Missile Man of India
The story of how a poor boy from Rameswaram went on to become the ‘People’s President’.
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam or APJ Abdul Kalam was an Indian aerospace scientist. He was also called the ‘Missile Man of India’. He contributed significantly to India’s civilian space program. He played an important role in the country’s military missile development programs as well. He was the coordinator of India’s Pokhran-2 nuclear tests, which took place in the year 1998.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam also became the 11th President of India. He served for a period of five years (from 25 July, 2002 – 25 July, 2007). People across all age groups admired Abdul Kalam and considered him their role model. This unconditional love from the people of India earned him the title ‘the People’s President’!
Abdul Kalam was born on 15th October, 1931. He was born in a Tamil family who lived in the Rameswaram pilgrimage center on Pamban Island. It was then part of the Madras presidency and currently in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His father owned a boat and was the imam of a local mosque. His mother Ashiamma was a housewife.
Kalam’s ancestors were rich. They owned several assets and large tracts of land. He was the youngest kid in his family. He had three older brothers and a sister.
Kalam’s ancestors were involved in sea trade with Sri Lanka. They were also involved in ferrying pilgrims between the mainland and the Pamban Island.
Because of their profession, the family earned the title ‘Mara Kalam Iyakkivar’ or ‘Marakier’ (meaning wooden boat steerers). However Kalam’s family business collapsed with the opening of the Pamban Bridge to the mainland in 1914. Over time, they lost their ancestral home, properties and the rest of the fortunes.
In his early childhood, Kalam’s family had already become poor. He had to sell newspapers at an early age to supplement his family’s income.
Kalam was an average student at school. But his teachers considered him as a bright and hardworking student who had an immense desire to learn and explore. He loved the subject of mathematics.
Abdul Kalam graduated in physics in 1954. He studied at Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli. The college was affiliated with the University of Madras. He did his schooling at Schwartz Higher Secondary School, Ramanathapuram. In the year 1955, he started studying aerospace engineering at Madras Institute of Technology.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam worked as a scientist/administrator for more than forty years with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He was involved in India’s military missile development efforts and civilian space program.
Abdul Kalam served as chief scientific adviser to the Prime Minister and Secretary of the DRDO between July 1992 to December 1999 . He played a major administrative and technical role in Pokhran-II nuclear tests . During the testing phase, he worked as the chief project coordinator along with Rajagopala Chidambaram.
By this time, Kalam had become the best-known nuclear scientist in the country.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam made useful contributions across fields. In the year 1998, he created a low-cost coronary stent (the Kalam-Raju stent) along with famous cardiologist Soma Raju. Going ahead, in the year 2012, the duo designed a powerful tablet computer for boosting rural health care. It was called the “Kalam-Raju Tablet”.
Abdul Kalam’s death
On July 27, 2015, Dr. Kalam traveled to IIM Shillong for giving a lecture on “Creating a Liveable Planet Earth”. Just 5 minutes into his lecture, he collapsed on the dais.
The brilliant scientist was rushed to the Bethany hospital, where he was declared dead of cardiac arrest. With full state honors, the former president of India was laid to rest at Rameswaram’s Pei Karumbu ground on 30th July, 2015.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was conferred with Padma Bhushan in 1981. For his outstanding contributions while working with the ISRO and DRDO, and for his service as scientific advisor, Government of India honored him with Padma Vibhushan in the year 1990.
In 1997, he received India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
In the year 2012, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was ranked number 2 in the ‘Greatest Indian’ poll conducted by Outlook India. He received the National Space Society’s Von Braun Award in 2013 for his significant contributions in space-related projects.
Throughout his life, Kalam encouraged the youth to dream bigger and advised them to utilize their energy for the development of the nation.
“India 2020”, “Ignited Minds”, and “Wings of Fire” are the few inspirational books written by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. He was a simple and hardworking man. He never bought a television, he used to wake up early by 6:30 or 7 a.m daily, and sleep by 2 a.m in the night. He had limited possessions including his clothes, books, Veena, CD player and a laptop.
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was a lifelong bachelor, his humble background never stopped him from dreaming big. He was very grounded despite all the success in life. He is a source of inspiration for millions of Indians!