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Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (Part-I)

  • 25 Jun 2019
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Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, A Great Inspiring Personality

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was the 11th President of India. He was also an Aerospace Scientist and an Indian pioneer in Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Vehicle Technology.

He was the successor to President K.R. Narayanan, in the year 2002, when he had been nominated by the NDA Government and such was his popularity among the people of India that even the largest opposition party, the INC, seconded his candidature.

A Visionary Ahead Of His Time

Dr. Kalam played a very important role in shaping India’s Ballistic Missile and Launch Vehicle Technology, and that too at a time when India was totally dependent upon foreign technology.

He was part of the INCOSPAR committee (Indian National Committee for Space Research) working under the renowned space scientist Vikram Sarabhai, who had a great impact on his life. He had also visited NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and the Wallops Flight Facility.

He soon moved to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he was the project director for the SLV-III, which later went on to become India’s first indigenously designed and produced satellite launch vehicle. Later, Dr. Kalam also worked on the program that produced a number of missiles, which earned him the nickname ‘Missile Man’.

As a technical visionary, Dr. Kalam made several recommendations in the fields of technological innovations, agriculture, and nuclear energy - steering India towards his vision of a developed nation by 2020. His prominent role in the country’s 1998 nuclear weapons tests established him as a national figure, although these tests, in general, weren’t greeted with much appreciation on the international level.

  • His Vision of the New Millennium: India 2020 Plan

After spending some years in research and planning, Dr. Kalam came up with his Technological Vision - India 2020: A Vision Of The New Millennium, which was to be considered as a blueprint for transforming India into a developed nation by the year 2020. He used to refer to it as the ‘the second vision of the nation’ and mentioned how he wanted to focus on the children of India and create in them a deep interest in science and a love for scientific temperament, so as to fulfil his mission - a developed India.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had three visions for India

1) Vision of Freedom

  • Our nation has witnessed invasion & capturing of our lands. Starting from Alexander, the Greeks, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch came and took what was ours. We have never conquered any other nation.
  • “I believe that India got its first vision of this in 1857, when we started the war of independence. It is this freedom that we must protect and nurture and build on. If we are not free, no one will respect us.”

2) Vision of Development

  • “For fifty years we have been a developing nation. It is time we see ourselves as a developed nation. We are among the top 5 nations of the world in terms of GDP. We have 10 percent growth rate in most areas. Our poverty levels are falling, our achievements are being globally recognized today. Yet we lack the self-confidence to see ourselves as a developed nation, self reliant and self assured.”

3) Vision of India standing up to the world

  • “I believe that unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. Only strength respects strength.
  • We must be strong not only as a military power but also as an economic power. Both must go hand-in-hand.”

His vision for India in 2020 was as follows:

  • A Nation where the rural and urban divide has reduced to a thin line.
  • A Nation where there is an equitable distribution and adequate access to energy and quality water.
  • A Nation where agriculture, industry and service sector work together in symphony.
  • A Nation where education with value system is not denied to any meritorious candidates because of societal or economic discrimination.
  • A Nation which is the best destination for the most talented scholars, scientists, and investors.
  • A Nation where the best health care is available to all.
  • A Nation where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption free.
  • A Nation where poverty has been totally eradicated, illiteracy removed and crimes against women and children are absent and none in the society feels alienated.
  • A Nation that is prosperous, healthy, secure, peaceful and happy and continues with a sustainable growth path.
  • A Nation that is one of the best places to live in and is proud of its leadership.

Amongst many awards and honors, Dr. Kalam was also awarded with the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 for his exemplary work towards science, and for the development of India. The highest civilian honour in India, the Bharat Ratna was also conferred to him in 1997 for his contribution to the scientific research and modernisation of defence technology in India.

During his Presidency, he maintained his close connections with science and technology in the quest to transform India into a developed country. But, like every good thing has an end, in 2007, Dr. Kalam’s Presidency came to an end after he had completed one full term of the President’s office.

Early Life

An effluent speaker and a learner at heart, Dr. Kalam was never ashamed to talk about his younger days.

Born to Jainulabdeen and Ashiamma on the 15th of October 1931, in a middle-class Tamil Muslim family in the pilgrim island-town of Rameswaram in the erstwhile Madras state, Dr. Kalam was the youngest of four brothers and a sister in his family.

His father was an Imam of a local mosque but he also ran a boat service ferrying Hindu pilgrims around Rameswaram. His mother was a housewife. Coming from an ancestral background of landowners, Kalam’s family had become poor at the time of his birth and he had to do menial jobs to supplement his family’s income at an early childhood.

As a boy, Dr. Kalam considered himself to be not very good-looking. He would often compare his own looks with those of his parents whom he considered handsome. With such boyish comparisons in mind, he soon grew into loving books. Books, unfortunately, were a scarcity in Rameswaram. However, a former militant nationalist’s library was always open to him and it’s owner always encouraged a young Kalam’s reading habits.

In his autobiography, Wings of Fire, Dr. Kalam accepts that there was a thought which always connected him back to his happy days spent as a child. This thought, instilled in him by his father had been:

“God, our Creator, has stored within our minds and personalities, great potential strength and ability. Prayer helps us tap and develop these powers.”

But to call him a god-fearing person would perhaps undermine his true intentions behind praying.

For him, prayers helped you unlock hidden powers you always had in you, but about which you never were aware of; unlike others, for whom, prayers were a medium through which they expected materialistic returns.

Dr. Kalam also used to quote the writings of Manu Smriti, one of which states that 'By accepting gifts the divine light in the person gets extinguished'.

Struggles And Successes

Occasional philosophical discussions with his father along with his own observation of his family led him to realise the hard realities of life.

It had been such that during the time of the Second World War, Dr. Kalam, barely a child of around 8 years, as he was then, could not understand the complicacies of war, but he remembers that during that time, and all of a sudden, a demand for tamarind seeds had erupted in the market. And for that sudden demand, young Kalam was able to earn his first wages by selling tamarind seeds in the market.

He writes in his autobiography that he used to collect the tamarind seeds and sell them in a provision shop near his home. Also, during the war days his brother-in-law and close companion, Jallaluddin used to tell him stories of the war. Later, Dr. Kalam traced those stories of war in a newspaper named Dinaamani, showing how much attention he used to pay to each and every detail even when he was a child.

During his childhood days, Dr. Kalam also distributed newspapers with his cousin Samsuddin. He was not sad about that and instead he always was grateful for any of the experiences he gained. He always had something to learn from almost anyone. He also never really bore any ill-wishes against anyone. Having had close friends from the Hindu religion, he bore lasting impressions from the time when those friends and their parents had stood up against the rigid terms of segregation of different social groups in Rameswaram.

With support from his parents, Dr. Kalam soon left the island town and moved into Ramanathapuram, although he could not help but miss home a lot. Despite his longing to go back home, he forced himself to get used to the new environment. This he had to do because he knew that his father had high hopes for his future.

Growing up and moving ahead, Dr. Kalam met many great teachers whom he could never forget. One of them was Sivasubramania Iyer who sowed in him one of the earliest seeds that grew in him the love for science. Not only that but also the way Iyer had stood up against his wife for discriminating against him when he was invited for dinner to their house, had made a great and lasting impact on his psyche.

Looking at such thoughtful acts and all of the sensible decisions that a young Dr. Kalam took, makes one realise that he had a deep thinking process since the beginning, which was much beyond his age. In his high school, he met another great teacher Mr. Iyadurai Solomon, with whom he developed a great companionship. Solomon taught Dr. Kalam how, before getting anything that he wanted, he would have to strive for it with an intense desire and also be absolutely certain that his wish would, one day, come true. Dr. Kalam actually tried this throughout his life and the piece of advice actually turned out to be true!

Since childhood, Dr. Kalam had a dream of flying and a burning desire to do something in the field of aeronautics. In his own words, indeed he was the first kid from Rameswaram to fly! After he had joined college where he once saw two decommissioned aircraft, Dr. Kalam felt a strange attraction towards aircrafts and chose to pursue aeronautical engineering in which he earned a degree from the Madras Institute of Technology. He then joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). There was, however, a major setback that he had to face when he finished ninth in a batch of 25, examined to select eight officers for commissioning in the Air Force. His dreams of flying had ended.

Later on, his work on India’s defence development programmes through the development of indigenous super-missiles like AGNI, PRITHVI and AKASH, definitely made India a self-reliant country. All these projects were completed on time and led to self-reliance in defence preparedness. For perspective, when asked why India needs a strong defence mechanism, Dr. Kalam had responded ‘Strength respects Strength’.

Aparajitha Nair

Read Part - II

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