A decade ago when I joined the industry from academia I'd fiercely bat for skill. I placed skill way above any other requirements for people. I professed that we are as good as our skill. This also made me form opinions about people and judge them. Accordingly, I was surrounded by three kinds of people - I found stars, average Joes and totally useless fellows! Of course I thought of myself as a star, at least I had to think so! Over the years however, call it ageing or whatever else, I have been inclined to treat people as people and not judge them based on their skill. Skill is something that can be acquired, human birth cannot be. This is a change that warms my heart. Now, while skill is important and must be acquired, humanness takes the top billing. Some call it aptitude or core behaviour in our industry. But as we deal with more people to achieve something and depend on them, their character (and ours) is the one that dictates whether we are on right track or not. This calls for a human touch irrespective of what field we are in. The reason for this lengthy introduction is that I found Dr. Kalam to be an embodiment of humanness. He is a rare blend of humanity, humility, passion and dedication. I never met him. I wish I could. He was on my must meet list but somehow day to day stuff always took precedence and I took it for granted that someday I will at least see him from a distance! Alas, it was not to be. He exited before that.
However, not before inspiring me enough. In the line of education and research that I came through it is common for people to look west after finishing their education and often not return, due to either lack of opportunities or will. It doesn't matter why, but I was not inclined at all to go. Many people tried to suggest. I refused. This was also the time I read the "Wings of Fire". It was on a journey to attend the funeral ceremony of my uncle at Borigumma, Odisha. This book kept company in the Prasanthi express and in the subsequent bus journey from Vizianagaram. Just as you would swallow a favorite sweet, this book was so absorbing that I read it cover to cover in one go! The message of the homegrown missile man was enough for me to decide and for good that come what may I will stay here and pursue my career. I don't intend to say whether that was right decision or not as far as career is concerned, but it gave me a confidence that with dedication and passion one can achieve something no matter where you are. I continue to be inspired by that thought. To me he is a sage. To perform action when it is easily avoidable shows the sense of purpose of man. Dr. Kalam could have happily sat in his home and written books. He chose to go to students and inspire them. And he ended his innings in one of those.
Pokhran 1998 is another unforgettable episode for me. India, for the first time showed political will and scientific prowess and defied the west to conduct its own nuclear tests - completely indigenous. In a determined defiance of the dominating West, India had broken away from the colonial shackles - thus filling a number of students in the scientific community with great self belief.
And a decade before that, the "Agni ka saphal parikshan...." messages from a proud prime minister Rajiv Gandhi interspersed in the commercial breaks of Mahabharath in our school days mean a lot to me in retrospect. And we know the Man who enabled all this.
However, Dr. Kalam was perhaps not your quintessential scientist with great brainwaves emerging all the time. He didn't have to be. He was far more than that. He conquered people across the spectrum - politicians, engineers, scientists..... The internal enemies didn't trouble him much and so he didn't have external enemies. I've been looking for an Ajathasatru (one whose enemies are not born!) ever since I came across this name in Kings, I wondered if such people can exist. Dr. Kalam comes closest to that description.
A true leader who enabled his teams and helped them achieve greatness. This is not done by skill alone. Skill is required but also needs to be channelized. This can be done by only a leader and a visionary.
Sad that Dr. Kalam is gone; but very glad that he came!
To rest in peace, there is only one way and that is to live in peace (with oneself). Dr. Kalam did that with aplomb and he really doesn't need my pitiable RIP wish. So long, Dr. Kalam.