Not since India’s first President Rajendra Prasad did we have such a simple man with a humble background, but with a very high degree of scientific achievement as Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, become the Head of the Republic. The 11th President, Kalam collapsed suddenly while delivering a lecture on sustainable development, one of his pet themes, to students of a management institute in Shillong on Monday. He was 83. A quintessential modern man in his thinking, Kalam had no use for the new-fangled advances which the world has come to rely upon to make life comfortable and luxurious. Even in the imperial mansion on the Raisina Hill, which became his official abode for five years when picked for the President’s post through sheer chance, he stayed in a single room and maintained regular, spartan habits. He was not your run-of-the-mill politico living it rich at public expense. And unlike other `normal’ presidents spewing familiar bromides about development, growth, etc., Kalam personified a love for technological advancement and how it could be harnessed for the greater good of Indians.
India’s Missile Man took little time to become Peoples’ President soon after he moved into Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2002. He was particularly fond of children and easily related to them, trying to arouse their curiosity and interest in science and technology. But he was equally well-versed with ancient Sanskrit texts and Quran and quoted both when the occasion demanded. Never before had someone tenanted Rashtrapati Bhavan, who made himself available so easily to ordinary people, as Kalam had. Often it was his security personnel who felt uneasy with his free mixing with the ordinary folks wherever he went as President. At the end of his term, he tried to slip into anonymity, but his popularity and vast knowledge made him a much sought after speaker, especially at academic institutions. It was at one such event that he passed off peacefully in the presence of young students whom he had always sought, for inspiring and for being himself inspired.