Wednesday 27 July 2016

Immortal Kalam

Image Courtesy: Campfire Graphic Novels 

15th July 2015. I was working as the editor of a book titled Gifts of Teaching—10 Inspiring Stories that Celebrate the Joy of Being a Teacher. As the name suggests, the book was meant for teachers. The publisher and I were having informal discussions about whom we should contact to do a quick read of our book and write out a mini-review, which we could use on the back cover of the book.

My sister, to whom I had very smartly passed on this responsibility of coming up with appropriate names, turned out smarter. “Why is it so difficult? Dr APJ Abdul Kalam! Who better a teacher than him?!” she said with a frown that clearly suggested an air of superiority.

I tried arguing: “It’s a very big name, no? And there’s very little time.”

Ignoring my cynical smile, she said, “I just gave you the best name. If you are not even going to try, you’re a fool.”

I agreed with her on that and suggested his name to the publisher, who also shared the same concern—very little time.

27th July 2015. I was at the publisher’s office, sitting with the team, rushing through final checks and readying Gifts of Teaching for print. That is when a team member said, “Abdul Kalam passed away.”

Strangely, I did not react.
Or maybe, it isn’t strange, for the brain blanks out after hearing something unexpected.

The team member repeated, “What? I am giving you news…Abdul Kalam passed away.” I managed to mumble, “I heard,” and continued with the work at hand.

After closing the book, on my way back home, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, ‘If only we had been able to get Kalam to write a short review for this book…it would have meant so much to everyone who put the book together, everyone who was a teacher and would read the book. If only…’ Of course, these may seem like selfish thoughts, but a note from Kalam was exactly that—a note from Kalam!

I anticipated a gloomy atmosphere at home; my sister truly admires Kalam for his various inspiring qualities. But when I saw her and realised she hadn’t heard of it yet, I knew I would have to be the bearer of this heart-breaking news. And when I did what I had to, the expected gloom took over. The television set came on and the next half hour was spent on consoling ourselves that the news was, unfortunately, indeed true.

We decided not to watch any more news or read through the pages of newspapers next morning that spoke about the man’s greatness. Sometimes, you don’t need to know someone personally to feel a sense of personal loss. My sister didn’t speak much to anyone the next two days.

First week of August. I received an email from another publishing house, asking me if I would take up an urgent project—a graphic novel biography of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

I stared at the email for a few moments as a million thoughts circled my mind: ‘Is this for real? Have I been picked, from amongst all the writers in this country, to write this iconic personality’s life story? Am I not too small? Is he not too big? Isn’t this one of those weird moments when I wouldn’t know whether I should express happiness or sorrow?’ My family, especially my sister, was thrilled. I, of course, was super-nervous. But we all knew one thing for sure—Dr Kalam’s was a story that needed to be told.

Soon enough, my days and nights revolved around Kalam’s life story. Death always reintroduces you to the person who was. I too re-familiarised myself with facts about Kalam that I already knew and got acquainted with new facets of his persona that I had been unaware of—in both these cases, emotions overflowed. I can’t recall how often I sat teary-eyed while scripting a touching scene from his life, marvelling at the genuineness of some of his attributes, and seeking courage and solace in his famous words. Simply seeing how the artworks were breathing life into the characters and my words as the graphic novel now took shape became a moving, memorable journey.

5th December 2015. APJ Abdul Kalam: One Man, Many Missions, a graphic novel biography written by me, was launched. While unveiling the book, I could sense the mystique that enveloped this entire episode of my life. Following Kalam’s words unknowingly, I had dreamt. And my dream had come true in a much larger way than I had expected.

All I had wanted was for this much-loved gentleman to write down his thoughts about a book on teachers that I had edited; but, here I was on the stage, as the author who had penned his memoir. As I watched the book’s video trailer play out on the big screen behind me, I knew that, despite all this, I would have one regret. Only one…

…That Kalam is not around to see and read my version of the story of his life!

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