No adjectives are enough to highlight the exemplary contribution of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to India’s space and defence programs. And no adjectives are enough to highlight the humility and the generosity of India’s Missile Man who has won every Indian’s heart. Fittingly known as the People’s President, these rare stories about Dr. Kalam will only deepen the respect you have for this legend. Read on.
#1. Once, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam rejected the suggestion to put broken glass on the wall of a building that needed protection. Why? Because broken glass would be harmful for birds!
This happened when Dr. Kalam was with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and his team was discussing options to secure the perimeter of a building that needed protection. Dr. Kalam reportedly said: “If we do that, birds will not be able to perch on the wall.”
#2. When youngsters & teenagers requested a meeting with President Kalam, the President not only obliged and gave the kids his precious time, but he also listened carefully to the ideas the kids had!
As President, often Dr. Kalam’s office would receive requests from youngsters for a meeting with the country’s first citizen. Not only would Dr. Kalam meet the kids in his personal chambers at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, but he would also give them his precious time, “listen” to their ideas and provide feedback to the kids. On occasions, the President would follow up with such kids asking about the status of the ideas they discussed!
#3. Soon after it was declared that Dr. Kalam would be the next President, he visited a modest school to deliver a speech. His security detail was minimal, and he didn’t mind taking control of the situation when the power went off.
Speaking to around 400 students, Dr. Kalam ensured the power cut didn’t cause any interruption. He walked right in the middle of the crowd and asked the students to surround him. He then spoke to 400 students with his bare voice and delivered, like always, an inspiring keynote.
#4. President Kalam has given up all his life savings and salaries to a trust he founded named PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas).
The government takes care of the President of India as well as of all the former presidents. Knowing this, Dr. Kalam during his tenure as President decided to give away all his wealth and life savings towards a fund that works towards providing urban amenities to rural population. Apparently, Dr. Kalam called up Dr. Verghese Kurien, the founder of Amul, and asked: “Now that I have become the President of India, the government is going to look after me till I am living; so what can I do with my savings and salary?”
#5. President Kalam is known to write his own thank you cards.
As humble and generous the man is, President Kalam is known to sign his own thank you cards. One instance is when Quora user Naman Narain drew a sketch of Dr. Kalam and sent it to the President. To his surprise, the President sent him a thank you card, with a short handwritten message and personalised with his signature.
#6. Supposed to attend a college event as the Chief Guest, APJ once surprised the students of the event’s organising committee by visiting them late in the night.
Once, Dr. Kalam was to be a Chief Guest at a college event. He wasn’t the President at the time, but held a significant office at the DRDO and was one of the key advisors to the government. Curious to see the kids prep up for a big event, Kalam decided to pay a visit to the venue. He came in a jeep, without any security, and talked to the students present at the venue. He said he wanted to meet the “real hardworking people”.
#7. Dr. Kalam is so humble he wouldn’t mind going to an event a little late for the sake of letting his fans take pictures with him!
Dr. Kalam was the Chief Guest at an event at IIM Ahmedabad recentlxy. Prior to the event, he was lunching with a class of around sixty students. At the end of the lunch, the students wanted each a photo with the former President.
Citing the delay, the event organiser tried to hush off the students; but to everyone’s surprise Dr. Kalam asked the organiser to calm down and said that he won’t leave the place until every person who wanted a picture with him got a picture!
#8. Once during an event, Dr. Kalam refused to sit on a chair that was designated for him – because the chair was larger in size than the other chairs!
At a recent convocation of IIT-Varanasi, Dr. Kalam was the Chief Guest. There were five chairs on the stage, the centre one being for Dr. Kalam, the other four designated for the top university officials. Noticing his chair being bigger in size than the others, Dr. Kalam refused to sit on it and offered the Vice Chancellor to sit in stead. The VC couldn’t, obviously.
No doubt, another chair was made available immediately for the Honourable former President!
#9. When a subordinate of President Kalam at DRDO couldn’t take his children to an exhibition due to work pressure, Kalam surprised his subordinate and took the children in stead!
During a significant project of the DRDO, the work pressure was high. A scientist approached his boss – Dr. Kalam – and asked to leave early that day considering he had promised his children to take them to an exhibition. Kalam generously granted the permission, and the scientist got back to work. When he did, he lost the track of time and forgot to leave early. He reached home, feeling guilty, and looked for his kids, but could only find his wife. He asked for the kids, and to his surprise she told him: “your manager was here around 5:15 and he took the kids for the exhibition!”
Apparently, Dr. Kalam had been observing the scientist and noticed that he might never realise he had to go home. Feeling for the kids, he decided to take the kids in his stead. If that’s not sweet, what is?
#10. When he was President, Dr. Kalam took to “Yahoo! Answers” and posted a question: “What should we do to free our planet from terrorism?”
And when he did, people like Sri Sri Ravishankar, Kiran Bedi, Leander Paes and the who’s who of India and the world turned to Yahoo! to answer his question! Here’s the link to that question page.
#11. Who did President Kalam invite as the “Presidential Guests” to Kerela’s Raj Bhavan during his first visit to Kerela after becoming the President?
1. A road side cobbler
2. Owner of a very small hotel
No kidding. As the President, Dr. Kalam was entitled to invite anyone as the “Presidential Guests” to the Raj Bhavan of Kerela during his first visit to Trivandrum. Dr. Kalam had spent a significant time as a scientist in Trivandrum and he invited a road-side cobbler – who was quite close to Dr. Kalam during his time in Kerala; and so was the owner of the small hotel where Dr. Kalam would often have his meals.
Can you imagine any other politician or a celebrity inviting a cobbler and a small business owner as their most prestigious guests?
#12. And the most important story – of his contribution to India’s space and defence programs:
Dr. Kalam was one of the few scientists who started working with ISRO during the agency’s early years. A Church became the place of work for the handful of India’s rocket scientists – including Dr. Kalam; and a nearby beach became the place where the rocket launchpad was set up.
Cycles and bullock-carts were used back in the 1970s & 1980s to transport rocket parts and entire satellites, and Dr. Kalam was one of the rare few scientists who made significant contributions to India’s early space program. In fact, Dr. Kalam was the Director of the project that indigenously developed the SLV-III (Space Launch Vehicle) and also the PSLV – which is operational even today and was used in the Moon and the Mars missions. In 1980, SLV-III successfully injected the Rohini satellite into a near-Earth orbit and made India an exclusive member of the Space Club.
After working with ISRO, Dr. Kalam took up responsibilities for developing Indigenous Guided Missiles at the DRDO which led to the development of AGNI and PRITHVI missiles. He also led the Pokhran-II nuclear tests that made India a nuclear weapon state.
It is said that during Indira Gandhi’s regime, Dr. Kalam was the man who convinced the Prime Minister for an advanced missile program for the country – and despite the disapproval of the Union Cabinet, PM Gandhi had secretly funded Kalam’s aerospace and defence projects. And the rest, as they say, is history.