Yesterday was the first time I wept at the death of a public personality. I kept asking myself what it was about Dr Kalam that shook me up this way.
Being a sentimental chap, I would have grieved anyway at Dr Kalam’s death, but the grief came more readily, I thought, as the leader who had just died came from my home state Tamil Nadu. When I had read the story of his life, I could vividly picture his rustic beginnings, his poor facility with the English language, his love for classical music, his studiousness, his passion for food – all of which have come to form a stereotype of the quintessential ‘Madrasi’. But, in retrospect, that I related to his story wasn’t what moved me most. There’s something more to it.
He wasn’t a powerful orator, releasing rhetoric and raras from packed stadiums; forget oration, his skill with the English language was as simple as it could get – far from enough to impress. That he was a Tamil scholar, a poet, an iconic scientist and President weren’t all too dazzling to my eyes either – many men of material distinction had come and gone before him.
What was life-giving about Dr Kalam’s example, to me, was the artless truth that radiated from his person. His naked heart, free from divisions that decorations often create, found a friend in every other heart it met – whether in the pariah or in the pundit, with the servant or the sultan.
Gandhi, Rajaji, Ambedkar, Nehru, Radhakrishnan – all personal heroes – had died before I was born. Nani Palkhivala died when I was only 10 years old, long before I got to know of him. Leaving what is contentious about him aside, Dr Kalam was the only man left from an age when public office still drew in men and women of character and integrity.
His example is a statement of hope in a world that punishes honesty, simplicity and truth.
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