Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, The People’s President

You have to dream before your dreams can come true.

— A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

When Dr Abdul Kalam passed away on the 27th July 2015, I cried as I watched his speech at the Swami Sivananda Ashram back in 2011 again and again. Here was a man who devoted all his life to science and strived towards a united and developed India both as a scientist and later as President. I felt proud at the same time to have lived during his time.

Since that day I made it a mission to make Dr Kalam’s teachings reach a maximum number of my pupils. With this in mind, I prepared a speech to primary children of my school to introduce Dr Kalam and his work to them. Little minds who were at first strangers to Dr Kalam but who were amazed at the end, especially when I narrated the part he played in developing missiles and the name he earned – The Missile Man of India. Every time I come across them, they ask me to narrate to them anecdotes of Dr Kalam’s life. The latter wrote a book addressed to young people, ‘Ignited Minds’ which was published by Penguin India in 2002. This book is one which I refer to daily and in fact I think everyone should have a copy of it. In it, Dr Kalam takes on different themes that appealed to him on this pilgrimage around India as he met thousands of schoolchildren, teachers, scientists, saints and seers.

There is a particular question put to Kalam during that same speech at the Swami Sivananda Ashram and which I would like to share with you. A boy named Sivambika in Standard 5 asked him, “You have been successful in many research works. Specifically which research gave you the most happiness?” Dr Kalam replied with his usual smile. “Collaborating with my teachers, friends, colleagues I worked on a rocket that took a satellite to orbit. So that is one. After that I worked on Agni, and Prithvi. This made me happy. After which I worked on nuclear projects. All these brought me happiness. But is there anything else which gave me more happiness?”

He went on to explain how he developed a very light material for a missile. A professor named Prasad from Nizam’s Institute came to his lab in Hyderabad. He advised Dr Kalam against using this material for building a missile telling him that the latter can only bring pain to people. Instead he told him to use the material to relieve pain and he took Kalam to an orthopaedic hospital. There were 15-20-year-old polio students who were dragging a 3Kg caliper leg brace. So Professor Nizam suggested to Kalam that he should use the material to make leg braces for those kids. In a week Dr Kalam reduced the weight from 3 Kg to 300 g for 3 girls and 2 boys. As soon as they wore them, they could play, run, jump and even ride a bicycle. “To see this was the happiest moment of my life,” said Dr Kalam.

He went on to become President of India in 2002. In an extract from ’Turning Points: A Journey through Challenges’, he describes the events leading up to his becoming the 11th President of India and that call from the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee which changed his life from an academic to the President of India. Even though the presidency is mostly a symbolic role, Kalam took it very seriously and he will be always be remembered as the People’s President for his appeal to youngsters and his enormous popularity both at home and abroad.

This 15th October 2015 which marks President Kalam’s 84th birthday has been declared as World Students’ Day and I think this is a fitting tribute to a man who always wanted to be remembered as a teacher and sharer of knowledge. “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, calibre and future of an individual,” he said. “If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me.”

In many states across India his birthday will be celebrated as a no school-bag day. Students from Class III to VIII will be asked to read non-academic books in school, and schools have also been instructed to host book exhibitions, implement gift-a-book programmes, introduce students to well-known authors from around the world, and hold discussions on books.

From the son of a boatman to being the inspiration of youth, Dr Kalam dared to dream and that is the message I think we all should retain from this Mahatma.


  • Published in print edition on 16 October 2015

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