Scientists at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad remember former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who led India's missile development programme, for his warmth and humility.
At a remembrance meet, held at the top defence laboratory under the ministry of defence on Tuesday, ace scientists recalled their interactions with the Missile Man and the lessons they learnt from him. Kalam had joined the DRDL after his stint at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
DRDL's director, Kannan Jayaraman, who joined the lab in 1982 the same year when Kalam took charge as its director, said a major difficulty that scientists faced then was finding an accommodation.
Jayaraman recalls that the city was not as big and vibrant as it is now and finding a rented house near the labs, then on the outskirts, and commuting was difficult.
"It was under Dr Kalam, the scientists' hostels and new quarters were built to house most of the staff on the campus. Dr Kalam ensured our comfort while he continued to live in a single room, refusing to use the director's bungalow," Jayaraman told HT.
Jayaraman remembers Kalam's room was filled with books.
"I visited him often and he used to hand me some books on Tamil classical literature. His interest in veena came later."
Another scientist talked about Kalam's simplicity and concern for his colleagues.
"Dr Kalam used to walk everywhere on the campus. In the middle of the night, he would visit our workstations to know about the progress made and would cheer us up if we were facing some setback," he said.
At DRDL, Kalam was also the chief of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme that gave the nation the strength of Agni, Akash, Prithvi, Trishul and Nag missiles.
"Dr Kalam's late evening reviews used to stretch for hours and sometimes past midnight as he would not leave any work pending for next day. He is a father figure for the scientific community of the country who used to bring out the best in any person with a mere interaction," Tessy Thomas, the first woman to head the Agni IV missile project, told HT.
Kalam's another major contribution to the defence establishment is the Research Centre Imarat (RCI). The avionics centre and integration facility for the missile programme, the brainchild of Kalam, is now a separate campus near the Rajiv Gandhi international airport.
Kalam left the DRDL in 1992 to serve as the scientific advisor to the defence minister in New Delhi. The last time he visited the facility was in March 2014 when he was his usual best – motivating his former and young colleagues alike.
Kalam, 83, died after suffering a massive cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture at IIM-Shillong on Monday evening. His body was flown from New Delhi to Tamil Nadu's Rameswaram on Wednesday morning. Kalam's body will be kept in Rameswaram, the fishing town where he grew up, for people to pay their respects before the state funeral on Thursday morning.