The missile man of India, a scientist, and the 11th President of the country, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was born on October 15, 1931. Kalam, who as a kid was intrigued by mathematics and physics, pitched into his family earnings by selling newspapers at the age of five.

Born in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, Kalam’s father owned just a boat to sustain his family. Kalam’s journey from a humble household to a becoming India’s ‘Missile Man’ is no mean achievement. The former president wished to become a fighter pilot but lost the opportunity as he was ninth on the list and the opening was for only eight spots.

Kalam attended Saint Joseph’s College, Trichurapally, and earned a degree in physics in 1954. He studied aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology. The former president joined the Aeronautical Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 1960 and gave many contributions to science and technology.

On 89th birth anniversary of India’s ‘Missile Man’, Kalam’s brother’s grandson APJ MJ Sheikh Saleem tells Opoyi exclusively about the former president. Saleem is the managing trustee of the APJ Abdul Kalam International Foundation and the Managing Trustee of the House of Kalam.

Opoyi: Abdul Kalam was one of the simplest people. Can you tell us about your bonding with Kalam sir? 

Sheikh Saleem: He was people’s president and his death caused great grief and sorrow to everyone in this country. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with him in his last five months in New Delhi. The nation was his priority and all the missions, such as the SLV-III launch, the second mission, and the third Pokhran Test, were all his acts to protect this country.

Following this, he was talking about giving “India Vision 2020”. He wanted to develop six lakh villages to make India a developed country.

Opoyi: What was the thing you enjoyed about him? 

Sheikh Saleem: He did not retire even after his term as a president ended in 2007. He was as enthusiastic as a youngster and he wanted 50 crore youth of India to contribute to his “India Vision 2020″. He was a tireless worker. I was with him when he went into UP. On the same day, he attended 12 meetings and interacted with the students. He was an early riser who started the day at 6 am.

Opoyi: Tell us about his food habits?

Sheikh Saleem: He was an uncomplicated person but yogurt and fruits were a must in his diet.

Opoyi: What was the reason behind Kalam’s decision to not get married?

Sheikh Saleem: His brother and father tried very hard to find a match for him. After he started working for ISRO, his endless working hours made it impossible for him to visit his hometown. And, after SLV-III launch failed, he dedicated his life to make it a success, and ever since he never thought about having a family.