Kalam’s memorial

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gandhi, but I don’t have any Gandhi memorabilia to write about. Instead I have a photo of the memorial to the 11th President of India: A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. He started as an engineer, became the chief of ISRO, and after retirement was elected the president for a single term in 2002. When the memory of the Mahatma is fenced into the little boundary of keeping your house clean, it is good to break out of it to look at the country which he was partly responsible for creating. This is a country in which the son of a fisherman could become a president.

Kalam is buried in Pamban island, a few kilometers from the site of the house where he was born. We walked through the memorial built around his grave. From outside the building looks blocky and closed, but the corridors inside with enclose little gardens. From inside the structure is full of light and air, not at all like its forbidding facade. I wish I could find out which architect designed it.

Pamban

I liked the view of the fishing village on Pamban’s beach from the road bridge over the Palk strait. In one glance you could guess the main sources of income: fish and coconut. At the horizon here you can see the long isthmus which leads to Dhanushkodi. Since Dhanushkodi port and town was drowned in 1964, Pamban island only has two towns: Pamban and Rameswaram. The vanished economic prosperity created by Dhanushkodi port has not really been compensated by anything new. Tourism and pilgrimage are the mainstays of the island.

The Pamban channel had a flotilla of boats. One reads in newspapers every month about low-level friction between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen. This is one of the communities on the Indian which must be most affected by the mismatch of international treaty borders and traditional fishing rights. The Sri Lankan navy patrols the international border and is not very friendly to the Tamil fishermen who stray. It will require decades of effort on both sides for this irritant to be resolved.

In Pamban we passed many small churches. The biggest was the very striking one whose photo you can see above. It is clear what the profession of the majority of the congregation is. Pamban island has a curious mixture of faiths. The most famous person from this island was A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, once the chief of ISRO, and later president of the country. An interestingly large number of shops are named after him; an even larger number have huge portraits of him framed on the wall. Before 1964 there must have been good schools and inspiring teachers here.