The most popular President in India’s history, was born on 15 October 1931 in a small coastal town in what is now Tamil Nadu. An aerospace engineer and scientist before he was appointed to the country’s highest constitutional office, Kalam was closely linked to India’s missile programme. One of the reasons for his popularity, which continued even after his term as President ended in 2007, was the thousands of interactions he has had with school children and college students over the years. ‘People’s President’ and ‘India’s missile man’ are some of the more common labels attached to him.
Childhood & Early Events
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was born to Jainulabdeen and Ashiamma on October 15, 1931. He came from a family whose financial conditions weren’t sound enough. As a means to support his family’s meagre income, Kalam took up odd jobs in his childhood but never gave up on his education.
He graduated from Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli in 1954 but not satisfied with his degree, he left for Madras later next year to study aerospace engineering. He enrolled at the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT).
After graduating from MIT, Kalam took up the position of chief scientist at the Aeronautical Development Establishment of Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). However, the profile didn’t appeal Kalam much who shifted to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) where he was the project director of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle.His years at the ISRO were the most crucial ones, as they left a lasting impact on him. Kalam lead many projects and turned out to be successful each time.In the 1970s, Kalam directed two projects, namely, Project Devil and Project Valiant, which sought to develop ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme.A milestone was achieved when locally built Rohini-1 was launched into space, using the SLV rocket. Upon watching the raving success of Kalam, the government agreed for initiation of an advanced missile program under his directorship. He played a pivotal role in developing missiles under the missions Agni and Prithvi.Kalam was the Chief Executive of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (I.G.M.D.P) which researched in simultaneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned missiles one by one.From 1992 until 1999, Kalam was appointed as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of Defence Research and Development Organisation. It was during this time that Kalam served as the Chief Project Coordinator for Pokhran II nuclear tests, after which he was fondly called the “Missile Man of India”.Kalam succeeded K. R. Narayan to serve as the 11th President of India from 2002 until 2007. It was a highly one-sided contest. With his appointment, Kalam became the first scientist and first ever bachelor to occupy the Rastrapati Bhawan.During his tenure as a President, Kalam was both appreciated and criticised. The latter was mostly due to his inaction in deciding the fate of 20 mercy petitioners.In addition to all the profiles that Dr Kalam held, he authored numerous influential and inspirational books. Amongst all his books, “India 2020” was the widely read and appreciated one. It forecast an action plan which advocated India turning into a knowledge superpower and as one of the developed nations of the world by the year 2020. His other books include, “Ignited Minds”, “Mission India”, “Inspiring Thoughts” and “The Luminous Sparks”.In 2011, he launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the “What Can I Give Movement” with the main aim to defeat corruption in India.After completing his term as President, Dr Kalam served as visiting professor in various esteemed institutes and universities of India, such as Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indore. He also served as Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology Thiruvananthapuram, Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai), JSS University (Mysore).
We shall not see another APJ Abdul Kalam like our late president:
DD Podhigai telecast an interview with Mr P M Nair retired IAS officer who was the secretary to Dr Kalam Sir when he was the President. These points he spoke in voice choked with emotion. Mr Nair authored a book titled “Kalam Effect” .
Dr Kalam used to receive costly gifts whenever he went as it is customary for many nations to give gifts to the visiting Head of state. Refusing the gift would become an insult to the nation and an embarrassment for India. So, he received them and on his return, Dr Kalam asked the gifts to be photographed and then catalogued and handed over to the archives. Afterwards, he never even looked at them. He did not take even a pencil from the gifts received when he left Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
In 2002, the year Dr Kalam took over, the Ramadan month came in July-August. it was a regular practice for the President to host an iftar party. Dr Kalam asked Mr Nair why he should host a party to people who are already well fed and asked him to find out how much would be the cost. Mr Nair told it costs around Rs. 22 lakhs. Dr Kalam asked him to donate that amount to a few selected orphanages in the form of food, dresses and blankets. The selection of orphanages was left to a team in Rashtrapathi Bhavan and Dr Kalam had no role in it. After the selection was made, Dr Kalam asked Mr Nair to come inside his room and gave him a cheque for Rs 1 lakh. He said that he is giving some amount from his personal savings and this should not be informed to anyone.
Mr Nair was so shocked that he said “sir, I will go outside and tell everyone . People should know that here is a man who not only donated what he should have spent but he is giving his own money also”. Dr Kalam though he was a devout Muslim did not have Iftar parties in the years in which he was the President.
Dr Kalam did not like “yes sir” type of people. Once when the Chief Justice of India had come and on some point Dr Kalam expressed his view and asked Mr Nair, “Do you agree?”/ Mr Nair said “No sir, i do not agree with you”. The Chief Justice was shocked and could not believe his ears. It was impossible for a civil servant to disagree with the president and that too so openly. Mr Nair told him that the President would question him afterwards why he disagreed and if the reason was logical 99% he would change his mind.
4. Dr Kalam invited 50 of his relatives to come to Delhi and they all stayed in Rashtrapathi Bhavan. He organised a bus for them to go around the city which was paid for by him. No official car was used. All their stay and food was calculated as per the instructions of Dr Kalam and the bill came to Rs 2 lakhs which he paid. In the history of this country no one has done it. Now, wait for the climax, Dr Kalam’s elder brother stayed with him in his room for the entire one week as Dr Kalam wanted his brother to stay with him. When they left, Dr Kalam wanted to pay rent for that room also. Imagine a President of country paying rent for the room in which he is staying. This was any way not agreed by the staff who thought the honesty was getting too much to handle !!!.
When Kalam sir was to leave Rashtrapathi Bhavan at the end of the tenure, every staff member went and met him and paid their respects. Mr Nair went to him alone as his wife had fractured her leg and was bed ridden. Dr Kalam asked why his wife did not come. He replied that she was in bed due to an accident. next day, Nair saw lot of police men around his house and asked what had happened. They said that the President of India was coming to visit him in his house. He came and met his wife and chatted for some time. Mr Nair says that no president of any country would visit a civil servant’s house and that too on such a simple pretext.
-Mr P.M Nair IAS on – Late DR. APJ Abdul
10 Rare Stories About Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Will Make Your Day!!
#1. Once, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam rejected the suggestion to put broken glass on the wall of a building that needed protection. Why? Because broken glass would be harmful for birds!
This happened when Dr. Kalam was with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and his team was discussing options to secure the perimeter of a building that needed protection. Dr. Kalam reportedly said: “If we do that, birds will not be able to perch on the wall.”
#2. When youngsters & teenagers requested a meeting with President Kalam, the President not only obliged and gave the kids his precious time, but he also listened carefully to the ideas the kids had!
As President, often Dr. Kalam’s office would receive requests from youngsters for a meeting with the country’s first citizen. Not only would Dr. Kalam meet the kids in his personal chambers at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but he would also give them his precious time, “listen” to their ideas and provide feedback to the kids. On occasions, the President would follow up with such kids asking about the status of the ideas they discussed!
#3. Soon after it was declared that Dr. Kalam would be the next President, he visited a modest school to deliver a speech. His security detail was minimal, and he didn’t mind taking control of the situation when the power went off.
Speaking to around 400 students, Dr. Kalam ensured the power cut didn’t cause any interruption. He walked right in the middle of the crowd and asked the students to surround him. He then spoke to 400 students with his bare voice and delivered, like always, an inspiring keynote.
#4. President Kalam has given up all his life savings and salaries to a trust he founded named PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas).
The government takes care of the President of India as well as of all the former presidents. Knowing this, Dr. Kalam during his tenure as President decided to give away all his wealth and life savings towards a fund that works towards providing urban amenities to rural population. Apparently, Dr. Kalam called up Dr. Verghese Kurien, the founder of Amul, and asked: “Now that I have become the President of India, the government is going to look after me till I am living; so what can I do with my savings and salary?”
#5. President Kalam is known to write his own thank you cards.As humble and generous the man is, President Kalam is known to sign his own thank you cards.
One instance is when Quora user Naman Narain drew a sketch of Dr. Kalam and sent it to the President. To his surprise, the President sent him a thank you card, with a short handwritten message and personalised with his signature.
#6. Supposed to attend a college event as the Chief Guest, APJ once surprised the students of the event’s organising committee by visiting them late in the night.
Once, Dr. Kalam was to be a Chief Guest at a college event. He wasn’t the President at the time, but held a significant office at the DRDO and was one of the key advisors to the government. Curious to see the kids prep up for a big event, Kalam decided to pay a visit to the venue. He came in a jeep, without any security, and talked to the students present at the venue. He said he wanted to meet the “real hardworking people”.
#7. Dr. Kalam is so humble he wouldn’t mind going to an event a little late for the sake of letting his fans take pictures with him!
Dr. Kalam was the Chief Guest at an event at IIM Ahmedabad recentlxy. Prior to the event, he was lunching with a class of around sixty students. At the end of the lunch, the students wanted each a photo with the former President.
Citing the delay, the event organiser tried to hush off the students; but to everyone’s surprise Dr. Kalam asked the organiser to calm down and said that he won’t leave the place until every person who wanted a picture with him got a picture!
#8. Once during an event, Dr. Kalam refused to sit on a chair that was designated for him – because the chair was larger in size than the other chairs!
At a recent convocation of IIT-Varanasi, Dr. Kalam was the Chief Guest. There were five chairs on the stage, the centre one being for Dr. Kalam, the other four designated for the top university officials. Noticing his chair being bigger in size than the others, Dr. Kalam refused to sit on it and offered the Vice Chancellor to sit in stead. The VC couldn’t, obviously.
No doubt, another chair was made available immediately for the Honourable former President!
#9. When a subordinate of President Kalam at DRDO couldn’t take his children to an exhibition due to work pressure, Kalam surprised his subordinate and took the children in stead!
During a significant project of the DRDO, the work pressure was high. A scientist approached his boss – Dr. Kalam – and asked to leave early that day considering he had promised his children to take them to an exhibition. Kalam generously granted the permission, and the scientist got back to work. When he did, he lost the track of time and forgot to leave early. He reached home, feeling guilty, and looked for his kids, but could only find his wife. He asked for the kids, and to his surprise she told him: “your manager was here around 5:15 and he took the kids for the exhibition!”
Apparently, Dr. Kalam had been observing the scientist and noticed that he might never realise he had to go home. Feeling for the kids, he decided to take the kids in his stead. If that’s not sweet, what is?
#10. When he was President, Dr. Kalam took to “Yahoo! Answers” and posted a question: “What should we do to free our planet from terrorism?”
And when he did, people like Sri Sri Ravishankar, Kiran Bedi, Leander Paes and the who’s who of India and the world turned to Yahoo! to answer his question!