By Taenaz Shakir:
To an entire generation of young Indians, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was not just the President of India. He was the man who made them dream and encouraged them to chase those dreams. Fittingly known as the ‘people’s president’, the excellence Kalam showed in various fields he was associated with is remarkable.
Born and raised in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, his family was financially disadvantaged. His father, Jainulabdeen, was a boat owner and imam at a local mosque and his mother was a homemaker. His father had a great impact in shaping his personality. In his book “Wings of Fire”, Kalam writes about several instances where he was awed at his father’s compassion. In his school years, Kalam was described as an intelligent and hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn.
A graduate in physics from the University of Madras, Kalam then studied aerospace engineering at Madras Institute of Technology. After his studies, although he wanted to become a fighter pilot, he ended up becoming a scientist at Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Later he was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he was the project director of India’s first experimental satellite launch vehicle (SLV-3). According to Kalam, his life at DRDO and ISRO helped him learn leadership from three great teachers – Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan and Dr. Brahm Prakash. He recalled this period in his life as a time of learning and acquisition of knowledge.
Kalam always cherished spending time with young people. Even when he was working at DRDO and ISRO, and even after he became the president of India, he devoted a majority of his time to interacting with students. Once during an interaction with students in Kerala, a young boy stood up to ask President Kalam a question. The boy started off by saying, “Sir, I poor English, studying Malayalam medium.” To this, Kalam replied by asking him to put his question in Malayalam. This was of course received by a huge round of applause by everyone present. Kalam is known to have never differentiated people on the basis of social status. On one occasion, as his ‘Presidential Guests’ to Kerala’s Raj Bhavan, he invited a roadside cobbler and a small hotel owner, both of whom had been quite close to him while he was working in Trivandrum, where he spent a significant amount of time as a scientist. That is the kind of person President Kalam was – a friend, philosopher and guide to all.
Kalam was a renowned scientist, writer, philosopher and teacher. When asked what he would like to be remembered as, he replied that he would like to be remembered as a teacher. When death approached him on July 27, 2015, he was addressing a group of students at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong. He died doing what he loved doing the best – interacting with young minds. Today, even as we as a nation mourn his death a year later, he is and will forever be the eternally loved president of India.
Featured image source: Google.