Some leaders are born, some are made but all differ from one another in terms of the circumstances that they have faced. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam is such an example. This son of the earth who had very humble beginnings, turned out to be the President of the country and contributed to aeronautical and defence research tremendously.
The ascetic looks of this man should not fool one as in the trademark looks of long grey hair hides a personality which is most close to the leader that we want to see these days. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam belongs to a rare breed who see lofty dreams and then transform them into reality.
Playing a key role in the nuclear tests at Pokharan, Rajasthan, his favourite quotation which he lives by is
“We must think and act like a nation of a billion people and not like that of a million people. Dream, dream, dream ! Conduct these dreams into thoughts, and then transform them into action”.
Dr. Kalam is a true Indian. He has never left his roots despite of his astounding success as a scientist. He is still the figure of humanity and humility that many of us can look upon to. Having immense success as defense scientist, he was crowned the highest civilian award, THE BHARAT RATNA , retaining his common touch.
He had moved India to the Missile Power club as the scientific and technology advisor to the PM. He later resigned to take up his more ambitious project of teaching and imparting scientific temper in minds of inquisitive and knowledge thirsty Indian students. He wandered into unknown while he could have lived very comfortably acting as PM’s advisor, but he chose the path of social responsibility.
His research and development of India’s super missiles like AGNI, PRITHVI and AKASH has put China and Pakistan well under India’s missile range, enhancing India’s defense mechanism and self reliance.
Dr. Kalam’s life and mission is a true example of what a determined person can achieve against extraordinary odds. A strong advocate of the philosophy of self reliance in technology, he distributed newspapers at a young age to help with household expenses.
A vegetarian and a teetotaler, Dr. Kalam can recite Quran and Bhagwad Geeta with equal ease. His modesty is reflected when all the credit goes to his colleagues upon successful completion of his projects.
Dr. Kalam ,a confirmed bachelor, is a true visionary and dreamer. He dreamt of a strong India and his dream is not far. Another dream of creating a reusable missile which no other country has been able to make doesn’t seem too ambitious when Dr. Kalam is at work. Such is his flair and knowledge and confidence in his team.
Dr. Kalam was fascinated by seagulls as a child and this interest led to his degree in Aeronautical Engineering for Madras Institute of Technology, Chennai. In his free time, he likes to immerse himself in his poetry and learnt to play Veena when he was younger.
Kalam has inherited his honesty and self discipline from his father and the faith in goodness and kindness has been inculcated in him by his mother.
A classic case of the magic of democracy where a person from a humble background can become the first citizen of the country, Kalam has received honorary doctorates from at least 30 universities world over. He was nominated for the MTV Youth Awards 2006 because of his youth inspiring traits and personality competing with majority of businessmen, movie stars and sportsmen.
Dr. Kalam leads by the guiding principles he has incorporated himself. Some of these great philosophies in his words are:
You have to dream before your dreams can come true.
God, our Creator, has stored within our minds and personalities, great potential strength and ability. Prayer helps us tap and develop these powers.
Thinking should become your capital asset, no matter whatever ups and downs you come across in your life
Simple yet inspiring has always been the thought process of this great academician, scholar and humble human being. Inspiring India through his poems, stories and his life instances, Kalam is one example in the Indian politics who has contributed so much in the field of science that he will be looked upon as the ultimate icon for the many generations to come.
From Humble Beginnings to Presidency:
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 at Dhanushkodi, Rameswaram Ditrict of Tamil Nadu.
He was neither educated abroad, nor was his family financially so strong to support his academics pursuits. His father rented boats to pay for Kalam’s school fees. His mother had not gained much formal education however his father was a master of great innate wisdom, generosity of spirit and was a spiritual person.
He received education in a missionary institute at Ramanathapuram and graduated in sciences from St Joseph college at Tiruchirrapalli. Kalam, then went to Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) to study Aeronautical Engineering.
Being the first graduate of his family, he distributed newspapers at a young age to help meet the family expenditure, but being the youngest got him his fair share of pampering from elders. Kalam loved to read and Library was the foundation on which Kalam built his career.
Working with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd as a trainee in third year of graduation, he started working on piston and turbine engines. When he graduated in 1958 as an Aeronautical Engineer, his dream was to fly and it was an alternative of the two jobs he got interview letters for. One was the job at Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD & P) of the Ministry of Defence and another was a career in the Indian Air Force. He applied at both the places, and the interview calls came simultaneously from both.
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He went to Delhi for an interview with DTD & P, where his subject knowledge was not challenged. The second interview was at Dehradun for the Air Force Selection Board. Here also, the interview was more on personality test. He stood 9th in the batch of 25, of which eight officers were selected Force. He had missed his chance and opportunity slipped from his hands.
Disappointed, he visited Rishikesh and bathed in Ganga and met Swami Sivananda to whom he explained his situation. Swami ji did not react to his Muslim identity and went on to guide him by saying this was the destiny and he should go ahead in his life and surrender to the wishes of God. After his return to Delhi, Kalam accepted the job at DTD & P as a senior scientific assistant. He lost his resentment of failure, thinking he would be able to make aeroplanes airworthy if not fly them. Working on many projects on various posts, Dr. Abdul Kalam had contributed so much to the field of Aeronautics that he was sent to NASA for research as the first Indian scientist to spend four months in the United States at the Wallops Island Rocketry Centre and the Langley Research Centre.
Upon his return, he served ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) in various capacities. He was the project director that launched ROHINI, the first Indian scientific satellite into orbit in July 1980. He was honoured with Padma Bhushan in 1981. In 1982, he worked on the Integrated Guided Missile project which is by far the most successful military research task till date. The 5 projects were scheduled to be completed in a time frame of only 10 years and consisted of:
Nag – an anti-tank guided missile
Prithvi – a surface-to-surface battlefield missile
Akash – a swift, medium-range surface-to-air missile.
Trishul – a quick-reaction surface-to-air missile with a shorter range.
Agni – an intermediate range ballistic missile, the mightiest of them all
All projects were completed on time and led to self reliance in defense preparedness. When asked why India needs a strong defense mechanism, Kalam responded “Strength respects Strength”.
Kalam established Research Cell Imarat (RCI), a campus 8 kms from DRDL in 1988 and received generous govt. funding for building the futuristic center. Due to Kalam’s efforts, the project was an Oasis in a rocky wasteland. Kalam was awarded Padma Vibhushan for the same in 1990.
On 25th November 1997, Dr Kalam was awarded India’s highest civilian honour- the “Bharat Ratna” in appreciation of his contributions to Indian defence and science. In October 1998, he was honoured with the prestigious Indira Gandhi award for national integration
Not only a pioneer in aeronautics, Kalam heads a vast network of laboratories whose products include water desalination kits for Thar, avalanche controlling structures in Kashmir, Sonar submarine finder for warships and infrared night vision goggles for Indian Army. All these projects are well funded by the Govt. as they were in the hands of the one of the most trusted scientist of India.
On December 8, 2000, the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Shri K.C. Pant conferred the “Life-time Contribution Award in Engineering 2000” on Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the annual function of the Indian National Academy of Engineering in New Delhi. Kalam said on the occasion that Engineering and technology should be used for the upliftment of the people living below the poverty line.
On July 25, 2002, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was sworn in as the 11th President of India by Chief Justice of India B.N. Kirpal. Kalam took the oath in the name of God as 21 gun salute boomed in the background.
Not only has he worked towards making India a self reliant nation in terms of defense, he also keeps a vision for INDIA 2020 as :
A Nation where the rural and urban divide has reduced to a thin line.
A Nation where there is an equitable distribution and adequate access to energy and quality water.
A Nation where agriculture, industry and service sector work together in symphony.
A Nation where education with value system is not denied to any meritorious candidates because of societal or economic discrimination.
A Nation which is the best destination for the most talented scholars, scientists, and investors.
A Nation where the best of health care is available to all.
A Nation where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption free.
A Nation where poverty has been totally eradicated, illiteracy removed and crimes against women and children are absent and none in the society feels alienated.
A Nation that is prosperous, healthy, secure, peaceful and happy and continues with a sustainable growth path.
A Nation that is one of the best places to live in and is proud of its leadership.
Dr. Kalam: The Human
At TERLS, a group of 70 scientists were working on a very hectic project. All were under tremendous pressure and were frustrated, however being loyal to their boss did not complain.
One day, one scientist came to the boss and said that he promised his children that he would take them to an exhibition in their township and wanted to leave office at 5:30 Pm. The boss said OK and the scientist went back to work. He got involved to such an extent that he lost track of time and worked till 8:30 before realizing what time it was. He looked for his boss, who was not there and closed everything after realizing his promise to his children and rushed home anticipating a furious wife and disappointed children.
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Upon reaching home, he found that his children were not there and wife alone was sitting in the hall reading magazines. When his wife asked him weather she should serve dinner he asked her where were the kids? His wife replied ” Your manager came at 5:15 and took the children to exhibition”. What happened was that the boss had given him permission, and when at around 5 pm saw him working seriously, thought to himself that this person will not leave work, but his promise to the children should be kept and they must enjoy the exhibition. So he took lead and took the children to the 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.
The boss was none other than Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam .
Another Life incident, when Dr. Kalam was asked as to how a leader should handle failure:
Dr. Kalam narated a true life incident that occurred to him, in 1973.He was the project director of India’s satellite launch vehicle program, commonly called the SLV-3. The space mission clearly mentioned that by 1980, Rohini satellite had to be launched in space and he was allocated all the resources from the government including skilled scientist to help him in the project.
Thousands of people worked together in scientific and technical teams towards that goal. They thought that the project was ready in August, 1979. Dr. Kalam went to the control center for the launch. At four minutes to launch, the computer began to go through the checklist. One minute later, the computer program put the launch on hold and the display reflected that some control components were not in order.
The experts told him not to worry; they had done their calculations and there was enough reserve fuel. So he bypassed the computer, switched to manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In the second stage, a problem developed and instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal. It was a big failure.
The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Prof. Satish Dhawan,called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am, and the press conference was at 7:45 am at ISRO’s satellite launch range in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. Prof. Dhawan, the leader of the organization, conducted the press conference himself. He took responsibility for the failure saying that the team had worked very hard, but that it needed more technological support. He assured the media that in another year, the team would definitely succeed.
Dr. Kalam was the project director, and the failure was his responsibility as per himself, but instead, Prof. Dhawan took responsibility for the failure as chairman of the organization. The next year, in July 1980, they tried again to launch the satellite and succeeded. The whole nation was jubilant.
Again, there was a press conference. Prof. Dhawan called Dr. Kalam aside and said to him “You conduct the press conference today.” Kalam learned a very important lesson that dayâ€¦
When failure occurred, the leader of the organization owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team.
The best management and leadership lessons that Dr. Kalam learned was not through textbooks, but from people around him.
Some lessons in the life of Dr. Kalam.
In 1936; Kalam’s education initiated at the age of 5 years in Rameswaram Panchayat elementary school. He had a Teacher Muthu Iyer who took special interest in him as he performed very well in a class exercise. He was impressed and next day he came his house to tell his father that Abdul was a very good student. His parents were happy and he also got his favourite sweet from his mother. When he was in first class, one day he did not turn up at school. Teacher Muthu Iyer noticed his absence and same evening he went to Kalam’s father to ask what the problem was and whether he can do anything to help. On that day, Kalam was having fever. Another important thing, which he noticed was Kalam’s hand writing, was very poor. He gave a three page writing exercise ensured that Kalam did the exercise everyday regularly. By these actions of his teacher Muthu Iyer, Kalam’s father believed that Muthu Iyer was not only a good teacher but also a great influence who shaped kalam with good habits.
Kalam was studying in 5th class at the age of 10 when he was given a vision for his life. He had a teacher, Shri Siva Subramania Iyer. He was a very good teacher. One day he was teaching about bird’s flight. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard depicting the wings, tail and the body structure with the head. He explained how the birds create the lift and fly. He also explained how they change direction while flying. Nearly 25 minutes he gave the lecture with various information such as lift, drag and how the birds fly in a formation of 10, 20 or 30 etc. At the end of the class, he wanted to know whether the students understood how the birds fly, to which Kalam replied he didn’t understand. When he said this, he asked the other students whether they understood or not. Many students said that they did not understand. Hence, the teacher took the students to the beach that evening and asked them to observe how the bird flapped their wings, twisted their tales to give directions to the flight and used their will, motivation and own life to act as the engine of their flight. The theory coupled with practical example gave Kalam the goal and mission in life. He worked towards joining aeronautical engineering in MIT, Chennai
Greatly inspired by Aryabhata, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya’s work as Indians who had made significant contributions to astronomy and mathematics, Kalam had found his areas of interest and motivational figures. Working under Prof. Srinivasan, the then Director of MIT, Kalam was given a project in third year of his course, he was assigned a project to design a low-level attack aircraft together with six other colleagues. He was given the responsibility of system design and system integration by integrating the team members. Also, he was responsible for aerodynamic and structural design of the project. The other five of the team took up the design of propulsion, control, guidance, avionics and instrumentation of the aircraft. He reviewed the project and declared Kalam’s work to be gloomy and disappointing. He didn’t lend an ear to Kalam’s difficulties in bringing together data base from multiple designers. Kalam asked for a month’s time and Dr. Srinivasan gave only 3 days time. Also, a warning that if the task was not completed in time, Kalam’s scholarship would be revoked. Kalam had a jolt of life, as scholarship was the lifeline, without which he could not continue with his studies. So the team, skipping the dinner and working through the nights, started to work on making it right. On the second day, Kalam felt somebody in the lab watching him. It was Prof. Srinivasan studying his progress. After looking at hiswork, he patted and hugged him affectionately. He had words of appreciation: “I knew I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline. You have done great job in system design”
Through this review mechanism Prof Srinivasan, really injected the necessity of understanding the value of time by each team member and brought out the best from the system design team. Kalam realized that if something is at stake, the human minds get ignited and the working capacity gets enhanced manifold. That’s what exactly happened. This as per Kalam is one of the techniques of building talent. The message is that young in the organization, whatever be their specialization, be trained to systems approach and projects, which will prepare them for new products, innovation and undertaking higher organizational responsibilities. Teacher has to be a coach like Prof. Srinivasan.
Nobility and humbleness was inculcated in Kalam’s life as early as in his early days as a boy. His father got elected as the head of Panchayat board for Rameshwaram island having a population of about 30,000. Kalam was studying in their house and heard a knock on the door. Those days they had no locks on the doors, so the man entered the house. He asked for Kalam’s father who had along with his mother gone for evening Namaz. The man, said he has something for his father and asked Kalam to keep it there. Kalam agreed and allowed the man to keep the gift on the cot and went back to studies. When his father returned and saw the gifts, he was furious and beat young Kalam. Kalam failing to understand why he was beaten, seeked comfort in his mother’s arms. His father also consoled him later by putting his hand on his shoulder and said that NOBODY GIVES A GIFT WITHOUT ANY ANTICIPATION IN RETURN. Since he was in power, people were bound to try to persuade him to work in their favour. Kalam understood this at an early age and till now remembers the lesson that his father gave him at the early age. He often quotes the writings in Manu Smriti which states that “By accepting gifts the divine light in the person gets extinguished”.
Such is the humbleness of APJ Abdul Kalam.
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