Rayees Ahmad Kumar
“Life is the most difficult exam.
Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that everyone has a different question paper.” Dr Kalam
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 in a Tamil Muslim family to Jainulabdeen, a boat owner, and Ashiamma, a housewife, at Rameshwaram Tamil Nadu. His family was poor and he started working at an early age to support his parents. After completing school, Dr Kalam distributed newspapers in his town. In his school years he had average grades, but he was described by teachers as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn. He spent as many hours as he could on studies, especially of mathematics.
After completing his school education at the Remashwaram Elementary School, Dr Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph’s College in Tiruchirapali, then affiliated with University of Madras, from where he graduated in Physics in 1954. By the end of the course, he was no more enthusiastic about the subject. He moved to Madras to study Aerospace Engineering in 1955. While Dr Kalam was working on a class project, the Dean was dissatisfied with the lack of progress and threatened to revoke his scholarship unless the project was finished within the next two days. Dr Kalam worked tirelessly and met the deadline. The Dean was impressed.
Dr Kalam’s dream was to become a fighter pilot, but he failed to realise it. Dr Kalam went on to work on development of ballistic missiles and satellite launch vehicles. He played a pivotal role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998.
After graduating from Madras Institute of Technology in 1960, Dr Kalam joined Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as a scientist. He started his career by designing a small helicopter for the Indian Army. But he remained unconvinced with the choice of his job at DRDO.
Dr Kalam became part of the INCOSPAR committee working under Vikram Sarabhai, the renowned space scientist. In 1969 he was transferred to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he became the project director for India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle, the PSLV-III. The vehicle successfully deployed the Rohini Satellite in earth’s orbit in July 1980. Joining ISRO was Dr Kalam’s biggest achievement in life. In 1970s he directed there two projects, namely, Project Devil and Project Valliant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Despite the disapproval of the union cabinet, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for these aerospace projects through her discretionary powers, acting on Dr Kalam’s suggestions. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted as a result. Dr Kalam served as the chief project coordinator along with R. Chitambaram during the testing phase.
Dr Kalam served as the 11th President of India from July 2002 to July 2007. During his term as president, he was affectionately known as the people’s president. In his book, India 2020, Dr Kalam strongly advocates an action plan to develop India into a knowledge superpower by the year 2020.
In May 2011, Dr Kalam launched his mission for the youth of the nation which he called ‘WHAT CAN I GIVE?’. Its central theme was initiative.
Dr Kalam also had interest in writing Tamil poetry and in playing the Veenai, a south Indian string instrument.
Dr Kalam received honorary doctorates from 40 universities. In 1997 he received India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, for his tremendous contribution to scientific research and modernisation of defence technology.
Some of the popular books written by Dr Kalam are: India 2020, Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds, Mission India, Inspiring Thoughts, You are Born to Blossom, Turning Points, My Journey.
While delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong, Dr Kalam collapsed and died from cardiac arrest on 27 July 2015 at the age of 83.
The writer teaches at Govt BHS Anderwan Ganderbal