APJ AB­DUL KALAM LIVES ON

Ab­dul Ghani and APS Shree­thar have made sure that the peo­ple’s Pres­i­dent Dr APJ Ab­dul Kalam is re­mem­bered with the same dig­nity he led his life with even af­ter his demise

Society - - CONTENTS - By CSS Latha

Some peo­ple never die even af­ter their de­par­ture from this world, like our Pres­i­dent Dr APJ Ab­dul Kalam. So, Ab­dul Ghani and APS Shree­thar have made sure that he is re­mem­bered with dig­nity. See how…

Dr Avul Pakir Jain­u­la­b­deen Ab­dul Kalam, bet­ter known as APJ Ab­dul Kalam, one of the most loved erst­while Pres­i­dents of In­dia, lived a life ded­i­cated to the na­tion and its youth. Dr Kalam stood tall, thanks to his sim­plic­ity and hu­mane ways. The In­dian sci­en­tist turned states­man, hail­ing from the small town of Ramesh­waram, went on to be­come a sci­en­tist and

science ad­min­is­tra­tor at the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO). At the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO), he was a part of In­dia’s civil­ian space pro­gramme and mil­i­tary mis­sile de­vel­op­ment ef­forts and came to be known as the Mis­sile Man of In­dia for his work and his or­gan­i­sa­tional, tech­ni­cal, and po­lit­i­cal role in In­dia’s Pokhran-II nu­clear tests. His hu­mil­ity and achieve­ments en­deared him to the youth of the na­tion like never be­fore. He even died do­ing what he loved most, ad­dress­ing the stu­dents at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment Shil­long in 2015, set­ting a land­mark even in his demise. The na­tion bid a for­mal and heart­felt adieu to this iconic per­son­al­ity with state hon­ours, and Dr Kalam’s mor­tal re­mains were laid to rest in his home town, Ramesh­waram. Al­most every­one knows this part of the story. But the in­for­ma­tion that nei­ther the cit­i­zens nor the peo­ple in power kept track of was how the memo­rial in hon­our of Dr Kalam that was to come up im­me­di­ately af­ter his demise was aban­doned un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously. Two men from Chen­nai took up the re­spon­si­bil­ity to raise the memo­rial and it be­came a re­al­ity al­most two years af­ter the for­mer pres­i­dent was laid to rest—Ab­dul Ghani, the man who mo­bilised pub­lic de­mand for the memo­rial, and AP Shree­thar, who took charge to put to­gether a state-of-the-art mu­seum and memo­rial. Ab­dul Ghani is a well-known en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, a prover­bial ‘ com­mon man’ from a mid­dle class fam­ily with a clar­ion call to serve hu­man­ity and mother earth. An ex-em­ployee of a bank, he stum­bled upon the pur­pose of his life ac­ci­den­tally while try­ing to solve a messy sit­u­a­tion he found him­self in at work. Ghani either had the op­tion to quit or make it tick. He chose the lat­ter. He was then con­sumed pas­sion­ately with the mis­sion, ‘save the earth’. He re­ca­pit­u­lates, “There was an is­sue with garbage dis­posal in the bank when the au­dit sur­vey blew up the mat­ter. Though it is a lengthy story, I solved the prob­lem by in­volv­ing rag pick­ers in it. The garbage was turned into a green waste bin. This be­came big news as it started a new trend in re­cy­cling garbage. The cor­po­ra­tion awarded this ini­tia­tive, and I even got ap­pre­ci­a­tion from Lon­don based groups.”

Ghani’s ini­tia­tive helped rag pick­ers to earn about Rs 50,000 and his idea was im­ple­mented by other branches of the bank. “This gave me an im­pe­tus to con­sider ex­pand­ing the for­mula at the city level and I got ap­proval for a project fol­low­ing the idea of how a garbage dump yard was turned into a green moun­tain in the US. For this, I had to visit the dump yard and what I saw there deeply af­fected me. Ev­ery day, about 200 peo­ple gath­ered to have their break­fast out of the morn­ing garbage dump, fight­ing with dogs and pigs to grab their piece of bread,” Ghani talks about his ex­pe­ri­ence. So, Ghani bought food pack­ets for them, spend­ing his own lim­ited re­sources and thus be­gan his glo­ri­ous saga in so­cial ac­tivism. His friends be­gan to con­trib­ute for the cause and the act be­gan to gain mo­men­tum. Ghani dis­cov­ered the ex­per­tise of the rag pick­ers in han­dling waste and be­gan to de­pute them to gen­er­ate waste man­age­ment as self-help groups. Exnora’s chief, Nir­mal, helped Ghani put to­gether 2,000 en­vi­ron­men­tal events. When the news reached Dr Kalam, who was still teach­ing at Anna Uni­ver­sity then, he wanted to meet Ghani.

“When ac­tor Vivek and I went to meet him, Kalam sir in­di­cated he wanted us to work to­wards plant­ing trees to save the en­vi­ron­ment,” Ghani re­mem­bers. This meet­ing trig­gered an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship with Dr Kalam and Ghani was even in­vited to stay at the Raj Bha­van in a room ad­ja­cent to the then Pres­i­dent Kalam’s. Ghani has lit­er­ally seen the Pres­i­dent in py­ja­mas, in his per­sonal space, at the din­ing ta­ble, in the li­brary, and spent many hours lis­ten­ing to in­spi­ra­tional thoughts of Dr Kalam on a cross sec­tion of top­ics. Dr Kalam as­signed Ab­dul Ghani and Vivek with the mis­sion of plant­ing 10 lakh trees in schools with a prom­ise to visit when the mis­sion was ac­com­plished. All along, Dr Kalam kept close tabs on the progress “just like a teacher.” Ghani says he would de­mand photo proofs of the saplings be­ing nur­tured. He had a liv­ing in­ter­est in it spite of his var­ied en­gage­ments. Ghani adds, “He sug­gested Kadalur as the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion for this project as he felt the re­gion was cor­roded by ma­jor nat­u­ral calami­ties way too of­ten. He kept his prom­ise and vis­ited the town. There, he re-as­signed us with a big­ger task of plant­ing one crore trees and this ini­tia­tive was called Green Kalam.” How­ever, un­for­tu­nately, even be­fore this mis­sion got to its half-way mark, Dr Kalam passed away. Ghani says, in a world that is fraught with self-cen­tred be­ings, here was a man who lived and died in ser­vice to the na­tion and a year and a quar­ter had rolled by and all that was there to re­mem­ber him by was a mound of grave with a thin sheet upon it on the shores of Ramesh­waram, unat­tended and un­sung.

On Ghani’s birth­day, ac­com­pa­nied by Dr Kalam’s grand­nephew Salim, he vis­ited the tomb to seek bless­ings from the de­parted Kalam. “As we got off the auto rick­shaw and walked down the mound, we wit­nessed the most dis­tress­ing sight of a dog uri­nat­ing on his grave. There was cow dung all over the un­kept sur­round­ings. My heart was wrenched on see­ing the dis­grace­ful

spec­ta­cle. Here I was, reach­ing out to rag pick­ers for whom I gave up my pro­fes­sion, and to see the na­tion’s most spir­i­tual and self­less states­man lay­ing buried amidst filth and grime was a shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” re­calls the pained Ghani. Frankly, it was not about blam­ing any­one for such a sorry state of af­fairs, he says and con­tin­ues, “Since Kalam sir was as­so­ci­ated with the Na­tional De­fence, the DRDO had staked claim to build a memo­rial in his hon­our. But, the rest of the na­tion con­ve­niently for­gets any­thing to be done for South In­dia, and this too was put on cold stor­age. I was so dis­turbed that right then, I de­cided to do some­thing about it. So, I walked up to a shop and bought 10 bricks, stood in front of the grave and got my­self clicked with the bricks.” Ghani posted the pic­ture on Face­book with the mes­sage, ‘Peo­ple will now build a memo­rial and not wait for the govern­ment to do so. Any­one who wishes to con­trib­ute a brick each, please con­tact. Within one hour, I re­ceived 40 lakh regis­tra­tions to con­trib­ute a brick,” he says. That kicked up a great fer­vour to mo­bilise peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion to build a memo­rial for the mon­u­men­tal per­son that Dr Kalam was. Within a week, the en­tire na­tional me­dia picked up a de­bate whether the De­fence Re­search De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) was to be ac­cused of the ne­glect be­cause it wasn’t clear if the state govern­ment was in charge of the task or the cen­tral govern­ment. Par­lia­ment couldn’t have been far be­hind to rake the de­bate and an em­bar­rassed cen­tral govern­ment picked up the threads, and within a week, the memo­rial work was set rolling by the DRDO. “Even as com­mon men, we tend to lose track of cer­tain as­pects when caught up with main­stream ac­tiv­i­ties. My in­ten­tion was not to blame the cen­tral govern­ment, but only to ini­ti­ate ac­tion to build a memo­rial,” jus­ti­fies Ghani.

Ghani is priv­i­leged to be an in­te­gral part of the Dr Kalam’s fam­ily. He even of­fered his shoul­der to carry Kalam’s mor­tal re­mains and was a part of the fam­ily in per­form­ing his last rites. Des­tiny seems to have cho­sen Ghani to help build the memo­rial, and Ghani, along with Kalam’s grand­nephews Saleem, Da­wood and Mo­hi­ud­din, even met the Prime Min­is­ter to in­vite him over to in­au­gu­rate the grand memo­rial that be­came a re­al­ity within six months of his ini­tia­tive. “I feel the pur­pose of my life has been ful­filled,” says Ghani. The most daunt­ing task though was that of mak­ing the memo­rial one of its kind, and who bet­ter suited to do it than the most il­lus­tri­ous artist of our time, AP Shree­thar— the man who re­cently put up In­dia’s first 3D Mu­seum in Chen­nai? He cre­ated the Clickart Gallery in 19 cities, in­clud­ing Chen­nai, Delhi, Ban­ga­lore, Mum­bai, Kolkata, be­sides Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and the US. APS, as he is fondly re­ferred to, is a ge­nius of sorts, who be­gan as a pho­tog­ra­pher and went on to travel the world per­fect­ing and even in­vent­ing the art of por­trait mak­ing, digi­ti­sa­tion of art and sil­i­con cre­ations of world fa­mous per­son­al­i­ties on the lines of Madame Tus­sauds. “Madame Tus­sauds, the 250-yearold or­gan­i­sa­tion has 24 wax mu­se­ums worldwide. I vis­ited many of these dis­plays and no­ticed that the wax was quite per­cep­ti­ble in many of the fig­urines. More­over for the In­dian cli­mate, a wax fig­ure would be sub­ject to dis­tor­tion over a pe­riod of time. That’s when I re­mem­bered the sil­i­con mu­seum in Le­banon where they tried mak­ing the sil­i­con fig­urines talk, but that project was a fail­ure. I wanted to try my hand at it. I cre­ated nine stat­ues, that of Mona Lisa, Michael Jack­son, Mother Teresa, Amitabh Bachchan, Char­lie Chap­lin, Shirdi Sai Baba and Jackie Chan, etc, and launched a mu­seum re­cently,” he says. This be­came a sen­sa­tion and led to the late Dr Jep­piar’s daugh­ters Regeena and Maria Zeena as­sign­ing APS the task of cre­at­ing a sil­i­con statue of their leg­endary fa­ther.

This in­spired Ghani, and mem­bers of Dr Kalam’s fam­ily to re­quest Shree­thar to cre­ate art works for the memo­rial. The DRDO al­lo­cated the task of em­bel­lish­ing Dr Kalam’s memo­rial as a

homage on an in­ter­na­tional scale to APS. “I be­gan by cre­at­ing 50 ver­sions of Ab­dul Kalam’s dreams and de­sires of his life­time. It’s 50 dif­fer­ent paint­ings in one frame, show­ing him from his early days to the very end. His wish to be a scholar, a pi­lot, him play­ing the veena and his love for plant­ing trees. Peo­ple want some­thing dif­fer­ent, so I cre­ated in­ter­ac­tive art, where one could take pic­tures as though one was hand­ing over Dr Kalam a bou­quet, or as if he was hand­ing over a green plant and the like. I wanted to give a vin­tage feel and so cre­ated the art in sepia,” avers Shree­thar. Apart from a cof­fee ta­ble book on the art works on Dr Kalam to be re­leased, 3D sil­i­con stat­ues of the for­mer Pres­i­dent seated in his of­fice and 95 por­traits were cre­ated by APS. This in­cluded a mu­seum in the ‘House of Kalam’ in Ramesh­waram. It was in­au­gu­rated by the chair­man of ISRO, Ki­ran Ku­mar. The art works in­clude Kalam with world dig­ni­taries and some land­mark moments of Kalam’s life time. “Kalam sir’s grand­nephew gave me all the videos and pho­tographs that the fam­ily pos­sessed for ref­er­ence that helped me cre­ate all this and also the two sil­i­con stat­ues, a sit­ting and a stand­ing one. Vis­i­tors could click pho­tographs pos­ing with him,” says APS. Two mam­moth mu­rals on either side of the memo­rial walls are clas­sic in na­ture. To­day, at least 30,000 vis­i­tors visit the memo­rial of Dr Kalam. Most cer­tainly, it is the re­sult of the dili­gent ef­forts on the part of Ab­dul Ghani and AP Shree­thar. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who in­au­gu­rated the memo­rial re­cently, lauded their ini­tia­tive in mak­ing a land­mark mon­u­ment pos­si­ble in this part of the coun­try! Ku­dos to the two de­ter­mined men.

Ab­dul Ghani

AP Shree­thar PHO­TOGRAPHS: RAJ KU­MAR/AR­CHIVES OF AP SHREE­THAR AND AB­DUL GHANI

Ab­dul Ghani with Naren­dra Modi and Kalam’s grand neph­ews

Ab­dul Ghani with Kalam’s fam­ily

AP Shree­thar with Kalam Statue

Ghani takes a sele with Dr Kalam

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