A Shaken Shillong Bids Adieu To Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam!

It was just unprecedented and a supreme moment of stupefied indecision for a quiet hilly city of Shillong in the state of Meghalaya of north eastern India. News of global proportions rarely happens in this city. The easy-going people here are not much bothered about breaking news or that kind of stuff and are happy with their daily chores—going to work, going to markets, going for their favourite dishes and worrying about rains or the lack of it and electricity or water supply or cleanliness. So nobody was ready for such kind of a huge news break that could go livewire globally. To confound matters, the media did not have a clue about this visit of an eminent personality, even in a small city like Shillong. Finally then, when the news broke around 8pm on that momentous day of 27th July, 2015 it was incredulity, sheer disbelief, indecisiveness and numbing inaction. The men here in power were mostly looking for protocol and for ways how to handle it. The Governor, the ministers, the bureaucrats, the police and army officers, the doctors—all found themselves rushing to the hospital without giving any thought to making an official declaration. The media acted on their sources and camped at the hospital waiting hours for the doctors or any authority to come down and make it official. The easy-going folks were shaken out of their reverie and took to the streets crowding the hospital campus and the surroundings.

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was no stranger to Shillong or Meghalaya. He had been coming here since 2002 mostly for his lecture-interaction with students and some other official inaugurations in the role of the Indian President. This time he was scheduled to give a lecture here in the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Shillong on the topic ‘Creating a Liveable Planet Earth’. He had been in the faculty of the IIM and came for lectures quite often in the last two years. Accordingly on 27th July he arrived in Guwahati by a flight from Delhi and undertook a road journey to Shillong. Upon his arrival in Shillong after 5pm he was taken to a guest house for a little rest with tea and light refreshments. After 6pm he was there in the auditorium of the IIM for giving the lecture to senior students. He was his usual self—jovial, eager to interact and in full energy.

His Last Lecture
Barely ten minutes into his lecture the Missile Man fell silent suddenly and collapsed. The IIM doctor examined him and declared a medical emergency. He was shifted immediately to the nearest Bethany hospital and admitted into the ICU. Apart from the hospital doctors the Army doctors and the state government doctors were called in to treat the former President. Desperate efforts continued to revive the beloved teacher and the scientist. The mouth to mouth news went viral.

The Governor of Meghalaya, V Shanmuganthan rushed to the Bethany hospital and stayed there for hours. The state ministers, the top bureaucrats, the army commands and top cops started landing at the hospital. Meanwhile the reception lounge of the hospital got filled with hyperactive media personnel and the outer courtyard and the surrounding streets were filled beyond capacity with his ardent and anxious admirers—mostly young people and students.

Finally at around 10.30pm the body of the immensely versatile personality of utter simplicity, draped in the tricolor, was brought down to the courtyard to be taken in an ambulance to the military hospital. The large crowd looked on in utter disbelief and with a sense of profound loss, and then erupted into an endless chain of spontaneous reaction. The slogans of ‘Long Live Abdul Kalam Sahab’ rent the air around. Most of them were out with their mobiles and cameras trying frantically to record a last glimpse of their beloved and ever inspiring leader-teacher. Many of them were in tears.

The last journey of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam began. His mortal remains were taken on a helicopter to Guwahati in the wee hours of 28th July and from there to New Delhi by a special aircraft. Next day he was taken to Rameshwaram, his native place in Tamil Nadu. And today, the 30th July, 2015, the People’s President was finally laid to rest with full state and military honors. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ministers and top leaders of the whole country attended the funeral paying their soulful homage for the last time.

Popularity of Dr. Abdul Kalam has to be seen to be believed. Even in this farthest north eastern region of the country tributes were paid to him in almost every corner and the striking highlight is that everywhere it is the common people or the students who showed their pain at this great loss so emphatically. Yes, he has been a role model and source of inspiration for the youth to succeed in life, and his down to earth nature and incredible simplicity won millions of hearts all over. Long Live the People’s President. We pray for the eternal bliss of his noble soul.

Shillong in the meantime has been coming to terms with the reality. The state government had declared a holiday on 28th July, maybe to recover from the shock and prepare for the next course of action. There were mixed reactions all around here and in the social media. Some objected to the holiday declaration saying this was contrary to what Dr. Kalam stood for. Some found even a glory in this profoundly sad happening—a glorified death for Shillong. They posted or tweeted that the great scientist did a favour to Shillong by choosing to breathe his last here. Now, Shillong will figure prominently in Google searches and people all over the globe will come to know what Shillong is and where it is. The reason for this is simple. People here have always to contend with the nation’s colossal ignorance about the north east India and a sense of being neglected over the decades. People here struggle to come into the national mainstream not for the wrong reasons that usually include natural disasters or terrorism. Now at least, they have the best possible reason to be considered seriously—Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

About the media not having a clue to this visit the IIM sources said that Dr. Kalam came for strictly class-room lectures where no distractions could be allowed. Besides, in 2014 when he came for his usual lecture media came to know about it and the eager teacher was very upset at being disturbed in his mission. They have good reasons to block the media this time. But the loss is immense. Millions of his followers were deprived of the audio-visuals of his last lecture.  


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