Ode on the death of APJ Abdul Kalam

Vithal Rajan

Are there left any more, sons of the soil,

Past the bragging of self-styled nationalists,

In India, a quarter free, still slave to the mighty?

There was one, he died yesterday.

A teacher, born on the very last drop of land,

Poor, Muslim, Tamil, unfashionable,

Unpretentious, still speaking his mother tongue,

Not with condescension but with erudition.

How could he stray into the Indian halls of fame?

He had no patrons, his birth spoke against him.

But surely a good God who loved this ancient land

Spotted one pure of heart who from birth

Would absorb the holy words of Islam, Vedas, and of Jesus,

See the hand of God-Nature in making man, woman, and life

And learn to love to learn and teach

How beautiful life is!

Happiest among children, unassumingly a step ahead

Of the Learned, and the Great of the World.

‘He did not seek for office’ – strangest trait for an Indian!

No, the office sought him, which he took in his quick stride,

To do his duty – ah! An ancient forgotten command

In this, a land given over to self-promotion.

He sought the stars all his life, as many a child has done,

Bound to a faulted earth and blinded belief,

Streets narrowed in fear, death before life is done.

His bold charity of work gave him all he wanted,

To think, to serve, to teach, to love people,

To explore the stars spangled among the simple poor.

Yes, he was the criticized rocket man of the liberal,

Who flung into the bubbling cauldron we call life,

Did not sit on his hands in judgement of others,

But sought truth empetalled in mystery, and still

Blowing quite openly in the wind.

He had no hand in the proud hate of the world,

He did what needed to be done.

He left behind him a name and its path,

A sure confidence that all, all can come out

Of the morass of history and its ill-meaning politics,

That none can hold you down, if you stare them in the face

With a gentle smile, memorably his own,

And quietly take your place at table and care not

Who is to the left or right of you,

Their arrogance, their self conceit, their littleness,

And in happiness stay for duty till called away at last.

Those who come after will with reverence

Know that emptied place almost as a shrine

Once held by a man of – but not quite of – this world.

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