Yes, he was India’s ‘missile-man’ but more than that he was ‘man of masses’Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, a boy from an island off Tamil Nadu, not far from where three oceans of Indian peninsula merge, later became Dr. A.P.J Kalam, a visionary scientist, the President of India but more popularly known as -the ‘President of People,’ before he left us for ever.
A vast spring of powerful dreams, a radiating stream of adventures to steer those dreams into reality and an ocean of unprecedented energy to accomplish the formidable tasks, these three reservoirs merged in one personality, who wanted to be remembered first as teacher, second as a teacher and last as teacher.
Yes, he drafted India’s flagship nuclear programme but more than that he crafted the India’s nucleus of vision for the future. Yes, he master minded India’s first satellite launch vehicle, but more than that he hurled India’s first ever energy-vehicle of youth to leap into aspirational space of sustainable development. Yes, he was India’s ‘missile-man’ but more than that he was ‘man of masses’ who reminded us all the time that dream is not what you get when you sleep but it is that which does not let you sleep.
Whenever I met him, it was like listening in the IIT-classroom for me. Whether it was in his office of Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Estate) or in the Hotel in Strasberg where he came to address European Union or Circuit house (Government Guest House) in Pune, I was always in front of the towering teacher who gave human face to everything that he preached and doggedly practiced.
Dr. Kalam did not really enjoy the title as ‘Missile-Man’ of India given to him by the media. He has, in one of the interviews said, “ I am innocent to the whole affair! I did not call myself these names! When a nation is surrounded by weaponized nations, she has to equip herself. To make the nation peaceful and prosperous, we need minimum security. That’s what we have done”. For Dr. Kalam, India came first and above everything. His obituary of Nelson Mandela that he wrote in December 2013 is one of the most touching piece of literature that demonstrates the mild, modest and moderate mind of so-called ‘missile-man’.
He, in his life, always wanted to be teacher. He left us while doing exactly that. He died while counseling the students. It was a life-long message for me, ‘ pursue with determination what you believe and like the most, till the last moment, last breathe and last beat’.
His advice to me when I met him last was, “ Like low cost and environment friendly Solar Vaccine cooler that you helped develop for the poor and remote people of India, we also need low cost small solar cold storages without batteries to keep vegetables and fruits fresh so that India’s poor and remote farmers get benefits.” His dreams will not permit me a contented sleep. END
-By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE, IIT Alumnus, former Director UNEP