Images of India : The ‘People’s President’ passes away…

child-kissespicapjDr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen (APJ) Abdul Kalam, India’s 11th president, collapsed and died, aged 83, on July 27 evening while doing what he loved – addressing students. Born in humble circumstances in a Muslim family in rural Tamil Nadu, a young boy who sold newspapers to help his family make ends meet, rose to the highest office in the land. And he did so not through the conventional route of a political career but through the dint of hard work as a scientist in government service. India’s “missile man”, as he was dubbed in the popular press, Abdul Kalam was a rocket scientist who rose to prominence as head of the country’s successful civilian space and missile defence programmes. An unlikely compromise candidate for president, he soon became the most popular occupant of that exalted post, disregarding its customary ceremonial role to reach out to ordinary people, particularly the young. Combining idiosyncratic power-point presentations of his vision for India’s future with instructional poems for children, lecturing on everything from solar energy to the importance of broadband connectivity for India’s villages, Abdul Kalam “ignited minds”, to use the title of one of his five bestselling books (he published 17 in all). As a Muslim steeped in Hindu culture, he was to many an oddity – a scientist who could recite classical Tamil poetry, who played the rudra-veena, a traditional South Indian instrument, and listened to Carnatic devotional music every day, but performed his namaz with no sense of incongruity. In melding the Islam into which he was born with a strong sense of the traditions in which his civilization was anchored, Abdul Kalam was a complete Indian, an embodiment of the eclecticism of India’s heritage of diversity. With his long silver hair unfashionably combed back and his thick Tamilian accent, he was an unlikely pop culture idol, but that was what he became.