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Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam: Making of a legend beyond religious horizon

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Shubham Shukla
Shubham Shukla
Shubham Shukla is a 3rd year student pursuing BA LLB (Hons) at National Law University, Punjab

As India moves on to mark 89th birth anniversary of a man who manifested a living example of transcending the self, there’re plethora of anecdotes which find nexus in shaping Dr. Kalam’s life. These stories need to be brought in the mainstream discourse to explore the genius of him particularly when it is his visionary year 2020. He would not have dreamt of hardships people are facing in 2020 due to the pandemic even in the most extreme corners of his heart. A man who dedicated his whole life in fortifying India on almost all the valuable fronts seeing India a developed nation by 2020, narrates incidents which transformed him into a visionary man in his autobiography “Wings of Fire”.

His autobiography reflects the generosity of his parents on him. He was a master of striking a balance of perception. On the one hand, he lauds his parents and their wisdom whereas, on the other hand, he is well aware of his parents’ formal illiteracy. One comes to know that despite belonging to middle class family with limited resources, Indian culture of Atithi Devo Bhavah was greatly imbibed in his parents’ way of life.  

In the modern parlance, when some elitist sections of society feel privileged and find it their prerogative to sit on fancy dining tables disregarding the abysmal condition of other beings of same species, Dr. Kalam’s childhood aids in showing mirror to them. In case of Kalam, he would sit cross-legged on the floor and take his meals with his mother. Then the food would be served on a banana leaf. They would eat simple, vegetarian and holistic food which comprised of sambhar, homemade pickles and coconut chutney. These acts comprise the spirit of traditional Indian households where an enormous respect is given to the food. Kalam remembers the holistic way in which his family members would sit on the floor in a half-lotus position and enjoy the food resembling strong family bonding, a distinct feature of Indian family as a sociological institution.

But above all, his childhood stories also suggest an altogether deviant behaviour from the one that has been propagated by various groups against dismantling of social fabric by Brahmins. Dr. Kalam tells his readers about Sivasubramania Iyer, his science teacher belonging to an orthodox Brahmin family whom he considered an illuminated soul. One day, he invited Abdul Kalam for a meal at his house despite slight objection from his wife in order to homogenize the stratified society of Rameshwaram, breaking social barriers. He served food to Abdul Kalam with his own hands and sat beside him to eat. He again invited him for another meal and this time his wife had reformed and she cooked and served the meal herself to Abdul Kalam and sat beside him in the kitchen to eat. As per Kalam, this incidence penetrated deep within his heart and he felt weightlessness, free and equal, a sense of comradelier germinated inside him. He acknowledged this impression which made him a successful team member, which results in his triumph during later years. Had this incident not been narrated by someone with a grand stature as that of Dr. Kalam, the liberal propagandists would have never accepted existence of such a religious harmony.

Another childhood episode which he tells to his readers is of a Shiva temple near his village not too far off from his village Rameswaram. He circled around the temple just like another pilgrim from distant India and felt the flowing of energy through him. The head priest of that temple, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry was a great friend of Kalam’s father and priest’s son Ramanadha was Kalam’s one of his three best friends who belonged to orthodox Brahmin families. One day, when a teacher separated Abdul Kalam from Ramanadha due to religious differences, the head priest summoned the teacher and scolded. He warned him not to propagate venom of social inequality among children.

He was a spiritual seeker and not a believer— which has always been the primary foundation on which all Indic religions particularly Hinduism are based. When Kalam was disappointed as he could not make it to Indian Air Forces, he went to Rishikesh and after taking bath in Ganga to revel its purity, went on to Sivanand’s Ashram. He was amazed to see that his Muslim name didn’t arouse any reaction on Swami Sivananda. Swamiji told him that the destiny had something big waiting for him and it sparked a hope in Kalam’s life. After his conversation with Swami ji, he felt like he got an answer to his troubles. This incident makes us understand that it’s certainly not religion but ‘hope’ that is actually the opium of masses.

Dr. Kalam was an intense nationalist and loved India deeply. Even while retaining his Islamic practices, like Dara Shikhon did, he adopted Hindu philosophy with open arms. This was an express manifestation of him living India’s core value systems“Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti” (Truth is one, sages call it by various names). His spiritual Master was a Hindu saint — H.H. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the head of BAPS, a Hindu organization of the Swaminarayan order. He read the Gita and practiced playing the Veena (purportedly a Hindu symbol of music & learning associated with the goddess of learning — Saraswati) everyday. The Ramayana which recently drew controversies over its telecast during national lockdown was a thing of Kalam’s everyday bedtime stories.

But unfortunately, today he seems to be missing from mainstream discourse as the eminence of ‘Eminent Historians” who dominate the mainstream narrative do not allow such a great personality to be revered. Such is the audacity of liberal retards that they find eulogization of Dr. Kalam, an intrusion into their “safe spaces.” When Dr. Kalam became 11th President of India, many intellectuals wrote several opinion pieces which scoffed at him being not enough Muslim. One such opinion piece was written by Dr. Rafiq Zakaria who praising his patriotism (actually honeydripping) noted that:

“He was born a Muslim and bears a Muslim name, he should not be put in the same category as the two former Muslim Presidents, Dr Zakir Husain and Mr Fakruddin Ali Ahmed. Both of them were as great a patriot and Indian to the core as Dr Kalam. But they were also Muslims in the real sense of the word; they believed in the tenets of the Quran and faithfully followed the traditions of the Prophet”

In an interview with MJ Akbar, Dr. Kalam was asked…So why is it that the so-called Muslim leaders in the North always have the feeling that you are not a practicing Muslim?

He replied- “First of all, I am an Indian and try to be a good human being. People can call me XYZ, that’s their freedom of expression. There is no conflict of any kind regarding my faith in Islam. I often visit temples and churches as well. God is everywhere.”

One of the primary reasons why Dr. Kalam is curiously missing from the popular discourse among Indian Muslims is the exclusivist tendency of their faith. This exclusivism of the trueness of only their faith is so imbibed that corollary of it intends as falseness of every other religion and faiths. It goes fundamentally flawed against the distinct Indic values of inclusiveness like Vaudhaiv Kutumbkam i.e. whole world is one. It is ironical that people like Zakir Naik are awarded highest honour of Saudi Arabia for their “service to Islam”.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is a perfect embodiment of a seeker in true sense who rejected this exclusivist tendency of only Islam is true. He notably acknowledged diversity of spaces which is a fundamental pillar on which Indian cultural and traditional society rests. There must be transformation from just only tolerance to respect and acceptance. His childhood encounters truly made him a legend beyond religious horizons.

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Shubham Shukla
Shubham Shukla
Shubham Shukla is a 3rd year student pursuing BA LLB (Hons) at National Law University, Punjab
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