This morning, I had just started for work and had just hit the road, when I received a mail from my parents on my Blackberry. The mail said that Nelson Mandela had passed away!
That was a devastating news! I wept all the way, as it was in many ways a personal loss. This was the toughest drive to office I ever had.
The Madiba, for me, was an immensely inspiring figure.
I first heard about Mandela in the mid-1980s when newspapers in Zambia, almost on a daily basis, carried stories on the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. Being a frontline state, Zambia had sheltered ANC activists and the President, Kenneth Kaunda was at the forefront, campaigning against South African policies.
That consciousness, naturally, seeped down to Zambians, including those we interacted with. Schools too had discussions on the struggle, that's how I learnt about Mandela!
Much later, I bought his book The Long Walk To Freedom in 2009 and till date, I have read it twice, both the times with great interest.
It amazed me on how could there ever be a man like him! He was pragmatic and not dogmatic like the guys we had in India. This pragmatism endeared him to not only South Africans, but also the world!!
His wrinkled and gnarled, yet ever smiling face spoke of a pain of the past yet optimism for the future. His persona was quite like an aging Banyan tree - strong, wrinkled yet firmly grounded, and ever ready to provide shelter, hope, inspiration and comfort to lesser mortals like me!
Perhaps he couldn't have lived much more, he was already 95. He lived well, accomplished what he had set out to achieve and had inspired an entire generation, all over the world!
Indeed we should thank God he was amongst us. Perhaps, remembering him fondly and learning from his ideals and inspiring personality would be better than mourning his demise!
Still, I will miss your presence in the world! I will always miss you, Madiba! And yes, I will indeed miss the smart Mandela shirts you used to wear!