Dr. APJ Kalam


SEVERAL months back, after finishing an interview with Dr. APJ Kalam, and just before leaving his Rajaji Marg residence he made me repeat these three words in a schoolteacher’s tone: perseverance, hard work and patience.

This, he said, was alone the path to progress. Later, much later, I realised, that it were the very words he’s lived by all through his life. They are both philosophical and practical, quite like the world he grew up in as a boy in the island town of Rameswaran, in south India.

His father, a humble boat owner, Jainulabdeen, was a devout Muslim and a close friend of the Rameswaran temple priest. Kalam was brought up in a multi-religious, tolerant society; one with a progressive outlook. His father often quoted from Quran to make the young Kalam see the world without fear. He had seven siblings, and a doting mother who, at times, made chappatis for Kalam, while the others were given rice as Kalam’s day would start at four in the morning and end at 11 p.m.


Kalam learnt a very important lesson at MIT, Chennai: The value of one’s time

His father wasn’t educated, but he wanted Kalam to study. Kalam would get up at 4 a. m., bathe, and then go for his mathematics class, which was taught by a teacher who took only five students in the whole session; and bathing before class was a condition he had laid to all his students. After his morning class, Kalam along with his cousin Samsuddin went around town distributing the newspaper. As the town had no electricity, kerosene lamps were lit at his home between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. But because Kalam studied until 11, his mother would save some for him for later use.

Being a bright student, Kalam always had the support of his schoolteachers. Schwarzt High School’s Iyadurai Solomon often told Kalam that if he truly, intensely desired something, he would get it. “This made me fearless,” said Dr. Kalam. And outside school, Ahmed Jallaluddin, who later became his brother-in-law, and Samsuddin, encouraged Kalam to appreciate nature’s wonders. So at once, while growing up, he was exposed to a religious and a practical way of looking at the world.

The flight of birds had fascinated him since he was a boy, but it was years later he realised that he wanted to fly aircrafts. After finishing school, he took up Physics at St. Joseph’s College, Trichi, but towards the end he was dissatisfied. When he discovered aeronautical engineering, he regretted having lost three precious years.But he was glad to have discovered Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy and F. Scott Fitzgerald and other English poets in his college time.

At Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai, where Kalam studied aeronautics, he learnt an important lesson: the value of time. He was leading a project on system design, when one day the principal walked into the class to see his work. He appeared dissatisfied and told Kalam that he wanted the project finished in the next two days; else his scholarship aid would be withdrawn. That unsettled Kalam. Years of his father’s hardships would come to naught. Kalam worked without food and sleep. On the last day, his professor came to check on his progress. He was impressed and said:  “I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline,” recounted Dr Kalam.

Although Kalam has led several projects in his professional life, he’s treated each like his last. Such was his passion. No wonder, he’s always
led projects. His advisor, Major General R. Swaminathan explained Kalam’s success as a leader. “He has this unique capability of being a boss as well as a worker. He can take on any role with ease.”

When Dr. Kalam’s first major project SLV 3-failed the first time he was almost shattered. Also, around this time, Kalam’s childhood mentor, Jallaluddin, died. “A part of me too passed away…” said Dr. Kalam. But he never thought of quitting after SLV-3. “I knew that for success, we have to work hard and persevere.” And so, SLV-3 was launched again, this time with success. He drew strength from philosophy, religion and literature to tide by his professional setbacks; also a life with few companions. In time, he also learnt to deal with professional jealousy and uncooperative team members.

Success followed Dr. Kalam. Prithvi, Agni, Akash, Trishul and Nag missiles were huge successes. He was awarded Padma Bhushan and Bharat Ratna, and then he became the President of India; one of the few presidents who have touched the hearts of so many poor children in the country. Because he also came from a poor background, he knew the power of education in  changing one’s future.

Academics: BTech ( MIT, Anna University)

Did you know...

    * His favourite authors are Thiruvalluvar, Lillian Eichler Watson and Denis Waitly.
    * He enjoys Indian Classical Music and played table tennis and badminton in college.


Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha


                     Homi Jehangir Bhabha (1909-1966)

BORN in Bombay, Dr Bhabha belonged to an illustrious family with strong nationalistic spirit. His parents took a keen interest in shaping his love for science and he had his own private library. He also picked up his creative instinct and aesthetic sense from his family, who valued fine arts,  and western classical music.

 At the age of 15, he passed the Senior Cambridge Examination and carried on with his interest in science for two years in Bombay before he joined Caius College in Cambridge in 1927 to study engineering. His love for physics was unusual. He wrote to his father from Cambridge in 1928, “I am burning with desire to do Physics. I will and must do it some time. It is no use saying to Beethoven you must be a scientist for it is a great thing, when he did not care two hoots for science. It is not in the nature of things. I therefore earnestly implore you to let me do physics”.

His exposure to Western science, in the labs at Cambridge during 1927-1939, motivated him to be associated with scientific developments, particularly in Physics. It was during this period that Bhabha carried out original research relating to cosmic radiation. His first publication at 24, fetched him the Isaac Newton Studentship to pursue his PhD. Between 1938-1942 he published 20 papers. In 1940, he got Fellowship of the Royal Society of Science, UK.

Back in India in 1939, Bhabha worked at IISc Bangalore, with Dr. CV Raman, His proximity to Nehru and his own charisma led to the establishment of two major scientific institutions: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and Atomic Energy Commission.

As a physicist, he is known for his work on relativistic electron-positron scattering or ‘Bhabha scattering’ and theory of electromagnetic cosmic ray showers. Bhabha’s leadership of atomic energy programme spanned 22 years till 1966. Received  the Padma Bhushan in 1954. 

Did you know...

* A painter, musician and an institution builder, he remained a bachelor, and when quizzed about marriage said, “I am married to creativity.

Elattuvalapil Sreedharan 

MEN sporting bright yellow safety helmets and fluorescent jackets and digging up busy roads,is a common sight in Delhi these days. The Delhi NCR region is connected like never before. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) project continues, full throttle. And the force behind this venture is Indian-born and educated Elattuvalapil Sreedharan.

Hailed as ‘The Metro Man’, ES, now 77, stumbled upon the job of Metro Chief, by chance. He was part of a search committee launched by the state government to locate a suitable person to head The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, as its Managing Director. The search did not yield even one suitable candidate, so the Government insisted he take up the position. ES very hesitatingly agreed stating that he was not interested in salary or perks, but he needs set-up free of political and bureaucratic interference to work. The Government agreed.

Thus started a journey, sans any frills and fanfare. He had no office, and not even a chair or phone to use. He worked out of a makeshift office room with a few of his close associates, who came with him from his earlier workplace, the Konkan Railway. The Metro Rail team built up gradually; general consultants were added, contractors engaged along the way and site workers, hired.


E Sreedharan declined any salary as DMRC chief and started work from a makeshift office sans even a phone and chair

 Engineering his way
The youngest of eight children, ES got very little parental care. But his only sister, now aged 101 and his elder brothers made up for it with their love and attention. Born in a remote village in the Palakkad district of Kerala, ES attended an ordinary school. He walked a long distance to reach it everyday.

As a student, he was bright and always topped his class. He also enjoyed building mud houses, bridges and roadways in the compound, an early expression of his engineering instincts. He went on to join Victoria College in Palghat and then graduated as an engineer from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. He briefly taught civil engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode, apprenticed with Bombay Port Trust for a year and later joined Indian Railways.

The 760 km long Konkan Railway Project was not only an engineering challenge as it involved construction of a bridges and tunnels over a rough terrain but a financial one as well. But under his guidance, the project was completed well in time and without cost overruns.

The Konkan Railway project put him in the spotlight, but one of his biggest challenges was the restoration of the Pamban Railway Bridge linking Mandapam and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. In 1963, 126 of the bridge’s 146 spans (distance between two supports of a bridge) were washed away by a tidal wave. He restored the bridge in 46 days against the target of six months by the Government.

Work ethics
A stickler for punctuality, he starts his day early; mediates and reads Bhagvad Gita, a two-hour daily ritual which he has been following for years. At work, he doesn’t stay back after 6 p.m., and doesn’t subscribe to late working hours. Every new employee of DMRC is gifted a copy of the Bhagwad Gita, regarded by the corporation as a self-management book and not a religious text.

He also understands the value of time; the Delhi Metro is 99.9% punctual. Detailed planning and analysis of the situation, followed by practical solution is his strategy for effective functioning.

Simple living and high thinking
For a man who takes on high-tech complex projects, his lifestyle has always remained simple A vegetarian, he is a frugal eater. He doesn’t consume milk products, but relishes bananas.

Academic: BE (JNTU)


    * Padma Shri
    * One of Asia’s Heroes by TIME
    * Degree of Doctor of Science
    * (Honoris causa) from IIT Delhi
    * Knight of the Legion of Honour by the French government
    * Padma Vibhushan

Did you know?

    * He has adopted children, donates award money to charity, and under his aegis, the DMRC has recently opened a shelter-cum-protection home for children in Delhi.
    * He has denied authorised biographies on him.
    * He was the captain of his college football team.

(As told by Anuj Dayal, chief PRO, DMRC to Urmila Rao. He has been working with ES for the last 12 years)

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