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Abdul Kalam is Rediff Indian Of The Year!

One line, one casual, random quote of his, sums up the Rediff Indian Of The Year. "If I don't dream," Dr A P J Abdul Kalam once told an interviewer, "how can I remain scientific adviser to the defence minister?"

On the surface, it might seem like a strange thing for a scientist -- more so one who occupies such a crucial position -- to say. Shouldn't the man responsible for keeping India's arsenal up to speed be wide awake, and alert to every possibility?

Then you sit back. Taste those words on your tongue. Get it into your head and let it walk around in there. And then, slowly, you begin to see.

You see yourself -- the average Indian, one of 950 million such. You see that your 365 days tenure on this earth, in the year 1997, has been characterised by a dreary sameness. You see that your life has been as mundane, as unproductive, as the random ticks of Time. You see, too, the apathy, the feeling of inevitability that has fuelled your activities through the year just ended. Everywhere you looked, you found chaos; nowhere, seemingly, did you see a role model, a star to steer your own course by.

And so, cloaked in the shroud of gloom, you just tore off the pages of the calendar, one at a time, till the promise, the heart-soaring optimism, with which you greeted January 1, 1997 had yielded to the dull despair with which you settled down, late on December 31 of that year, in front of the television screen hoping for a moment's light relief.

Therein, I suspect, lies the real strength of Dr Abdul Kalam. While our eyes were focused on the muck at our feet, his were fixed unwaveringly on the stars. While our eyes were dulled by reality, his shone with the strength of his own inner vision.

We existed. He lived.

Agni. Prithvi. Akash. Trishul. Nag. An arsenal fit for the gods. And with it, an early warning system which ensured that the slings and arrows of inimical powers would not catch us in our beds, sleeping the sleep of the unaware, the unprepared.

Thanks then to Dr Kalam, this country today stands confident of repulsing any and every threat to its security.

Enormously important, that sense we have today of security -- because remember, the history of India has been the history of subjugation, at the hands of whichever foreign power choose to stroll in, across our boundaries, and make itself at home here. Today, we know that this aspect of our history, at least, will never be repeated -- and it is Dr Kalam who gave us that knowledge and, with it, a new self-confidence.

If that is Dr Kalam's overt contribution to his country, there is a covert one as well -- one, we suspect, that is of equal if not more value to a country increasingly ripped asunder by the knife of communal hatred.

Here we have this man. Owing allegiance to one religion. Devout as any. And yet, when you let your eyes wander across his living room, what do you find? The Gita, the works of Sri Aurobindo, and such alongside with the Quran and with the works of the world's great scientific thinkers. Icons of Saraswati and Nataraja dominating the decor. A veena standing tall against a wall, indicating that within that scientist par excellence there beats a heart throbbing with music, with poetry.

So then you ask yourself -- why could a Dr Kalam achieve so much, and you so little?

And the answer comes with electric clarity -- because Dr Kalam dared to dream. More. He dared to attempt the impossible alchemy -- of translating dream into hard reality.

And because Dr Kalam dreamed, 950 million people sleep a little easier today.

As evident from the results of our polls, other Indians too held centrestage. A Chandrababu Naidu, by holding a squabbling coalition of disparate political entities together in a semblance of unity. An Arundhati Roy, by touching the softer muse. So many more, doing in their own way what they were best fitted to do.

But it is the towering figure of A P J Abdul Kalam that overshadows all else this year.

We, therefore, put our hands together, in salutation and acknowledgement, to the man you have chosen as Rediff's Indian Of The Year. Hopefully, in the year just begun, a lot more of us will dream.

Rediff On The NeT thanks everyone who sent in their nominations. Twelve of you will win a very special prize, and we will publish the winner's names in this space soon!

Check the nominations