Kalam, The Mentor Who Left An Indelible Impression

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s mantra was ‘think positive and do not give up on your dreams’, writes Suresh Bangara 

Updated31 Jul 2015, 02:12 PM IST
India
4 min read
Snapshot

The People’s President

  • Every weekend when most of South Block remained closed, Dr Kalam proceeded to a laboratory of interest to him
  • Dr Kalam’s mantra was ‘Think Positive & Do Not Give Up On Your Dreams’
  • A guru who refused to be angry and a patient teacher who encouraged dissent and neutralised it with subdued panache
  • Influenced by his mentor Professor Satish Dhawan, Dr Kalam was phlegmatic on certain issues

If you believe in destiny, perhaps you could explain how men and women enter your life for specific purposes. I was completely stumped by a chance visit to a Nadi Muni who interprets one’s destiny from writings on a palm leaf, recorded many centuries ago. He, without any information about me except a thumb print, told me not only my profession but the names of my parents as recorded on the palm leaf. Among ancient astrologers, Bhrigu who wrote his predictions on those destined to read them and Agasthya are known entities of Hindu mythology.

Having had this stunning exposure to predictions, my mind goes back to the many chance and unscheduled interactions with late Dr Abdul Kalam during my career in the navy. This article is an attempt to rationalise, if possible, my association with Dr Kalam or Professor Kalam as he preferred to be called after relinquishing his presidential assignment.

Although I first met him in the late Eighties, regular interaction began in the early nineties and lasted till I retired in 2006. My first few meetings on serious professional matters ended in disappointment. I could not relate to his simplified approach to resolving complex weapon-sensor related R&D work. Each session left me dissatisfied and angry. Perhaps he was treating me as a novice, I thought. Yet, I was drawn to him like a moth to a candle.

Laboratories of Interest

File picture of Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam addressing a gathering of students in Bangalore. (Photo: Reuters)
File picture of Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam addressing a gathering of students in Bangalore. (Photo: Reuters)

Every opportunity to discuss matters of maritime perspectives seen from progress on key DRDO projects, brought me to his door. This included a few Sundays when he reluctantly stayed back in Delhi. Every weekend when most of South Block remained closed, Dr Kalam proceeded to a laboratory of interest to him.

As our interaction grew so did the number of unanswered questions, mainly on delayed projects of critical importance. The missile man who was steering Prithvi and Agni was clearly unable to deliver on Trishul. Had I known that his life was shaped by his mentor Professor Satish Dhawan, who set a personal example of leadership by shielding Dr Kalam during the failure of the launch vehicle and later entirely crediting him for the success of the programme, I would have understood why he was phlegmatic on certain issues. He was clearly protecting the interest of a project which did not deliver. Not because he desired merely to protect failures but he knew that the success of such projects are critical for India’s future.

But then he had another quality; there was no negative thought that his mind would accept. Every statement was loaded with optimism and positivity. He felt that there was enough negativity and pessimism to drown all the positive strength of his organisation and the nation as a whole.

To Think Positive

This was an enduring trait that I imbibed from this relationship. Think positive and do not give up on your dreams.

My interaction continued to the critical programmes of strategic interest and beyond. It was not surprising when I was inducted into the Self-Reliance Implementation Committee (SRIC) at South Block. There were many disagreements during the conduct of this committee. That is when I discovered how firm he could be without being impolite. This is a quality that I failed to imbibe. Such qualities separate the great from the rest of us. A guru who refused to be angry and a patient teacher who encouraged dissent and neutralised it with subdued panache.

Guru as Supreme Commander

File picture of Dr APJ Kalam with army officers somewhere in Jammu and Kashmir. (Photo: Reuters)
File picture of Dr APJ Kalam with army officers somewhere in Jammu and Kashmir. (Photo: Reuters)

As Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command, when I was made an honorary ADC to the President in 2006, I wrote to him to say that this honorific appointment did not mean much to the organisation as it carried no executive function. When he met me at a conference he whispered in my years “My funny man”. I did not know whether it was an affectionate comment or a rebuke from the Supreme Commander.

A few months hence when I was about to swallow the anchor (a term used for retirement) he spent an hour with me at his study in Rashtrapati Bhavan. “What will you do in Pune, Bangara?” he asked. Without a thought I replied: “I will teach, Sir. I will be a little lamp which will do my best.”

He waved his hand and in came a photographer who clicked this picture (the first picture of the article). It was brought back in minutes and he asked for his special autograph pen with indelible ink and signed it with relish.

It is not the ink Sir, you have left an indelible impression which will carry me to my coffin. Au revoir my President.

(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command.)

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Published: 31 Jul 2015, 10:31 AM IST
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