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3 - SEVEN TURNING POINTS OF MY LIFE

24 April 2023

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You become the captain of the problems, 

Defeat the problem and succeed.

I love teaching and research, as I never tire of repeating. Academic life is at the core of my thought, my innovation. Interaction with youth and their teachers is food for my inner self. I took a conscious decision to return to the academic and research area. I have just described the sudden turn of events that led me to accept the presidency of the country, although I had prepared myself for a full-fledged academic career. That brings back to my memory six other events that changed the course of my life. One could add to these my re- entry into academic life in India and abroad after the presidency as a fresh transition.

The first turning point in my life was in 1961. I still remember, as a senior scientific assistant at the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), I was the chief designer of a hover- craft. The hovercraft, called Nandi, was ready and we were demonstrating its flight to many visitors. It was a popular draw. One day, the director of the ADE, Dr Gopinath Mediratta, brought a visitor - a tall, handsome and bearded man. He asked me several questions about the machine. I was struck by the clarity of his thinking. 'Can you give me a ride in the hovercraft?' he enquired.

We took a ten-minute ride in the craft, which, in keeping with its name, hovered a few centimetres above the ground. I was piloting the vehicle, to the surprise of the visitor. He asked me a few questions about myself, thanked me for the ride and departed. But not before introducing himself - he was Prof. M.G.K. Menon, director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. A week later, I received a call from the Indian Committee for Space Research (ICSR, which became the Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO) to attend an in- terview for the post of rocket engineer.

When I went to Bombay to attend the interview, I was surprised to find Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, who was chairman of the ICSR, along with Prof. Menon and Saraf, deputy secretary of the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission), on the interview board. I was struck by Prof. Sarabhai's warmth. He did not probe my existing knowledge and skills; rather his questions were an exploration of the possibilities I was filled with. He was looking at me as if in refer- ence to a larger whole. The entire encounter was for me a moment of truth in which my dream was enveloped by the bigger dream of a bigger person.

The next evening, I was told about my selection. I was appointed as a rocket engineer at the newly formed ISRO in 1962. This is where the greatest event in my life came about - Prof. Satish Dhawan asking me to lead India's first satellite launch vehicle programme as its project director.

The second turning point was my entry into India's missile programme in 1982, following my meeting with Dr Raja Ramanna at the Defence Institute of Work Study (DIWS, now Institute of Technology Management) in Mussoorie, which is an institution that trains Services officers in defence systems management, a vast area which requires some expertise. As I had been project director of the SLV-3 programme, I was asked to give a series of lectures at DIWS. I made a presentation on how the first Indian satellite launch vehicle put Rohini into orbit. Dr Ramanna gave a lecture on how he succeeded with India's first nuclear test in 1974.

More Books by HarperCollins India

4
Articles
Turning Points : A Journey Through Challenges
5.0
It was like any other day on the Anna University campus in Chennai. As I was returning to my room in the evening, the vice-chancellor, Prof. A. Kalanidhi, fell in step with me.Someone had been frantically trying to get in touch with me through the day, he said. Indeed, the phone was ringing when I entered the room.When I answered, a voice at the other end said, 'The prime minister wants to talk with you.' Some months earlier, I had left my post as Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India to return to teaching. Now, as I spoke to the PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, my life was set for an unexpected change.Turning Points takes up the incredible Kalam story from where Wings of Fire left off. It brings together details from his career and presidency that are not generally known as he speaks out for the first time on certain points of controversy. It is a continuing saga, above all, of a journey - individual and collective - that will take India to 2020 and beyond as a developed nation. The inspiring sequel to Wings of Fire. Over 3 lakh copies sold.