Life and times of Kalam in images

tender love:A painting at the gallery of former President Abdul Kalam’s house in Rameswaram.— Photo: L. Balachandar

tender love:A painting at the gallery of former President Abdul Kalam’s house in Rameswaram.— Photo: L. Balachandar  

A touching tribute to his mother is the chief attraction at the ‘Mission of life - Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,’ a gallery housing an impressive memorabilia of the former President at his modest house in the tiny island of Rameswaram.

A beautiful painting that the science teacher-turned “missile man” put on display at the gallery illustrates his love for his mother. No visitor will fail to notice the poetic words written below the painting which depicts Dr. Kalam lying on his mother’s lap as a five-year-old boy. "There is no God like mother. In my boyhood, one night, to the envy of my brothers and sister, I slept in the lap of my mother. Later in the night, I woke up when my mother’s affection-filled tears fell on me. The memory remains fresh in my thoughts," the caption reads.

For visitors to the island, especially students and children from all parts of the country, a trip to the island town will not be complete without a visit to the gallery, located on a narrow lane in a residential area. The gallery was inaugurated by Dr. Kalam and distinguished scientist A. Sivathanu Pillai on July 27, 2011. Ever since, people have been making a beeline to this gallery. The power crisis and resultant load shedding forced the gallery to stay shut on most days over the past two years. Many visitors returned disappointed and when students e-mailed the situation to Dr. Kalam, he immediately ordered the installation of solar panels to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the gallery.

"Thanks to green energy, the gallery is open to visitors on all days except Fridays, much to the joy of the steady stream of visitors," says Sheik Saleem, grandson of Dr. Kalam, who maintains the gallery. "Grandpa was against sponsorship and spent about Rs. 9 lakh to install the solar facility. The 24 solar panels produce 6 kv to power lighting and air conditioning facilities at the gallery," Mr. Saleem says. ‘We spend about Rs. 10,000 a month for maintenance and the expenses are borne by Dr. Kalam. He was strictly against collecting an entry fee. About 600 to 800 people visit the gallery daily," he says.

While moving around the gallery set up on the first floor of the house, visitors can get a peek into the life of Dr. Kalam through old photographs of his — as a student in Schwartz High School in Ramanathapuram; at St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchi (1952-54); at Madras Institute of Technology, Chennai (1954-57).

The visitors stop for a while on reaching the corner to take a second look at the portrait of Dr. Kalam playing the veena. "Not many know that he learnt to play the veena when he was working in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) during 1985-95. He plays the veena to relax," says Mr. Saleem. Dr Kalam has a veena at his Delhi residence, he says.

The photos on display feature Dr. Kalam riding a bicycle, carrying ‘Menaka,’ a rocket, when he was working in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the 1960s; Dr. Kalam at the Mission Control Centre when SLV 3 was launched at Sriharikota; with the then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee when Operation Sakthi, the nuclear test, was carried out at Pokhran in 1998; and Dr. Kalam at the European Parliament.

An audio-visual work on missiles and rockets provides added attraction to students. His group photo with his friends Sivathanu Pillai, G. Madhvan Nair, former ISRO chief, and Y.S Rajan, co-author of ‘India 2020 vision’ illustrates his admiration for friendship. "Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow, don’t walk behind me, I may not lead, walk beside me and be my friend," was another poetic caption.

The Chinese version of Thirukural, the couplets of Thiruvalluvar, translated by his Taiwan poet friend Yuschi attracts many. When former Supreme Court judge S. Mohan introduced him to the poet, Dr. Kalam presented an English version of the master literary work and asked him to translate it for the benefit of the people of China, Mr. Saleem said. The innumerable shields and awards, including the Bharat Ratna conferred on him in November 1997, more than 55 honorary doctorates given by Indian and foreign universities, national and international recognition and the ‘G-suite’ he wore when he zoomed into the skies in Sukhoi-30 were among the items displayed in the gallery.

"We are setting up a knowledge centre on the second floor with about 5,000 books, mostly on science and technology and handpicked by grandpa," says Mr. Saleem. About 1,000 books have arrived and the centre will be inaugurated soon. Dr Kalam last visited this house in July 2011, when he came to inaugurate the gallery. He is in regular touch with his elder brother A.P.J.M. Maraikayar (96). He is expected to pay a visit in February next year, Mr. Saleem says.

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