Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wings of Fire - Arun Tiwari and APJ Abdul Kalam (Book Review 005)

ISBN: 8173711461

Tagline: An autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam with Arun Tiwari

“Wings of fire” was perhaps the first book which I had read completely and which was not a part of my school or college syllabus :-). I had read this book in 2003 i.e. after Dr. Kalam was appointed the President of India. As I was not into the habit of reading then, I wondered if I would be able to finish this book but I did finish it and within a short time too. In this book, almost every third line which Dr. Kalam speaks appears to collectible quote. I had re-read the book in 2004 and still experienced the same feeling of awe in which I was left when I had read this book a year ago.

About the Author

As per the preface, Arun Tiwari had worked with Dr. Kalam for over a decade and was involved in the project on “Akash” missile airframe. Arun was so fascinated by Dr. Kalam’s range of ideas and thought process that he decided to pen down Dr. Kalam’s recollections before they get buried irretrievably under the sands of time.

Arun Tiwari has done a commendable job and I am glad that the life of this great scientist did not go undocumented.

Wings of Fire

“Wings of Fire” is the life story of Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India. A notable scientist and an engineer, Dr. Kalam is often referred to as the Missile Man of India. He played a key role in developing India’s first and indigenously made: ballistic missiles, hovercraft, Nuclear-strike capable missiles and made immense contribution to the Guided Missiles Development programme and various ISRO projects.

Dr. Kalam was born at Rameswaram in Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu, to a working class Tamil Muslim family. He received his degree in aeronautical engineering from the Madras Institute of Technology in 1958.

He joined India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) upon graduation to work on a hovercraft project. In 1962, Dr. Kalam moved to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), where his team successfully launched several satellites. He made a significant contribution as Project Director to develop India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) which successfully placed the Rohini satellite into near earth orbit in July 1980.

In 1982, Kalam returned to the DRDO as Director, focusing on Indigenous guided missiles. He was responsible for the development and operational success of the Agni and Prithvi missiles. This earned him the sobriquet "India's missile-man". He also helped in the formulation of healthcare products using technology developed for missiles.

In July 1992, Kalam became a Scientific Advisor to India's Defense Minister. As the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Indian government, he held the rank of a Cabinet Minister. His work led to the successful Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, which reiterated India's position as a nuclear weapon state. Kalam was also the Chairman, Ex-officio, of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C) and piloted the "India Millennium Mission 2020". (Short summary picked from wikipedia)

Kalam has the unique distinction of having received honorary doctorates from at least thirty universities, as also India's three highest civilian honors: the Padma Bhushan in 1981; the Padma Vibhushan in 1990; and the Bharat Ratna in 1997.

In this book, Dr. Kalam has described the various projects he undertook and shows how a person can manage a large team of experts without any formal knowledge in project management and team dynamics. He never fails to acknowledge his co-workers, team members and others of importance, throughout the book. The book is dotted with snippets of poetry and hymns that Dr. Kalam is fond of and has collected over his life time.

Dr. Kalam is one of the few Indian scientists who had the opportunity to work with Indian space research stalwarts like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and interact with pioneers of missile technology like Wernher Von Braun. His works have put India on the nuclear map of the world and made it a part of an elite club of nations. In the words of the man himself:

"Do not look at Agni as an entity directed upwards to deter the ominous or exhibit your might. It is fire in the heart of an Indian. Do not even give it the form of a missile as it clings to the burning pride of this nation and thus is bright."

Another quote from the book:

"Technology, unlike science, is a group activity. It is not based on an individual’s intelligence, but on the interacting intelligence of many."


I strongly suggest that this book be read to know/understand the man behind India's burst into the international arena of the elites as far as its defense capabilities are concerned.

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