Youth icon: Why Kalam clicked among India's youngsters

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 28, 2015 18:02 IST

Four years ago on a winter morning in Guwahati, 14-year-old Anwesha Roy could not believe her ears when she came to know she was among the 10 students selected from her school to interact with former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

"He spoke to us as if he was a friend and not a great scientist or a former president. He said we should dream big and work hard," she said after the news about Kalam's death broke on Monday evening.

Kalam, who would have turned 84 in October, died after suffering a massive cardiac arrest while speaking with students at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He was the head of state during 2002-07.

Like Roy, millions of Indian youth were inspired to dream big by the Missile Man. Kalam's books, speeches, and interactive sessions with children across the country went a long way in propelling the youth to work hard to turn those dreams into a reality.

In an interview with the online news portal Rediff published last year, Kalam had said one of modern India's greatest strengths was its youth.

"No other democratic nation has 600 million youth. The ignited mind of the youth is the most powerful resource -- on the earth, above the earth, under the earth -- and we have that," he said.

APJ Abdul Kalam's 79th birthday was recognised as World Student's Day by United Nations. (HT File Photo)

N Bhaskara Rao, founder-chairperson of New Delhi's Centre for Media Studies (CMS), agrees with what Roy says about Kalam's efforts to reach out and make his thoughts easier for children to understand.

"Kalam never 'talked over' with the youth, he 'talked with' them," said Rao. "He went down to the level understandable by the person he was speaking to, whether school children or IIM students. That's why young people connected to him and loved him so much."

In a 2009 interview with The Indian Express, Kalam had said the youth has fewer biases about their society as compared to the grown-ups and hence it was much easier to motivate them.

"It is when children are 15, 16 or 17 that they decide whether they want to be a doctor, an engineer, a politician or go to Mars or the moon. That is the time they start having a dream and that's the time you can work on them," said Kalam.

Kalam used to regularly meet school and college students and talk to them about science, technology and life. He often shared with them his vision on where India should be by 2020. Anecdotes about Kalam replying to random letters written to him by children are plenty.

"The youth was attracted so much to Kalam because he was approachable. When a top scientist and former president allows you to ask him anything, you are bound to love him," said Anirban Chakraborty, a civil engineer pursuing research work at Japan's Kyoto University.

In the last 15 years, he had interacted with more than 18 million youngsters either face-to-face or over the internet.

Ayush Dinker, a Delhi-based filmmaker, vividly remembers the day when, years ago, Kalam came to deliver a graduation lecture at his engineering college in Jharkhand.

"It was a convocation ceremony and young graduates were more than glad to receive their certificates from Kalam, whom many considered a great role model. He was India's humble Missile Man and everyone loved his personality," said Dinker.

And wherever Kalam spoke, he drew a large crowd.

A journalist, who covered the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, recounted how Kalam's session had drawn the largest crowd.

"Young people thronged the open auditorium. There was a stampede-like situation and additional police forces were called in. Celebrated authors could not attract the crowd he did, and that too in a literary meet. I wonder whether any other Indian president would have attracted such a gathering," said the journalist, who works with a leading daily in Delhi.

(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )

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