Death of a public figure always becomes a news because we recognize the void it leaves. But rarely does it happen that it stirs such emotions of love and respect as I have been seeing for Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Within hours of his passing, my Facebook feed was flooded with people mourning this loss, and sharing his words of wisdom that are close to their hearts.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is known to the world as the first scientist who went on to become the President of India from 2002-2007. He was an aeronautical engineer. He was instrumental for 4 decades in developing India’s space program as well as the defense program. He was admired for his insights on literature, philosophy, and spirituality. He was a thinker, and visionary that India and the world needed.

But he was so much more than the labels can describe. His intellect and wisdom of 83 years of experience were accompanied by so many charming traits that he won the hearts of millions (actually billions) of people. Today, as we bid farewell to this legendary gentleman, I cannot help but think about what made us all love and respect him with such fervor.

1. He gave us hope:

He started with humble beginnings but built a life that expressed many of his passions – from science to social development to teaching. He inspired others to dream big, and led through example. He did not limit his thinking only to individual growth but expanded it to his country, and the world. His vision for India in 2020 became a goal for us to achieve. He was a dreamer first, and scientist, politician, teacher later.

He was a big proponent of finding what you love doing, and working hard to keep getting better at it. In India that is so driven by rat-race, when an accomplished, respected elder asks you to go after your dreams, it almost feels like a permission to be free. No wonder he made a home in the hearts of millions of youngsters!

“Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep.”

-Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

2. He valued being different:

How many of us lose ourselves in an effort to fit in? He always told us not to do so.

His career trajectory, interests, and even appearance was “different”. That’s exactly what makes it special. Before he became India’s President in 2002, would we have ever imagined a scientist in the highest political position? Is there another politician or a scientist who speaks so eloquently about philosophy and spirituality?

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam embraced his unique traits, and strengths. He dared us to think differently, innovate, and experiment. He reminded us again and again, not be afraid of failures or what people think. Because without failed experiments, there will not be new learning.

He not only asked us to think differently, but assured us that it is OK to be different by leading his life with that principle.

“While children are struggling to be unique, the world around them is trying all means to make them look like everybody else.”
– Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
3. He was a learner:

He is known to be a teacher, and no doubt he was! But what made him such a great teacher? The fact that he was a learner first. He loved spending time with students. In fact, he had taken on a mission of interacting with 100,000 students in 2 years.

He always promoted being curious and inquisitive as one of the most important character traits. While many people say that, he was in the rare few who truly live by it. Through his own life, he continually demonstrated the power of exploration. Being a scientist was his true nature. He applied the same problem solving skills to understand and navigate the intricacies of politics and life.

The insights that he shared with us could not have come without keen observation of people, mindful presence in the nature, and intellectual interpretation of literature. The way he connected dots between seemingly random disciplines was a clear indication of his interest in living and processing new experiences.

This is a breath of fresh air in the world where many people think, they know it all.

“One of the very important characteristics of a student is to question. Let the students ask questions.”

– Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

4. He inspired us:

Through his journey in life, achieving higher and higher heights in his career and passion, he served as a role model for many young Indians. But what is even better is that he took time and invested energy is passing on his wisdom onto the younger generation. Through the books he authored, speeches he delivered, and messages he relayed at public events, he shared with us his experiences and what we can learn from them.

In today’s globalized world, we have access to so many motivational quotes, and inspirational stories. But I feel that they often come from the west. There is not nearly enough coming out from Indian thinkers and thought leaders. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was an exception.

This Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s Speech at EU he delivered at the Golden Jubilee of European Union is an example of one of a unique perspective India can offer the world. There are not many who are bringing it out. Desire to do so inspires me as much as the point of view itself.

“If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.”
– Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
5. He was humble:

There are so many accomplished professionals who seem to show off their talents, skills, and positions. Don’t even get me started with the politicians. But Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam never had that air of boastfulness despite his splendid accomplishments in a variety of subject matters. He always seemed to be “one of us”.

His unparalleled humility came with deep compassion. He really seemed to care about the success of others. He wanted the world to be a peaceful place. He wanted each and every Indian to realize their full potential, and contribute to the well-being of the country and the world. Probably it was through such selfless vision of the world that he did not look down upon others.

How many celebrities do we see who have such deep sense of humility?

“Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.”
– Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

 

India and the world lost a true gem today. He may be admired and respected as a scientist, a President, a leader, an author, and a teacher for many generations to come. But he will be sorely missed and fondly cherished as an icon of inspiration in the hearts of us who have been touched by his work in his lifetime.

 

In the memory of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Share in the comments what aspect of his life inspires you the most. Do you have a favorite quote of his or a book he has written or a speech you heard that made a deep impression on you? Share it in the comments.

Here is my favorite quote of his:

“My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards. This is my message to the young people.”

– Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam

Living by his words that guide you, will be a true salute to the legacy of this extraordinary leader.

RIP Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Thank you for everything that you have done to make this world a better place.