-Jay Singh Rawat
A boat maker’s son, who used to distribute newspapers as a young boy to support the family, rose to become the First Citizen of India through sheer hard work, perseverance and self-belief. Born on October 15, 1931, at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Dr. Kalam served as the president between July 25, 2002, and July 25, 2007.
He overcame several odds and challenges to pursue his goals and dreams. After completing aeronautical engineering and initially working with DRDO, he joined ISRO and was the project director for India’s first indigenously-built Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), which hurtled India into the space club by putting Rohini satellite into near-earth orbit on July 18, 1980.
Later, he moved back to DRDO and was the chief architect of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)—under which five missiles were developed- Prithvi, Agni, Trishul, Akash and Nag. Thus, Dr. Kalam played a pioneering role in making India’s defence and space systems self-reliant. After graduating from the Madras Institute of Technology with a degree in aeronautical engineering, Kalam joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1958. He joined the Indian Space Research Organisation in 1969 as project director of the SLV-III, the country’s first satellite launch vehicle. When he returned to the DRDO in 1982, he oversaw a programme that resulted in a number of successful missiles, earning him the moniker Missile Man.
Dare to dream and reach for the sky was his advice to school children and youngsters. Despite occupying the exalted position of the President of India, he always remained simple and humble and treated all those who had worked with him or became acquainted with him with affection and warmth, irrespective of their position or background. I too had met him on several occasions and every discussion with him was a learning experience for me.
His vision was to see a fully transformed India as a developed country by 2020 and he was convinced that the country could achieve that status because of the talent, sincerity and hard-working nature of the people. He often used to say that strength respects strength and wanted India to emerge as a leading economic power. In fact, the book written by him along with Y S Rajan titled ‘2020—A Vision for the New Millennium’ chartered the course for the country to become a developed country. Dr. Kalam’s remarkable journey from Rameswaram to Rashtrapathi Bhavan in itself is an inspiration to every Indian.
Following his retirement from the post of President Kalam remained committed to utilising science and technology to help India become a developed country, lecturing at a number of universities. He fell while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong on July 27, 2015, and was pronounced dead shortly after from cardiac arrest. Kalam wrote several books, including Wings of Fire, an autobiography (1999). Two of the country’s highest honours, the Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the Bharat Ratna (2001), were among his many accolades (1997).