India, as Churchill once described, is not a country but merely a ‘geographic expression’, like the equator. While we may curse Churchill for his bigoted views on India and Indians, bit of soul searching will uncover the harsh truth. We are one country yes, but then we don’t often think or act that way. Can’t be blamed. We speak so many languages, we often don’t even know which one the other guy is speaking, let alone understand it. There are, yes, a few things that bring us together in joy or sorrow. Strangely, cricket, a sport passed on to us by the colonial Brits of Churchill type is one. I am having a hard time thinking up another, not counting hypothetical scenarios like a Pakistani or Chinese invasion. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for all his pan Indian appeal, hardly strikes the same emotional chord deep south, be it positive or negative.
But then we are forgetting APJ Abdul Kalam. A man from deep deep south, not really comfortable with Hindi, not even blessed with a pan-Indian look, a pukka ‘Madrasi’, yet effortlessly at ease anywhere in India, especially when he is with kids or youth. More importantly, seen as the ideal Indian, “one of us”, or “ours” by so many different sub-nationalities, ethnic groups and tribes that populate our vast land mass.
Is it because he was a “missile man”? Is it because he was behind India’s nuclear bomb? Perhaps. But people knew there were others too that contributed in these fields. Because he sold dreams to kids? Lots do. He was apolitical? Perhaps. Because he played the veena? Or was a vegetarian? Not really, not many knew, even fewer cared.
At one level, it is very hard to nail down the precise factor or set of factors that made Kalam so popular, so unique and so adorable. But if you really think about it, it is not that difficult to understand his appeal. He had so much of each of the good traits we have so much difficulty finding elsewhere, that too in one person.
He was, and remained to his last breath, a simple man, of simple tastes and demeanor. He was humble, despite achieving so much. He was incorruptible and clean. He was secular yet didn’t wear it on his sleeve and more importantly didn’t need to get that certified and endorsed by the established liberal elite by attacking the majority faith. He didn’t think much about superstitions but didn’t go around insulting others’ faith simply to prove his scientific spirit. He was rarely, you could say never, seen angry. He genuinely believed in India and its capabilities and had a heartfelt desire to see it do well. And he communicated that in simple words, whenever, wherever he could.
No wonder he was universally admired. Was he?
Let us correct ourselves a bit here. He was not universally admired, He was despised too. By who? By the Marxist brigade, by corrupt political dynasties and by the pseudo liberal leftist intellectuals. Such was the depth of their hatred, they did not even let his death stop them from expressing their ‘opinions’. That he was ‘overrated’ and just a ‘manager’. Sentiments shared only among these super brilliant intellectuals and their jihadi terrorist bosom buddies across the border, such as A. Q. “Xerox” Khan.
When he was elected President, he was supported by all but the Marxists who could never forgive him for giving India the bomb. After all the only Asian nation that had it was China, their ideological father-land. Their bomb was the ‘proletariat’ one. How dare this man challenge that hegemony? He was hated too, by the Sonia Gandhi family and by politicians like Mulayam Singh for not being an ‘ideal Muslim’. One that is rabidly communal, doesn’t think beyond his community, one that is easily fooled by the ‘secular’ politician who will be his savior against his vicious Hindu neighbors. One that can be a vote bank to be exploited. In other words, for not being a Bin Laden, Owaisi or Azam Khan. In their eyes, he was a danger. If every Muslim could think and act like him, their days are over.
They had their revenge. When time came to offer him a second term, for which he was more eligible than any other Indian, he was rebuffed. Yet he did not sulk, throw temper tantrums or give out nasty interviews like Amartya Sen. He simply went back to doing what he always loved to do – inspire young Indians to think, dream and achieve what is their’s by right. India had a President it was proud of and now it was back to the “good old” days. A President chosen for loyalty to one family, obedience and one that can never be a threat.
Unlike dynastic domestic servants who cleaned out the palace of its gifts, who polluted, soiled the office Abdul Kalam once graced and brought honor to, he only carried a couple of suitcases of personal effects with him when he left the Presidential palace. But when he left this world, he carried with him the genuine affection, tears and sorrow of millions to whom he was the ideal Indian.
RIP Dr. Kalam! One day we may be worthy of your hard work, dedication and service.