What I learnt from APJ Abdul Kalam!

Once upon a time there was a scientist; very dedicated as was also the demand of the high-pressure project he was working on. But, a family man he was also; approached his boss to ask for permission to leave early as he had promised his children to take them to an exhibition. The boss granted him permission, and the scientist got back to work.

But, he lost track of time and forgot that he had to leave early. By the time he realized it was already quite late. Feeling guilty when he reached his home, he couldn’t find his children. He asked his wife for the children and to his surprise she told him, “your manager was here around 5:15 and he took the kids for the exhibition!”

It was, in fact, his boss, who had been observing the scientist and on realizing that the scientist would never realize that he had to go home, he decided to take the kids instead.

The boss was none other than Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

This story was told to me by my father as a bedtime story. That goes on to show, that stories of his greatness made its way to bedtime tales and may be a part of our folktales. Scientist, mentor, president – Dr APJ Abdul Kalam touched the lives of everyone who worked with him and many more, which is not only evident from the story but also from the great respect everyone holds in their heart irrespective of having met him or not.

Recently, there had been a proposition to commemorate Dr Kalam by naming a road in the capital and even a town. But, I believe he would never wanted to be just another brick in the wall. It had occurred to me whether we should have a day dedicated to him. Teachers’ day or Children’s day or even Scientist’s day; but

Since he doned all these roles so perfectly, one day wouldn’t do any justice to him. His values and vision must be adopted and lived everyday to be able to give him the respect he deserves. Not having met him personally, even as I dare to write on him, I am in a constant fear that I may not do justice to such a great man. But, I can and what I intend to do is talk about how he touched my life; but most importantly what I have been able to put to practice in my life. As the title of Srijan Pal Singh’s tribute to Dr Kalam goes, “What Can I Give?: Life Lessons from My Teacher, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.”

As a child, with each page I turned of the Ignited Mind, I learnt a new lesson. Each word in the book including the dedication and the preface motivated me beyond words. Well, it wont be wrong to say inspiration was concomitant with book and the man himself. He began his first chapter with,

Dream, Dream, Dream

Dreams transform into thoughts

And thoughts result in action.

I was always a dreamer, but now I dreamt bigger. His Vision 2020 to transform India, was one of the most inspiring example of patriotism. I ask, as a common man, what can I do to contribute to the betterment of my motherland? But, to be able to do I believe we need to think big but start small. Our every day actions have an affect on others. Even a glass of water to a thirty is an act of kindness, which instills the trust in mankind.

The second quality, which truly moved me, was his humility. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was a great scientist and an inspiring leader, but he even while he wrote his books or gave a lecture; he made sure he gave examples from the people he had learned from. In the same thread of thought, we all must have heard that he even as a President on an official visit to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, stopped by at the cobbler’s shop and asked, “How are you, George? Are you fine?” This story had an overwhelming affect on my mind and I make sure or at the least try and thank every one who made my life simpler in whatever capacity possible. Even as the head of prestigious organizations like ISRO and DRDO he would give everyone an opportunity to contribute to the project irrespective of where they were in the pecking order. Humility is a difficult exercise for people who do not have it already, but it is most gratifying if mastered. But, in today’s world there is a dire need for humility.

Third quality, which I believe each one of us, must have witnessed and understood, is his hard working spirit and sincerity. Whichever position he took, he made sure to raise its bar. He brought dignity to whatever he did. Even politics! When I read former DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander’s recollection of Dr Kalam, I understood the true meaning of hard work. We all have grown up with the following thought from Gita, “karm kar, phal ki chinta mat karo“. But, he actually lived it. Dr Chander recalled their time, in 1989, when they were preparing to test the Agni technology demonstrator, there were lots of nervous moments and unsurity of the test given two had already failed before. Dr Kalam used to carry his resignation letter with him back then. He would even stay awake all night at the launch pad, making sure everything was in order. He had decided to take responsibility and step down, in case anything wrong happened. Leaders like him are very rare in today’s world.

Fourth aspect of his was his love for mankind and ahimsa. More grandfatherly than the presidential aura, he propagated Ahimsa. When asked who his favourite character was in Mahabharata, he answered without hesitating that he was particularly attracted to the character of Vidura, who showed immense to stand against wrong doings and stand for Dharma. When everyone around were succumbing to the tyranny of adharma, he had to protest against the War of Kurukshetra by resigning from the post of minister. He openly addressed a huge gathering of multi-religious faith that the practice of truth, ahimsa and vairagya that are the tenets of Jainism and still relevant in modern times and the message of peace and non-violence should be taken to all parts of the country.

I could  go on and on, and not run out things I have learnt from his actions, his words, his books. But all best things in life have beginnings but no ends.I remember as soon as I heard the news last July, I felt a part of me die. I knew a friend who was attending the final lecture. He too had no words to say, but he struggled to say only two lines, which I quote today;

I don’t know what to feel. In the numbness of the situation, I don’t know whether to feel blessed or inconsolably distressed to have witnessed the man in action and then suddenly inaction.

He was a scientist, president and most importantly human being, beyond par and he will continue to inspire us.

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