World Student Day: Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam, the Missile Man who inspires us to reach for the stars
Updated: Oct 16
By Abhilasha Iyer
“Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual. If the people remember me as a good teacher, that will be the biggest honour for me.”
-Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam
Worried by the Gurdaspur attacks in Punjab in 2015, Dr.Kalam shared his concerns with his aide, Srijan Pal Singh, as they drove down to IIM Shillong, where he was the visiting professor.
“It seems the man-made forces are as big a threat to the livability of earth as pollution. ...Thirty years, at this rate, maybe”, he said. “You guys must do something about it… it is going to be your future world” as shared in a heartfelt tribute by Srijan Pal Singh .
The topic for the lecture was “Creating a Livable Planet Earth”.
It was in this lecture, on 27th July 2015, that Dr.Kalam breathed his last at 83, doing what he loved doing, teaching.
Such was the nobility of the 11th President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Despite donning multiple hats as an aeronautical scientist, President, writer, the one that he held closest to his heart was that of a teacher. In fact, he resumed his role as a teacher the next day after resigning from the post of the President of India.
While most of the world remembers him as the Missile Man of India, students look up to him as a teacher they wish they had and educators as the teacher they aspire to become. With his classic style of simple living high thinking, he won the hearts of his beloved students inspiring them to make his Vision for India 2020 come true. In fact one of our QShala students has also penned a passionate letter to the President himself.
As an honour to him, in 2010, the United Nations declared Dr.Kalam’s birth anniversary, October 15th, as World Student Day. The internet is flooded with his pearls of wisdom. In a deeper sense, the events of his life do greatest justice to his wise sayings. On World Student Day, we fondly remember the teachable moments from the life of the People’s President
Born to a boatman family in Rameshwaram Tamil Nadu on October 15th 1931, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam used to sell newspapers to supplement his family income. He showed a keen desire to learn with an avid interest in mathematics. When he was in grade 5, his science teacher, Siva Subrahmania Iyer, was teaching the class about birds. With the chalk he drew the bird explaining it with such detail and clarity, that it seeded an aim in his mind, to aspire to choose a profession with flight. This explanation led him to choose Physics which further led him to pursue a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology.
In 1958, he joined the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and later moved to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). As the project director of the SLV-III, he lead the launch of Rohini, India’s first indigenously designed and produced satellite launch vehicle in 1979.
Under his leadership, the project of IGMDP produced missiles like the first Prithvi missile in 1988 and then the Agni missile in 1989. Due to his contribution, he was known as "Missile Man of India."
Dr Kalam set in the cockpit of Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter plane before prior take-off
In 1992, he became the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and in 1999 he was appointed as the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.
The trajectory, that he persevered for with all his head and heart, right from his childhood till the highest rank in the country only proves that sky is the limit.
He embraced his failures as much as he owned his successes. When he openly declared the huge failure of 1979 SLV-3, the acceptance of his failure that broke the hearts of many Indians, ever so gracefully on national television is a testament of his humility.
As the mission director of 1979 SLV-3, he was set to launch the satellite at Sriharikota. As the countdown ticked to T-40 seconds, the computer put the launch on hold. As a decision maker of a mission which had 10 years' worth of work behind it, he ignored the signs of the computer and hit the launch button. Instead of being launched into the orbit, the satellite spun over the Bay of Bengal. The ISRO chairman Satish Dhawan, entirely took the blame for the failure in the press conference, while expressing solidarity with his technologists.
Ironically, the next year July 18, 1980 was when Rohini was successfully launched and this time Dhawan called upon Dr.Kalam to address the press conference.
This experience was a humbling moment in successes and failure for Dr.Kalam, which he only further embraced, but never let it get to his heart.
He embodies his wise words with actions. He was invited as a Guest of Honour at an interstate tech and science college fest. As a rule, all participants had to display self-explanatory working models only. A particular team converted an ordinary cheap toy bus to clap controlled by very cheap investment, which sadly failed on D-day and was thus removed. He observed and appreciated all projects, encouraging the students and even suggesting better ideas. Having surveyed the hall for 2.5 hours, he paused at the vacant spot where the failed project was removed from display. When he questioned why, the senior professor sheepishly apologised.
Instead Dr.Kalam called upon the team to demonstrate their failed model, and problem solved with the team probing them with questions on the breakdown. A silver foil and solder iron were the final solution and after 30minutes of fixing it, the model worked. Before he left, he appreciated the students for their efforts.
Dr. Kalam led a life which is a beacon of hope inspiring even child films like I Am Kalam and even set to reach a wider audience through his biopic which is said to release in the end of 2020.
At the launch of his book Transcendence, a schoolgirl approached Dr.Kalam and asked
“Sir, how can I be the best scientist in the world?’
He smiled questioned, “What did you just say?”
“I just asked.” she shrugged
“You’re a scientist then. Keep asking and find answers to all the questions and you'll be successful in achieving your dream of becoming the best scientist.”
Taking a leaf from his life we asked our students, “If you had the chance to learn anything, what would it be and why?”
Here’s what our young minds have to say