Excerpts from the book ‘Ignited Minds‘ Written By A.P.J. Abdul Kalamji

The five great human beings I saw in my dream lived at different times. In the modern world, there are few examples of human beings who embody the qualities that come from realizing the nature of the mind. Once a child asked me if I had read the Mahabharata and if so, who my favourite character in it was. The multifaceted characters in the epic represent almost every aspect of human nature, good as well as bad. I told the child that I was particularly attracted to the character of Vidura, who showed grit against the wrongdoings of authority and had the courage to differ when everyone else chose to surrender before the tyranny of adharma. 

Today, it is hard for us to find one true Vidura among our leaders. It is hard for us to imagine such an enlightened being and even harder for us to aim for such enlightenment. More discouraging still is the quality of public life today, the low level of discourse and the presence of so much ego, anger, greed, jealousy, spite, cruelty, lust, fear, anxiety and turmoil! I felt a new determination dawning inside me. 

In this my most important decision I decided to help discover the nature of India’s true self in its children. My own work and indeed I as a person were relegated to the background. My scientific career, my teams, my awards, all this became secondary. I wanted instead to be a part of the eternal intelligence that is India. I hoped to transcend myself and discover the inner, higher self that is in us through my interaction with joyous children. 

A man is said to pass through different stages in his lifetime. Dr Wayne W. Dyer, in his book Manifest Your Destiny, makes an interesting categorization of them as athelete stage, warrior stage, statesperson stage and spirit stage. It occurred to me that nations too make a similar transition and in extending this analogy to them I have termed the last two stages big brother and selfrealization stages respectively. The stages do not follow in sequence necessarily; they can be coexistent, with one aspect dominant. 

In the first, athlete stage, a nation fresh from an independence struggle, or some other transition, embarks on an energetic pursuit of performance and achievement. This has happened in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. 

When a nation leaves this stage behind, it generally enters the warrior stage. Proud of its achievements, it finds ways to demonstrate its superiority over others, perhaps through conquest. Ego is the driving force. During this stage people are busy with goals and achievements in competition with others and this, as Dyer points out for the individual, generates anxiety. Convincing others of its superiority becomes the theme. 

In the next, big brother stage, the ego has been tamed somewhat and with its newfound maturity awareness shifts to what is important to other nations and societies. In the big brother stage the nation is still an achiever but it is not so obsessed with proving its strength. The idea is to help others become better. The erstwhile Soviet Union by its developmental role in some countries had adopted this role. As with the individual, so too with the nation, the transition from the warrior stage to the big brother stage is a rewarding but difficult exercise. 

There is one stage even higher than this big brother stage. In this, a nation recognizes its truest essence. It comes out of the wisdom that the earth is no single nation’s inheritance but of all, and its people are aware of the responsibility of the individual towards his fellow human beings. This can be called the realization stage, and India may have the potential to achieve it. 

In my working career of forty-three years, I have changed my tasks in several institutions. Change is crucial. It brings new thought; new thought leads to innovative actions. On 15 August 2001, I took a decision to go for another change. I mentioned my intention to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who asked me to rethink.

I had spoken to him of my desire to be relieved on a few earlier occasions too but he advised me to continue and prevailed. As a rocket man too I worked with stages. Each stage is jettisoned after taking the rocket further along its intended trajectory. I worked with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) during 1963—82. In 1980, India launched its first satellite launch vehicle successfully that put the Rohini satellite into orbit and became a member of the exclusive space club. I headed the team as Project Director of the mission for SLV-3. Our success in this effort gave the nation satellite launch vehicle technology and expertise in control, guidance, propulsion and aerodynamics, besides the ability to design various rocket systems. Above all, this project enriched the organization with enhanced capabilities in design, development and management systems integrating inputs from different institutions such as R&D laboratories, industry and academia. And the programme also gave leaders in technology and management. Today they are all working in various space and defence programmes. This was my first stage, in which I learnt leadership from three great teachers–Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan and Dr Brahm Prakash. This was the time of learning and acquisition of knowledge for me. 


The second stage could then be from 1982 in the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). Again it was teamwork against the background of denial of technology through the instruments of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). I had the opportunity to work with teams and DRDO labs that led to the design, development, production and operationalization of two strategic missiles. 

These types of strategic missiles will not be available to India from any country, no matter how friendly our relations with it. During this period, three new laboratories and facilities, one in the area of missile technology called Research Centre Imarat (RCI) at Hyderabad and two other missile test centres, one on the mainland and the other on an island, near Chandipur on the coast of Bay of Bengal, were born with excellent capabilities. In addition, the nation became strong as capability in critical technologies emerged from laboratories and academic institutions that helped us overcome the constraints of the MTCR. My team could design and develop any type of missile system, including the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). 


During this stage, I have gone through many successes and some failures. I learnt from failures and hardened myself with courage to face them. This was my second stage, which taught me the crucial lesson of managing failures. The third stage can be the participation in India’s mission to become a nuclear- weapon state with a great partnership between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and DRDO with the support of the armed forces. This was a mission well accomplished.