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People’s President Abdul Kalam passes delivering lecture on ‘Liveable Planet’

Shillong (Meghalaya): Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, one of the most popular presidents of India, died on Monday after he collapsed during a lecture to business management graduates in the northeastern city of Shillong.

The 84-year-old Kalam, who was President of India from 2002 to 2007, was affectionately called the “Missile Man,” “Scientist-Patriot” and “People’s President”. Many Indians credited him with lending relevance to what is largely a ceremonial post.

Kalam suffered a cardiac arrest during the lecture and was declared dead as soon as he was brought to the Bethany Hospital. He was in Shillong to deliver a lecture titled “Liveable Planet Earth,” according to his last tweet.

Kalam, a rocket engineer, played a key role in weaponising India’s nuclear programme and was instrumental in conducting the country’s second nuclear test, in 1998, which earned the wrath of the United States and was followed by international sanctions. He received several national awards for his work.

During his term in the office, Kalam opened the imposing gates of the presidential palace and made it more accessible to ordinary Indians by hosting schoolchildren, farmers and scientists. He was the author of the best-selling inspirational book called “Ignited Minds — Unleashing the Power Within India,” which was very popular among schoolchildren. He was the visiting professor to many management, science and technology colleges across India.

His quotes were often printed on post cards, calendars and greeting cards.

Condoling Kalam’s death, President Pranab Mukherjee said, “Dr Kalam was a people’s President during his life time and will remain so even after death.”

 “As a President, his life, his work and everything about him continues to show the way for India. His life-long efforts to deploy scientific intellect in making India powerful, is truly the nation’s wealth,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a televised address. “He used to say teaching was his passion, and he spent his last moments among the students doing what he loved most.”

Meghalaya Governor V Shanmuganathan said the doctors ‘made enormous efforts to save him but we lost a great leader.’ Meghalaya Chief Secretary PBO Warjri broke the news to media: “Kalam is no more.”

Doctors at the hospital said Kalam was brought ‘almost dead’ after suffering a cardiac arrest. Hospital director John Sailo Ryntathiang said they did their best to revive him. But he could not be saved.

The Kerala government announced a holiday for government offices and educational institutions on Tuesday to mourn the death of Kalam.

Kalam the newspaper boy

Born on 15 October 1931 in Rameswarama, Tamil Nadu, Kalam studied physics and aerospace engineering, and went on to become one of the most celebrated aerospace and defence scientists in the country.

Kalam’s early years were, however, steeped in poverty when, as a mere eight-year-old, he hawked newspapers to supplement the income of a large family.

There were times when food was scarce in the family and his hard-pressed mother stretched every resource to the utmost to keep her five sons and daughters as well as her boat owner husband and his brother's families fed, clothed and in good health.

By his own admission, Kalam would wake up much before dawn to distribute newspapers in the town after collecting newspaper bundles at the Rameshwaram railway station. The tough routine lasted a year.

His sister pawned jewellery with a moneylender so that the studious Kalam could have Rs 600 to join the Madras Institute of Technology.

Kalam contributed to the development of India’s first satellite launch vehicle and was the architect of the country’s guided missile development programme.

He spent many decades as a scientist and science administrator, mainly at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He became the DRDO chief in 1992. He became the principal scientific advisor to the Indian government in 1999 with the rank of a cabinet minister. He held the post till 2001.

Missile Man of India

Kalam was intimately involved in the India's civilian space program and military missile development efforts. He thus earned the moniker of 'Missile Man of India' for his work on the development of ballistic missile and launch vehicle technology.

Kalam had played a pivotal role in India's Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by India in 1974.

Kalam was elected the President of India in 2002 with the support of the both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition Indian National Congress. After a term of 5 years, he returned to civilian life and was actively involved in education, writing, and public service.

India government had conferred Padma Bhushan on him with in 1981, Padma Vibhushan in 1990. He was also presented with Honorary Doctorate of Science by University of Wolverhampton, UK in 2007.

An inspiring luminary, Kalam had authored several books including noted ones such as 'Wings of Fire', 'Ignited Minds', 'The Luminous Sparks', 'Mission India', among others. Many of his books were translated into Malayalam. (With inputs from agencies)