I was twelve years old when I first caught a glimpse of the ‘Missile Man’. I was bewildered, and wondered if all the ‘tall’ stories I had heard of him were actually true. Up until the time I actually saw a picture of him in the newspaper, I often imagined him to be six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a lion-like walk, a reflection of his huge accomplishments.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that this man, of almost petite physical stature, was in fact the tallest leader and the greatest teacher my country ever had. He passed away last evening in the most glorious manner imaginable, doing what he loved doing the most – Teaching and inspiring students to make a difference in India and the world.
Being a physicist’s daughter, I was often told stories of Kalam saab and his extraordinary life by my father. Dr Kalam, born and raised in the humble town of Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, was often the topic of my father’s countless inspirational lectures. I was deeply influenced by his brilliant career and ardently followed the news stories from the Defence Research and Development organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he served for nearly four decades.
He played a pivotal, organizational, technical and political role in India’s Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974. A true testimony of his popularity was his election as President of India in 2002, with support from both the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party and the opposition, Indian National congress.
I’ve remained awestruck by Kalam saab for most of my life. Imagine a simple boy born in a humble boat owner’s home, who started his career selling newspapers to help his father, grew up to be an aerospace engineer. Although he hailed from a poor family, he was brought up in a multi-religious, tolerant society; one with a progressive outlook.
My father often urged us to follow Kalam saab’s example and wake up at 4:00 am, take a bath and devote two hours to mathematics. As a family, we celebrated Dr. Kalam’s every success and achievement. A Bharat Ratna was never more deserved than the time Kalam saab received this greatest civilian honour.
Dr Kalam was an inspiring visionary, a genius scientist, a beloved President and a devoted teacher. With every passing year, my desire to meet with my ‘Hero’ intensified. I’m left deeply disappointed today. I never got to meet my hero and thank him for his priceless contribution to my life. I never got to shake his hand and hope that some of his greatness would rub off on me too. He gave this nation “Wings of fire” and “Ignited minds” of an entire generation.
Kalam saab, I will not mourn your passing, I will keep you alive in my heart like the billions of Indians who are forever in your debt. I will continue to walk in your footsteps and strive to make India the greatest force in the world. I will help build the nation you dreamt of and worked so hard for.
Long Live true Son of India. Jai Hind.