APJ, Arijit and the Girl in the Next Cubbyhole

President APJ Abdul Kalam passed away on 27 July. Honestly, I did not know the man well. In fact, when the news came in the late evening, I was a bit amazed to see the reaction on social media. Twitter was abuzz with rich tributes to the man seen as India’s only true “People’s President” — #KalamSir was trending aon top. From Ishant Sharma to Anushka Sharma (give the poor girl a break, people), everyone was tweeting homage. Given the uproar, I decided to find out what the fuss was about.

I came across one of his interviews, conducted by Prannoy Roy a couple of years ago. The setting was a Delhi university campus and the news channel had invited a bunch of college students to be a part of the audience. Even before the interview started, Dr Kalam sought permission from the host to ask the audience a question, “Have you ever wondered, friends” APJ said, clearing his throat, “How I would want to be remembered?” Prannoy Roy repeated — “So how would you folks like to remember Dr Kalam?” to which the big man corrected him instantly “Forget Kalam, Don’t bother, the question is how each one of you would want to be remembered?” It was a rhetorical question.

Politicians are remembered, business tycoons are revered, and remembered are famous singers, actors, sportsmen, teachers, scientists and so on. Ordinary people like us who work from 9 to 5 are not. Do we really care if someone else remembers us? Do we really contribute towards the lives of others?

This is the debate we sparked off recently at work. Each one of us, sitting in our little cubbyholes, do we really “transform” lives? For instance, this girl who sits across the hall writes software for an e-recharge platform. Does she realize that the mobile top-up service she delivers provides livelihood to seven million retailers in the country? Or for the matter, the person who sits in the adjoining cubicle has created a music auditioning platform. Well, you could argue that Arijit Singh would have ended up as a music teacher in Murshidabad if a content discovery platform had not helped carry his voice to the jury of a music reality show! On a different floor, a bunch of friends spend their New Years Eve at the Nano Network Operations Centre so that the rest of the world does not face any issues exchanging greetings — Do you think that understand they are bringing smiles to millions of people?

In my limited universe, I come across product managers, web-developers, testing engineers, quality assurance folks, UI/UX experts, blog writers, production managers, field support technicians, content creators, finance professionals, HR folks, legal teams, etc. across rows and rows of these cubby holes. We toil each day, follow the rules, earn our pay cheques, pay our taxes (Fun fact: Did you that only 3 per cent of Indians pay income tax?) and that’s that.

Or is it? We, in our limited sphere of influence, tend to affect the lives of people — millions of them. It’s just that we don’t see it that way. May be we don’t want to — we prefer sipping our 60 ml drinks without the undue pressure. Maybe that’s what sets APJ apart from the girl in the next cubbyhole.


Originally published at blog.mahindracomviva.com on October 16, 2015.

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