‘I was willing to accept what I couldn’t change,’ outgoing President APJ Abdul Kalam once said. But change things he did and in his own inimitable way. As he steps down as India’s 11th President, the maverick scientist is the talk of the town. The general consensus is that whatever our feelings about him, we are not likely to see such a colourful, unpredictable person in that august office in a long time to come. The interesting thing about the People’s President is that each one of us feels that we know all about him. Don’t we all know that he rose from humble beginnings as a fisherman’s son to occupy the highest posts in the scientific establishment before that ascent to Raisina Hill? That he came in as an NDA candidate but shook off that tag before long, that he showed a certain independence of thought when dealing with the governments of the day. Yet, when you look back you’ll see how very deftly Mr Kalam took up a singular theme, that of a developed and self-reliant India and sold it to us in a myriad ways much as a smart ad professional would sell the same product with different packaging.
But did he spell out a workable plan to achieve his vision for India 2020? No. But we are not complaining, for he made those years in the imperial grandeur of Rashtrapati Bhavan so entertaining, so much of a talking point. With the adulation that normally goes with a screen superstar, we followed with delight the manner in which he threw the stuffy dress code of presidential parties to the winds. We were bemused when he stubbornly refused to give up his long locks fashioned by a hair stylist whose father attended to no less than the patrician Nehru, Lord Mountbatten and the elegant Indira. He never rose to the eloquent oration of many of his predecessors, making up for it with his earthy charm and witticisms. He could make the most banal of speeches and hold the audience spellbound. No protocol for him — he could be quite touchy feely even with the likes of the formal George W. Bush. A vegetarian diet and regular exercise saw to it that he did not have the ailments of old age. Rather he’d put any stripling youth to shame in the manner in which he took to an undersea journey in a submarine as a fish to water. Next we knew, he was off and away in a Sukhoi even as his personal security fretted and fumed.
The most endearing thing about the future professor at Annamalai University is that he was never afraid of criticism or telling it like it is. Which probably explains why he did not hesitate to publish his less-than-elegant poetry. Here is a sample: “Almighty, bless my nation with vision and sweat resulting into happiness.” Clearly, he is no Keats, but we lapped it up anyway and saw deep meaning where there probably was none. Will he fade away into the sunset? Not likely, for we are not about to let Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam Maraikkayar do that.