India's greatest technocrat, Abdul Kalam, passes away, while delivering a lecture

28th July 2015
India's greatest  technocrat, Abdul Kalam, passes away, while delivering a lecture

July 28 2015: Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, aerospace and missile scientist and former President of India, passed away of a stroke yesterday, in Shillong, after collapsing while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management. He was 83. Arguably India's greatest  technocrat -- and an inspiration to millions of young people -- was the  face of a new  India, humane, technologically competent and vying for a place at the world's high table. We bring you rare glimpses of the man in his most creative phase -- as head of India's missile programme in the 1980s and 90s.

IndiaTechOnline Editor Anand Parthasarathy served with Kalam on the programme.

THE call usually came late in the evening. "Kalam here", it always began, followed by the standard question, "What's happening?" One never knew how to respond, for a day's work at the missile-test bed, on the periphery of Hyderabad, meant a hectic 10 hours with everything seeming to go wrong. After preliminary queries came the real business: a key report had to be sent to the Government the next day. "Eat your dinner in peace and come after you have finished," Kalam always hastened to add. He himself had not yet left the laboratory for the day.

This was how Kalam rounded up the "usual suspects", an informal group of scientists and engineers, when some crucial work was at hand. It might be a no-holds-barred session to thrash out some issues of navigation and guidance before a CCPA (Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs) paper emerged, or to solve a problem dogging the elaborate quality assurance testing cycle to which a key missile component was being subjected.
The sessions were always held at a small round table - a table without a head, for protocol-free discussion. Sometimes the sessions would last till the next morning. For discussions during earthly hours, there was a bigger room across the corridor. But here too, failure to reach a decision was not a recognised option.

Kalam attracted fierce loyalties from all those who came into contact with him. He was able to instil a sense of participation at every level, from the shop floor to the high-tech laboratory. His legion of admirers include some children to whose lives he added a special touch. For nine-year-old Swarna, a polio victim from birth, the Composites Production Centre of the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) designed an ultra lightweight, prosthetic foot support. A primary school student whose model of the Prithvi missile won the first prize in a contest in Secunderabad was taken to DRDL in Kalam's staff car so that he could see the real Prithvi being assembled..........

Read the rest of  Anand Parthasarathy's 1997 article about working with Kalam in the Indian Missile Programme in FRONTLINE Magazine

We are now a missile power. Anand Parthasarathy interviews  Abdul Kalam soon after he was  honoured with  India's highest award, Bharat Ratna.