As a youngster, A P J Abdul Kalam, the front-runner in the presidential race, wanted to be an aeronautical engineer.
He was selected by the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), but did not have the money to secure the seat as his father was not in a position to pay Rs 1000 as the admission fee.
"At that time, my sister Zohra mortgaged her gold bangles and chain to raise the money. I was deeply touched by her determination to see me educated and by her faith in my abilities," says Kalam in his autobiography Wings of Fire.
He took to the subject like a fish to water and got a degree in aeronautical engineering.
At that time, "two alternative opportunities for employment, both close to my long-standing dream of flying, presented themselves before me. One was a career in the Indian Air Force and another was a job at the Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P-Air) of the defence ministry," says Kalam.
Kalam applied for both and got interview calls from both places.
"I did well at the interview (in the defence ministry's research wing). The questions were of a routine nature and did not challenge my knowledge of the subject," he says in his autobiography.
But 'deep disappointment' awaited him at the IAF Selection Board in Dehra Dun (now capital of Uttaranchal).
"The emphasis was more on personality than on intelligence. Perhaps they were looking for physical fitness and an articulate manner. I was excited but nervous, determined but anxious, confident but tense."
"I finished ninth in the batch of 25, examined to select eight officers. I was deeply disappointed. It took me some time to comprehend that the opportunity to join the IAF had just slipped through my fingers," he says.
Such was the disappointment that he trekked from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, a distance of nearly 50 kilometres.
After a bath, he went and met a seer, swami Shivanand, who told him, "Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to serve in the air force. What you are destined to become is not revealed now, but it is predetermined."
"Forget this failure, as it was essential to lead you to your destined path," the seer said.
Kalam returned to Delhi and received an appointment letter from the DTD&P (Air), which he joined as a senior scientific assistant.
After that, he has never looked back.
Coverage of the election for the 11th President of India
Back to top
Tell us what you think of this report