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A Tribute to President Kalam

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Former President APJ Abdul KalamOn Thursday the 26th of July, as I drove around the city of Chennai, my favourite FM radio station continued to say at regular intervals, ‘Welcome home, Sir!’ They were welcoming the arrival of former President APJ Abdul Kalam to Chennai after completing his five-year tenure as the people’s President. Even as I grappled mentally with the details of my work and routine, this message of warm welcome was being echoed in my own heart and mind. Since his beginning days in Rashtrapati Bhavan, it has been difficult to resist the sincerity and simplicity of Dr. Abdul Kalam.

When he first became President, in the charged political atmosphere of India’s capital, with opposing politicians more used to baying for each other’s blood than sitting and jointly discussing the welfare of the nation, I never doubted the ability of one honest and good-hearted individual to influence his environment. And indeed, in the days that followed, President Kalam fully lived up to this belief. Determined not to let his Presidential tenure remain a merely ceremonial memory, President Kalam reached out to ordinary citizens from his first few weeks. What made him particularly remarkable was that he chose children to be these citizens.

Children in India were growing up in an atmosphere of cynicism that was virtually unchallenged in the beginning of the new millennium. Their parents, teachers, and other adults seemed to be saying, ‘What’s the use? This country and all the things that are terribly wrong here, can never change. Corruption, corruption, corruption…’ No one seemed to care about the effect of such relentlessly negative feedback on the minds of the young. In such an atmosphere, in 2002, President Kalam set a personal target for himself of meeting one lakh children. That he subsequently bettered this target and succeeded in touching many more young lives is not so important. What was so special was that children were being sought out as the future citizens of the country by a leader for perhaps the first time since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, called ‘Chacha Nehru’ by his young fans. For the first time in many years, children were being given a chance to look at themselves as individuals, realize the importance of their own individual actions, rather than feel they were up against a faceless and cruel ‘system’.

Today, five years after his first reaching out to children, Dr. Kalam is still addressing the youth of this country. Many of the children whom he first exhorted to ‘dare to dream’ have grown up to go into professional courses. Many are young adults working around the country and the world. And in the period between which they first encountered the President and the time he packed his bags to leave Rashtrapati Bhavan, India has begun to be perceived not only by many of their elders, but also the rest of the world as a vibrant economy, vast storehouse of talent etc.

Typically, even in his final year, President Kalam was still drawing lessons from children. He was taken back when a girl who had come to Rashtrapati Bhavan asked him about the ‘India 2020’ blueprint for development – ‘Why can’t India become developed before 2020?’ she asked. Taking this as a cue that young aspirations needed to be addressed by an accelerated rate of development, Dr. Kalam made this a point to note in his farewell speech to the nation.

There are many other ways in which Dr. Kalam will continue to serve the nation – as a scientist, an educator, consulted by state governments and private institutions on matters of science, development and the imparting of values. As a citizen appreciative of his unique contribution in the last five years, I salute his nurturing of the human spirit. As far as I can see, it is already paying rich dividends. Thank you, President Kalam.

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