Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (A.P.J. Abdul Kalam) was the 11th President of India. He was the President between 25th July, 2002 to 25th July, 2007. There were only two other Presidents till then who had been awarded the ‘Bharat Ratna’ before becoming the President – Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and Dr. Zakir Hussain. Born on 15th October 1931, he passed away on 27th July, 2015 while delivering a lecture at IIM, Shilong. Thus, he was active till he breathed his last.
Kalam was known as the ‘Missile Man of India’. He was an Indian Aerospace Scientist and statesman. He worked as a science administrator, mainly in Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He worked on the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology. He played a very important role in India’s 1998 Pokhran II nuclear test. This was the first after the original nuclear test by India in 1974.
He delivered regular lectures in many prestigious institutions like IIM, IIM Indore, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He was the Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. He was also a professor at Anna University.
Kalam was born in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu. His father was a boatman and an Imam of a local mosque. Mother Ashiamma was a housewife. Kalam was the youngest of four brothers and one sister. Although their ancestors had been very rich, Kalam’s family was poverty-stricken. As a boy, he used to sell newspapers. In school, Kalam’s performance was not very impressive though he was known to be a bright boy. He wanted to become a fighter pilot, but he stood 9th when only eight candidates were to be selected.
He said he learnt leadership qualities from three great teachers – Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan and Dr. Brahm Prakash. In ISRO, he was the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) that successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit in 1980.
In DRDO, he worked on an expandable rocket project independently in 1965. He also directed two projects – Project Devil and Project Variant successfully; so also the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and SLV-III. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and Defence Minister, R. Venkataraman, supported Kalam in his project. Thereafter, Kalam played a major role in developing many missiles like Agni and Prithvi.
Kalam also served as Chief Scientific Advisor to the PM and Secretary of DRDO. He cherished human values and respected all religions. He had a spiritual bent of mind. He was known as the ‘People’s President’. Interestingly, he, along with cardiologist Dr. Soma Raju developed a low-cost coronary stent (named Kalam-Raju Stent) and a rugged tablet computer for health care in rural areas – which was named ‘Kalam-Raju Tablet’.