Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam: inspiring, ingenious, insightful

“Dream is not that which you see while sleeping it is something that does not let you sleep”. 
                                         - Dr. A PJ Abdul Kalam in “Wings of Fire: An Autobiography”

Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam was the most discerning visionary India has ever seen. He rose from an insubstantial household in Rameswaram to be the ineluctable element of space, defense, legislature and education enterprise in India. One of the few scholars hand-picked and mentored by the father of Indian space programs, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, he played the most crucial role in materializing Satellite Launching Vehicle-III (SLV-III), Polar Satellite Launching Vehicle (PSLV), ballistic missiles Agni and Prithvi, Pokhran-II nuclear tests raising India’s glory to unfathomable scale. He adored his life with simplicity even when accolades poured in from all over the world including thirty honorary doctorates and Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the Republic of India.

Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology had the honor to interact with Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam twice. Back in 2002, when the institution just flourished out from its incubator and started its independent journey in the new campus at Jagathy (where the Campus I: RGCB Discovery Research now exists), the then President of India, Dr. Kalam dedicated the institution and its facilities to the nation. It was a moment of great honor to the founders and scientists of RGCB. The visionary in him emphasized the need for “fully exploiting the rich biodiversity that the country was endowed with for the benefit of people.” He urged the scientists to “explore the possibilities of utilizing the indigenous knowledge in Indian traditional medicine” to produce more marketable drugs. Looking at the scientific profile of the institution, he called for untiring perseverance from biotechnology researchers to never stop their efforts at discovering and patenting therapeutic molecules but carry it forward to convert these molecules into drugs beneficial to mankind.

Taking his words in its true sense, it was with immense pride that RGCB welcomed him again in December 2005 for inaugurating the international symposium on “Translational Research: Apoptosis and Cancer”. It was the day after the Principal Investigators confirmed the positive results of a clinical trial to reduce radiation mucositis with a herbal mouthwash developed by RGCB and the Regional Cancer Centre. Professor M Radhakrishna Pillai, Director of RGCB reminisced the day when Dr. Kalam addressed the gathering at MR Das Hall in RGCB, “He spoke to us not as the ace scientist, not as the President of India but as a common man with fears and apprehensions about the deadly disease of cancer, emphasizing the necessity for a wholesome physiological and psychological approach to addressing this disease.” Calling for an initiative to uplift translational research through a consortium of research institution-industry- hospital, he put forth the dire need for Biotechnology discipline in India to rise up and provide affordable and accessible therapeutics to millions of Indians. “Ignoring the repeated cues from his aide-de-camp about running late and his forthcoming engagements of the day, he stayed back to directly interact with the more than three hundred students and scientists who gathered excitedly to meet him and talked vivaciously about his personal and professional lives and his visions and aspirations about India”, Professor Pillai shared his excitement with RGCB blog. Humility is the hallmark of greatness. “Professor Pillai, could you please grab me a chair as it is difficult for me to sit on the floor with my bad backache?” he reluctantly requested seeing the hundreds of students sitting on the floor of RGCB atrium waiting to interact with him

Today, as the nation mourns the loss of one of our greatest leaders, RGCB salutes Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the man who taught India to dream high, to be courageous to think different, to be creative to invent, to be righteous at heart to share knowledge, to be an ideal citizen, to be an unrelenting seeker of cognizance. 

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