APJ Abdul Kalam: From a paper boy to President of India

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abdul-kalam1Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was seen by millions of Indians as the ‘People’s President’, the ‘Missile Man’ who started life as a paperboy.

Born in Rameswaram on 15 October 1931, he was brought up by his boatman father Jainulabdeen in a multi-religious environment. He grew up with seven siblings; his mother Ashimma often made chappatis for him, while the others were given rice, since his day would start at 4 am and end at 11 pm.

Because he was a bright student, his mother would save up some kerosene oil so he could study at night.

He spent his growing years dreaming of conquering the space frontiers on the Arabian Sea. His dreams of the next two decades were mostly conjured up on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, where he test-fired a variety of short-, medium- and long-range conventional and nuclear-capable missiles for India.

His interest in flying led to a degree in aeronautical engineering, and eventually to his supervising the development of India’s guided missile program. He went abroad to study only once, in 1963-’64, to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States.

Along the way, he discovered his love for Tamil poetry and learned to play the veena. He could recite both the Holy Quran and the Bhagavad Gita.

Dr Kalam played a pivotal role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear test in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974..

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan and Bharat Ratna, and then he became the 11th President of India in 2002; one of the few presidents to have touched the hearts of the poor children in the country. Because he also came from a poor background, he knew the power of education in changing one’s future.

He became the first president to visit the Line of Control (LoC) and address the troops at Uri, close to the border with Pakistan.