APJ Abdul Kalam: Great scientist, extraordinary human being
Dr Avinash Chander, former DRDO chief, recalls his association with former president APJ Abdul Kalam.
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was a great scientist, an inspiring leader and, above all, an extraordinary human being. He touched the lives of everyone who worked with him. I recall the time we were preparing to test the Agni technology demonstrator in 1989. There were lots of nervous moments and we weren't sure how the test would go. We had returned from the launch pad twice in the past and this was a crucial test.
Kalam used to carry his resignation letter with him those days. He had decided if anything went wrong, he would accept the responsibility and step down. There are not many leaders like that. He stayed awake all night at the launch pad, making sure everything was in order.
India's strategic missile programme is where it is today because of Kalam's genius.
He would give everyone an opportunity to contribute to a project irrespective of where they were in the pecking order.
The days ahead of the 1998 nuclear tests were stressful but Kalam never lost his cool. He scripted that glorious chapter in India's history.
The human side of Kalam's personality was as legendary as his scientific acumen. One of the scientists working with us was suffering from a life-threatening liver disorder. Kalam went out of his way to get clearances for the scientist to be treated abroad. He cared for people and his team.
Even as President, he followed the developments in the military world closely. He visited Wheeler Island days before a crucial Agni-III launch to encourage all of us in 2006. His presence was immensely encouraging. But as luck would have it, the test failed.
We were quite crestfallen and were busy trying to figure out what went wrong. At this stage, I got a message that the President was looking for me. I went to meet him and he patted me on my back and said: "Things will be fine, Avinash. Tell me if you want anyone to help you with the analysis of what went wrong. Anyone, anywhere in the world. We will get him here." That was unforgettable.
(As told to Rahul Singh)