APJ Abdul Kalam ”“ a seer and a true karamyogi




kalam 1


 By Dr Shailja Chaturvedi

To conclude  an accomplished journey as graciously as one lived it  through, is  saintly which we all desire. It is with profound grief that a nation bids farewell to one of its most  treasured citizen. A Karmyogi, a seer of  indomitable spirit, impeccable character, inspirational vision with profound wisdom and idealism Shree Abdul Kalam closed the final curtain doing what he most loved educating and grooming the generation of  tomorrow leaving an enduring legacy of  “courage to invent, travel the unexplored path, discover the impossible and conquer the problems to succeed”.  

The remarkable simplicity and innate spirituality are the depth of experience one felt on meeting this great scientist of our time, a precious and desirable son of India who received an honorary doctorate in Engineering from Sydney University which gave me a lifetime opportunity to interview this true Ratna of Bharat for which I prepared myself by delving into his autobiography

It was a challenge to bind the spirit of   somewhat eccentric leader into a structured interview as he re-framed all the questions in messages he wanted to leave behind. His free floating spirit had lost its bounds even more as he proved his brilliance of mind and the simplicity of his passionate heart beyond doubt.

His autobiography being a treasure in itself,   raises the curiosity of the reader to unveil the secrets of a journey from the humble, almost medieval village to the moon. Born in 1931, son of a little educated boat owner in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, with well grounded roots, understanding and compassion towards fellow human being, his autobiography keeps the reader mesmerised. It felt like reading Geeta, a manual for success and eternal bliss, compelling  one to disseminate it widely as the book of life.

In his biography he has meticulously documented the secrets of success inspired by Khalil Zibran: “those who cannot work with their heart achieve a hollow half-hearted success” which enabled him to rise from earth to moon.

Work principles are simple though golden rules. Working with proven technology and experimenting only from multiple resources and team approach without the hierarchy. To pick the best ideas from a person with passion and performance dimension. Setting yourself goals with regular internal/external review.

Performance dimension is an interesting term he has used beyond skills, knowledge and experience. These are the attitude, value and character traits which in addition to qualifications are most highly correlated with job success.

His recipe for ultimate success was total commitment and single-minded devotion although he did not like the word workaholic – a common denomination amongst all successful people.

Capacity to grow with patience, exploring the possibilities, wisdom to apply old principles to new situations, negotiating their way forward, accommodating, working in a team sharing, delegating, assimilating, listening and respecting irrespective of success or failure. Good intention does not necessarily lead to good performance outcome, therefore self-appraisal and evaluation must be necessary.

The key to motivation is desire to be more than what you are, to look forward to the journey rather than counting the steps taken.

Life is a mixture of unresolved problems, ambiguous victories and amorphous defeats, he used to say. Through difficulties and failures, God gives us the opportunities to grow. Appropriate organisational structure, job design and appreciation of hard work by the leaders leads to high productivity. Honourable A P J Abdul Kalam tried this model for Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) with 50% increase in productivity.

“The degree and quality of a person’s performance depends on the work environment and circumstances of the workplace, job satisfaction, policy administration, security, status, working conditions and the qualities of the leader. The charisma and strength of the leadership remain  indispensable  in his secrets to success rules. The leader should have fair power of persuasion, introduce new blood into organisation, praise publicly and criticise privately. Leader should be the “welder of people” who can weave threads of individual efforts into a mighty fabric of great strength.”

“Organisation and planning of the task with sharp eyes for what can go wrong and fast move, ready for action remained vital ingredients of his success. Control, rules and policies followed with religious fervour against one with freedom and flexibility easy to delegate with no patience for bureaucracy ”“ neither one he recommended. The best path is in the middle, control without stifling, dissent or being rigid.”

The history of rocket science although goes back to the times of Vedas, Kalam shed light on over 700 rockets and sub-system of 900 rockets which British captured from Tipu Sultan after his defeat in 1799 and subjected it to reverse engineering, ending the Indian rocketry for 150 years.   But nearly two centuries of subjugation, depression and denial failed to stunt the creativity and capabilities of Indian scientists.

Large number of scientists and professionals leave their shores in the hope of greater monetary benefits but can anything compensate for the love and respect from one’s own countryman?   With no foreign qualification or experience he was appointed as the charge of rocket integration and safety. The first rocket was launched in November 1963 after his first and brief visit to US.

“If you want to leave your footprint on the sand of time, you do not drag your feet”.   And he did not.

Indian space and Atomic Energy program of missile development continued despite challenges under his leadership with perfect intention towards its peaceful application. Indian scientists and technologists working together with his preoccupation with flying and total commitment and focus to the job in hand, launched Prithvi in February 1988.   It was an epoch making event in the history of Indian rocketry, the best surface to surface missile in the world.   It was the basic module for all future guided messiles in addition to delivering 1000kg conventional warheads to a distance of 150km with accuracy of 50 metre CEP (Circular Error Probable).   Unfortunately it generated fear, anger and envy in the Western World and India was banned from availing any ingredient to develop the guided missile in the name of its possible misuse.

Agni was launched in May 1989 created by multi-institutional participation of 500 scientists, consortium approach and empowering technology with the inherent complexity of people working together.   The group  milieu  of the team achieved the highest possible integration in terms of both quality of work and human relationships.

Equality of all human beings sharing the inner vulnerabilities of each person was graphically projected with the launch of Rohini SLV (Satellite Launch Vehicle) in July 1980 the first orbital flight by India, one of the most jubilant events for him and for the nation which he publicly enjoyed.   Privately though he learnt of his life long mentor, his brother-in-law’s sudden demise, he felt alone in the celebration without his parents and  Prof. Sarabhai his true inspiration.   His appointment as the Director Aerospace Dynamics & Design group fell into a vacuum with no one to share the joy with.   His longing for his loved one was once again demonstrated when he celebrated his first national award of Padma Bhushan in 1981.   He filled his room with Bismillah Khan’s Shehnai and travelled into the virtual village of Rameswaran where his mother hugged him, his father ran his caring finger through his head, his brother-in-law announced the news to the crowd outside the mosque, his sister prepared the sweets for him, the chief priest of the temple put a tilak on his forehead, Father Solomon blessed him holding the holy cross and Prof. Sarabhai was smiling with the sense of achievement.

The second most significant day in his career was the launch of Integrated Guided Missiles Development Program (IGMDP) synonymous with excellence on 27 July 1983.   He reiterated that “happiness, success and satisfaction in life depends on right choices”.   Although his success was not digestible to all his colleagues, he maintained that he never “lived off the profits of other’s minds and never been a ruthless achiever”.   He never used outside influence to advance his career.

A scientist, though basically a philosopher and a poet found demands of relationships difficult which kept him solitary though deeply connected with the select few.

The ex-president of India came from the background where his ailing father was healed by his visits rather than that of a doctor.   His parents continued to inspire him in their life and death.   His divided loyalty to his family and profession was often regrettable to him.   Following his parents’ death, physically exhausted and emotionally shattered, he felt energised to fulfil his ambition of flying Indian flag on foreign soil.   He thrived on the morals of the people like Sarabhai and Von Braun the creator of Saturn rocket in the Apollo Mission who made rocketry their religion with vision of a goal.

His reunion with his high school teacher Iyadurai was emotional.   Both shared the convocation dais in reverse, one as an audience and other as the speaker.   In touching the feet of his guru after his keynote address he was blessed in the voice choked with emotions “you have not only reached my goals, Kalam, you have eclipsed them”.

Both Nelson Mandela and Kalam were conferred Doctor of Science by Jadavpur University.   What did the two legends share?   Persistence in the mission. He advised his young audience to be more dedicated to making solid achievements than in running after swift but synthetic happiness.

The boy from the shells and sands of Rameswaran filled with gratitude wrote:

“Away!   fond thoughts, and vex my thoughts no more,

work claimed my wakeful nights my busy days

Albeit brought memories of Rameswaran shore

yet haunt my dreaming gaze”

Although he described Dr Brahm Prakash his trusted and respected senior colleague as an intellectual giant with childlike innocence and saint amongst scientists the same could be said about him.

In conferring him Doctor of Science Prof Nag of IIT Bombay described Kalam “an inspiriation behind the creation of solid technology base from which India’s future aerospace program can be launched to meet the challenges of 21st  Century”.

Kalam believed that unlike science, technology is a group activity demanding judicious sharing of resources, establishing priorities and co-operative endeavours to unearth the talents in the bureaucratic government and private sector.   The endless pursuits of external awards complicates life to the extent of blurring the ultimate reward of peace.

“On the coast of Coromandel

Where the earthy shells blow,

In the middle of the sands

Lived some really rich souls.

One cotton lungi and half a candle

One old jug without a handle

These were all the worldly possession

Of these kings in the middle of the sands”

Inner strength and self reliance which he built with the simple and meaningful relationships was the key.

“I am a well in this great land

Looking at its millions of boys and girls

To draw from me

The inexhaustible divinity

And spread His grace everywhere

As does the water drawn from a well”


It seems difficult to comprehend the complexity of political/social system of India that he remained one of the icons of the country but still could not address his disappointment with it   “on one side are few hundred heroes keeping nine hundred and fifty million people down on the other side”.   He blamed victimisation and intimidation which he experienced himself as the hallmark of tragedy of Indian science and technology.

A P J Kalam with his unparalleled career as a rocket scientist culminating in highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna was appointed as the Chief of Indian Defence, Research & Development Program.   In 2002 he was sworn in as the 11th  President of India.

An ascetic in his personal life who magnified his parents’ humble teachings to be good and useful.   A man who lived in one of the seven wonders of India, a 360 room Presidential palace built on 4000 acres of land in Delhi, as the President ,moved in his retirement to reside in 10ft wide and 12ft long room furnished with books, papers and hired furniture in South India.   He played veena, wrote poems and pursued his brilliant mind in choicest directions.   The ultimate acknowledgement of his success was equally enjoyed by him when “the mess bearer brought me the breakfast of idli and buttermilk (the morning after one of his most esteemed national awards) and smiled” Kalam knew that the smile of this humble servant was not only the recognition of the award but the assurances that sun will never set on the “blood line of his great grandfather Avul, grandfather Pakir, father Jainulabdeen and Kalam himself”.



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