“Don’t declare holiday on my death, instead work an extra day, if you love me.”
If the numerous condolence messages and statuses on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by, the underlying emotion starkly evident is that of deep sorrow at losing a visionary, an idol who Young India identified with and looked up to with admiration and respect. For APJ Abdul Kalam, sobriquets such as ‘The Missile Man of India’ or ‘People’s President’ do little to capture the entire breadth as well as the essence of what the man really stood up for.
APJ Abdul Kalam was born in a sleepy town in Rameswaram to a Tamil Muslim family which struggled to make ends meet. To supplement the income of his father, a boatman, Kalam worked as a newspaper distributor, but always found the time to put in extra hours of study, especially mathematics, to quell his strong desire for learning. In fact, it was his dream job to become an IAF pilot, after graduating in aerospace engineering, but missed a spot by one position. Undeterred by this failure, he went on to join DRDO and later ISRO and contributed massively to India’s ballistic missile as well as space programme, earning him laurels and immense prestige.
Coming from a humble background, and standing on the precipice of his professional success, APJ Abdul Kalam understood the need to effectively capitalise on the younger generation in order to build a brighter future for the nation, notwithstanding the enormous amount of funds that were being spent on developing arms and missiles. After resigning as the Chief Scientific Advisor in 1999, APJ Abdul Kalam vowed to meet and interact with 1,00,000 students in order to make them dream of a better, educated, affluent and peaceful India, going on to achieve this pledge even during his tenure as the 11th President of India and after.
“I feel comfortable in the company of young people, particularly high school students. Henceforth, 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.”
Even until recently, at the ripe age of 83, when most old gentlemen would rather prefer an armchair, APJ Abdul Kalam would travel all over the country and address both high school and college students, and even teachers and professors to praise them for their efforts in moulding the future of India. In a recent interview, he remarked, “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual. The youth has a dream and also they have a pain. The pain comes out of their dream; they want to live in a prosperous, happy and peaceful India. This type of student’s environment ignites me and leads me to interact with young minds.”
A strong proponent of outcome based education, he was of the view that the secondary and university education syllabi must be completely revamped, so as to include a skill certificate as well as an education certificate at the school level, which would translate to a diploma and degree respectively at the college or institute level. The foundation stone for this would have to be laid during 9-12th standard, where 25% of the time and coursework could be devoted to skill development. In this manner, the scientific temper of young minds could be effectively tapped and their entrepreneurial mindset unleashed to find solutions for age old problems, such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy plaguing India as well as countries all over the world.
With his radiant face, a twinkling eye, and the rising tenor of his effervescent voice whenever waxing eloquent over a topic to a rapt audience, APJ Abdul Kalam, would forever occupy our hearts as the real ‘People’s President’. The least that we, the foot soldiers in the endeavour to build a strong and secure India in every aspect, could do is to rise and pick up the reigns of his legacy and leave no stone unturned in our efforts, as a tribute to his memory.