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When Dr Kalam travelled in an uinreserved compartment


Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, July 30:

Hailed as the “Peoples’ President” during his stint in the Rashtrapati Bhawan, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was never bothered about niceties like protocol. What was of utmost importance to him was the task in hand.

Prof BK Sarap, Deputy Chairman, SOA University
Prof BK Sarap, Deputy Chairman, SOA University

“Can you imagine as DRDO chief, he decided to travel in an unreserved train compartment because the train he was to catch left because the flight from Hyderabad to Kolkata was delayed?,” Prof BK Sarap, Deputy Chairman of the SOA University said on Wednesday.

Sarap, who was working as a professor at IIT, Kharagpur and was involved in a DRDO project when the Agni missile was being developed, said he flew in the same aircraft as Dr Kalam from Hyderabad to Kolkata.

“I was returning to Kharagpur while Dr. Kalam was on his way to Chandipur in Odisha where the missile launch centre was being developed. I met him at the Kolkata airport and he invited me to travel with him to the Howrah railway station,” he said while paying tributes to India’s Missile Man at a condolence meeting held in the SOA University.

“When we reached the station, we realized that the train had left because the plane was delayed. The other option was to hire a car and travel, but Dr Kalam wanted to know from me if I would mind travelling in the next train in an unreserved compartment as we had no reservations,” Sarap said.

“I agreed and we travelled in the train discussing various matters. Before I got down at Kharagpur, I proposed that he should get down with me and take a car to Baleswar which was another two hour’s journey.”

But the DRDO chief declined the offer saying he could travel up to Baleswar where his team members would be waiting.

The vice-chancellor of SOA University, Prof Amit Banerjee, also an eminent cardio-thoracic surgeon and Prof Bijan Bihari Das, Research Professor in the University who worked along side Dr Kalam during his four-decade long association with ISRO and DRDO, were among those who shared their memories with the visionary scientist.

Sarap said he was working on developing the mono-pulse antennae at milimetre wave band for the DRDO for its missile system being given shape.

“Dr Kalam would invite me to discuss the progress of the project at DRDL, Hyderabad from time to time and even though the results were not up to the mark initially, he would continue to encourage.”

“He came to IIT, Kharagpur to meet me on January 25, 1986 for a discussion. But on arrival was informed that my wife had passed away two days earlier. He sent me a condolence message and wanted to know whether we can postpone the discussion to a later day,” he said.

A frugal eater, he would pick a spoonful of rice, little curd, rasam and sambar even though the table would have a large spread of other delicacies. “He is the most humble person I have met in my life,” Sarap said.

Prof Banerjee, whose book on heart valve was unveiled by Dr. Kalam when he was President, said he wanted to go into details of the contents of the book before he released it. “I sent a copy of the book to him and he called me after a few weeks to discuss almost every chapter in the book,” he said.

Dr Kalam also discussed with him the development of a cardiac stent with his focus being on how it could be used for implementation of import substitution. This particular stent subsequently came to be known as Somaraju-Kalam stent, Banerjee said adding he was also associated with the former President in the development of a medicinal plant garden inside the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Banerjee said the greatest homage to Dr Kalam would be to follow his example by living simple lives. “The need is to become a simple person and love your country. You have to love your institution,” he said.

Prof Das said Dr Kalam was so passionate about his work that he was worried about the success of the launch of the SLV-3 when he headed that project. “When it failed to get into the orbit, he wept like a child.”

When the USA imposed sanctions on India following the Pokhran nuclear test in 1998, it badly affected the development of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project which had been taken up.

But Dr Kalam insisted that the component, which an US company was to supply, should be indigenously developed. “We shall counter the US embargo by successfully developing the component denied to India,” he said.

“His catchword was strength recognizes strength,” Das said.

Two minutes silence was observed in memory of Dr Kalam.

Prof DK Ray, Medical Superintendent of the IMS and Sum Hospital, Prof PK Sahu, Dean of Institute of Technical Education and Research (ITER) and Prof PK Nanda, Dean (Research) of the SOA University, among others, spoke on the occasion.