“That man was made of something else!” quite a few of us exclaimed as we saw Kalam leave the mortal world. We, the mediocre average-thinking individuals that largely constitute the Indian society, precisely like to separate the leadership cult from ourselves. We presume those that decide to change the world are the ‘other’ people. Demystifying these concepts, in 1931, in the suburb of Rameswaram in a poor household, was born a boy who set his eyes on the bigger picture. And then there was no looking back.
The ‘Missile Man’ who left us recently was a son of a boat-carrier. From newspaper-vending to being the first citizen of India, Kalam’s journey had been fraught with struggle. Born and brought up under straitened circumstances, he had begun to gauge the vastness of the sea from a very tender age. His first engineering project was partaking in the building of his father’s ferry; the one that made ends meet for Kalam’s family. At the age of 8, he started working as a newspaper boy for his cousin and took part in family’s finance. He would catch the bundles of newspapers that came flying in from the running train and take them for distribution. ‘Mostly, I learnt that to be a working man meant you had to be up and ready to face the day, whatever else may happen to you. Homework, tuition, prayers, all carried on, but the Madras-Dhanushkodi Mail would not wait for me – I had to be present at the station at the correct time and at the correct point to catch the bundles as they came flying in. It was my first brush with taking up a responsibility and seeing to it that I kept my word to my cousin Samsuddin, no matter what,” recounts Kalam in his autobiography. Later, he studied Aeronautical Engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology and then went to work at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore. By then, he had nurtured a keen interest in flying and put his blood and sweat into realizing this dream. Interestingly enough, Kalam got lesser score in the interview conducted by the Air Force Selection Board due to the lack of ‘a certain degree of smartness’. Later he got selected as senior scientific assistant at Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD & P). Also, the indelible imprint in the pages of History on his part was the development of five missiles – Prithvi, Trishul, Akash, Nag and Agni. The ‘People’s President’ also got the position of an Indian prez all depoliticized!
What defines the fine line between Kalam and any other average human being is the quality of response we render to the circumstances that wrought us. We can either go about ranting about the things we don’t have or take a good look at the opportunities that surround us. The choice is and has always been ours to make. The value of time is the next most important thing amongst the myriad lessons that the ‘Missile Man’ left us with. The restlessness, the panting and the hurrying is just not there for constructive reasons in today’s youth. We’d rather sit and wonder about our next meal than the next project. The attitude towards the work defines its quality. The fact that Kalam got rejected in the interview for a job he had held so dear to his heart, would have been enough to make him feel dejected. But he did not. He decided not to ‘fight against destiny’ but to give his best in the job that had got. This art of turning stones-to-diamonds is the only trick in the game. “Like me, I am sure almost every person who sets out with a goal has had to face unexpected obstacles. We’ve had to rethink our goals, reorient our paths. Each setback teaches us a new facet of life and something about our own personalities. When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.” A.P.J. Abdul Kalam truly was an example that neither money nor plush lifestyle is in the eligibility criteria for ultimate success. The one thing that really counts big at the end of the day is your attitude.