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Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, the Greatest Indian

Image Credits: Speakola

There may be a beginning and end to years but what you leave behind is limitless. Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam is one such piece of history who continues to live in the hearts of millions. He was the President of India, the Missile Man of India, the most respected nuclear scientist from ISRO and DRDO, a visionary in the fields of technological innovations, agriculture, and atomic energy, an author, a professor, a poet, a Veena player, and a man with a golden heart. He was also the recipient of India’s most prestigious awards including Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan.  A.P.J. Kalam ranked 2nd in India’s poll of the Greatest Indians (conducted by Outlook magazine in 2012).

The Kalam few knew

Born in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, on October 15, 1931,  Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, the youngest sibling among six,  was raised in a home that was filled with love with his mother Ashiamma (homemaker) and financially supported by his father Jainulabdeen (boat owner and Imam). Though not well off, education was a priority in the family. Kalam studied at Schwartz Higher Secondary School and in Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli. In 1960, when he graduated in Aeronautical Engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology, he dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot. But despite a great interview with the military’s Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTDP), he secured the 9th position in the IAF recruitment which had only 8 openings.

A scientific journey

Upset about not being selected in the Indian Air Force (IAF), Kalam said in his memoir (My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions), “I walked around for a while till I reached the edge of a cliff, staring into the pit of despair” before taking off on a trek to Rishikesh. There he met Swami Sivananda, who, he strongly believed, changed his life. This was the beginning of his scientific journey.

On returning from Rishikesh, in 1960, Kalam joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment where he not only worked under the legendary space scientist Vikram Sarabhai as a part of ‘INCOSPAR’ committee but was also sent to NASA for training.  In 1969, he was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).  At ISRO Kalam was an initiator and part of several projects, like India’s Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III), deployment of the ‘Rohini’ satellite near-earth orbit, and the foundation to the development of the Prithvi Missile. Here, he was given the pseudonym of ‘The Missile Man of India’.  He was also associated with Project Devil and Project Valiant to develop ballistic missiles.

Image Credits: Pinterest

In 1983, Kalam was appointed chief of DRDO and asked to lead the ‘Integrated Guided Missile Development Program’ (IGMDP). In May 1998, he was instrumental in the most successful nuclear tests conducted by India – Porkhran-II giving India the sixth place in the world’s nuclear map.

The most famous real-life story that deserves a mention of A.P.J as a caring colleague and boss in his tenure at ISRO goes –When a team of 70 was working on a project at ISRO, one of the scientists requested Dr. Kalam if he could leave at 5.30 pm as he had promised his kids a visit to the science museum. Of course, Dr. Kalam granted permission but the scientist was so immersed in work that he had forgotten on his promise.  On returning home, as he went to apologize to his kids, his wife informed him that his boss Mr. Kalam had come earlier in the evening and taken the kids to the museum.

Such was the kindness of APJ Abdul Kalam.

From scientific adviser to President of India

The President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam administered the oath of office of the Chief Justice of India to Shri Justice Y.K. Sabharwal at Rashtrapati Bhawan, in New Delhi on November 1, 2005. Credits: Wikimedia Commons

In 2002, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was nominated by the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the President. On July 25, 2002, he became the 11th President of India serving his term till July 25, 2007.

His continued interaction with the common people and especially the youth of India earned him the title of ‘The People’s President.’ But he also faced criticism for his delay in deciding the fate of 21 mercy petitions as he only acted on one mercy plea during his tenure. His 2005, his recommendation for President’s rule in Bihar, also drew a lot of criticism.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam received 7 honorary doctorates from 40 universities amongst numerous other awards. He has won,

–   Padma Bhushan (1981), Padma Vibhushan (1990), and Bharat Ratana (1997) from the Government of India.

– Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration by the Government of India (1997)

– Veer Savarkar Award, 1998

– Ramanujan Award by the Alwars Research Centre, in 2000

– Kings Charles II Medal by Royal Society, 2007

– Hoover Medal by ASME Foundation, USA

– Von Braun Award by National Space Society, 2013

In the years 2003 and 2006, Dr. Kalam got nominated for the ‘MTV Youth Icon of the Year. As a 79th birthday gift for Dr. Kamal, the United Nations announced the day as ‘World Students’ Day.

And life must go on

Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam never thought of retirement. In fact, after completing his tenure as President of India, he got even busier as a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM -Ahmedabad, Indore, and Shillong), Anna University, Banaras Hindu University, and International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Hyderabad.  He became the chancellor at the ‘Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram,’ and an honorary fellow of ‘Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.

At the same time, he never gave up his love for writing books and Tamil poetry.  He wrote 12 books, including Ignited Minds, Agni ki Udaan and India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium

Dr. Kalam also introduced a program for the youth, called ‘What Can I Give Movement,’ in 2012, with an aim for the new generation to take up the fight against corruption in India.

On July 27, 2015, as Dr. Kalam was delivering a lecture at IIM Shillong on ‘Creating a Livable Planet Earth’, he collapsed in the lecture hall. He was rushed to ‘Bethany Hospital’ in a critical condition where he was declared dead due to cardiac arrest.

From having postage stamps released to commemorate his work at DRDO, to 15 October his birthday observed in Tamil Nadu as Youth Renaissance Day, to several educational and scientific institutions renamed after him, the country continues to pay tributes to a leader they will never forget.

The legacy lives on.


Rukshana is a freelance content and communication strategist based out of Mumbai, India. She mingles her expertise in PR with comprehensive domain knowledge and creative writing skills to assist and propagate business, worldwide. Being a quick learner, she utilizes her diversified digital expertise to provide copywriting and content writing services to create highly profitable brands, products, and services.

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