Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam usually known Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, was the 11th President of India, serving from 2002 to 2007, he is one of the few presidents who have touched the hearts thats why during his term as President, he was popularly known as the People’s President. In India he is highly respected as a scientist and as an engineer.
He is popularly known as the Missile Man of India for his work on development of ballistic missile and space rocket technology.
Stories of extreme hardship, braving impossible odds and innumerable sacrifices, abound in the lives of nearly 90 percent of the students in the country. But among them, some perform exceptionally well. Their academic laurels are so brilliant, that at times their CV looks intimidating. And each one acknowledges that it’s the right education that made them what they are today.
Several months back, after finishing an interview with Dr APJ Kalam, and just before leaving his Rajaji Marg residence he made me repeat these three words in a schoolteacher’s tone: perseverance, hard work and patience.
This, he said, was alone the path to progress. Later, much later, I realised, that those were the very words he’s lived by all through his life. They are both philosophical and practical, quite like the world he grew up in as a boy in the island town of Rameswaran, in south India.
His father, a humble boat owner, Jainulabdeen, was a devout Muslim and a close friend of the Rameswaran temple priest. Kalam was brought up in a multi-religious, tolerant society; one with a progressive outlook. His father often quoted from the Quran to make the young Kalam see the world without fear. He had seven siblings, and a doting mother who, at times, made chappatis for Kalam, while the others were given rice as Kalam’s day would start at four in the morning and end at 11 pm.
His father wasn’t educated, but he wanted Kalam to study. Kalam would get up at 4 am, bathe, and then go for his mathematics class, which was taught by a teacher who took only five students in the whole session; and bathing before class was a condition he had laid to all his students. After his morning class, Kalam along with his cousin Samsuddin went around town distributing the newspaper. As the town had no electricity, kerosene lamps were lit at his home between 7 pm and 9 pm. But because Kalam studied until 11, his mother would save some for him for later use.
Being a bright student, Kalam always had the support of his schoolteachers. Schwarzt High School’s Iyadurai Solomon often told Kalam that if he truly, intensely desired something, he would get it. “This made me fearless,” said Dr Kalam. And outside school, Ahmed Jallaluddin, who later became his brother-in-law, and Samsuddin, encouraged Kalam to appreciate nature’s wonders. So at once, while growing up, he was exposed to a religious and a practical way of looking at the world.
The flight of birds had fascinated him since he was a boy, but it was years later he realised that he wanted to fly aircrafts. After finishing school, he took up Physics at St Joseph’s College, Trichi, but towards the end he was dissatisfied. When he discovered aeronautical engineering, he regretted having lost three precious years. But he was glad to have discovered Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy and F Scott Fitzgerald and other English poets in his college years.
At Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai, where Kalam studied aeronautics, he learnt an important lesson: the value of time. He was leading a project on system design, when one day the principal walked into the class to see his work. He appeared dissatisfied and told Kalam that he wanted the project finished in the next two days; else his scholarship aid would be withdrawn. That unsettled Kalam; years of his father’s hardships would come to naught. Kalam worked without food and sleep. On the last day, his professor came to check on his progress. He was impressed and said: “I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline,” recounted Dr Kalam.
Although Kalam has led several projects in his professional life, he’s treated each like his last. Such was his passion. No wonder, he’s always led projects. His advisor, Major General R Swaminathan explained Kalam’s success as a leader. “He has this unique capability of being a boss as well as a worker. He can take on any role with ease.”
When Dr Kalam’s first major project SLV 3-failed the first time he was almost shattered. Also, around this time, Kalam’s childhood mentor, Jallaluddin, died. “A part of me too passed away…” said Dr Kalam. But he never thought of quitting after SLV-3. “I knew that for success, we have to work hard and persevere.” And so, SLV-3 was launched again, this time with success. He drew strength from philosophy, religion and literature to tide by his professional setbacks; also a life with few companions. In time, he also learnt to deal with professional jealousy and uncooperative team members.
Kalam played a pivotal organisational, technical and political role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear test in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974. He is chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (Thiruvanthapuram), a professor at Anna University (Chennai) and adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research institutions across India.
Success followed Dr Kalam. Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles were huge successes. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Bharat Ratna, and then he became the President of India; one of the few presidents who have touched the hearts of so many poor children in the country. Because he also came from a poor background, he knew the power of education in changing one’s future.
There is this another story that describes his phenomenal leadership qualities-
There were about 70 scientists working on a very hectic project. All of them were really frustrated due to the pressure of work and the demands of their boss but everyone was loyal to him and did not think of quitting the job.
One day, one scientist came to his boss and told him – Sir, I have promised to my children that I will take them to the exhibition going on in our township. So I want to leave the office at 5 30 pm. His boss replied “OK, You’re permitted to leave the office early today”. The Scientist started working. He continued his work after lunch. As usual he got involved to such an extent that he looked at his watch when he felt he was close to completion. The time was 8.30 PM. Suddenly he remembered of the promise he had given to his children.
He looked for his boss, He was not there. Having told him in the morning itself, he closed everything and left for home.
Deep within himself, he was feeling guilty for having disappointed his children. He reached home. Children were not there. His wife alone was sitting in the hall and reading magazines.
The situation was explosive, any talk would boomerang on him. His wife asked him “Would you like to have coffee or shall I straight away serve dinner if you are hungry.
The man replied “If you would like to have coffee, I too will have but what about Children ??” .Wife replied “You don’t know?? , Your manager came here at 5.15 PM and has taken the children to the exhibition “.
What had really happened was …. The boss who granted him permission was observing him working seriously at 5.00 PM. He thought to himself, this person will not leave the work, but if he has promised his children they should enjoy the visit to exhibition. So he took the lead in taking them to exhibition The boss does not have to do it every time. But once it is done, loyalty is established.
That is why all the scientists at Thumba continued to work under their boss even though the stress was tremendous.
By the way, can you hazard a guess as to who the boss was ?
He was none other than Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam .