One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century
Abdul Kalam.Com ;
A P J Abdul Kalam;
Indians of 20th
Century - A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
and *Wings of Fire:
An Autobiography of A.P. J Abdul Kalam with Arun Tiwari]
Dr Avil Pakir Jalaluddin Abdul Kalam, pioneer of India's missile
programme, was awarded the country's highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, in 1997,
for his immense and valuable contribution to the scientific research and modernisation of
defence technology. Kalam was born on October 15, 1931 in the temple town of
in Tamil Nadu. Kalam went to the Schwartz High School,
Ramanathapuram. A graduate of
St. Joseph College, Tiruchi, Kalam specialised in aero engineering
at the Madras
Institute of Technology, his only stint abroad was a four-month visit to NASA in the
United States. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was born on October 15, 1931.Kalam was awarded the
Padma Vibhushan in 1990.
Excerpts from *Wings of Fire:
An Autobiography of A.P. J Abdul Kalam with Arun Tiwari: (*denotes
link to Amazon.com bookshop)
"I will not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can be a
role model for anybody; but some poor child living in an obscure place, in an
underprivileged social setting may find a little solace in the way my destiny has been
shaped. It could perhaps help such children liberate themselves from the bondage of their
illusory backwardness and hopelessness?.."
"On Republic Day 1990, the nation celebrated the success of
its missile programme. I was conferred the Padma Vibhushan along with Dr Arunachalam. Two
of my other colleagues, J.C. Bhattacharya and R.N. Agarwal, were also decorated with the
Padma Shree awards. It was the first time in the history of free India that so many
scientists affiliated to the same organisation found their names in the awards list.
Memories of the Padma Bhushan award given a decade ago came alive.
I still lived more or less as I had lived then , in a room ten feet wide and twelve feet
long, furnished mainly with books, papers and a few pieces of hired furniture. At that
time, my room was in Trivandrum and now it was in
Hyderabad. The mess bearer brought my breakfast of idlis and buttermilk and smiled in
silent congratulations for the award.
I was touched by the recognition bestowed on me by my countrymen. A large number of
scientists and engineers leave this country at their first opportunity to earn money
abroad. It is true that they definitely get greater monetary benefits, but could anything
compensate for this love and respect from your own countrymen?
I sat alone for quite some time in silent contemplation. The sand and shells of
Rameswaram; the care of Iyadurai Solomon in Ramanathapuram; the guidance of Rev. Father
Sequeira in Trichi and Prof. Pandalai in Madras, the encouragement of Dr Mediratta in
Bangalore; the hovercraft ride with Prof. Menon, the pre-dawn visit to the Tilpat Range
with Prof. Sarabhai; the healing touch of Dr Brahm Prakash on the day of the SLV-3
failure; the national jubilation on the SLV-3 launch; Madam Gandhi's appreciative smile,
the post-SLV-3 simmering at VSSC, Dr Ramanna's faith in inviting me to DRDO; the IGMDP,
the creation of RCI, Prithvi, Agni... a gust of memories swept over me. Where were all
these men now? My father, Prof. Sarabhai, Dr Brahm Prakash? Could I meet them and share my
joy with them?
In a state of trance, I acquired my double status, as a child of heaven and of earth. The
paternal forces of heaven and the maternal and cosmic forces of nature embraced me as
parents hug their long-lost child. I scribbled in my diary:
Away! fond thoughts, and vex my soul no more!
Work claimed my wakeful nights, my busy days
Albeit brought memories of Rameswaram shore
Yet haunt my dreaming gaze!
I went to Madurai Kamaraj University the same month to deliver their convocation address.
When I reached Madurai, I enquired about my high school teacher Iyadurai Solomon, by now a
Reverend and 80 years old. I was told that he lived in a suburb of Madurai. I took a taxi
and searched for his house. Rev. Solomon knew that I was going to give the convocation
address that day. He, however, had no way of getting there. There was an emotional reunion
between teacher and pupil. Dr. PC Alexander, the Governor of Tamil Nadu, who was presiding
over the function, was deeply moved on seeing the elderly teacher who had not forgotten
his pupil of long ago, and requested him to share the dais.
"Every convocation day of every University is like opening the floodgates of
energy which, once harnessed by institutions, organisations and industry, aids in
nation-building," I told the young graduates. Somehow I felt I was echoing Rev.
Solomon's words, spoken about half a century ago. After my lecture, I bowed down before my
teacher. "Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended," I told Rev.
Solomon. "You have not only reached my goals, Kalam! You have eclipsed them", he
told me in a voice choking with emotion......
....The year 1991 started on a very ominous note. On the night of 15 January 1991, the
Gulf War broke out between Iraq and the Allied Forces led by the USA. In one stroke,
thanks to satellite television invading Indian skies by that time, rockets and missiles
captured the imagination of the entire nation. People started discussing Scuds and
Patriots in coffee houses and tea shops. Children began flying paper kites shaped like
missiles, and playing war games on the lines of what they heard on American television
The successful test firing of Prithvi and Trishul during the course of the Gulf War was
sufficient to make an anxious nation relax. The newspaper reports of the programmable
trajectory capability of the Prithvi and Trishul guidance system, using microwave
frequencies in virtually unjammable bands, created widespread awareness. The nation was
quick to draw parallels between the missiles operational in the Gulf War and our own
warhead carriers. A common query I encountered was whether Prithvi was superior to a Scud,
whether Akash could perform like a Patriot, and so on. Hearing a "Yes" or a
"Why not?" from me, people's faces would light up with pride and satisfaction.
The Allied Forces had a marked technological edge, as they were fielding systems built
using the technologies of the eighties and nineties. Iraq was fighting with the
by-and-large vintage weapon systems of the sixties and seventies.
Now, this is where the key to the modern world order lies, superiority through technology.
Deprive the opponent, known and potential, of the latest technology and then dictate your
terms in an unequal contest.....
After the Gulf War concluded with the victory of the technologically superior Allied
Forces, over 500 scientists of DRDL and RCI gathered to discuss issues that had emerged. I
posed a question before the assembly: was technology or weapon symmetry with other nations
feasible, and if yes, should it be attempted? The discussion led to many more serious
questions, such as, how to establish effective electronic warfare support? How to make
missile development proceed apace with the development of equally necessary systems like
the LCA; and what were the key areas where a push would bring progress?
At the end of a lively discussion spread over three hours, the consensus emerged that
there was no way to redress asymmetry in military capability except to have the same
capability in specific areas as your potential opponent. The scientists vowed to achieve a
reduced CEP in the accuracy of Prithvi's delivery, perfecting the Ka band guidance system
for Trishul and realising all carbon-carbon re-entry control surfaces for Agni by the end
of the year. The vow was later fulfilled. The year also saw tube-launched Nag flights, and
the manoeuvre of Trishul at seven metres above sea level at speeds which exceeded three
times the speed of sound. The latter was a breakthrough in the development of an
indigenous ship-launched anti-sea-skimmer missile.
The same year, I received an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the IIT, Bombay. In
the citation read by Prof. B. Nag on the occasion, I was described as "an inspiration
behind the creation of a solid technological base from which India's future aerospace
programmes can be launched to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century". Well,
perhaps Prof. Nag was only being polite, but I do believe that India will enter the next
century with its own satellite in geo-stationary orbit 36,000 km away in space, positioned
by its own launch vehicle. India will also become a missile power...Even though the world
may not be seeing its full potential or feeling its full power, no one dare ignore it any
....On 15 October, I turned sixty. I looked forward to superannuating and planned to
open a school for less privileged, but talented children. My friend, Prof. P. Rama Rao,
who was heading the Department of Science and Technology in the Government of India, even
struck a partnership with me to establish what he called a Rao-Kalam school. We were
unanimous in our opinion that carrying out certain missions and reaching certain
milestones, however important they may be or however impressive they might appear to be,
cannot be the final sum of human life. But we had to postpone our plan as neither of us
was relieved by the Government of India. It was during this period that I decided to put
down my memories and express my observations and opinions on certain issues.
The biggest problem Indian youth faced, I felt, was a lack of clarity of vision, a lack of
direction. It was then that I decided to write about the circumstances and people who made
me what I am today; the idea was not merely to pay tribute to some individuals or
highlight certain aspects of my life. What I wanted to say was that no one, however poor,
underprivileged or small, need feel disheartened about life. Problems are a part of life.
Suffering is the essence of success. As someone said :
God has not promised
Skies always blue,
All our life through;
God has not promised
Sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow,
Peace without pain.
I will not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can be a role model for anybody; but
some poor child living in an obscure place, in an underprivileged social setting may find
a little solace in the way my destiny has been shaped. It could perhaps help such children
liberate themselves from the bondage of their illusory backwardness and