Speech By Frank Islam
BAPS SWAMINARAYAN TEMPLE
Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you Dipak for your kind introduction
And thank you for your warm welcome
A lot of things brings us together as a fellow Indian Americans with whom I share common history, common heritage, common bonds, a common cause, and a common goal. Our bonds are stronger than the differences that too often drive us apart.
It’s a distinct honour and privilege to be here today at this event to celebrate the life of the late President APJ Abdul Kalam and unveiling of his last book. I want to express my deep gratitude to BAPS and Dipak for inviting me to share my thoughts on Dr Kalam and his truly amazing legacy. The book that is being unveiling today, Transcendence – My spiritual experience with Pramukh Swamiji, is part of that legacy.
I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but will do so soon. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to a few thoughts about Dr Kalam.
When I think of the 11th president of India, three phrases come to my mind:
- visionary and inspirational leader
- selfless public servant.
Let me elaborate.
Point number one: Dr Kalam was a great unifier in death as well as in life.
As we all know, there was a massive and unprecedented outpouring of grief at his death across India. Political parties and leaders of all dispositions were united in mourning the loss of Dr Kalam.
India, like the United States is, unfortunately, a deeply divided country, politically speaking. The public mourning showed that the late president has left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds and the soul of Indians of all castes, creeds, religions and background and belief.
Dr. Kalam bridged the country’s religious fault lines the way few national leaders have done since Mahatma Gandhi. I see a great similarity in the way both Gandhiji and Dr Kalam practiced their respective faiths, Hinduism in the case of Gandhiji and Islam in Dr Kalam’s case.
The book being unveiled here today, Transcendence – My spiritual experience with Pramukh Swamiji, is among the many examples of Dr Kalam’s ability to bridge religious fault lines. His acceptance of Param Pujya Pramukh Swamiji as his spiritual guru and the relationship between the two, as detailed in the book, tell us that he was able to transcend religious differences in a genuine way.
Point number two: Dr Kalam was a visionary and inspirational leader,
He first exhibited his visionary leadership skills in the halls of two of India’s most revered scientific institutions, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
He headed India’s missile programmes and the projects that developed both the Agni and the Prithvi missiles.
As President, Dr Kalam was an inspirational figure for more than a billion Indians. Time and again, he made it clear that his allegiance was to the people of India, not to any political parties, which was why he was termed People’s President.
After leaving office, Dr Kalam remained in public life through teaching, writing, speaking and a variety of initiatives.
He spelled out his vision for India in a book he wrote India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. In that book, he wrote that in order for India to be a developed country all Indians should dream of and work for it.
Point number three: Dr Kalam was a selfless public servant.
Although he was in public life for more than five decades, Dr Kalam lived with only minimum material wealth. He did not own any property.
He was known for his character and integrity. He did not accept gifts except in the form of books. . Whatever he received as gifts from foreign governments, during his period as President were tabulated and sent to the government treasury.
President Kalam’s is a uniquely Indian story: the newspaper boy who went on to become the titular head of the nation; the boy who grew up in a remote village in the tip of the country, who went on to spearhead the nation’s nuclear and missile programs; a scientist who had the temperament of a sadhu; a man of great wisdom and sagacity, who led a very simple life. Of course, he was all these and more.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
These lines hold true for Dr Kalam. He did not live to see his dream for India 2020. But it is for all Indians to work for the realization of that dream. I firmly believe his cause will endure and his dream shall never die. Dr Kalam shaped India and India shaped Dr Kalam. He inspired all of us to do well but to do good.
Thank you for listening to me.
I wish you all the best
God bless you all