Man with a mission and vision
S Madhusudhana Rao
In post-Independent India, very few leaders have left their mark and made an unerasable impression on our minds. APJ Abdul Kalam who passed away on July 27 at the age of 83 was one among these leaders. Words would fail if we start eulogizing the multi-faceted personality. He was a scientist, teacher, author, visionary and a leader with a vision. He excelled himself in every field: As a scientist, he earned himself the sobriquet “The Missile Man” and could be rightly called the father of India’s ambitious multi-purpose missile programme.
At the same time, Kalam had pushed equally audacious plans for satellites and their launch vehicles deeper into space. We owe him a lot for the global recognition we have earned through our cost-effective space launches. While he built India’s ambitious space plan on the foundation laid by Vikram Sarabhai and Satish Dhawan, the integrated missile development programme to arm all the three wings of our defence forces with short, medium and long-range missiles was Kalam’s brainchild.
If he was the architect of our space and missile programmes, Kalam also had been a moving spirit behind research and development of various defence and civilian projects in ISRO and DRDO. The two areas in which Kalam had worked assiduously for decades were space and rocket sciences and to say these fields got benefited tremendously was a mere acknowledgement of his service to the nation and its premier defence establishments.
Kalam’s leadership, his persuasive skills, moral courage to accept defeat during failures and above all selfless service that was apolitical in nature had made him a cut above others. Kalam was not just a scientist par excellence. Science and technology and its applications had always thrilled and inspired him so much that until his last breath in Shillong he had been firing the imagination of young minds day after day.
Dream …dream…and dream and make it come true was his mantra for the youth of the country. He followed it in letter and spirit and rose in stature from his humble beginning and family background. Kalam’s life itself was an inspiration worthy of following by the young generations. His autobiography (2013) Transforming Dreams into Actions would remain a living testimony to Kalam’s Spartan life and his dreams. Equally inspiring are his other books that give us an insight into the man who had spent his lifetime dreaming, working and inspiring the young minds with probing questions, thoughtful answers and making them commit to strive for India and make it economically, intellectually and militarily strong.
India 2020, published in 1998; Wings of Fire (1999); Ignited Minds (2002); Guiding Souls: Dialogues on the Purpose of Life (2005), and his innumerable speeches given at various institutions around the world reflect Kalam’s deep knowledge and understanding of modern sciences, technologies, philosophies and the path ahead of us.
Even after completing his five-year term as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007, Kalam had never rested. He had been more active, visiting schools, colleges and institutions of higher learning, interacting, inspiring and firing their imagination. The hits his website used to get, mostly from children, were proof of Kalam’s popularity and his instant and infectious connectivity with the children of any age, giving us the impression that he was a born teacher.
True to his inherent talent, Kalam had always addressed his audience, be an international gathering of scientists or political leaders like small children in an elementary school, explaining them his views, ideas and concepts in simple language. He would make it sure that everybody understood what he had said by putting counter questions.
Even when he was holding the highest office in the country, he had never lost sight of the young. Kalam’s interactions with school children at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi were legendary, despite his official duties. His enthusiasm to meet children and exchange banter with them reflected how young he had been in mind and heart. And, he had never given up that passion even during his overseas trips.
A case in point was his official visit to the UAE in October 2003 as President of India. I was one among the audience of officials and editors of newspapers invited for a meet with Kalam, along with dozens of school children and principals of various schools in Abu Dhabi. After his light-hearted speech, his interaction with children continued for long in a question-answer form. He encouraged them to write to him and promised to reply. Indeed, a student who emailed a question received an answer, to her delight and amazement!
Abdul Kalam was truly a people’s President and he deserved –and eminently suited – for the country’s highest civil honour Bharat Ratna conferred on him in 1997. India has had the distinction of having some eminent persons drawn from various fields as Presidents. Though widely considered as a ceremonial post, some of them had given it a new meaning and redefined the position. If Sarvepally Radhakrishnan (1962-67 ) proved to be a philosopher-President, Dr Abdul Kalam would be remembered as scientist-President with a burning zeal to see India as a great powerhouse of knowledge, economically and militarily strong and one of the most advanced countries in the world. It was his dream set to be achieved by 2020.
The greatest tribute we, the people of India, can pay him is to remember his ideals, sometimes dubbed Utopian, and work towards realizing his dreams and strive to fulfill his aspirations.