Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s life journey is a lesson in itself for those who feel daunted by adversity and challenges. A man who had humble beginnings who became the first citizen of the country purely on merit. A man who went from scientist to statesman and used his imagination and powerful words to inspire an entire country of over a billion to dream and to achieve.
He was a teacher till his last breath but Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was so much more to countless people. Those who met him were captivated by Dr A P J Abdul Kalam’s engaging personality those who saw or heard him on television or radio imbibed every word as inspirational manna.
Children simply loved him because he became one among them a man with long grey hair but playful, bright eyes and words that set their imagination on fire.
In his autobiography ‘Wings of Fire’ Dr Kalam wrote “We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.”
The divine fire within Dr Kalam led him to first earn the monicker ‘India’s Missile Man’ and then ‘people’s President’ but Dr Kalam’s illustruous life had humble beginnings in a coastal village in Tamil Nadu’s Rameshwaram on the 15th of October, 1931.
His father operated a ferry service and Dr Kalam distributed newspapers in school to contribute to household income. Watching boats being crafted introduced him to engineering.
His ambitions got fuelled by an article about a frontline British fighter aircraft during World War II that he read about as a boy in a local Tamil newspaper. It drove him to study aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology in 1960 after graduating in physics from Saint Joseph’s College in Tiruchirappalli.
Dr Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation as a scientist after completing engineering. At DRDO he got the opportunity design a small helicopter and work with legendary space scientist Vikram Sarabhai.
In 1969, after his transfer to Indian Space Research Organisation. Kalam became project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle, SLV-III. It successfully injected the Rohini satellite in the near earth orbit in July 1980 and made India an exclusive member of the Space Club.
In the interim though not involved he got the opportunity to witness India’s first nuclear test Smiling Buddha in May 1974. During the 80s and the 90s Dr Kalam developed and operationalised the AGNI and PRITHVI missiles as chief of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme.
From 1992 to 1999 Dr Kalam worked as the Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Secretary of the DRDO. And then came perhaps the biggest turning point of his life as a man of science which made him the country’s best known nuclear scientist.
India carried out its second nuclear test Pokharan II with Dr Kalam as Chief Project Coordination along when former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was at the helm.
His transition from scientist to statesman took place on the 25th of July, 2002 when he was sworn in as the 11th President of India after winning the election with the backing of the two major rival political parties, the BJP and the Congress.
Former PM Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi flanking him being a tell tale picture of the support his candidature got except for the left which put up its own candidate who suffered a crushing defeat. He became the first scientist and first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan and began a term which made him the most popular President to date earning him the sobriquet ‘people’s President’.
What made Dr Kalam the People’s President? It was his simple living preferring sambar-rice to multi-course presidential meals, untiring enthusiasm for duty to the nation and above all his undying belief in the great possibilities for our nation.
His vision 2020 where he wanted India to develop as a knowledge superpower words became his hammer and chisel in a bid to reshape India. He penned 10 books but also took out time to mingle with children, keeping a friendly demeanour he also pulled the strings of the Veena, the preferred musical instrument of the goddess of knowledge Saraswati.
All of us can draw inspiration from his words. “Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep”
Dr Kalam may have gone into internal sleep now but his dreams need to live on in each of us, inspiring us to make them come true and take India to heights even beyond the imagination of the visionary Dr A P J Abdul Kalam.