Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen (APJ) Abdul Kalam was a man of many talents.
Besides being an author, educator, motivator and a scientist, he was also the President of India. The fact that Dr. Kalam was one of the most popular and inspirational leaders of India earned him nicknames like - “People’s President” and “Missile Man”.
Last week, while addressing a group of college students, Dr. Kalam suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 84.
Kalam was born into a Muslim family in the coastal town of Rameshwaram, South India. His father, an imam (priest) at a local mosque, would also build boats and ferry passengers to and from Hindu temples along the beaches.
Growing up in a religious tolerant neighborhood and exposed to several different faiths, Kalam grew up on a foundation of strong moral values. Kalam’s family was poor and he had many siblings. As a young boy, Kalam sold newspapers to support the family. Eventually, Kalam went on to specialize in the field of Aerospace Engineering.
Dr. Kalam began his career with the Indian Army in 1960. He designed a mini-helicopter and helped develop nuclear missiles. Dr. Kalam also headed the agency that conducted India’s nuclear missile technology program. He was eventually promoted to the position of chief scientific adviser to the prime minister and the defense minister in 1992. This was the start of his association with politics.
In 2002, when India was looking to elect its 11th President, Dr. Kalam was the popular choice. Though the role of the Indian President is merely titular (like the Queen of England), Dr. Kalam elevated the role of the “first citizen” in the biggest democracy of the world. Dr. Kalam began his tenure by opening the doors of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s house) to the public, especially students.
Being a down-to-earth person, he shunned the “luxurious” comforts of the 340-room house he was assigned to, and instead opted for the smallest room. He could often be found sitting on the floor while eating and interacting with his staff from all religious backgrounds. In a country that has religious tensions, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was a refreshing change.
Kalam loved children. He used the President’s office to promote scientific activities and inspire children. Dr. Kalam would visit schools and colleges and teach students science as well as life lessons. He received many awards during his lifetime and was nominated twice for the “Youth Icon of the Year” award by MTV! He authored many books which have been great inspirational reads.
Dr. Kalam has left behind a legacy that can’t be forgotten and he lives on in the hearts of many.