HOW A POOR BOY FROM RAMESWARAM BECAME 'PEOPLE'S PRESIDENT' APJ ABDUL KALAM
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, famously known as APJ Abdul Kalam, was an Indian aerospace scientist who played a key role in India’s civilian space program and was also called the ‘Missile Man’ of India due to his massive contribution to India’s military missile development programs. He was instrumental in conducting India’s Pokhran – 2 nuclear tests (1998).
He became the 11th President of India, from 25 July 2002 – 25 July 2007. He was a man loved by all and hated by none, earning an enduring title – ‘People’s President’.
On 15 October 1931, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born to a Tamil family in the Rameswaram pilgrimage centre on Pamban Island, then in the Madras presidency and currently in Tamil Nadu state, India. Jainulabdeen's father was a boat owner and an imam of a local mosque; and Ashiamma, his mother, was a housewife.
Kalam was the youngest of his family's four brothers and one sister. His ancestors, with various assets and large tracts of land, were prosperous merchants and landowners. Some of their activities were trading between the mainland and the island and to and from Sri Lanka, as well as ferrying pilgrims between the mainland and Pamban.
As a result, the family acquired the title ‘Mara Kalam Iyakkivar’ (wooden boat steerers), which was shortened to ‘Marakier’. However, with the opening of the Pamban Bridge to the mainland in 1914, the companies collapsed and, apart from the ancestral home, family fortune and property were lost over time.
By his early childhood, Kalam's family had become poor; he sold newspapers at an early age to supplement the income of his family.
Kalam had average grades in his school years but was described as a bright and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn. He spent hours studying his subjects, especially mathematics.
Kalam went on to attend Saint Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, after completing his education at the Schwartz Higher Secondary School, Ramanathapuram, then affiliated with the University of Madras, from where he graduated in 1954 in physics. In 1955, he moved to Madras to study aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology.
He narrowly missed his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, as he placed ninth in qualifiers, and only eight positions were available in the IAF.
As a science administrator and scientist, Kalam spent more than forty years primarily with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He was closely associated with India's military missile development efforts and the civilian space program. He was given the opportunity to work on the technology of launch vehicles and the production of ballistic missiles.
From July 1992 to December 1999, Kalam served as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the Defense Research and Development Organisation. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were performed during this time in which he played an intense administrative and technical role. During the testing phase, Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordinator along with Rajagopala Chidambaram.
During this time, Kalam's media attention made him the best-known nuclear scientist in the country. The site test director, K Santhanam, however, said that the thermonuclear bomb had been a ‘fizzle’ and criticized Kalam for releasing an incorrect report. Both Kalam and Chidambaram denied the allegations.
In 1998, Kalam created a low-cost coronary stent, called the "Kalam-Raju Stent" along with cardiologist Soma Raju. In 2012, the duo designed a powerful tablet computer for rural health care, which was called the "Kalam-Raju Tablet".
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam traveled to Shillong on 27 July 2015 to give a lecture on "Creating a Livable Planet Earth" at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He encountered some pain when ascending a flight of stairs, but was able to reach the auditorium after a brief rest. However, he collapsed just five minutes into his lecture.
He was rushed in a critical state to the nearby Bethany Hospital; he lacked a pulse or any other signs of life upon arrival. Dr. Kalam was reported dead of sudden cardiac arrest at 7:45 p.m., despite being put in the intensive care unit. His last words, reportedly to his assistant, Srijan Pal Singh, were: "Funny guy! Are you doing well?"
On 30 July 2015, the former president was laid to rest at Rameswaram's Pei Karumbu Ground with full state honours.
Dr. Kalam was honored with Padma Bhushan in 1981 and Padma Vibhushan in 1990 by the Government of India for his work with ISRO and DRDO and his position as Government Scientific Advisor.
In 1997, for his contribution to scientific research and modernization of defence technology of India, Dr. Kalam received India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
He was also the (posthumous) recipient of the National Space Society's Von Braun Award in 2013 "to recognize excellence in the management and leadership of a space-related project". In 2012, Dr. Kalam was ranked number 2 in the ‘Greatest Indian’ poll by Outlook India.
However his greatest achievement probably was inspiring India’s youth to reach for the stars and devote their time and energy to ensure that India became a developed nation.
He was the proud author of numerous inspirational books like “India 2020”, “Ignited Minds”, “Mission India”, “The Luminous Sparks”, “Wings of Fire” and “Inspiring Thoughts”.
Throughout his life, he was known for his simplicity and integrity. He reportedly never owned a television, and was in the habit of rising at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and sleeping by 2 a.m. His few personal possessions included his books, his Veena (an Indian musical instrument), some pieces of clothing, a CD player and a laptop. At his death, he left no will.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam started out from the humblest of backgrounds. He never let that hold him back. Even after achieving great success, he lived an extremely simple life, with the absolute minimum of possessions and was a lifelong bachelor.
His life and writings are an eternal source of inspiration for Indians.
What have you learnt from the life of Dr. Kalam?
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