Dr Abdul Kalam had a very high regard for entrepreneurship.
My better half and I had the good fortune to converse with Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam at Mumbai airport at a scheduled meeting during his term as President.
Dr Kalam used to make it a point to meet entrepreneurs; and remind them of what they were doing that was important to India -- job creation.
A scientist par excellence; he understood that the vague had to always be replaced by the definable; and hence his questions to entrepreneurs were always pointed in that direction.
- What is your vision with the work that you're doing?
- How many lives do you hope to impact when you scale up?
- Have you seen failure and how did you handle it?
- Can you spare time going around the country and inspiring more young minds?
- The ‘India that is’- to ‘the India that will be’; how can you be a part of this journey.
Dr. Kalam also clearly came across as a teacher, more than a President.
The reason I say this is because he was not interested in the questions he was asking, but in the responses that people gave him.
For many of us, the lesson there was that you could do great karma, follow your passion, and end up being nominated to the office of the President of India.
I say this with great certainty that Dr Kalam would've been remembered, even if he had never been President of India.
Such was the quantum and import of his work and humility. He was the Director of the project that indigenously developed the SLV-III (Space Launch Vehicle) and also the PSLV – which is operational even today and was used in the Moon and the Mars missions.
In 1980, SLV-III successfully injected the Rohini satellite into a near-Earth orbit and made India an exclusive member of the Space Club.
After working with ISRO, Dr Kalam took up responsibilities for developing Indigenous Guided Missiles at the DRDO which led to the development of AGNI and PRITHVI missiles. He also led the Pokhran-II nuclear tests that made India a nuclear weapon state.
Bharat Ratna, educator, missile man and surprise, surprise reluctant politician -- a very rare breed. This karma yogi brought his own brand of veneration to the office of The President of India.
While there are several anecdotes that dot President Kalam’s life, there’s one that’s particularly endearing and stands testimony to his character.
The Government of India takes care of the President of India as well as of all the former Presidents. Knowing this, Dr Kalam, during his tenure as President, decided to give away all his wealth and life savings towards a fund that works towards providing urban amenities to rural areas (PURA).
Apparently, Dr Kalam called up Dr Verghese Kurien, the Founder of Amul, and asked, “Now that I have become the President of India, the government is going to look after me till I am living; so what can I do with my savings and salary?” The rest is history.
For the period that he headed the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic of India as Head of the State, first citizen and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, we did have a very venerated head on the country’s shoulders. We will miss luminaries like him beyond words.