As per the preface, Arun Tiwari had worked with Dr. Kalam for over a decade and was involved in the project on Akash missile airframe. Arun was so fascinated by Dr. Kalam’s range of ideas and thought process that he decided to pen down Dr. Kalam’s recollections before they get buried irretrievably under the sands of time.
Wings of Fire
“Wings of Fire” is the life story of Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India. A notable scientist and an engineer, Dr. Kalam is often referred to as the Missile Man of India. He played a key role in developing India’s first and indigenously made: ballistic missiles, hovercraft, Nuclear-strike capable missiles and made immense contribution to the Guided Missiles Development programme and various ISRO projects.
Dr. Kalam was born at Rameswaram in Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu, to a working class Tamil Muslim family. He received his degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1958.
He joined India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) upon graduation to work on a hovercraft project. In 1962, Dr. Kalam moved to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), where his team successfully launched several satellites. He made a significant contribution as Project Director to develop India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully placed the Rohini satellite into near earth orbit in July 1980.
In 1982, Kalam returned to the DRDO as Director, focusing on Indigenous guided missiles. He was responsible for the development and operational success of the Agni and Prithvi missiles. This earned him the sobriquet “India’s missile-man”. He also helped in the formulation of healthcare products using technology developed for missiles.
In July 1992, Kalam became a Scientific Advisor to India’s Defense Minister. As the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government, he held the rank of a Cabinet Minister. His work led to the successful Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, which reiterated India’s position as a nuclear weapon state. Kalam was also the Chairman, Ex-officio, of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C) and piloted the “India Millennium Mission 2020″. (Short summary picked from wikipedia)
Kalam has the unique distinction of having received honorary doctorates from at least thirty universities, as also India’s three highest civilian honors: the Padma Bhushan in 1981; the Padma Vibhushan in 1990; and the Bharat Ratna in 1997.
In this book, Dr. Kalam has described the various projects he undertook and shows how a person can manage a large team of experts without any formal knowledge in project management and team dynamics. He never fails to acknowledge his co-workers, team members and others of importance, throughout the book. The book is dotted with snippets of poetry and hymns that Dr. Kalam is fond of and has collected over his life time.
Dr. Kalam is one of the few Indian scientists who had the opportunity to work with Indian space research stalwarts like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and interact with pioneers of missile technology like Wernher Von Braun. His works have put India on the nuclear map of the world and made it a part of an elite club of nations. In the words of the man himself:
“Do not look at Agni as an entity directed upwards to deter the ominous or exhibit your might. It is fire in the heart of an Indian. Do not even give it the form of a missile as it clings to the burning pride of this nation and thus is bright.”
Another quote from the book:
“Technology, unlike science, is a group activity. It is not based on an individual’s intelligence, but on the interacting intelligence of many.”
This is the story of Kalam’s own rise from obscurity, his personal n professional struggles…. This is also the saga of independent India’s struggle for technological self sufficiency & defensive autonomy – a story as much about politics, as it is about science.
It is a narrative of India’s strides in rocketry & space science. The book is neatly divided into four sections – Orientation, Creation, Propitiation & Contemplation. The book dedicated to his parents begins with ‘My mother’ – a poetic tribute to his mother Kalam.
The first section covers the early life of Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Hope you noted the expansion of APJ .. it could be asked when you are on hot seat on KBC3 ;-). His memories of the early days are very reminiscent of good old magudi set up. The way he remembers his relatives, teachers who influenced him makes one wonder. Adding color to the section are the black and white pics of that time. This section covers all his education and early travels.
The next section deals with Kalam’s further trainings and his association with defense and space projects, mainly the SLV3. This section has too much scientific details and introduces you to a list of defense and space research establishments that you may have not even heard of. Just as he thanks his family and mentors in the first section here you find him thanking the stalwarts of Indian science like Prof Vikram sarabhai, Dr Brahm prakash, Prof Satish Dhawan. That Kalam is an aam aadmi at heart is proved by his many narratives involving his interaction with committed but insignificant people in the hierarchy. All through the book you are continually fed with acronyms, which again can come back to you on any KBC3 as a question.
The third section covers the years 80-91 when Kalam moves from ISRO to defence Labs. Here again like the previous section there are many black and white pictures where like the 70s hero, you find kalam in bell bottom pants ;-). The book covers the story behind the names we have all heard, the SLV3, PSLV, Akaash, Naga, Agni, Trishul and what not. The book apart from Kalam’s story is also a list of Indian space who is who & achievements.
The last section deals with later years where Kalam is conferred with a list of awards, his contemplations, his visions for the country. There is a very touchy narration of how he visited a old teacher of his & the reunion of a pupil who went beyond teachers expectations. Its difficult not to be inspired by this life. The section along with epilogue also mentions of Kalams vision 2020 – of self reliance vision & technology vision.