Somewhere in the glorious hills of Rishikesh, sadhus at the Sivananda ashram will tell you a story about APJ Abdul Kalam.
After failing the Air Force Pilot interview in Dehradun back in 1957 (when the other 8 out of the 9 were selected) Kalam sir took a bus to Rishikesh that happened to be the journey that changed his life.
Standing at the edge of a cliff with a lake flowing below, in his mind was the failure he was struck with that has shattered his childhood dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.
It all started back in 1941 when Kalam decided to pursue aeronautical science. Later he completed his education from the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT). He then joined Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) as a trainee with a dream of flying a fighter jet in the back of his mind.
The former President in his book, ‘Wings of Fire’ describes how he received two interview calls during this time. One was from the directorate of technical development and production of the ministry of Defence in Delhi and the other from the Air force Recruitment authority in Dehradun.
He decided to appear for both. With the latter calling him more.
After failing the latter, Kalam writes in his book – “I dragged myself out of the room and stood at the edge of a cliff. There was a lake far below. I knew the days ahead would be difficult. There were questions to be answered and a plan of action to be prepared”.
And then he bumped into Swami Sivananda who, Kalam, happen to call the ‘Guru of his life’.
“Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to become an Air Force Pilot. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but is predetermined. Forget this failure as it was destined to bring you to the right path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your life. Become one with yourself, my son! Surrender yourself to God,” the guru had told him.
“I trekked down to Rishikesh,” Kalam writes.
Describing the whole incident in his book, Kalam wrote “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear – How true! Here was the teacher to show the way to a student who had nearly gone astray.”
After Kalm returned to Delhi, there was an appointment letter waiting for him. He joined DTD&P-Air as a scientific assistant in 1958 and the rest is history.
Kalam may not have got the chance to fly a fighter jet but as the former President of India, he became the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army.