Updated: July 29, 2015 5:33:36 pm
It was a setting that had defined his life, first as a scientist and then as India’s 11th President. It was also one that summed up his final moments.
On the dais was Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, delivering the first lines of a lecture on sustainable development, to be followed by a trademark interaction with over 135 students from the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (RG-IIM) in Shillong.
But then, at around 6.30 pm, just as he had clicked past the first two slides, he collapsed — 75 minutes later, it was official. “All efforts were made but Dr A P J Abdul Kalam could not be revived,” the Bethany Hospital said in a statement.
The man who redefined the Presidency, crafted a political idiom that spoke to children in a country growing young, whose rise from a lab to the scientific establishment to Rashtrapati Bhavan had earned him the title Missile Man, had passed away. He was 83.
Kalam’s body was later shifted to the Army Hospital in Shillong from where it will be flown by an IAF helicopter on Tuesday to Guwahati and onward to Delhi on an air force aircraft.
“I had asked him whether he was tired when he alighted from the car and walked in to the guest house at 5.45 pm,” Prof Keya Sengupta, senior faculty at RG-IIM, told The Indian Express.
Kalam, a visiting professor at RG-IIM, had just completed a 110-km journey by car after landing at the Guwahati airport at around 2.30 pm from Delhi. ”He smiled as usual, said he was perfectly alright,” said Sengupta.
”He was in good mood when he came in to the auditorium, and went up to the dais without any support. He was talking normally when all of a sudden he collapsed on his chair,” Sengupta said.
Frantic security personnel and faculty tried to hold him up. “We hurriedly removed his shoes while our medical officer attempted artificial respiration. He was then rushed to the Bethany Hospital at Nongrim Hills where doctors tried to revive him but in vain,” Sengupta said.
In the end, as Pranab Mukherjee, the man who now occupies the chair that Kalam did from 2002-2007, said: “Dr Kalam was a people’s president during his lifetime and will remain so even after his death.”
And as Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted, “He loved students and spent his final moments among them.”
Born on October 15, 1931 in Tamil Nadu’s Rameswaram, Kalam graduated from Madras Institute of Technology in aeronautical engineering before going on to establish himself as one of India’s most popular scientists and recipient of the Bharat Ratna in 1997.
In between, he was responsible for the development of ISRO’s launch vehicle programme and was widely considered as the brain behind India’s missile programme at DRDO.
Later, he went on to hit the headlines as the Principal Scientific Adviser to former PM A B Vajpayee who played an instrumental role in the Pokhran nuclear test of 1998.
Yet, it was his election as President, following a nomination by the first NDA government that took him to the pinnacle.
And in Kalam, the presidency acquired a new face: the bachelor and vegetarian who played the rudra veena also became the first Indian President to fly a Sukhoi jet, travel in a submarine, and visit the high-altitude battleground in Siachen.
However, it was Kalam’s ability to communicate with children and youth during lectures, seminars and public interactions that became a hallmark of his life, even after his presidency (he declined to contest for a second term).
As Kalam told journalists of The Indian Express during an Idea Exchange event in March 2009: “Tomorrow if I address a group of youngsters and talk about the flag flying in my heart and how I will uphold the dignity of the nation, I can get them to dream… the youth have fewer biases about their society…”
Today, minutes after Kalam’s death was made official, Union Home Secretary L C Goyal issued a statement, saying that a “seven-day national mourning” would be declared by the government.
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