Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has undoubtedly been one of India’s most popular leaders. Of course I use the term ‘leader’ not in its usual political sense – one that probably involves being head of a party, or holding a position of power over a portion or whole of the country. I use that in a much more literal sense. A more actual sense. One that involves inspiring people around, and showing them by example, how above all else, commitment and hard work prevail.

And in that regard, Abdul Kalam was eminence personified. He had vision, he spoke of empowering the youth, he believed in the people of our country. I don’t think any political leader has ever gone to as great lengths as him to at least attempt to tell us that they believe in us. I have immense respect for him for trying to envision a larger picture of development for our country. As for his contributions as a scientist, I don’t know the specifics, but I do know what most of us know. That he has headed some important advancements that ISRO has made for our country.

What he was also successful in, was connecting with us like no one did before. He made hundreds of public appearances to an almost rockstar-like reception. He would breach security protocols in reaching out to people, he’d enthusiastically go off-topic from serious speeches to talk of simple things in life, he’d inspire and make us feel he was one of our own. His death, thus, is greater than the loss of just a great scientist, or just a great orator, or just a great teacher, or just a great leader. It’s even greater than the sum of all that. We loved him, and we miss him.

My point is something else entirely. His death has led to an explosion of sentiment in social media like never before. It was so heartening to see that someone could inspire unconditional love and respect from a huge majority of our society. It was thus only a minor annoyance when a picture of him being picked up by a couple of people from the floor, started being spread as his ‘final picture’. When in fact, it was a picture after a fall he had years back on another stage. It went all downhill from there. Quotes, wrongly attributed to him, were being spread around like crazy. The well-framed ones, I can tolerate. But what about extremely cheeky ones, that in all probability could never have been spoken by Abdul Kalam, being a man of great knowledge that he is?

I believe we have a certain responsibility to him, more so during these few days after his death. It’s very important that something a large portion of our society reads, are actually his words, and not some dimwit’s idea of what his words might have been. I’ve had moderate criticism for holding this view from people who think this is okay. That it’s absolutely fine for people to draw inspiration from positive messages, even though they are not his. So it’s apparently alright that the occasion of his death can be used to the advantage of people who come up with such ‘quotes’? This attitude seems very strange to me. In principle, we all love him and respect him immensely. But does it also not come with the responsibility of ensuring we spread only his actual words, even more diligently so in the days after his death? If my ‘respect = responsibility’ argument doesn’t cut it, I think I have more – the words he has actually said are way more powerful and inspiring than most of what’s being spread around.

Here are a few quotes from him that I’m sure the larger part of social media hasn’t seen :

My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards. This is my message to the young people.

… the best way to win was to not need to win. The best performances are accomplished when you are relaxed and free of doubt.

Are you aware of your inner signals? Do you trust them? Do you have the focus of control over your life in your own hands? Take this from me, the more decisions you can make avoiding external pressures, which will constantly try to manipulate and immobilise you, the better your life will be, the better your society will become. The entire nation will benefit from having strong, inner-directed people as their leaders.

To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal. Individuals like myself are often called ‘workaholics’. I question this term because that implies a pathological condition or an illness. If I do what I desire more than anything else in the world and which makes me happy, such work can never be an aberration.

And here are some that have been spread around a lot.

Fantastic answer by A P J ABDUL KALAM to a question asked in BBC.

Define BIRTHDAY?

Answer: The only day in Ur life, when U CRIED, Ur MOTHER was SMILING.

I am not a “HANDSOME” guy. But I can give my “HAND” to “SOME” one who needs me. Beauty is in HEART, Not in FACE.

I’m sure you’d see what I’m trying to say here. The ones in the first set are from decades of a man’s wisdom and experience, having dealt with odds beyond our comprehension, and yet having maintained a clear vision. The ones after that, are from someone with a possibly twisted sense of wordplay and pun! There has been no such BBC interview. Nor was his (non-existent) answer chosen as the best from all world leaders! (I tried my best to find original references for the quotes I mentioned in the second section, but couldn’t. I’ll happily correct myself if someone does.)

I only wish we’d spend a little more time reading up on the kind of messages that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam actually wanted us to hear and be inspired from. He believed in us. We owe it to him.

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