Hello Mr Missile Man | Deccan Herald
Dream, dream, dream. Dreams turn into thoughts and thoughts lead to action.
I was so excited to meet President Kalam. Admirable, perhaps, would be the right word.
How could someone be one of the biggest names in Indian aerospace, be the President of India and the holder of seven (much more honorary) doctorates and a Padma Vibhushan and yet be so modest and easy to love? I was about to find out…
Ah, there he was…walking towards me in his favorite light gray suit with that distinctive steel gray hair cut in his unique style. “Thank you very much for agreeing to meet me.”
He dismissed my thanks casually and sat down. “So, what do you want to talk about?” I could think of a thousand things, but I decided to stick with the most important facts and the lesser known facts.
“Can you tell us a bit about your childhood? I asked. “Well, my family was poor. My father owned a boat and was the imam of a local mosque in Rameshwaram. Money was never enough. I sold newspapers to help. But I loved to learn. Math was my favorite subject. It wasn’t that I was a good student – I wasn’t! But I worked hard and that made all the difference.
As he told us, I added, “If you fail, never give up because FAIL means ‘first attempt at learning.'” He nodded. “Exactly!”
“I guess it was mathematics that led you to study aeronautical engineering and your successful career in research and development both at DRDO and
“Yes, those were exciting times, he recalls. I almost became a fighter pilot, you know, but life led me to space research. Not only were we able to build the first of the launch vehicles of our country’s satellites, but also a number of missiles. You must have heard of Agni? ” It was my turn to nod.
“India’s first intermediate range ballistic missile. Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile his personality with the development of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons and missiles,” I say wondering what he would say .
“They say you won’t even allow them to put protective glass on the wall at DRDO because it might hurt the birds!” “It is important for our nation to be strong and hold its place in the world. This does not automatically mean that we should be irresponsible. Besides armament, nuclear energy is an important source of energy. It provides clean energy unlike energy produced from burning fossil fuels which releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“So how did you become our president?” I asked. A soft laugh. “I was already well regarded by people because of my work and then I was scientific adviser to the government for a while. It was humiliating to become president. That too, supported by both sides of the political spectrum.
“I believe you gave away all your salary as president?” I asked. “Why do I need a salary?” he replied.
I never married and the government of India took care of all my needs since I became president, so it was important to me that the money did good. I donated it to the Bringing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas initiative.
“When I ask my classmates to name someone who is an inspiration, your name comes up very often. Why do you think that is so? Kalam looked embarrassed. “I really couldn’t say,” said he declared.
“Maybe it’s because whatever I’ve done, I’ve done it only with my country in mind and when it comes to children, I’ve always maintained that if I was remembered for one thing , I would be happy to be remembered as a teacher, which is why that was the role I took on after my term as president.
“Just one more question,” I said, “Why are you growing your hair out?” “What?! You don’t like that?” he laughs.
“It’s just that it’s such an unusual hairstyle,” I said. “Ah…actually, I was born with a deformed ear and first let my hair grow out, to hide it. Later it became my signature style and I just didn’t want to wear my hair any other way.
On that interesting note, we parted ways…
(Valsala is a writer and soft skills and communication trainer.)