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My humble tribute to Dr. Kalam

Dr. Kalam had ignited every Indian’s mind over the last 12 years when he became more visible as a President than he was in his earlier years. His vision that India had to be militarily strong to earn respect from other nations, even without any expansionist objectives, was indeed a sound one. Realising that this could not be achieved without indigenous R&D and hard work, he went about the task wherever he got an opportunity. This blog is therefore dedicated to his memory.

My memory goes back to 1961 when I first heard of Mr. Kalam (not a ‘Dr’ then). As kids, my brother and I used to make wooden scale models of ships and aircraft. It was in 1961 that an Engineering Industrial Exhibition was held at LRDE, then located in the heart of Bangalore. Being an open and free society without any threats of terror or security, the exhibition allowed many individuals also to display their engineering talents. My brother, still a student, displayed his beautiful ship models in one of the halls. Across the road, there was a huge roar of an engine every now and then from the campus of the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). My brother found out that a guy was experimenting on a hovercraft built in ADE. This person was none other than Abdul Kalam. Hovercrafts were a hot topic of technical discussions for the fact that they were amphibious, can travel over mildly rough terrain and can move much faster on water than ships. Kalam had obviously taken to indigenous R&D right then during his early career. That he stuck to this philosophy right through his illustrious career is a great achievement in itself. His strong belief in teamwork and leadership is widely acknowledged and acclaimed. However, the most striking part of his personality was his passion for whatever he delved into, ranging from teaching children to leading a team at DRDO or ISRO.

I saw him last at a conference on Skilling organised by ASSOCHAM in Delhi in May 2015. Still looking quite fit and agile, he spoke passionately about the need to skill India since we are moving towards being the largest population of youth in the age group of 18 to 45. He talked about human manpower being the most valuable resource that any country could and should harness for rapid economic development. At the end of his address, I could still see the passion of a teacher when he invited questions and went about it in a very organised and methodical manner by picking out people who had raised their hands. When one person in the audience went about making statements rather than ask a question, he told him without being curt, “You are making a speech. What’s your question?” There could never have been an end to a Q&A session with Kalam, but limitation of time did impose an end. So, he ended by saying, “Anybody can email me or post your questions. You will receive a reply within 24 hours. Please visit and post your questions. Ok?”, in his own inimitable style.

It is said that a good bond with children is established when you speak, play and interact with them at their level of behaviour. I am sure Dr. Kalam did this to perfection not only with children, but even with adults who readily accepted him as their guide, teacher and mentor. I would therefore prefer not to tag him as a ‘Missile Man’, but a simple, loveable, practical and ideal teacher, which is what he must have been to anyone he interacted with all his life.