APJ Abdul Kalam’s Life and Career – A Glimpse
Famously known as A.P.J Abdul Kalam [Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam] was the 11th President of India and remained active in office between 2002 and 2007. First a scientist and then a politician, Kalam was born in Rameswaram – a town in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
After having studied physics and aerospace engineering, Kalam spent nearly 40 years as a scientist primarily at Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). He was also involved in India’s military missile development efforts and civilian space program. For his contributions in the development of launch vehicle technology and ballistic missile, he was cited with the prestigious title of the Missile Man of India.
This is just a brief part of the immense and rich history of A.P.J Abdul Kalam. The list of honors and awards accomplished by Kalam during his entire lifetime is certainly endless.
His Early Life
Abdul Kalam was born on 15th October 1931 to a Tamil Muslim family (people who speak Tamil and have Islam as their religion) in Rameswaram. A boat owner, Jainulabudeen was his father, and a housewife, Ashiamma was his mother.
Kalam belonged to a poor household and began working at an early age to contribute in his family’s income. He used to distribute newspapers after finishing school to supplement his father’s income.
He went to the Ramanathapuram Schwartz Matriculation School and attained average grades in his school years. However, he was considered a laborious and bright student with a keen interest in Mathematics. After completing his schooling, he went to attend Saint Joseph’s College in Tiruchirappalli and graduated in Physics in 1954. Then, he went to attend Madras Institute of Technology in Madras in 1955 to study Aerospace Engineering.
During his senior class project, he was stressed tremendously by the Dean to finish his project within the next three days. He was even threatened of the cancellation of his scholarship if he didn’t meet the deadline. However, he ended up meeting the deadline and impressing the Dean with his performance.
His Professional Career
Kalam graduated from Madras Institute of Technology in 1960, and started working as a scientist in DRDO. He even designed a small helicopter for the Indian Army at the beginning of his career, but remained dissatisfied of his job at the DRDO.
In 1969, he was transferred to the ISRO where he was the project director of India’s 1st Satellite Launch Vehicle. In addition, he was invited by Raja Ramanna—the famous Indian physicist—to witness India’s 1st nuclear test Smiling Buddha.
In the 1970s, Kalam directed two projects: Project Valiant and Project Devil that were aimed at developing ballistic missiles by means of the technology of the successful SLV programme. Kalam’s educational leadership and research brought him prodigious glories in the 1980s that propelled the government to start an advanced missile programme under his leadership.
His additional accomplishments include his major role in developing numerous missiles under Agni, which is an intermediate range ballistic missile and Prithvi, which is the strategic surface-to-surface missile.
Between 1992 and 1999, Kalam served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and the Secretary to the DRDO. He also played an extensive technological and political role in the Pokhran-II nuclear tests. During this time, media coverage of Kalam cited him as the nation’s best-known nuclear scientist.
In the year 1998, Kalam developed a low-cost coronary stent together with cardiologist Soma Raju, which was named the Kalam-Raju Stent. In the year 2012, the duo designed the Kalam-Raju tablet that was a rugged tablet for health care in rural regions.
Check this Abdul Kalam’s speech on EU parliament:
His Political Journey
Kalam won the 2002 presidential election to become the 11th President of India. He was the third president of India to have been honored with the prestigious Bharat Ratna—India’s highest civilian honor. Apparently, he was also the first bachelor and the first scientist to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan. During his tenure as president, Kalam was popularly known as the People’s President.
Interestingly, Kalam visited a modest school to deliver a speech soon after it was proclaimed that he would be the next president. He was speaking to about 400 students when the power went off. To ensure there was no interruption due to the power cut, he stood right in the middle of the crowd and asked all the students to surround him. And he gave a stunning speech with no arrangements whatsoever.
After His Presidency
Kalam left office and became a visiting professor at the IIM Ahmedabad, the IIM Shillong, and the IIM Indore. He also taught IT at the IIT Hyderabad and technology at Banaras Hindu University and Anna University.
He launched a programme for the youth of India in May 2012, and it was known as the What Can I Give Movement. The programme was driven toward defeating corruption. Kalam was an avid player of veenai, a South Indian string instrument and enjoyed writing poetry in Tamil.
A vegetarian, Kalam was an ardent lover of Carnatic devotional music, and used to read Bhagavad Gita. Nominated for MTV Youth Icon of the Year award in 2003 as well as 2006, Kalam was portrayed in a movie called I Am Kalam that was the story of a poor but bright Rajasthani boy.
His Awards and Honors
Kalam received honorary doctorates from as many as 40 universities. The United Nations recognized his 79th birthday as World Student Day. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 for his immense contributions during his time at ISRO and DRDO. In 1997, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna for his work in scientific research and defense technology in India. To commemorate Kalam’s visit to Switzerland, 26th May was declared as Science Day. In the year 2013, he was presented with the Von Braun Award by the National Space Society for his unparalleled leadership and management of a space-related project.
His Books and Documentaries
Out of his many books, a few of the notable ones are India 2020, Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds, Target 3 Billion, Reignited, You Are Born To Blossom, Turning Points, Forge Your Future, and You are Unique.
His biographies include President A P J Abdul Kalam, The Kalam Effect, Eternal Quest, A Little Dream, My Days With Mahatma Abdul Kalam, A P J Abdul Kalam.
His Famous Quotes
Every quote by Kalam is awe-inspiring. Here are a few:
“You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”
“Thinking should become your capital asset, no matter whatever ups and downs you come across in your life.”
“Without your involvement you can’t succeed. With your involvement you can’t fail.”
“One of the very important characteristics of a student is to question. Let the students ask questions.”
It was the evening of 27th July 2015, when Kalam collapsed suddenly at around 6:30 pm while delivering a lecture at the IIM Shillong. Right then he was taken to Bethania Hospital and was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Unfortunately, just after two hours, he was confirmed dead due to a major cardiac arrest. – Source
Following Kalam’s death, the Government of India announced a 7-day state mourning period to pay homage and reverence to the former president. Numerous leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi express grief over Kalam’s demise.
The Bhutanese government flew their country’s flags at half-staff and offered 1000 butter lamps to pay homage to the People’s President.
Everyone is tweeting about his death and showing respect to the Missile Man
RIP @APJAbdulKalam … your teachings, leadership and humanity were inspiration to us all.
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) July 27, 2015
Former President of India, a renowned scientist, an inspiration to all, a terrific human being…RIP Dr. Abdul Kalam (2/2) — sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) July 27, 2015
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) July 28, 2015
A passionate scientist, a loving politician, and a hardworking leader—Abdul Kalam was one of India’s most decorated leaders ever. The youth loved him, respected him, and adored him. Kalam could strike a chord with anyone with his inspirational messages, and could leave anyone enchanted with his spellbound aura. It is fair to say that India has lost a treasure—but the legacy of Kalam will continue to live forever.