A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a prominent Indian scientist who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. Renowned for his pivotal role in the nation’s civilian space programme and military missile development, he was known as the Missile Man of India. He made significant contributions to India's Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998 which established him as a national hero. An alumnus of the prestigious Madras Institute of Technology, Kalam began his career as a scientist at the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). He was later transferred to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) where he served as the project director of India's first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III). He eventually rejoined DRDO and became closely involved in India’s space programme. he served as the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister in the 1990s before becoming the President of India in 2002. Immensely popular during his term, he earned the moniker of People's President. He was honored with several awards including the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, for his contribution to the nation’s space and nuclear programme.
He was born as Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam on 15 October 1931 into a Muslim family in Rameswaram, then in the Madras Presidency in British India, and now in the state of Tamil Nadu. His father Jainulabudeen was a boat owner while his mother Ashiamma was a housewife. Kalam had four elder siblings.
Even though his ancestors had been wealthy traders, the family had lost most of its fortunes by the 1920s and was poverty-stricken by the time Kalam was born. As a young boy he had to sell newspapers in order to add to the family’s meager income.
Even though the family was not financially well-off, the children were raised in an atmosphere filled with love. In one of the books which Kalam wrote decades later, he fondly remembered how his mother would lovingly feed her own quota of food to the children and go hungry herself.
He was a good student and always curious to learn more about how things happened. When he was ten years old, one of his teachers, Siva Subramania Iyer, took the students to the seashore and asked them to observe the birds in flight.
Then the teacher gave the children a theoretical explanation, which coupled with the live practical example, cast a deep influence on young Kalam’s mind. That very day the boy realized that his life’s calling had something to do with flight.
After completing his studies at Schwartz Higher Secondary School, he enrolled at Saint Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, graduating in science in 1954. Pursuing his childhood dream, he travelled to Madras to study aerospace engineering in Madras Institute of Technology.
During his third year, he was assigned a project to design a low-level attack aircraft together with a few other students. The project was a difficult one and on top of it, their guide gave them a very tight deadline. The young men toiled together, working under immense pressure, and finally managed to achieve the target within the stipulated deadline. The guide was thoroughly impressed by Kalam’s dedication.
At this juncture, Kalam aspired to become a fighter pilot. However he could not realize this dream.