Abdul Kalam – A Joyous Death

My school friend, Debjani told me this hilarious story about her grandfather, a reporter with the Stateman who claimed that Gandhiji knew him. How come Dadu, my friend would ask to which the grandfather replied that once he nearly bumped into the Mahatma when Gandhiji seemed to have exclaimed “Oh Reporter!” Well, this is nearly how I also knew the former President Abdul Kalam.
Once I had the distinction of being invited for a play written by my celebrity friend Shivani Tibrewal, which Mallika Sarabhai performed as a dance drama. Since I was the guest of the playwright I was fortunate to be seated in the VIP enclosure with Mrinalini right beside me. Then Mr President arrived and sat in the seat right in front of me. The dance drama started and frankly, I felt rather disappointed at Shivani’s powerful script being so sullied by depressive stage lights and hackneyed body moves. No sooner than I saw the head of silver tuft move also in disapproval that the President actually turned almost to face me in the row behind him and started whispering that Mallika was only repeated Tagore’s Chandalika which her mother Mrinalini has almost copyrighted. I have seen all of this before, he remarked, nearly within the hearing range of Mrinalini, and despaired why the daughter had nothing new to invent? Mrinalini must have heard Kalam as well for she fell very silent while I stiffened up stoically to such expressed criticism. Then the President turned around once again, are you Bengali? He asked. Yes sir, I replied as silently as I could. You from Santiniketan? He asked again, No Sir, I studied in Jadavpur University and JNU, I said. Someone from the President’s coterie who sat next to him started a conversation and Kalam and my communication was disconnected. This is as much as I encountered him in person.
But I knew Kalam and I think that I knew him pretty well because I know his type and I could immediately connect with him in a strange manner of souls. Kalam was actually Prof Shonku and a bit of Lalmohan Babu, pen named Jatayu, both immortal characters of Satyajit Ray. Kalam was a scientist much later; he was born to be amazed at the wonders of the Universe. For him the world was magic, opening up its treasures to him with every ray of the sun. He was excited with everything, as if he clapped when flowers bloomed and birds flew. But what excited him the most was the activation of the cosmos in the form of intense energy and this made him love the fireworks. His work on the missile was far less an endeavor of weaponry; instead it was the invention of a grand firework, he bringing to life the giant dragon, a contraption that could break barriers and swoosh into the sky, his world of wonderment. This is so like Prof Shonku or Jatayu both of who lived in a world of fantasy, not of make belief, but of ultimate possibilities. Kalam was just this kind; he sincerely believed in the magic, in dreams, in light and motion, in the cosmic energy and longed deeply to be a part of it. I have often noticed, albeit in televisions, how his eyes always bore a strange light, this was the light of a child’s eyes who looked only to gaze at the wondrous illuminations of the Universe. This made Kalam an excited soul, one who forever was in utter enjoyment of the world. The titles of the books he authored, Ignited Minds, Wings of Fire were so much like the title of Jatayu’s novels or Prof Shonku’s inventions. For Kalam, science was play. This was the energy and happiness he brought around him and this is why, even when people were speaking of his death, they were only smiling.
Prof Shonku had died in Ray’s pen but Ray wrote of his death as being his never ending journey into the vast unending Infinity of Space. As Shonku went up along with his cat, Newton, Man Friday, Prahlad and the pet robot, they could only see the strange and lovely lights of the space as if pouring down in a torrential psychedelics. Shonku is imagined around Sukumar Ray, Satyajit Ray’s father who dies while Ray was only two. Sukumar Ray was a scientist at heart, given to experiments around light and motion; like Shonku he too lived in a world of imagination and science for him was a play of his imaginations. As Sukumar Ray lay dying, he penned his last poem ever in which he feels so excited at the prospect of death that his heart beats like a tabla. Death is only the beginning of a new adventure, a renewal of a new kind, an experience to be looked forward to as the revelation of yet another Divine wonderment.
Kalam was a scientist by play, a child of God’s creation and this is why he was so free from issues of ego, power and protocol, of style and status just as a child would be. His world was one of continuous discovery, of constant exploration, of endless journeying into the dance of lights. Death must have excited him much in the way it did for Sukumar Ray and if he had ever read the poet, he would have surely said, “aaj ke amar moner maajhe, dhnai dhopadhob tobla baaje.” I can sense that Kalam’s death is joyous; it is strange that his death bears the same aura of celebrations as every moment of his life did. The voice of the television reporters, the radio jockeys, the celebrities who are invited to speak on the former President and even my mother to who I spoke this morning and who admired and loved Abdul Kalam had the same tone in which I could hear the upbeat rhythm of Sukumar Ray’s line as if all were saying “aaj ke amar moner maajhe, dhnai dhopadhob tobla baaje” (today within in my mind, the tabla beats dhnai dhapadhap)

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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