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August 18, 2015
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The Journey of the “People’s President”

“The man who acted as a powerful filter to the dreams of youth, he made us learn how to balance our dreams and become successful”. He guided and inspired not only the youth of this country but the entire world.

Birth of The future scientist who changed the fate of this country’s technology and ignited minds of youth: It might be a day where another boy was born in this great country, but no one ever thought he would become a great teacher, scientist and a leader, who lifted the country on his shoulders by being the mastermind of the most important technological innovations and research developments of this nation.

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 to a Tamil Muslim family in the temple town of Rameshwaram in the state of Tamil Nadu. His father’s name was Jainulabudeen, a boat owner, and his mother Ashiamma, a housewife. He lived in an ancestral house along with his parents in the mosque street, and the famous Shiva temple of Rameshwaram was just a ten-minute walk from his house. Even then people of both religions live very amicably with each other. The high priest of Rameshwaram temple and Abdul kalam’s father were very good friends. One day Kalam asked a question to his father about the relevance of prayer and he replied “When you pray,” he said, “you transcend your body and become a part of the cosmos,

which knows no division of wealth, age, caste or creed.” Kalam earned money for the first time when he was eight years old, he used to collect tamarind seeds and sell them to a provision store on Mosque Street. A day’s collection would fetch him one Anna.

He also delivered newspapers to the households of Rameshwaram and earned money. He felt

a surge of pride in earning his own money for the first time. Abdul Kalam experienced the taste of social inequality when he was studying the fifth standard at Rameshwaram elementary school, a new teacher who came to his class noticed that Abdul Kalam wearing a cap is sitting next to his best friend Ra- Canada Sastry who wore a sacred thread. The teacher could not digest the scene of a Hindu priest’s son sitting with a Muslim boy. So he asked Kalam to go and sit on the back bench. Kalam felt sad and after school both of them informed to their parents and they summoned the teacher and warned him not to spread social inequality and communal intolerance in the minds of young children. Later, the teacher regretted his behaviour and the strong sense of conviction conveyed by the Lakshmana Sastry reformed the young teacher. The youth of this nation is indebted to Kalam for his role as a teacher and guide for his messages and ideas, on how the students should work hard to become successful. He always travelled through every part of India visiting many educational institutions to give guest lectures to students and sharing his insights and his future dream of Vision 20-20 for the aspirations of millions of Indians. Abdul Kalam always mentioned that in his life teachers played a very important role. Kalam mentioned that his First Teacher Sri Siva Subramania Iyer, a science teacher who taught him in Fifth standard, one day after the class he asked students whether they had understood the topic or not, when they said they didn’t, He invited the entire class to the sea shore of Rameshwaram and explained them through practical examples which made students understand more and loved the teacher who influenced him greatly and helped him to shape his life. Abdul Kalam went on to quote in his book “Indomitable Spirit” that “Learning needs freedom to think and freedom to imagine, and both have to be facilitated by the teacher”. After the Second World War was over and India’s freedom was imminent Gandhiji declared “Indians will build their own India”. The whole country filled with unprecedented optimism and this inspired Kalam to move from his hometown Rameshwaram to District Headquarters Ramanathapuram for better education.

He felt that his enthusiasm has increased once he joined the Schwartz High School in Ramanthapuram, there he had another Teacher Iyadurai Solomon who acted as a perfect guide to students with an eager young mind that was yet uncertain of the possibilities and alternatives that lay before it. I am here it laid the foundation for Abdul Kalam’s fascination to fly, He used to watch the cranes and seagulls and was fascinated by mysteries of skies and convinced himself that one day he too would soar up into the skies. After completion of his secondary education at Schwartz Kalam had taken the decision to go for higher secondary education and in 1950 he joined St. Joseph’s College, Trichy. Kalam was self-confident with determination to succeed by the time he joined the college. It was here Kalam acquired a taste for English Literature and he began to read great classics such as Tolstoy, Scott and Hardy. He also developed a great interest in Physics, He looked at it “As the path of science can always wind through the heart.” He always felt that for him “Science has always been the path to spiritual enrichment and self-realisation”. Kalam joined B.Sc. degree course at the same college after his secondary education as he was unaware of any other option of higher education. As soon as he obtained B.Sc. degree Kalam realised that Physics was not his subject as it didn’t reach his heart. So, he decided to join engineering in one of the prestigious colleges in those days i.e. Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), which was regarded as the crown jewel of technical education in South India. But admission to this institution is an expensive affair, at that time his sister Zahara came to his rescue mortgaging her gold ornaments to arrange money for his admission into MIT.  At MIT Kalam was fascinated by the sight of the two decommissioned aircraft displayed there for a demonstration of the various sub systems of flying machines. He felt a strange attraction towards them and sat near them for long hours. This admiration towards skies made him choose Aeronautical Engineering. During his course duration at MIT,Kalam mentioned that three teachers had shaped his thinking and he felt that their contributions formed the foundations of his professional career which later he built from these experiences and learning. The Teachers were Prof. Spander, An Austrian with rich practical experience in aeronautical engineering who taught technical aerodynamics, Prof. KAV Pandalai who brought a fresh approach to the course of aero-structure design and analysis and Prof. Narasingha Rao a Mathematician who taught theoretical aerodynamics. Kalam always felt that Aeronautics is a fascinating subject and he felt “it contained the promise of freedom”. Dr Kalam mentioned in his autobiography that his final year at MIT was a year of transition and was to have a greater impact on his later life. When Kalam finished his course work, he was assigned a project to design a low-level attack aircraft along with four other colleagues. Kalam took up the responsibility of preparing and drawing the aeronautical design.One day, the design teacher, Prof. Srinivasan, then director of MIT reviewed Kalam’s progress and declared it dismal and disappointing. Kalam requested a month’s time but he was given only 3 days’ time to finish the design and submit it to the professor. Kalam was dumbstruck as if he couldn’t meet the deadline his scholarship would be stopped. But Kalam proved himself that he is capable of doing a task in much lesser time, on the third day when Kalam was near completion Prof. Srinivasan came to his room, after examining his work he hugged him affectionately and said: “I never expected you to perform so well.” Here we can see Kalam’s dedication and hard work which made an impossible task as possible.  After his graduation from MIT Abdul kalam Joined Hindustan Aeronautical as a trainee in Bangalore. He got 2 opportunities to grow his carrier one was a carrier in Air Force in Dehradun and the other one was a job at Directorate of   Technical Development and production DTD&P (air) at the ministry of Defence in Delhi. Kalam was very keen to join the Air Force so he went to Dehradun for the examination and stud 9th among 25 candidates but the slots available were only 8. He was Disappointed, discouraged he visited Rishikesh for some peace and quiet. He was acquainted with Swami Sivananda.who encouraged him and motivated him to pursue his carrier in other potion.  A teacher plays a very important part in a person’s life. All his life Dr Kalam gave importance to teaching and mentoring of young minds it might be because he received the guidance and mentoring from right people at the right time who made him best at what he does.  After Dehradun, Abdul kalam opted for the second option which was DTD&P at Ministry of Defence. He was selected as Senior Scientific Assistant in the year his first year under the supervision of R.Varadharajan he designed  a Supersonic Target Aircraft. Looking at his potential he was included in the design of DART team. The government of India established Aeronautical Development Establishment (AED) at Bangalore. Kalam was now working for 3 years and hence he was posted to AED. There they undertook the project to design hovercraft. they named it “NANDI” after the mount of Lord Shiva. Former Defence Minister Mr   Krishna Menon took an avid interest in this small project. When the project was completed he took the ride on the hovercraft despite being warned by the Group Captain, and the driver of the hovercraft was none other than Abdul Kalam. Mr Menon recognised the hidden potential in Abdul Kalam and sent him a call for an interview for the post of Rocket Engineer for Indian Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR). the interviews were taken by Mr Menon and Dr Sarabhai. Abdul Kalam was selected.  Dr. kalam worked at NASA at Langley Research Centre (LRC) in Hampton, Virginia and from there he went to the Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC) at Greenbelt Maryland. Kalam was in charge of rocket integration and safety for the first launch of Nike-Apache Launch. The launch was a success.

During this period Dr. kalam was under the mentorship of Dr. Sarabhai. He had a very strong impact on Abdul kalam. While describing Dr Sarabhai kalam used to say,” He was an ideal experimenter and inventor.”

India was not very progressed nation about the missile and its technology. Before British rule in 1799, when Tipu Sultan was killed in the battle of Thurukhanahally by British, they captured 700 rockets and 900 subsystems of the rocket. After that, the initiative to progress in the field of missiles was taken by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Sarabhai. they decided to make Rockets, Satellite Launch Vehicles (SLV) and satellites.  Dr. Sarabhai had his eye on kalam who was being nurtured under his wing. He entrusted Kalam and a team with Rocket Assisted Take-off System (RATO) for military aircraft. Dr Abdul Kalam was also inducted as a Member of Missile Panel. The year 1963 to 1980 was a very tough path in the life of Abdul kalam. He joined Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and over the years held many positions. He became the Project Director of the SLV-3 project. On 10th august 1979, Dr Kalam faced with one of the biggest disappointments of his life. It was the launch of their first SLV-3. SLV has 4 stages, the first stage was very smooth but the second stage failed and the result was a failure to launch. Dr. kalam took the responsibility of the failure and face a lot of criticism. Dr Dhawan was the person who stood by Abdul Kalam and gave him strength and motivated him. And on 18th July 1980, India launched its first-ever satellite into the orbit successfully. It was named” ROHINI”. The whole country was overjoyed. Every Indian was proud of being an Indian. Dr Abdul kalam was awarded Padmabhushan in the year 1981 for his achievements in the field of Science and Technology. Dr Kalam was Appointed as DRDO Director in 1982.Indian government decided to implement India’s prestigious Integrated Guided Missile       Development Programme (IGMDP). Under this programme, DRDO was going to design 5 missiles PRITHVI, TRISHUL, AKASH, NAG, AGNI.  The first missile to launch was    TRISHUL in September 1985. The launch was a success. After the success of TRISHUL, AGNI and AKASH were also tested and they were also a success.  There was no one else more    deserving for the Padma Vibhushan in the year 1990. In the year 1991, Dr Abdul Kalam wanted to retire and planned to start a school for the less privileged children. But he was not relieved by the Government. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was awarded India’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna. His work for the country, dedication, hard work is an inspiration to the youngsters. When K.R Narayanan’s presidency rule came to an end; the nation was looking for an inspirational leader and in came Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Famous for his works as a scientist in the field of      Aeronautics, India made him the president for a period of 5 years. In the 2002 election, he          surpassed Laxmi Singhal to become the 11 President of India. It was an easy win for Abdul Kalam. Kalam moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan on 25 July 2002. He was the third president who was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award for being a president.  Known to the world as the Missile Man of India, Kalam did some exceptional work in the Parliament for 5 years.

It is very difficult to describe a man who has so many things to talk on. Though, there are certain moments and stories which stay with us for a long time. Kalam was known as the “People’s President”. The toughest decision he ever took during his reign as a president was the “Office of Profit Bill.” However, there were people, me, you, we who criticised him for inaction taken for 20 mercy pleas out of 21. The one of that 21 was of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee. One famous mercy plea was that of Afzal Guru. I don’t think Afzal Guru deserves any introduction when I am talking about such a humble person. Afzal Guru was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in 2004. The sentence was scheduled to be carried on 20 October 2006 but as Guru’s mercy plea had no action on it, he was kept in the death row. His   controversial decision regarding the President’s Rule in Bihar in 2005 also brought a lot of criticism.

However, Kalam was seen as an inspiration for many. People from all over the world wanted to hear from him. He did not stop giving lectures in colleges and universities. In 2003, during a lecture at PGI Chandigarh, Kalam supported the Uniform Civil Code in India looking at India’s population.

Abdul Kalam was a very humble person. You can ask anyone who has interacted with him. He was such a down to earth person and his writings, quotes, speeches, a voice suggested everything the man he was. He had a lot of belief in the youngsters. He loved them and had great expectations from them calling them the future of India. With a maximum of India’s population in 15yrs to 40yrs, he believed that India will be a superpower if the young generation worked for the betterment of the nation.  Abdul Kalam left the president’s seat on 20 June 2007. He expressed his views of standing for the election again in the initial days; however, 2 days later, he decided that he won’t contest the Presidential election. He wanted to avoid Rashtrapati Bhavan from any political processes. He also lost his support from the left out parties which would have renewed his mandate.

In 2012, social media created a lot of buzz saying that APJ Abdul Kalam would be nominated for his second term after Pratibha Patil’s term expiry. BJP said that it would support Kalam id Congress, Samajwadi Party or Indian National Congress   proposed him for president election. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamta Banerjee also gave support. After some days, Mulayam Singh backed out leaving Mamta Banerjee the sole supporter for Kalam’s president election. However, the hopes of the young people on social media were dashed when Abdul Kalam expressed his view of not contesting in the 2012 president election poll. He said

“Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection for me and the aspiration of the people. I am really overwhelmed by this support. This being their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me.”

Kalam was a vegetarian and also read “Bhagavad Gita”, which is supposed to be the holy book for Hindu’s. This showed that he isn’t a man who discriminates on the basis of religion. He might have been a Muslim by religion but he was an Indian by heart.  After leaving the Office of Parliament, Kalam did what he loved to do the most. He became a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong, the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Management Indore, an honorary fellow of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Chancellor of the Indian the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University and an adjunct at many other academic and research institutions across India. He taught information technology at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, and technology at Banaras Hindu University and Anna University.

A program for the youth was launched in 2012 by Dr. Kalam, “What can I give moment” with a central theme of defeating corruption. Kalam enjoyed writing poetries in Tamil and also loved to play the veenai. He also used to listen to Carnatic devotional music every day. He was awarded the MTV youth icon of the year in 2003 and 2006.