'We are now a missile power'

Print edition : December 13, 1997

A.P.J. ABDUL KALAM was in Secunderabad on December 2 to deliver the first M. Channa Reddy Memorial lecture on "Andhra Pradesh and Technology." Soon after the talk, a little girl went up to Kalam to get his autograph. He asked her: "What is your dream?" She said: "Sir, I want to live in a developed country."

Two days later, when this writer met Kalam in his Ministry of Defence office in Delhi, he was still thinking about what the girl had said. "That child put it so beautifully," he said. "We have been a 'developing' country for 50 years. Isn't it time we became a 'developed' country?" In his view, technology is going to be the key to this transition.

"Our economic strength will flow from our mastery of key strategic technologies," observed Kalam. Before the end of 1997, he said, India would be an end-to-end computer chip-maker and would have designed and fabricated a state-of-the-art chip, "Anupama", which would be a key building block for supercomputers.

According to Kalam, a dimensional change has taken place in India's defence status. "We are now a missile power - we don't have to import strategic missiles. We are making 'Prithvi' (surface-to-surface missile) and the latest flights of the quick-reaction surface-to-air missile 'Trishul' have cleared the way for user trials early in 1998 prior to induction by the services."

What was his initial reaction to the news that he had been awarded the Bharat Ratna? "My first thought was one of gratitude to my parents, who struggled hard to put me through school and college. My father lived to be 103. I still have vivid and grateful memories of Shiva Subramania Iyer, my teacher at the elementary school in Rameswaram, and my teacher in high school, Iyadurai Solomon, who encouraged me to take up science."

Asked about his achievements, he said: "Whatever I have achieved is by standing on the shoulders of great teachers - and thousands of others in the Space and Defence Research Departments." But he gratefully remembers three personalities who have guided him in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). "I was fortunate to have had three great men to guide me - Vikram Sarabhai, with whom I worked from 1963 to 1971; Prof. Satish Dhawan, who guided me for another seven to eight years from 1978 and had enough trust in me to make me Project Director of SLV-3; and Dr. Brahm Prakash, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre."

Kalam said he was particularly touched by two telephone calls he received after the announcement about the Bharat Ratna came. The callers were Satish Dhawan and K.V.R. Pandalai, his professor at the Madras Institute of Technology.

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