I vividly remember the time when I first learnt about Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. It was 2002, the year Dr Kalam decided to run for the President's post. I was in Class 4 and wondered if he was a real doctor who could cure illnesses.
Little did I know that the man, who breathed his last on Monday night, could not save lives, but would instead go on to touch several of them.
I remember the time when I learnt more about him and became completely fascinated with him. I was in high school and had read translated excerpts from his book ‘Wings of Fire’ in a Tamil magazine. The story of a boy, who was born into a poor Muslim household in Rameshwaram and had to sell newspapers in the morning to support his family, but had refused to let his background stand in the way of achieving the pinnacle of success, became firmly etched in my memory.
I remember the time when I almost had the chance to meet him. It was the day he visited my school in Chromepet, Chennai (Tamil Nadu). Unfortunately, my school had decided that only students of Class 11 and 12 would be allowed to meet him. I remember being hugely disappointed and coming back home with a long face.
But little did I know that I would meet him 12 years later, only to find that my fascination for him had not diminished at all. It was 2014 and I was in the final year of my college. I had gone to attend an education conclave and Dr Kalam was one of the speakers. He spoke on how a teacher had the potential to transform a student’s life completely. He quoted the famous story of how his teacher took them to the seashore to show the way birds flew. The story became legendary, for it inspired young Kalam to pursue space research.
I also remember the infinite times when someone would mention his name and I would exclaim: “He’s from my state! In fact, his college Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) is just ten minutes from my home!”
The fact that one of my childhood heroes had set foot in my hometown and had spent his college days there became a glowing thought that I constantly held on to.
No school essay on ‘India’s development goals’ or ‘Space research’ or ‘Ways to achieve success’ would be complete without his unforgettable quotes on the power of dreams and perseverance.
The fact that Kalam became a youth icon despite not being a sportsperson or a movie star or a political leader speaks volumes about the impact that he left on students.
He was a constant source of inspiration to countless children in the Indian sub-continent for almost a decade. He never ever stopped dreaming, and even in his last hour, was more than happy to inspire a bunch of starry-eyed students in a packed hall in Shillong to work towards making dreams come true.
(The views expressed by the author are personal. She tweets @sowswamin)