Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was born and raised in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu. His Passion for learning led him from humble beginnings to the prestigious madras Institute of Technology, where he became an aeronautical engineer. After brief stint at the Defence research and Development Organization of India (DRDO), Dr. Kalam joined the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), where he became the project director for India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), which placed the rohini Satellite in orbit. Later he rejoined the DRDO and played a pivotal role in the development of India’s ballistic missile systems. He eventually rose to become the scientific advisor to the defence minister of India and was later appointed as principal scientific advisor to the Government of India, with the rank of a cabinet minister, involved in policy and strategy to transform India into a developed nation and a nuclear weapons state.
Dr. Kalam is the recipient of many national and international awards, including honorary doctorates from forty- eight universities all over the world. He received India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1997. Widespread recognition, coupled with his extensive national service, made Dr Kalam a popular choice for high office, and he became the eleventh president of Indian in 2002. His popularity has endured, and he is still affectionately called the ‘people’s president’ for bridging the gap between high office and the common people.
In addition to the autobiography wings of Fire, Dr. Kalam has written many books, and most of them are household names: India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India, envisioning on empowered nation: Technology for societal Transformation, Indomitable spirit Target 3 Billion: Pura: Innovative Solution towards sustainable Development, turning Point Governance for Growth in India, a Manifesto for Change and beyond 2020: a vision for tomorrow’s India
Arun Tiwari did his master’s in mechanical engineering from G.B. Pant University and Joined the Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) at Hyderabad as a missile Scientist in 1982. He was airframe designer and project manager (system integration) in the first three AKASH Missile developmental flights. In 1992, on becoming chief of DRDO, Dr Kalam decided to develop civilian spin-off of defence technology and appointed prof. Tiwari as the programme director.
As a member of Dr Kalam’s team, Arun Tiwari set up the first link of Pan-Africa e-Network of Telecommunications consultants India Ltd. (TCIL). The Network now connects universities and hospitals across the African continent with their Indian counterparts. In 1990 Arun Tiwari co-wrote Wings of Fire, the autobiography of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The Book became a modern classic, going into thirty reprints and selling more than a million copies. It has been translated into eighteen languages. He has written twelve books since then.
Arun Tiwari is currently consulting to evolve the blueprint for FDI in the defence sector and towards the creation of a strong defence Technological Industrial base (DTIB) in India. He is an adjunct professor in the School of management Sciences, University of Hyderabad.
I have vivid memories of my childhood in Rameswaram, but one memory particularly stands out, and comes to mind occasionally. As a ten-year-old boy, I recall seeing three contrasting personalities meet from time to time in our home: Pakshi Lakshmana Shastrigal, the Vedic scholar and head priest of the famous Rameswaram temple; Rev. Father Bodal, who built the first church on Rameswaram Island; and my father, who was an imam in the mosque. These three would sit in our courtyard, each with a cup of tea; and they would discuss and find solutions to the various problems facing our community.
Reflecting on this, I can see that my father and his religious counterparts in Rameswaram were expressing a long-standing cultural trait. India has shown a healthy propensity for integrating diverse ideas and reaching a consensus, for thousands of years. And I cannot help but feel that the example of those inter-religious meetings at my family home is most worthy of emulation. Because now, throughout the nation and the world, the need for such frank and genial dialogue among cultures, religions and civilizations is more urgent than ever.
Starting with my father, Jainulabdeen, I have been blessed with some great teachers, who appeared at different stages of my life. My father taught me to view one's role in life as that of an instrument or vessel, through which one takes with one hand and gives with the other/There is only one light, and you and I are holes in the lampshade: he would say. My father lived a simple life as it unfolded before him but never lost sight of the underlying divinity. Throughout my life, I have tried to emulate my father in this regard. My experiences of eight decades have validated the teaching I received from him. I do believe that all human beings carry divinity inside themselves, and that this can lift us out of confusion, misery, melancholy and failure, and indeed guide us when it is contacted.
As a young engineer, I worked with Or Brahma Prakash. He taught me how tolerance of others' views and opinions is essential in building teams and accomplishing tasks that are beyond the individuals' capacities. He taught me that life is a precious gift, but it comes with responsibility. With this gift, we are expected to use our talents to make the world a better place, to live an ethical and well- balanced life, and to prepare for the spiritual life, which is eternal. Or Brahma Prakash changed the way I saw the world. He once told me, 'Kalam, if you see this world as mean and rude, it will interfere with your concentration. Negative thinking is similar to carrying twenty bags of luggage on a trip. This baggage will make your trip miserable, and progress will be slow
As a project director, I worked with Professor Satish Dhawan, who taught me that a good leader takes the responsibility for the failures of his team, but gives the credit of his success to his colleagues. His academic accomplishments were awesome. He had a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and a Bachelor of Science in physics, followed by a Master of Arts in mathematics. These were augmented with a Bachelor of Engineering in mechanical engineering, a Master of Science in aerospace engineering and then double Ph Os in mathematics and aerospace engineering. When I asked him the secret of his brilliance, he told me: Academic brilliance is no different than the brilliance of a mirror. Once dust is removed, the mirror shines and the reflection is clear. We can remove impurities by living pure and ethical lives and serving humanity, and God will shine through us: Later, I met Jain muni Acharya Mahapragya, who made me realize the affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense in mortal existence. He taught me that our consciousness is the birthplace of our ethics. He said, 'We know something is right when our consciences are clear. Our consciences are our true friends: Together we wrote Family and Nation and articulated two steps to the process of listening to our conscience-to become self-aware so that we can connect to our conscience, and to act on what our conscience says.
I met Pramukh Swamiji, my ultimate teacher, unwittingly. Fate and my curiosity had drawn me to him. Earlier, as principal scientific advisor to the Government of India, I had visited Bhuj to review the rehabilitation work in the aftermath of the earthquake. There, on 15 March 2001, I met Sadhu Brahmaviharidas, a disciple of Pramukh Swamiji. He asked me a startling question which elicited a spiritual response. He asked: after the detonation of the first atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer remembered the Gita: "Time I am the shattered of the world". What came to your mind after you detonated India's first atomic bomb?' I was puzzled by this question, and said, 'The energy of God does not shatter, it unifies; to which he replied, 'Our spiritual leader, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, is a great unifier. He has unified all our energies to regenerate and restore life from the rubble of damage: I was moved and expressed my desire to meet such a swami. What began as a chance introduction became a divine destiny.
Over several years and multiple meetings with Pramukh Swamiji, I realized that a divine life can have no base unless we recognize the eternal spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, and integrate all of which the eternal spirit is comprised. That all those living on this planet Earth-around me, away from me, in my country, in other countries; even other species and vegetation and minerals-are all different forms of a great unity. At the most elementary level, all nature is one. Only one noble material weaves constantly different garbs. The nascent convergence of Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno technologies is testimony to this. How can we ensure that this convergence leads to human good and not harm; to the benefit of the marginalized and poor and not to merely an influential few?
With these thoughts on my mind, I travelled to Sarangpur, Gujarat, on 11 March 2014 to see Pramukh Swamiji. This was our latest meeting. We met in a garden inhabited by peacocks, surrounded by beautiful flowers. In an emotionally and spiritually charged atmosphere, Swamiji held my hand for ten minutes. No words were spoken. We looked into each other's eyes in a profound communication of consciousness. It was a great spiritual experience.
I have had a few spiritual experiences even earlier. On 30 September 200 I, I survived a helicopter mishap. That night, I had a very vivid dream. I saw myself in a desert on a moonlit night, surrounded by miles of sand. Five great men, namely Emperor Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and Caliph Umar, communicated a mission to me for igniting the minds of the young with hope.
On 28 April 2007, in the cave on Philopappos Hill-the place of imprisonment and self-sacrifice of the great soul Socrates-I saw in my mind's eye a powerful streak of lightning. Out of the dark corners of the cave came four apparitions, walking towards me in white robes. Foremost among them was Socrates, who said in a soft voice, 'Thinking is freedom: Next came Abraham Lincoln who said, 'No human being can be a slave of another: Then I saw Mahatma Gandhi, who said, 'Eliminate violence in all human missions, let peace prevail: Finally, I saw Galileo Galileo, who said, 'Truth is beyond human laws:
But at the garden in Sarangpur with Pramukh Swamiji, there was a difference. On the earlier two occasions, I felt that perhaps my own imagination was' at play. This time, Pramukh Swamiji was holding my hand. I became oblivious to the people around us, 'and was drawn into a kind of timeless silence. I felt that his was the hand of transformation that could bring a change that the world needed today. In these moments, a world vision based on Mother Earth was intuitively communicated to me. Pramukh Swamiji is Gunatit Satpurush, a spiritual person. He has transcended the ephemeral and the modes of nature. I felt as if through Pramukh Swamiji a divine message was transferred to me about something endowed to mankind by God Almighty, but forgotten by humanity.
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