A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a prominent Indian scientist who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. Renowned for his pivotal role in the nation’s civilian space programme and military missile development, he was known as the Missile Man of India. He made significant contributions to India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998 which established him as a national hero.
An alumnus of the prestigious Madras Institute of Technology, Kalam began his career as a scientist at the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He was later transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he served as the project director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III). He eventually rejoined DRDO and became closely involved in India’s space programme. he served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister in the 1990s before becoming the President of India in 2002. Immensely popular during his term, he earned the moniker of People’s President. He was honored with several awards including the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, for his contribution to the nation’s space and nuclear programme.
He was also known for his simplicity . In an event of journalists, he sat down on the floor to answer a question of high profile journos (Congress Stooges) with Rajdeep sardesai and Barkha Dutt..
At a convocation of IIT (BHU) Varanasi, Kalam was the chief guest and there were five chairs on the stage, the centre one being for the President. The other four were designated for the top university officials.
Noticing his chair being bigger in size than the others, Kalam refused to sit on it and offered the chair to the vice chancellor to sit instead, according to a published account. The VC couldn’t, obviously and another chair was made available immediately for the “People’s President”.
Once, Kalam rejected the suggestion to put broken glass on the wall of a building that needed protection because it would be harmful for birds.
This happened when Kalam was with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and his team was discussing options to secure the perimeter of a building that needed protection. Kalam reportedly said: “If we do that, birds will not be able to perch on the wall.”
When youngsters and teenagers sought a meeting with him, Kalam, who always wore a genial smile, not only obliged and gave them his precious time, but he also listened carefully to the ideas the kids had.
Soon after it was declared that Kalam would be the next President in 2002, 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, 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 them with his bare voice and delivered, like always, an inspiring keynote.
When a subordinate of Kalam at DRDO couldn’t take his children to an exhibition due to work pressure, he surprised his subordinate and took the children instead, according to another published account.
And, who did President Kalam invite as the “presidential guests” to Kerala’s Raj Bhavan during his first visit to the state after becoming the President? A roadside cobbler and owner of a very small hotel.
As the President, Kalam was entitled to invite anyone as “presidential guests” to the Raj Bhavan during his first visit to Trivandrum, now called Thiruvananthapuram.
Kalam had spent a significant time as a scientist in Trivandrum and he invited a roadside cobbler -who was quite close to Kalam during his scientist days in Kerala; and the owner of the small hotel where he would often have his meals.