The Voyage of Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam from his house on Thittakudi's Pallivasa! Street in Rameswaram to the palacious Rashtrapati Bhawan in lutycn's Delhi is full of odds and honours. This humble son of a boatman and a newspaper hawker himself in his childhood who would go through the news himself before selling the papers hardly knew that a day would come when people would purchase the papers to know his own achievements as a great scientist and as the 11th President of India—Abdul Kalam.
The biblical reference that the meek will inherit the earth comes true about this simple humble man who was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and Bharat Ratna in 1997 as a token of nation's appreciation. His simplicity has always been retained. As principal scientific adviser to the Prime Minister, a cabinet rank post he did not move to a bungalow for him—instead he retained the two rooms in a Defence Ministry guest house that had been his home since he headed the DRDO from 1992 to 1999.
No one could be a better President for this comparatively poor nation, whose sister had to pawn her jewellery to send him to Chennai for a diploma in engineering from Madras Institute of Technology. The man has changed the very face of the country with his researches in space, building India’s first satellite launcher the SLV 3.
In 1980s he also made the country a missile power by developing the Agni and Prithvi. In 1998's Pokharan blast he gave India weaponising nuclear capability. He believes that India lost its greatness in the past as it became technologically inferior. He firmly believes that such arms deter other nations from attacking or subjugating India and are, therefore, "weapons of peace".
When some say that his choice was due to his religion it must irk Kalam. Religion to him has always been an intensely individual quest. He refers to the Bhagvad Gita as often as he does to the Koran. It was the Gita that be quoted when he met reporters in Chennai after his nomination was announced. He would always visit the temple of Lord Ramanathaswamy whenever he is in Rameswaram.
Born on October 15, 1931 Abdul Kalam celebrated his 71st birth day after becoming the first citizen of India. He displays remarkable energy, working late into the night and waking up early to go for a two hour walk. It is his spartan habits—he is a vegetarian, teetotaler and has never smoked— that allow him to be constantly alert. Abdul Kalam is a bachelor. He is permanently wed to Science and technology that may feel a bit widowed after the groom as President takes the hectic responsibility to host someone or the other every day.
Of course the hardest hit by this bachelor would be the ladies of the officers whose abode is President's House who would not be given parties as they were in the past by the first lady of the country. After the result was finally declared Abdul Kalam said, 'Let me understand the political system. Till a few days back I was just a professor at Anna University teaching final year students.' On being asked who will be the official hostess he rather quipped, "I am a brahmachari” Before being nominated for the President's post Abdul Kalam had shocked almost every-one with his decision to quit as principal scientific adviser to the government. He was rather preparing to go back to Anna University when he had to repack his humble belongings to enter the Rashtrapati Bhavan. On being asked his reaction he said, "My story is a story of a scientist tested by failures and set backs: the story of a leader supported by a large team of dedicated professionals".
In his autobiography “Wings of Fire” he describes himself as "a short boy with rather undistinguished looks, boom to tall and handsome parents. I ate with my mother. She would feed me on the floor of the kitchen, place a banana leaf before me on which she ladled rice and aromatic sambhar, home-made pickles and a dollop of fresh coconut chutney." His beginnings were more than humble. He writes, "My father was a boat-owner in Rameswaram. I even sold newspapers in my childhood." But in his race to success he hasn't left anything to fate. He says, "When one has orbited around the sun 70 times (he had crossed the age of 70) change becomes a necessity. This change must bring with it new thoughts which lead to innovative actions. I know my imagination will never let me down. Neither will my dreams. Technology can change the future of man. I have seen it happen in my lifetime."
Abdul Kalam is the seventh and youngest child of A. P. Ambalam Jainulabdin Mohammed and Azija Ammal. His eldest brother and head of the family A. P. J. Muthu Meeran Labha Marakkar said, "It's an honour to Rameswaram. My prayers to Ramanathaswamy (the deity of Rameswaram temple) did not go in vain."Naseema Begam, Meeran's youngestdaughter said, the family would offer special prayers at the mosque and Rameswaram temple." "We are making Sakkarapongal, which will be distributed to all the people here. Also, an abhishekam will be done for the deity of Rameswaram temple. The temple is an integral part of our life" she said. Besides thirty members of Abdul Kalam's family, Rameswaram temple's priest Venkatasubramania Shastri, Kalam's childhood friend also attended the swearing in ceremony of Kalam as President of India.
In his ten minute speech after being sworn as the President on July 24, 2002, he like Narayanan, quoted from Thiruvalluvar's Thurukural composed 2000 years ago to emphasis that the important elements that constitute a nation are being disease free, wealth, high productivity, harmonious living and strong defence." Kalam emphasized that national security was "a national priority.
Indeed making India strong and self reliant— economically, socially and militarily—is our foremost duty to our motherland and to ourselves and to our future generations." He also put emphasis on empowerment as had Lord Krishna done in the Gita. He said when the leader of an institution empowered others "leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas." He further said, "A roadmap for realizing this vision of a developed India is in front of us............... If we work and sweat for the great vision with ignited minds, the transformation leading to the birth of a vibrant developed India will happen." He rather said that the task was immediate. Quoting Kabir's lKaal kare so aaj kar, aaj kare so aab.' (What you want to do tomorrow, do it today, and what you want to do today, do it now), he said there was need for focused action on the part of the one billion citizens to 'ignite their minds to face challenges like cross border terrorism, internal conflicts and unemployment."
His hobbies are calming. He plays on rudra veena and writes poems in Tamil and then translates them in English. In association with Arun Tiwari Abdul Kalam has written his autobiography' ‘Wings of Fire'. In 'Ignited Mind' the President writes, "As a young citizen of India armed with technology and love for my nation I realize, small aim is a crime. I will keep the lamp of knowledge burning to achieve the vision—Developed India."
As President Abdul Kalain kept his humble posture intact for days together he stayed in the Dwarka Suite where many former Presidents stayed for many months waiting for the family wing to be refurbished according the their taste. "None of this for Kalam who has moved in all alone. He even keys in stuff by himself'. Except for a whitewash he did not want any change in his Presidential suite in which he moved after two weeks. Sometimes he would not use even the lift and takes the stairs instead. He showed no awkwardness, no fuss, no demands except for some books." At 6.30 a.m. the President sets off for a morning walk in the Rashtrapati Campus. People line up his route. He would oblige the children with a warm handshake. As he shuns publicity he won't go for the same route the next day. Back at 7.30 he scans the day's papers especially Tamil. After bath and a simple breakfast the brahmachari President is in his office by 10. Taking a lunch break at 2.30 he is back to work by 4.30 and never leaves office before 7.30. "In his suite, lights are on till quite late. No one knows when he calls it a day", said an officer of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Humility is the strength of the 11th President of India—never seen when other 10 reside in the palacios palace of the Rashtrapati.
“Sight is about what lies right in front of us. Vision is what lies ahead” goes the old adage. India is an old civilization and an extremely complex society. Her glorious past, natural beauty, resources, vast size and above all her unique geographical location has always given her the pride of place in the world. With the ups and downs of history it has retained its vibrancy. Yet, due to callousness and lethargy on our part and due to the negative slant of the media here, we as a nation have not been able to attain the status of a developed nation thus far.
|The People's President|
In this famous speech delivered in IIT Hyderabad on 25 May 2011, Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam outlines his three visions for his motherland India and pleads for Indians to be involved in the nation-building process and to make India a developed nation.
Dr.Kalam’s First Vision: Freedom
In 3000 years of our history, people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands and conquered our minds. Yet, we have not conquered anyone. Because, we respect the freedom of others, and that is the reason for his first vision of Freedom. India got its first vision of this in the Indian Rebellion in the year 1857, when we started the war of Independence. It is this freedom that we must protect and nurture and build on.
His Second Vision: Development
We have been a developing nation for fifty years, and so it is time we see ourselves as a developed nation. In terms of GDP, we are among the top five nations of the world. Our poverty levels are falling. Our achievements are being globally recognised today. Yet we lack the self-confidence to see ourselves as a developed nation.His Third Vision: India must stand up to the World
India must stand up to the world. Unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. Only strength respects strength. We must be strong not only as a military power but also as an economic power. Both must go hand-in-hand.
Four Milestones in Dr.Kalam’s Career:
Dr.Kalam says that being the project director for India’s first satellite launch vehicle, SLV3, was the first milestone in his career. Second was when Agni met its mission requirements in 1994. Third came the partnership between DRDO and the Dept of Atomic Energy. Removing the pain of little boys and girls in hospital, by replacing heavy metallic callipers weighing over three kg each with 300-gram callipers, was the fourth bliss or milestone of his career.
The Media’s Obsession with Bad News, Failures and Disasters:
Dr.Kalam wonders how the media in India could be so negative. Giving the example of Dr.Sudarshan, who has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self-driving unit, Dr.Kalam says that there are millions of such achievements in India but our media is only obsessed with only the bad news and failures and disasters.
In Tel Aviv, where gory killings, deaths and bombardments take place every now and then, the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert land into an orchid and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to.
The Nation’s Obsession with Foreign Things:
Dr.Kalam is surprised at the people’s obsession with foreign things. We want foreign TVs, foreign shirts, foreign technology. There is an obsession for everything that is imported. According to Dr.Kalam, self respect comes only with self-reliance.
Conformity in Foreign Countries but Detached in Motherland:
In India, we the people blame the government for being inefficient, the laws for being too old, the municipality for not picking up the garbage etc. But what do we do about it? In Singapore, you don’t throw cigarette butts on the roads. You wouldn’t dare to speed beyond 55mph in Washington and tell the traffic cop about your heavy political connections. You wouldn’t spit paan on the streets of Tokyo. When the same Indian can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries, he cannot do that in his own. You will throw papers and cigarettes on the road the moment you touch Indian ground. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India?
The Easy way Out: Blame it on the System:
We sit back wanting the government to do everything for us, while our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place, nor are we going to stop to pick up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin. We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms. When it comes to social issues like women, dowry, girl child etc., we make loud drawing room protestations and do the reverse at home.
And for all these negatives on our part, we blame it on the system. The whole system has to change, we seem to justify. For us, the system consists of everyone else except me and YOU. When it comes to making a positive contribution to the system we lock ourselves along with our families into a safe cocoon and wait for a Mr.Clean to come along and work miracles for us, or we leave the country and run away.
Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England. When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government. Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system, because our conscience is mortgaged to money.
Dr.Kalam winds up with the words of J.F.Kennedy to his fellow Americans, and relates it to Indians: “Ask what we can do for India and do what has to be done to make India what America and other Western countries are today.”