an inspiration to so many Indians. Even on his last day, he exemplified all that he stood for. This is brought out by a Facebook post written by his Advsior and close associate Srijan Pal Singh.

We bring you some excerpts of the same.

Singh describes their long journey to Shillong to deliver a lecture at the IIM, and reveals how a 83 year old man was always passionate and ready to go to far-flung areas in order to speak to young minds. No amount of hardships or ‘fear’ would deter Mr. Kalam from sharing his views with young minds:

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Our day, 27th July, began at 12 noon, when we took our seats in the flight to Guwahati. Dr. Kalam was (on seat) 1A and I was (on) IC. He was wearing a dark colored “Kalam suit”, and I started off complimenting, “Nice color!” Little did I know this was going to be the last color I will see on him. Long, 2.5 hours of flying in the monsoon weather. I hate turbulence, and he had mastered over them. Whenever he would see me go cold in shaking plane, he would just pull down the window pane and saw, “Now you don’t see any fear!”. That was followed by another 2.5 hours of car drive to IIM Shillong. For these two legged trip of five hours we talked, discussed and debated. These were amongst hundreds of the long flights and longer drives we have been together over the last six years.

Though focused on his mission, Dr Kalam’s thoughts were also with the brave jawans of India who fought for our safety as there was a terror attack going on in Punjab on the same day. He was also concerned about terrorism as something which could destroy humanity. Although he was known as the “missile man” and journalists like Sagarika Ghose had labelled him “Bomb Daddy“, the man always pined for peace in the world.

First, Dr. Kalam was absolutely worried about the attacks in Punjab. The loss of innocent lives left him filled with sorrow. The topic of lecture at IIM Shillong was Creating a Livable Planet Earth. He related the incident to the topic and said, “it seems the man made forces are as big a threat to the livability of earth as pollution”. We discussed on how, if this trend of violence, pollution and reckless human action continues we will forced to leave earth. “Thirty years, at this rate, maybe”, he said. “You guys must do something about it… it is going to be your future world”

Perhaps this is the last wish of Dr. Kalam – the young Indians have to take control and make sure this earth is a livable and peaceful place.

Kalam was also worried about the way Parliament was not functioning. But his approach was positive – to look out for solutions. But it appears that our politicians had made it tough even for Dr. Kalam. He didn’t have a ready solution.

Our second discussion was more national. For the past two days, Dr. Kalam was worried that time and again Parliament, the supreme institution of democracy, was dysfunctional. He said, “I have seen two different governments in my tenure. I have seen more after that. This disruption just keeps happening. It is not right. I really need to find out a way to ensure that the parliament works on developmental politics.” He then asked me to prepare a surprise assignment question for the students at IIM Shillong, which he would give them only at the end of the lecture. He wanted to them to suggest three innovative ways to make the Parliament more productive and vibrant. Then, after a while he returned on it. “But how can ask them to give solutions if I don’t have any myself”. For the next one hour, we thwarted options after options, who come up with his recommendation over the issue. We wanted to include this discussion in our upcoming book, Advantage India.

Clearly, our politicians can pay a tribute to this great son of India by making the parliament function at least for a week. He wanted to see this. Are our lawmakers listening?

Not sure of our lawmakers, but Kalam surely was watching and listening to everything and everyone around him. In his post, Singh recounts how Kalam couldn’t help but notice ‘discomfort’ being caused to a security person.

Third, was an experience from the beauty of his humility. We were in a convoy of 6-7 cars. Dr. Kalam and I were in the second car. Ahead us was an open gypsy with three soldiers in it. Two of them were sitting on either side and one lean guy was standing atop, holding his gun. One hour into the road journey, Dr. Kalam said, “Why is he standing? He will get tired. This is like punishment. Can you ask a wireless message to given that he may sit?” I had to convince him, he has been probably instructed to keep standing for better security. He did not relent. We tried radio messaging, that did not work. For the next 1.5 hours of the journey, he reminded me thrice to see if I can hand signal him to sit down. Finally, realizing there is little we can do – he told me, “I want to meet him and thank him”. Later, when we landed in IIM Shillong, I went inquiring through security people and got hold of the standing guy. I took him inside and Dr. Kalam greeted him. He shook his hand, said thank you buddy. “Are you tired? Would you like something to eat? I am sorry you had to stand so long because of me”. The young lean guard, draped in black cloth, was surprised at the treatment. He lost words, just said, “Sir, aap ke liye to 6 ghante bhi khade rahenge”.

This episode demonstrated that in spite of being such a highly placed dignitary, he was humble to the core. How many individuals at his level can claim to have similar empathy for people far below them in social ranks?

The Facebook post by Singh also tells us that Dr. Kalam wanted to be remembered as a ‘Teacher’, much before a scientist, a writer, or a former President of India.

Often he would ask me, “You are young, decide what will like to be remembered for?” I kept thinking of new impressive answers, till one day I gave up and resorted to tit-for-tat. I asked him back, “First you tell me, what will you like to be remembered for? President, Scientist, Writer, Missile man, India 2020, Target 3 billion…. What?” I thought I had made the question easier by giving options, but he sprang on me a surprise. “Teacher”, he said.

You are indeed a teacher Sir. Even your last day has taught us much – compassion, concern, positivity, determination, and an indomitable spirit to see India progress and develop.

Keep inspiring sir, and keep igniting our minds.

We, the people of India,
Your students.


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