Archive for July, 2015

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam: A Tribute To The ‘People’s President’

Life and Time Are The World's Best Teachers

Life and Time Are The World’s Best Teachers

Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India, from 2002 to 2007, passed away on July 27 in Shillong as he collapsed during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong (IIM-S) around 6:30 pm.

“The nation has lost a great hero who was People’s President during his lifetime and shall remain so even after his death,” mourned President Pranab Mukherjee as he condoled the death of Kalam.

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, popularly known as the Missile Man of India was conferred Bharat Ratna in 1997.

Before holding the position of President, Kalam was an aeronautical engineer with DRDO and ISRO. Due to his great contributions in the field of missile and aerospace technologies, he was popularly known as the Missile Man of India. He played major role in India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. He was also the author of the some of the best-sellers like Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India and India 2020. He had always talked about his vision of transforming India into a developed nation by 2020. He had also supported India’s nuclear weapons and missiles program.

Here are 10 points that all of us should know about Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

1. His father was a devout Muslim who used to rent out boats to local fishermen and was also good friend of Hindu religious leaders and the school teachers at Rameshwaram.

2. Dr. Kalam was a scholar of Thirukkural (a classic of couplets or Kurals). In most of his speeches, he quoted at least one kural.

3. He had written many inspirational books, like Wings of Fire which aims at motivating Indian youth. “Guiding Souls: Dialogues on the Purpose of Life” revealed his spiritual side. He was also a poet. He had written some poems in Tamil also.

4. He graduated from Madras Institute of Technology in Aeronautical Engineering. He was Project Director at DRDO, where he played major role in the development of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III).

5. He was also chief executive of Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme(IGMDP), where he was involved in developing many missiles of India including “Agni” and “Prithvi”.

6. He was the Chief Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Secretary, Department of Defence Research & Development (July 1992 to December 1999). Pokhran-2 nuclear tests were conducted under his leadership.

7. He believed in multiple uses of technologies. He used the light weight carbon-compound material designed for Agni to make callipers for the polio affected. This carbon composite material reduced the weight of the calipers to 400 grams (from its original weight of 4kgs.)

8. On Wednesday April 29, 2009, he became the first Asian to be bestowed the Hoover Medal, America’s top engineering prize, for his outstanding contribution to public service. He had also received honorary doctorates from more than 30 universities, including the Carnegie Mellon University of United States.

9. The Government of India had honoured him with the nation’s highest civilian honours: the Padma Bhushan (1981), Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the Bharat Ratna (1997) for his contribution in ISRO and DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the Government of India.

10. Kalam was the third President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna before being elected to the chair of President. He was also the first scientist and first unmarried person to become the President of India.

The Missile Man

The Missile Man

“In the 3,000-year history of India, barring 600 years, the country has been ruled by others. If you need development, the country should witness peace and peace is ensured by strength. Missiles were developed to strengthen the country,” – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

Rest In Peace – The People’s President!


We Are All Maya!

Two articles recently caught my roving eyes – both the articles were incidentally on drought and there was no direct connection whatsoever between them. One of them, historic and perhaps a bit royal, the other contemporary and of the commoner. One on the stunning Maya civilization, the second one about a typical villager in Maharashtra. What remotely connects them however is ‘draught’ – the subject I was generally looking up on the net the other day – and disconnects them from the view of ‘adaptability.’

The case of an intense drought

The case of an intense drought

Coming to the first piece, Maya civilization that dominated large parts of the Americas for hundreds of years — with mastery of mathematics and astronomy, farming, pyramid building and city planning —mysteriously collapsed  in the 8th and 9th century AD. The reason for this collapse has been hotly debated, but now scientists have the right data in hand and confirms “it had been an intense case of drought.”

In the journal Science, a graph showing precipitation (or the lack of it) over the Yucatan, between the grim years 820 to 840 that received less than 20-30 percent rainfall year-over-year – the reason for the catastrophe but more than that they found a “lack of adaptability” in the Mayan culture that wiped out an entire civilization!

Now let me quickly take you through the second story of a villager living in a remote village in western Maharashtra state. The article that appears on CNN narrates the tale of a man called Sakharam Bhagat, a Hindu man having three wives. Polygamy is illegal in India unless you’re Muslim, and the Bhagat family is Hindu. The reporters reached Bhagat’s doorstep with cameras and questions to find out the cause of his three marriages.

“Happy with his first wife” Tuki and their six children, the family faced a massive problem: There was no water. Denganmal, a remote, hilly area, isolated from other villages, routinely experiences drought-like conditions. In the summer months, the heat is so severe that wells run dry and cattle die. There is no water connection in this village, the nearest being a 12-hour-walk to go there and return home. Sakharam had no option. He married again. And again. So that wife number two and wife number three could go and collect water while Tuki managed the home and kids,” reads the report.

“I did what I did only because of water,” he tells reporters.

What’s noticeable was that these wives were widows. By marrying again, they seemed to have gained status in society once more. In many parts of rural India where traditions run deep, women are ostracized after their husbands die, such was the society there. They aren’t allowed to participate in religious functions or festivals, and in some cases, aren’t permitted to eat with the rest of the family either. However, from unnamed sources the reporters came to know these wives get the respect associated with being married women once again. “The family eats together, lives together, and we see and hear them laugh together,” they report.

It’s water — or the lack thereof — that keeps this unusual family together.

Could the Mayas have been undone by that kind of shift in rainfall and survived thereafter was a question that came to mind…

While feminists may punch me on the nose and some Fanatic Hindus or religious groups may fume at me for supposedly supporting Bhagat, there’s one lesson Mayans or we could have learned from this or even otherwise, was the need to adapt, be flexible. (Moreover Bhagat’s marrying widows in a remote village and being one with the family is something I believe is radical in some sense and deserves a praise.)

We tend to be pretty confident in our ability to see and measure what’s going on around us, to understand it, and to adjust. It’s not certain what happened to the Maya — but one thing is true despite of sophisticated systems for accessing groundwater and for collecting, storing, and distributing rainwater – and the systems were elaborate, when the rain failed to appear in the quantities they had become used to, they didn’t have the flexibility to adapt their water system to serve the millions of people who relied on it. They had built a civilization assuming a certain quantity of water, and when 20 or 30 percent less water appeared consistently, their entire way of life, perhaps especially food cultivation, became unsustainable. The authors themselves noted in the journal, somewhat dryly, that the variations in precipitation they found during the period when Maya civilization disintegrated “are not far outside the amplitude of those preceding this time interval, when the Maya civilization flourished.”

That is, the amount of rain, and the variation in that rain, wasn’t too different between dominance and destruction.

Here’s the amazing thing. We’re not actually much better off than the Mayas — except for having a wealth of data to track our own vulnerability. While Bhagat’s case is unique, spoken about as it’s been reported, are we all doing something when it comes to basic crisis like water? While a new water treatment plant, or a plan to replace aging water mains is the quick answer, it’s also about knowing what you’ll do if you’re suddenly faced with a 10 or 20 percent loss of available water, permanently.

Being ready for that kind of shift would change how we all think not only about water — but also about every other thing on this planet. Adaptability is the key, or else, we are all Maya!