Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a former President of India, scientist, leader, professor and speaker.

More importantly, he was a patriotic who selflessly served his motherland and humanity for many decades and in the process, he became a role model for billions of people all over the world.

This article is all about the inspirational journey of Abdul Kalam from being born into a very middle class family in a very remote part of the country to becoming India’s most beloved personality.

This biography is a must read for everyone as it teaches you many valuable life and leadership lessons which will help you to become great and successful.

So read on.

Table of Contents

Introduction-

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (A.P.J. Abdul Kalam) was born on 15 October 1931 in Dhanushkodi, Rameswaram, Madras Presidency (present-day Tamil Nadu), India into a Tamil Muslim family.

His father, A.P. Jainulabdeen was an imam (a religious leader) at a local mosque and also a boat owner while his mother, Ashiamma was a home-maker.

A.P. Jainulabdeen himself built a wooden sailboat with the help of his relative, Ahmed Jalaluddin and that boat was employed to transport Hindu pilgrims back and forth between Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi.

Abdul Kalam’s parents supported Kalam

Both Abdul Kalam’s parents were neither well educated nor they were rich but they whole-heartedly supported Kalam throughout his life to pursue his endeavours.

And these relentless pursuits transformed a small town boy to one of the biggest scientists of the country and later, President of India.

Learning great values-

Abdul Kalam learned the qualities of honesty, simplicity and self discipline from his father and kindness from his mother.

Jainulabdeen used to lead a very simple life and he didn’t believe in luxuries and by observing him, he too avoided all the luxuries even after becoming the President of India.

Abdul Kalam’s father was a very wise, generous and disciplined person who used to daily wake up at 4 a.m. in the early morning and he inherited all these qualities from his father which later helped him to become a great scientist and leader.

Poverty doesn’t deter hospitality-

Even though they were poor, their house located at Mosque Street, Rameswaram used to serve food to more number of outsiders than to his own family members.

Abdul Kalam had an elder sister, Asim Zohra and three elder brothers namely, Mohammed Muthu Meera Lebbai Maraikayar, Mustafa Kalam and Kasim Mohammed.

Abdul Kalam was influenced by his siblings

He was very influenced by his siblings and was deeply attached to them throughout his life.

From riches to rags-

Abdul Kalam’s ancestors were very affluent and owned many lands and properties.

They were involved in a business of transporting pilgrims using wooden boats between the mainland and Pamban.

Unfortunately, their businesses started failing and wealth and properties dwindled from 1914, when the Pamban Bridge was opened.

And by the time Abdul Kalam was born, his family had become poor.

His first ever income-

Abdul Kalam sold newspapers

The young Abdul Kalam started selling newspapers to aid his financially struggling family.

By this way, he earned his first ever income.

The eight year old Abdul Kalam also collected and sold the tamarind seeds for one anna.

Anna was a currency unit used in British India.

He used to also work in his elder brother’s provisional shop and sell items like rice, oil, cigarettes, bidis, etc.

By doing all these odd jobs, Abdul Kalam understood the struggles of life at a very young age.

Unity in diversity-

Even tough Abdul Kalam’s father was a very practising Muslim, he was a close friend to Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, a priest of Rameswaram temple.

By observing these two good and happy friends, he learnt the importance of unity in diversity and never ever discriminated against anyone based on his or her religion or caste.

The young Abdul Kalam also befriended three boys who belonged to the orthodox Hindu Brahmin families, namely Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan, and Sivaprakasan.

An elder friend-

Abdul Kalam also maintained a close friendship with Ahmed Jalaluddin, his relative who later became his brother-in-law.

Ahmed Jalaluddin was 15 years elder to him and despite lacking a proper education, he was well versed with the matters of spirituality and English language.

Abdul Kalam was inspired by Ahmed Jalaluddin

He always inspired Abdul Kalam to study well, read books and achieve something significant in life.

Ahmed Jalaluddin used to talk with him about the topics related to latest scientific discoveries, literature and medical science.

Because of him, Abdul Kalam who lived in a small town of Rameshwaram got to know about the developments occurring outside of his small town.

Power of positive thinking-

Ahmed Jalaluddin taught Abdul Kalam the importance of positive thinking and advised him to control his thoughts and mind.

Thoughts possess the power to shape your future, so controlling the thoughts and mind is important.

Learning hard way-

Once, someone came to Abdul Kalam’s house with the purpose of gifting his father.

But as his father was not present in the home at that moment, he received that expensive gift on the behalf of his father.

Later, after returning home, Jainulabdeen grew very angry after knowing this.

And for the first time, he beat him and as a result, the sensitive Abdul Kalam started crying.

Then, Jainulabdeen taught him an important lesson that receiving gifts is a bad habit because the gifts are actually given with a motive.

Schooling-

Abdul Kalam did his primary schooling from the Rameswaram Elementary School.

Later, he left Rameswaram for his secondary schooling and joined the Schwartz Higher Secondary School, Ramanathapuram.

Abdul Kalam was a great learner

Although Abdul Kalam was an average student, he displayed a great enthusiasm towards learning and working hard and this made him a bright student.

Mathematics was his favourite subject and he used to study it for hours.

Dreaming to fly high-

In his fifth grade, one of his teachers, Sivasubramania Iyer taught Abdul Kalam and his fellow students about the flying mechanism of the birds.

But as the students were unable to understand his theory, he decided to take them to the sea shore and explain to them practically by showing them the birds flying in the sky.

This time, all the students were quick to grasp his theory.

The young Abdul Kalam was very captivated by the flight of the birds (cranes and seagulls) and the sky and became determined that he would grow up and study regarding the flight and flight systems.

That day determined the course of his future and later, made him an aerospace scientist.

Abdul Kalam used to notice a radiation of knowledge and purity of life from Sivasubramania Iyer.

Importance of a good teacher-

A teacher has got a wonderful opportunity to grow and enrich the young minds.

They can also give dreams to the children and nurture them and by doing so, they help the children to grow into great human beings, as seen in case of Abdul Kalam.

So, later in his life, after retiring as president, he too became a teacher and a professor.

A good student-

The 15 year old Abdul Kalam at the Schwartz Higher Secondary School was fortunate enough to encounter Iyadurai Solomon as his teacher.

Iyadurai Solomon taught him many important life lessons.

He explained the importance of being a good student by saying that a good student has the potential to learn even from a bad teacher whereas a bad (poor) student is incapable of learning anything even from a good (skilled) teacher.

So, Iyadurai Solomon urged his students to become and to remain as the good students.

He also emphasised the importance of aspiration, confidence and trust in realising one’s goals and creating one’s own destiny.

Abdul Kalam was motivated by Iyadurai Solomon

His inspirational words motivated, strengthened the self-esteem of Abdul Kalam and gave his life a meaningful direction.

Iyadurai Solomon motivated Abdul Kalam that even though he was born into a not so well educated family, he possessed the potential and self worth to work for the realisation of his dreams.

As we know, later, he actualised the words of his teacher by flying in the sky.

The wrong stream-

After finishing his secondary schooling, Abdul Kalam attended the Saint Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli to graduate in physics.

In 1954, he graduated in physics but soon, he realised that graduating in physics will not help him in realising his childhood dream and he should have chosen engineering instead.

So, to study engineering Abdul Kalam decided to join the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

Heart touching incident-

Luckily, Abdul Kalam got selected into MIT but his happiness couldn’t last long after knowing that he had to pay a sum of thousand rupees as the admission fee but his father couldn’t afford it.

Asim Zohra helped Abdul Kalam

During that difficult time, his sister Asim Zohra arranged for his fees by mortgaging her gold ornaments (gold chain and bangles).

Abdul Kalam was very moved by her gesture and became emotional by her efforts of providing him with a good quality higher education and helping him to reach greater heights in life.

This incident inspired him to study very well and as only by doing so, her sister’s sacrifice wouldn’t get wasted.

Getting attracted towards aircraft-

In MIT, Abdul Kalam was attracted towards the two demilitarized aircraft which were exhibited on the campus.

He used to continuously stare at them for hours even after the completion of the classes.

Abdul Kalam wanted to become a pilot

This strengthened Abdul Kalam’s willpower of becoming a pilot and flying the aircraft.

So, he chose to study aeronautical engineering in his second year of engineering.

On the brink of losing the scholarship-

Once, Abdul Kalam was allocated a project of designing an aircraft.

Later, his professor, Srinivasan assessed his work and was very disappointed with it.

So, he gave him a deadline of three days and Abdul Kalam was ordered to complete the work within the deadline otherwise his scholarship would be revoked.

This made him to relentlessly work for three days and complete the assigned task.

Winning the competition-

At MIT, Abdul Kalam also took part in an essay competition and wrote an article titled Let Us Make Our Own Aircraft and he secured the first prize in that competition.

All these things showcase his desire and love towards the aircraft.

And finally, in 1960 with the help of the scholarship, Abdul Kalam graduated in aerospace engineering from MIT.

After his graduation, he joined Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore to work as a trainee.

Importance of practical knowledge-

While working at HAL, Abdul Kalam was very impressed by the skills of the technicians.

Even though they weren’t educated from prestigious universities, they amassed a huge wealth of knowledge by working for many years.

This taught Abdul Kalam the importance of practical education.

Two different paths-

In 1958, Abdul Kalam was presented with two employment opportunities after coming out of HAL.

The first opportunity was getting selected into the Indian Air Force while the second one was securing a job as Senior Scientific Assistant at Directorate of Technical Development and Production (Air) [DTD&P (Air)].

Out of both these opportunities, he was much more inclined towards getting selected into the Indian Air Force, as it resembled his childhood dream of flying.

The interview for the Indian Air Force took place at Dehradun while for DTD&P (Air) took place at Delhi.

Dream gets shattered-

Abdul Kalam’s interview for the position of Senior Scientific Assistant at DTD&P (Air) went very well and later, he also got selected for that job.

The interview conducted by the Indian Air Force emphasised more on personality and physical fitness rather than on his intellect and unfortunately, he couldn’t perform well at this interview.

Out of the 25 interviewees, Abdul Kalam secured the ninth position but there were only eight positions to be filled and as a result, he wasn’t selected to the Indian Air Force.

By this development, his childhood dream got shattered and as a result he became very disheartened.

Finding peace-

Abdul Kalam decided to travel to Rishikesh to find the answers to the many unanswered questions in his mind and to ease his mental agony.

Here, he proceeded to the Sivananda Ashram and met Swami Sivananda.

Abdul Kalam explained Swami Sivananda about missing his long cherished childhood dream of getting selected into the Indian Air Force and flying.

Swami Sivananda relieved the mental agony of Abdul Kalam

Fortunately, within a few minutes, he cleared all the mental agony of Abdul Kalam.

Swami Sivananda said that if he intensely desires to fly, then no force in the universe can stop him from flying but the road to his dream doesn’t converge on the path of him becoming an AirForce pilot.

So, he said that it would be wise to forget about the failure and march forward and to think about how he can realise his dream.

Abdul Kalam’s mental agony vanished after listening to the swami’s words and so, with a peaceful mind, he joined DTD&P (Air) and started working with full dedication.

Embrace the life as it is-

This teaches us a very important life lesson that the path to our dreams will never be straight but will be winding and filled with failures and difficulties.

So, we must embrace life as it is and move forward towards our dreams with peace and happiness and reach our destination (dreams).

India’s first hovercraft-

After working with the DTD&P (Air) for nearly three years, Abdul Kalam was transferred to the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bangalore.

Here, he was made the team leader of a group of four people and was assigned with the task of producing a hovercraft.

For Abdul Kalam, this task was very challenging and his lack of experience in making these kinds of machines made his work even more difficult.

Also, his team lacked the design and components required for the hovercraft.

So, they decided to read all the available literature and consult experts related to hovercraft but unfortunately, they couldn’t find sufficient information and the right people.

And finally, their search ended with Abdul Kalam deciding to proceed further with the knowledge and assets available to them.

He and his team didn’t stop working on this project even after they were humiliated by some colleagues who opined that they were just wasting their time by pursuing this project.

Reaping the fruits of hard work-

Abdul Kalam developed Nandi

Abdul Kalam and his team were so confident about their work that they worked hard for a complete year and this resulted in a working hovercraft prototype.

It was named after Nandi, the sacred bull calf of Lord Shiva.

This project was completed much before the schedule but due to some reasons this project got suspended.

This deeply upset Abdul Kalam because he worked very hard for developing this hovercraft and he felt that all his hard work and efforts went into drain.

Everything happens for a reason-

Soon, the developments after this incident proved that Abdul Kalam’s hard work didn’t get wasted and this proves that everything happens for a reason.

A few days later, he offered a ride to MGK Menon, Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in his hovercraft.

TIFR was closely associated to Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), now known as ISRO.

A week later, Abdul Kalam was asked to attend an interview for the post of Rocket Engineer by INCOSPAR.

At INCOSPAR, he was interviewed by Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. MGK Menon and Mr. Saraf.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, a great leader saw the potential in Abdul Kalam and thus, in 1969, he got selected to work as a rocket engineer there.

As he was not very content with his work at DRDO, he was more than happy to join ISRO.

Journeying to NASA-

In 1963, Abdul Kalam received an opportunity to receive training on the rocket launching techniques for a period of six months at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA.

Here, he also visited Wallops Flight Facility and Goddard Space Flight Center.

Vikram Sarabhai longed to launch a rocket into space from India.

Launching the India’s first rocket-

India launched its first rocket

On 21 November 1963, India launched its first ever rocket, Nike Apache from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), Kerala.

This launch took place after Abdul Kalam returned to India and this rocket was supplied by NASA.

After this hugely successful launch, Vikram Sarabhai was inspired to indigenously develop a Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV).

India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle-

Abdul Kalam was appointed as a project leader and later, project manager for the project of developing India’s first ever Satellite Launch Vehicle.

After nearly ten years of hard work, the work on India’s first SLV, SLV-III was finally finished in 1979.

The launch was scheduled to take place from Sriharikota and so Abdul Kalam reached there.

Bypassing the computer-

The countdown was going on and at T-minus 40 seconds, the computer stopped the launch after it noticed a leakage in a system.

As Abdul Kalam was the mission director, he had to take an appropriate decision.

Finally, he decided to launch the rocket as after calculation, he found that it had got sufficient fuel and oxidiser by which the rocket can reach the required altitude.

Finally, Abdul Kalam bypassed the computer and the SLV-III was launched on 10 August 1979 from Sriharikota.

It’s first stage went very well but during the second stage, at 317 seconds, it went wild and fell into the Bay of Bengal.

This failure hugely disappointed Abdul Kalam and all the fellow Indians.

The most important day-

After the initial failure of the SLV-III, Abdul Kalam and his team worked extra hard to rectify all the previous mistakes and to once again launch the SLV-III.

Even as the scientists were optimistic about their second attempt, most of the newspapers were not, they predicted that this launch would too fail like the previous one.

Finally on 18 July 1980, the SLV-III carrying a payload of Rohini Satellite was launched from Sriharikota Range (SHAR).

Fortunately, this time the launch was very successful and the Rohini Satellite was put into orbit.

Rohini (RS-2) became the first satellite to be successfully launched by the indigenous SLV.

By this success, India became one of the few nations with the capacity to launch satellites into space and this also laid the foundation for India’s ambitious space research.

In fact, India became the fifth nation in the world to achieve this feat.

A great leadership lesson-

Abdul Kalam learnt leadership lessons from Satish Dhawan

After the initial failure of SLV-III launch, Abdul Kalam was in a deep sleep, as he was very tired after continuously working for four months on this project.

He was woken up from sleep by Satish Dhawan, the chairman of ISRO and was asked to accompany him to a press conference.

Abdul Kalam was very scared because as he was the project and mission director, he felt himself responsible for the failure of the SLV-III launch.

At the press conference, Satish Dhawan took the whole responsibility for failure and also received criticisms from the media for wasting the public money (the SLV-III launch was a very expensive affair).

He said that we (ISRO team) failed in our first launch and accepted the failure and said that he will still support the team of technologists, scientists and staff.

Satish Dhawan did this to increase the morale of his team, so that they can succeed the next time.

He also said that their team is excellent and he reassured everyone that they will succeed within the next year.

Later, on 18 July 1980, the SLV-III was successfully launched.

This time around, Satish Dhawan asked Abdul Kalam to conduct a press conference.

This taught Abdul Kalam an important leadership lesson that a good leader should absorb his team’s failure but he should credit his team for the success.

A great leader-

Even during the difficult times, Abdul Kalam never lost his temper and always showed compassion towards his colleagues.

And while working as a leader, he provided an equal chance to every team member to prove his or her worth.

Abdul Kalam used to know his team scientists very well and identify their strengths and because of this, the team members used to get more involved with the project and used to directly report to him.

He had a humanistic view of life and strived to build the scientists around their strength to make them great.

Abdul Kalam gave birth to many great leaders

Abdul Kalam also gave birth to many leaders in India.

Expandable rocket project-

In 1965, Abdul Kalam worked independently on an expandable rocket project at DRDO and later, after receiving the government’s approval, he expanded the project.

Under his leadership, ISRO became one of the premier space organisations in the world.

Abdul Kalam worked in ISRO for nearly 25 years.

In 1981, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan award by the Government of India.

Abdul Kalam was also honoured by the Government of India with Bharat Ratna (1997) (India’s highest civilian award), Padma Vibhushan (1990), etc.

Getting inspired by the rich history-

Abdul Kalam was inspired by the India's history

Abdul Kalam was very inspired by some history books which mentioned that the world’s first war rockets were made in India.

In the 18th century, they were used in the battle of Srirangapatam against the British by the Mysorean army under the guidance of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan.

Tipu Sultan and his army were able to defeat British in 1792 but in 1799, the Indian side lost the war.

Later, when the fort was opened, some hundreds of rockets ready to fire were found.

Abdul Kalam was very inspired by this, so he travelled to Srirangapatam to get an idea about the rockets of the 18th century but unfortunately, he couldn’t gain any knowledge about them because the history was not maintained at that place.

Later, he started researching and found that an American had conducted some research on the ancient Indian war rockets and he mentioned that a war rocket was displayed in an artillery museum.

So, Abdul Kalam visited the museum and saw a small tiny rocket.

Later, this inspired him to develop rockets and thus, revive the tradition of rocket making in India.

Helped by Indira Gandhi-

When the Union Cabinet was not ready to agree with Abdul Kalam’s aerospace projects, Indira Gandhi, a former Prime Minister of India secretly allotted him the funds to complete the aerospace projects.

Later, he explained the importance of these projects to the Union Cabinet and succeeded in persuading them.

Missile man of India-

Abdul Kalam is known as the missile man of India

In 1982, Abdul Kalam was appointed as the director of Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) of DRDO, Hyderabad.

At DRDO, he played a significant role in indigenously developing five families of missiles under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program namely, Agni, Prithvi, Nag, Akash and Trishul.

An interesting thing to be noted is that for the first time, India produced all these missiles totally indigenously without any help from any nation and despite restrictive world policies like the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test–Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Strength respects strength-

Abdul Kalam played an important role in developing the Agni, Prithvi, Nag, Akash and Trishul missiles because he believed that only by doing so, India will get powerful and only then, it will be possible for India to earn respect from other powerful nations.

Thanks to him, India became totally self reliant in missile technology and can design, develop and produce any kind of missiles.

Abdul Kalam is the main force behind India’s current ambitious missile program.

He was very determined to strengthen his motherland and his work in the field of missile technology earned him the name of the missile man of India.

Abdul Kalam also worked on two missile projects namely, Project Devil and Project Valiant.

The aim of Project Devil was to develop a short-range surface-to-air missile while that of Project Valiant was to create an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The pillars of development-

In the 1990s, the economic reforms and liberalisation and becoming a nuclear weapon state helped India to develop faster.

Abdul Kalam felt that it was beneficial for India to become a nuclear power state because he felt that the strength respects strength.

Is the money wasted?

Under the leadership of Abdul Kalam, the space and missile programs were going in full swing then, some critics criticised that India should not afford to spend such huge amounts of money on these programs.

Abdul Kalam knew the importance of space technology

To which he calmly responded to them by saying that space technology is very essential for societal upliftment as it serves many purposes like communication, meteorological forecast, discovering natural resources on earth, etc.

To peacefully live and work in a country, first of all one needs to defend the country for which strength is required, that’s when the defence and research work comes into play.

Also the missile production technology has helped many other fields like the medical field (in the development of lightweight callipers), etc.

Car driver becomes a professor-

In 1982, V. Kathiresan was appointed as a car driver to Abdul Kalam at Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad.

V. Kathiresan completed his secondary high school education and displayed a great interest for reading books and newspapers.

After observing his interest, Abdul Kalam inspired him to further study and even helped him financially.

Initially, Kathiresan worked as a supervisor at the Chief Education Officer’s Office and later, in 2002 after completing his Ph.D, he started working as a professor at a government college.

A nuclear weapon state-

From 1999 to 2001, Abdul Kalam served as the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India.

He also played a pivotal role in the Pokhran-II nuclear tests (Operation Shakti) conducted in 1998.

The Operation Shakti was very successful and this showcased the capability and strength of India to the world.

The 11th President of the Republic of India-

On 10 June 2002, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) political party suggested nominating Abdul Kalam for the post of President.

Luckily, both the opposition parties namely, Nationalist Congress Party and Samajwadi Party supported the NDA’s proposal.

Abdul Kalam won the 2002 presidential election by a very large margin of 81,5518 votes over his contestant Lakshmi Sahgal.

He was able to secure 922,884 votes whereas Lakshmi Sahgal got just 107,366 votes.

Abdul Kalam was a President of India

Finally, Abdul Kalam became the 11th President of India and was sworn in on 25 July 2002.

He is the first and only person to get elected as the Indian President without any prior political experience.

Even after becoming the president, Abdul Kalam was very down to earth and humble.

He served as the President for five years from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007.

The people’s president-

In the history of India, Abdul Kalam is probably the only president to meet and interact with the maximum number of people.

He is also one of the most popular Indian presidents of all time.

As a president, Abdul Kalam was continuously in touch with the people and he travelled all the states of India to interact with millions of people.

Even after becoming President, he led a very simple life and he would often consume meals by sitting on the floor along with workers.

Even in his very busy schedule, Abdul Kalam frequently took out the time to personally reply to the letters written to him by the children.

He was probably the only person in India with no haters.

All these things earned Abdul Kalam the title of the people’s president.

Donating his entire salary-

After becoming the president, Abdul Kalam donated his whole salary to PURA, a trust he founded in 2006.

He said that as he became the president of the country, there is no point for him to save the money as the government of India would take complete care of him.

Abdul Kalam conceptualised Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA) for developing the rural parts of the country.

The science day of Switzerland-

Swiss government honoured Abdul Kalam

Swiss government honoured Abdul Kalam after he visited Switzerland on May 26, 2005 by announcing May 26 as their Science Day.

Becoming even busier after retirement-

After completion of his first term as President, Abdul Kalam decided not to contest for the second term.

Instead, he preferred to spend his time for his most favourite thing- interacting and teaching children and the youth of the nation, energising and igniting their minds.

Even after retiring as President, Abdul Kalam led a very busy life and continued his work on the mission of developing India before 2020 and teaching and research.

He also became the visiting professor of the IIMs at Ahmedabad, Indore and Shillong.

Additionally, Abdul Kalam became the Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and also worked as a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University.

He worked with the Banda University of Agriculture and Technology in the areas of agriculture and biodiesel.

Abdul Kalam worked with Gandhigram Rural Institute, Chinnalapatti, Tamil Nadu in the areas of rural development and PURA.

For technology for societal transformation, he worked with Anna University, Chennai.

Abdul Kalam worked with IIIT Hyderabad, Hyderabad, Telangana in the areas of tele-education, telemedicine and e-governance.

For creative leadership, he worked with IIM Ahmedabad.

Abdul Kalam worked with Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in the area of nanotechnology.

Additionally, he worked with Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI), a not-for-profit organisation focused on saving millions of lives.

Working in many different areas smoothened Abdul Kalam’s thought process and ideas.

Mission 2020-

Abdul Kalam evolved the India 2020 mission

While Abdul Kalam was working as the chairman for Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) the India 2020 mission was evolved.

This vision document was initially suggested to the Prime Minister and then, it was announced for the whole nation.

The main motto of the mission 2020 is to make India an economically developed nation by the year 2020.

Abdul Kalam defined a developed nation as a nation which is economically developed and also a prosperous, happy and safe nation.

He also gave a road map in 1998 through his book India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium. This book was co-authored by Abdul Kalam and Dr. Y S Rajan.

He also dreamt to make India a self-reliant nation in all the sectors of life and upgrade the life of the people. And to realise these goals, he decided to use technology as a tool.

Abdul Kalam also opined that agriculture is the most important aspect in the developed India.

The developed India-

According to Abdul Kalam, the developed India should have the following components-

Poverty and illiteracy should be completely eradicated and no crimes should be committed against women and children.

The divide between the rural and the urban areas should be very thin.

For this, he proposed that the rural areas should be connected through tele-education and telemedicine.

Everyone should have adequate access to quality water and energy.

All the important sectors, agriculture, industry and services should work in harmony.

Societal or economical discrimination should not devoid a meritorious candidate of a value based education system.

India should become the most preferred destination for the talented scientists, scholars and investors.

The governance should be very transparent, corruption free and responsive.

When all the above mentioned steps are fulfilled, then only India or any nation can be happy, secure, peaceful, healthy, prosperous and developed.

Defeating corruption-

In May 2012, Abdul Kalam launched a mass movement targeted at the youth titled What Can I Give Movement.

The main objective of this programme was to eliminate corruption.

Believing in youth-

Abdul Kalam liked youth

Abdul Kalam always believed in the youth of India, that is the reason why even after retiring, he travelled all over the country and visited many colleges and schools to guide them.

He didn’t marry and believed that the whole country was his family.

Radiating gratitude-

A very noble characteristic of Abdul Kalam is that he always appreciated others more than himself.

He always showered praise on his teachers, colleagues, family members and relatives and rarely praised himself.

An altruistic person-

Once, Abdul Kalam was heading over to IIM Shillong in a convoy of cars and jeeps to deliver a lecture.

In a jeep which was travelling in front of him, he noticed that a Meghalaya police constable, Flint Sandy Anderson Lapang was standing.

On seeing him, Abdul Kalam realised that he might get tired from standing and so, he signalled him to sit down.

But the constable stood during the whole journey.

Finally, after reaching the destination, Abdul Kalam personally met him, shook hands with him and thanked him for taking the trouble for him and offered him something to eat.

An ornithophile-

While working at DRDO, Abdul Kalam declined to allow fixing glass pieces on the boundary walls because he thought that the sharp glass pieces might injure his poor feathered friends.

Time to change our thinking-

Abdul Kalam wanted Indians to change their thinking process

Abdul Kalam believed that India is not a poor country but the thinking process of Indians is.

If Indians can think big, then only they can make themselves and their country great.

So, he motivated his country men to think big and achieve great things.

Also, we should not be beaten by various constraints exerted by the external factors.

All we need is confidence-

Once in an interview, Abdul Kalam said that India has got all the required resources and minerals and most importantly, the world’s largest youth population.

But the majority of the youth are lacking the confidence.

Only if an individual is self-confident, then the society can feel confident and then, the whole nation can be confident.

Ultimately, this leads to the betterment of the whole nation.

So, Abdul Kalam advised that the families and schools should instil confidence in the minds of the young people.

The happiest moment of his life-

While working as the director of DRDL Hyderabad, Abdul Kalam specialised in the production of a composite material.

This composite material is called carbon carbon material (carbon composite fibre).

When the Agni missile re-enters with 15 times the speed of sound, that is at hypersonic speed, its outside temperature reaches 4500 K.

So, the Agni carries a heat shield by which the material present in it remains at the room temperature.

For this purpose, carbon composite material was developed and it is used in the heat shield, nose cone of Agni.

Carbon composite is a very lightweight and rigid material.

Once, Dr. B. N. Prasad, an orthopedic surgeon visited Abdul Kalam while he was in his laboratory and saw the composite material.

During that time, Dr. B. N. Prasad used to work at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS).

The doctor lifted the material and was stunned by its lightweight and strength and was also impressed by knowing that it exhibits the same strength even at high temperatures.

Later, Prasad took Abdul Kalam to his orthopedic ward at NIMS.

Now B. N. Prasad is the Head of Orthopaedics at Care Group of Hospitals.

There, he showed Abdul Kalam nearly 30-40 young people below 15 years of age suffering from polio wearing wooden callipers.

Those callipers weighed 4 kg and the children felt very uncomfortable and heavy while wearing them, so they used to frequently remove them.

Then, Prasad requested him to make lightweight callipers for children by using the composite material.

Abdul Kalam made Floor Reaction Orthosis callipers

Later, both Abdul Kalam’s DRDO technical team and Prasad’s medical team started working together to produce the Floor Reaction Orthosis callipers.

So, the DRDO team took the dimensions and made 22 moulds within two to three weeks time and produced 15 Floor Reaction Orthosis callipers.

These were then fitted to the children at the hospital.

The weight of the callipers were reduced by one tenth from 4 kg to 400 grams, so the children were very delighted to wear them.

As the Floor Reaction Orthosis callipers were very light, the children wearing them started running within a period of 10 days.

And by watching this, the parents of the children were in tears and Abdul Kalam said that this moment was the happiest moment of his life.

Spin-offs from defence technology-

Abdul Kalam also developed affordable cardiac stents (known as Kalam-Raju stent).

Another spin-off from the defence technology was cardiac pacemaker.

His last day-

On 27 July 2015, Abdul Kalam was at the Indian Institute of Management, Shillong for delivering a lecture on the topic “Creating a Livable Planet Earth”.

While climbing stairs, he experienced a feeling of discomfort, so he took a short rest.

Later, Abdul Kalam started giving a lecture but he suddenly collapsed at 6:35 p.m.

He couldn’t be saved even after he was quickly admitted to the nearby Bethany Hospital.

Abdul Kalam died at 7:45 p.m. due to cardiac arrest and his last words were “Funny guy! Are you doing well?” to his assistant, Srijan Pal Singh.

The news saddened the whole nation.

Abdul Kalam even spent the last minutes of his life by doing his most favourite work of delivering speech and guiding the youth.

His properties-

Throughout his entire life, Abdul Kalam hadn’t amassed any kind of wealth or properties and all he had were just 2,500 books, a wrist watch, six shirts, four trousers, three suits and a pair of shoes.

Books-

Abdul Kalam wrote many great books

Abdul Kalam wrote many great books like-

  • India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium (1998).
  • Wings of Fire: An Autobiography (1999).
  • Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India (2002).
  • The Luminous Sparks (2004).
  • Mission India (2005).
  • Inspiring Thoughts (2007).
  • Indomitable Spirit (2006).
  • Envisioning an Empowered Nation (2003).
  • You Are Born To Blossom: Take My Journey Beyond (2011).
  • Turning Points: A journey through challenges (2012).
  • Target 3 Billion (2011).
  • My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions (2013).
  • A Manifesto for Change: A Sequel to India 2020 (2014).
  • Forge your Future: Candid, Forthright, Inspiring (2014).
  • Reignited: Scientific Pathways to a Brighter Future (2015).
  • Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji (2015).
  • Advantage India: From Challenge to Opportunity (2015).

His hobbies were interacting with youth and children, reading books, playing veena, writing poetry and listening to music.

Through Abdul Kalam’s website www.abdulkalam.com, he addressed the society and people from all walks of the society.

Making entrepreneurs-

Abdul Kalam outlined the role of the universities in making India a knowledge superpower.

He recommended that the Indian universities should train students to become employment generators (entrepreneurs) rather than the employment seekers (employees).

Abdul Kalam also briefed about changing the syllabus and to set aside six months for training the students and making them self-confident so that they can raise loans and start small businesses or startups.

He underlined the need of millions of such small startups founded by a group of three or four people.

These kinds of startups are numerous in the developed world.

Also, the government should encourage the startups by formulating venture capital and the banks should easily provide loans for the startups.

Luckily, the current government operates Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY) with a vision to financially support and fund the entrepreneurs through various institutions like banks, etc.

Abdul Kalam said that the syllabus should be modified such that any graduate should be trained at least for six months and after completing his graduation, he would have both a degree and a diploma.

A degree is a regular one but the six months diploma should state his unique expertise and skills.

This is an important point as it provides him with the required confidence.

Abdul Kalam closely worked with the education system to help universities to formulate proper syllabus with a value system which would benefit the entrepreneurs.

Biopic-

A biopic on Abdul Kalam titled APJ Abdul Kalam: The Missile Man is planned to be released by the end of 2020.

In this movie, Paresh Rawal is playing the role of Abdul Kalam while Boman Irani is playing the role of L. K. Advani.

Valuable life lessons-

Spend your time with the right people

Every child is born with some special characteristics but his future is dependent on the training he receives, his thought process, the kinds of work he does, his surroundings and the people around him.

Abdul Kalam became so successful in all the areas of life because he spent most of his time with the right and positive people like his parents, teachers and good friends like Ahmed Jalaluddin, etc.

So, this teaches us that we should spend the majority of our time with positive and encouraging people as this helps to shape our own mentality and thoughts in a more positive way and will help us to become great.

Formula to realise your dreams-

dream big to achieve your goals

The life of Abdul Kalam teaches us that to achieve anything significant in your life, first of all you should dream big and then, desire it intensely and work towards it.

Then, you can achieve your goals despite your poor financial situation, the conditions of your family, etc.

When you are focused on your goals, the whole universe helps you in the process by showing you the right people who will provide you with inspiration and support.

Working with passion brings out perfection-

To achieve anything significant in your work, you need to work in the areas related to your interests.

Until unless you don’t get emotionally involved with your work, it would be very hard for you to make any great strides at work.

For example, let’s look at the following life incident of Abdul Kalam and learn how passionate he was towards his work.

Once, Vikram Sarabhai assigned him the work of designing the fourth stage of the SLV.

Despite facing numerous challenges, Abdul Kalam made great progress.

He also received praise for his work from Curien, then President of CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales).

Curien was so pleased with Abdul Kalam’s work that he asked him to design the fourth stage of Diamont, a launch vehicle of France.

Diamont was a completely different launch vehicle and this made his work even more difficult.

But as Abdul Kalam was very passionate towards his work, he went the extra mile and made several innovations.

He also began observing his colleagues who were very interested in their works and constantly performed experiments with their works.

So, Abdul Kalam approached all such colleagues and discussed with them, taking their feedback and suggestions.

He continued doing this even when some of his colleagues opined that this behaviour was very immature.

Abdul Kalam also took notes from them and used to distribute those notes to his other colleagues and asked them to follow up after a few days.

It was his undying passion towards his work which enabled him go above and beyond in his work.

Curien was very impressed by the progress made and praised that Abdul Kalam and his team achieved so much in a single year which his counterparts in Europe can’t achieve even in three years.

He used to work for 18 hours a day and only because of this, he had been able to greatly contribute to the development of many great rockets and missiles, which were made for the first time in India.

Be humble and down to earth-

Abdul Kalam was very humble

Abdul Kalam used to credit all the success he achieved in his life to god.

He used to say that he had been able to become successful because god gifted him with great parents, teachers and colleagues.

Abdul Kalam also said that all the great works done by him were the creations of god and the god made them (works) possible through him.

His life teaches us that we should remain humble and down to earth even after becoming successful.

Once, Abdul Kalam attended as a chief guest for a convocation at IIT(BHU)Varanasi, where he was offered a special chair to sit on.

This chair was bigger in size compared to the other chairs on the stage.

On observing this, Abdul Kalam requested for a normal chair and sat on it and this once again proves his humbleness.

Don’t forget your roots-

It’s important to remember your roots (origins) even if you have become very successful.

While working as a scientist in Trivandrum, Kerala, Abdul Kalam befriended a roadside cobbler and a hotelier.

In 2002, he was invited to Kerala’s Raj Bhavan after becoming the President of India and was given a chance to invite any two people to the special event at Raj Bhavan.

Abdul Kalam could have invited any famous personality as his special guest but he took everyone by surprise by inviting his old friends, the cobbler and hotelier.

Most powerful thing-

An ignited mind or soul is the most powerful resource on the earth.

Only an ignited mind can think big and achieve anything.

Characteristics of a great leader-

Abdul Kalam was a great leader

Abdul Kalam was lucky to work with many great leaders and this eventually made him a great leader.

  • He said that a great leader should have a clear vision for his nation or organisation, science, industry and for social upliftment.
  • He should be able to successfully manage both the successes and failures.
  • A leader and his actions should be transparent.
  • He should be courageous to take risks and explore the unexplored paths.
  • His decision making ability should not get influenced by the success or failure.
  • He should work with integrity and succeed with integrity.

Abdul Kalam inherited all these great leadership qualities from the great leaders like Vikram Sarabhai, etc.

The political leaders should spend more time on developmental politics and strive to develop the country as fast as possible and focus on economic development and poverty removal.

Learn to handle failures-

In addition to knowing to handle successes we should also know to handle failures as failures and problems are inevitable while doing any task.

An individual should be competent enough to not get carried away by the success and failure but should work to overcome the problems and successfully complete the tasks.

Have a great imagination power

Many inventions and discoveries have resulted from the creative minds which have been constantly working and imagined the outcome of the work.

When you constantly work towards your goal and imagine the outcome, then all the forces of the universe will help you in the process.

Maintain your uniqueness-

Every youth wants to be unique but the world around them tires to make them ordinary like everybody else.

In the short term, being like everybody else is very convenient but in the long run, this is not very satisfactory to oneself.

So, you have to fight with the world to maintain your uniqueness.

For this purpose, first of all you should set a goal and dream big.

Then, try to acquire as much knowledge as possible related to your goal.

You have to work hard with commitment to realise your goal.

Finally, you should persevere until you have achieved your goals.

Then, no one can stop you from becoming successful.

Be limitless

Those who dare to imagine the impossible are the ones who break all the human limitations and the history is filled with the examples of all such people.

The people like C. V. Raman, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein changed the world by breaking the limits of their imagination.

Abdul Kalam was also inspired by Srinivasa Ramanujan, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie and Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Alva Edison.

Be a lifelong student-

You should be a lifelong student and keep learning, as learning gives creativity, creativity leads to thinking, thinking gives knowledge and ultimately, knowledge makes you great.

Compete with yourself-

You can excel at your work if you continuously strive to better yourself.

Excellence is not achieved by an accident but by constantly working towards your goal with focus and setting the performance standards for yourself.

You should take calculated risks and should not get disheartened by failures.

When you finally reach your targets, you should set yourself greater targets and by doing so, you can enhance your performance and potential.

This cycle should be continually repeated and by doing so, you are not in competition with others but with yourself.

Like this, you should be unique and follow a culture of excellence.

Dare to dream big-

When you dream big, you think big, then you take big actions and ultimately all these actions yield big results.

The journey of every success starts with a dream and that of big success starts with a big dream, so to achieve anything significant in your life, you should dare to dream big.

Abdul Kalam dreamt to fly in the sky by becoming a pilot.

He finally realised his much cherished childhood dream at an age of 74.

Abdul Kalam is the India’s only president to fly a fighter plane

On June 8, 2006, Abdul Kalam became India’s first and only president to fly a fighter plane.

He along with Ajay Rathore co-piloted the Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter plane for 40 minutes at the Lohegaon Air Force Base in Pune, Maharashtra.

The main pillars for Abdul Kalam’s success are believing in the self, staying committed, dreaming big, never quitting and staying grounded.

Feedback from readers is highly appreciated; as it helps me to deliver better results to you.

Infographic-

An infographic on the biography of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
An infographic on the biography of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is Abdul Kalam an inspiration?

Abdul Kalam is an inspiration to many.
He inspires everyone to dream big, realise dreams and achieve great things.
Abdul Kalam motivates people to not give up even when the plans don’t work out.

Who is the inspiration of Adbul Kalam?

Adbul Kalam was very lucky to be surrounded with inspiring people all through his life.
• His father, A.P. Jainulabdeen inspired him to be honest and disciplined.
• His mother, Ashiamma motivated Adbul Kalam to be kind to everyone.
• His brother-in-law, Ahmed Jalaluddin inspired him to read books, study well and achieve something significant.
• His teacher, Iyadurai Solomon motivated Adbul Kalam that he has the potential to realise his dreams.
• Adbul Kalam was also inspired by many great personalities like Srinivasa Ramanujan, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie and Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Alva Edison.

What inspired Abdul Kalam?

In his fifth grade, Abdul Kalam was inspired by the flight of birds and by this, he became determined to grow up and study flight and flight systems.
Later, two demilitarized aircraft exhibited on the campus of Madras Institute of Technology inspired him to become a pilot.

Why is Abdul Kalam a hero?

Abdul Kalam is a hero because even though he was born into a middle class family in a very remote part of India, he went on to become a great scientist and later President of India with his dedication and work ethics.

What are the qualities of Abdul Kalam?

The many great qualities of Abdul Kalam are as follows-
• Working hard
• Lifelong learning
• Courteous
• Industrious
• Patriotic
• Positive thinking

What is the name of Abdul Kalam biography?

Wings of Fire: An Autobiography is a book released on 1 January 1999 is his autobiography.
This book was co-authored by Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari.

What is knowledge according to Abdul Kalam?

According to Abdul Kalam, knowledge makes you great.
You acquire knowledge by being a lifelong student and learning, being creative and a thinker.

How did Abdul Kalam earn his first wages?

Abdul Kalam earned his first ever wages by selling newspapers.
He did this to support his family.
Later, Abdul Kalam also collected and sold tamarind seeds and worked in his brother’s provisional shop.

Who made Abdul Kalam President?

On 10 June 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) party suggested nominating Abdul Kalam for the post of President.
Nationalist Congress Party and Samajwadi Party also supported the NDA’s proposal.

What is Dr. Kalam’s dream for India called?

Abdul Kalam’s dream for India is called the India 2020 mission.
The main motto of this mission is to make India an economically developed nation by the year 2020.


Naveen Reddy

Hi, I am Naveen Reddy, a post-graduate in Master of Pharmaceutical Analysis. Since my early school days, I used to read every article and book I could find on motivation and with the passage of time, I only grew more passionate about this topic.

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