NEW DELHI: "Don't take rest after your first victory because if you fail in second, more lips are waiting to say that your first victory was just luck." These were the words of late President A P J Abdul Kalam which he lived by till the last moment.
83-year-old Kalam, who collapsed while delivering a lecture at IIM, Shillong, and died, was a daring President who undertook a submarine sortie, flew Sukhoi jet, visited Siachen glacier, world's highest battlefield and interacted with troops at the Line of Control.
But probably none as daring as a night-time flight from Aizawl airport that took off after the runway was illuminated with lanterns and torches.
This occurred one evening in 2005 when Kalam, always wearing a genial smile, had completed all his official engagements during his visit to Mizoram and was scheduled to leave the next morning. But a restless Kalam decided to take off for Delhi at night, one of his senior aides recalled.
The local IAF station's head was summoned and informed of the President's wish to fly to the national capital as his work in Mizoram was over.
"But there are no facilities for taking off from the airport at night," the IAF official said, thinking the matter was settled.
However, his explanation did not cut ice with Kalam, who retorted: "What if there is an emergency? Will the IAF wait for the morning? Tell them I have to take off and all necessary arrangements should be made."
His aides went to the IAF official and conveyed the message from Kalam, who as President was also the supreme commander of the armed forces.
The IAF commander immediately got in touch with his seniors in Delhi, who did not come to his rescue and instead asked him to comply with the orders of the "missile man".
Finally, Kalam had his way and IAF personnel lit up the runway with lanterns, flaming torches and bonfires to facilitate the take-off, the aide said.
President's aides too were concerned about his decision to take off at night from an airport that had only basic equipment and privately asked IAF officials whether such a flight would be safe.
The answer from an IAF official was enough to send a chill down their spines -- "you can take off but there may be some problems if you have to return".
At around 9 pm, the Presidential Boeing took off with Kalam and his entourage of 22.
"If you fail, never give up because F.A.I.L. means "first Attempt In Learning"; End is not the end, if fact E.N.D. means "Effort Never Dies"; If you get No as an answer, remember N.O. means "Next Opportunity". So Let's be positive," was another quote that he often used to mention in his pep talks to university and school students.
Immediately after he became the 11th President, Vice President Krishna Kant suffered a heart attack and was admitted to AIIMS. His first visitor was Kalam, who was dressed in blue shirt and Khaki pants. This was probably the Kalam's first engagement after taking office.
Two years into his tenure, Kalam decided to visit troops in Saichen. In October 2004, he waited at the airport for weather clearance for 40 minutes before landing at Thoise airbase and later took a helicopter to reach army personnel at Siachen base camp.
"The glacier is of extreme geo-strategic importance where our Indira Col meets Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin.
Many battles have been fought during the last 20 years to establish our supermacy. It is war of deeds," Kalam had said in his address to the troops.
An aeronautical engineer, Kalam also flew Sukhoi-30 fighter plane in June 2006 and, after the experience, said "it was a dream of mine since 1958, when I became an engineer, to fly in a fighter aircraft." Kalam had taken controls of the fighter plane for three minutes during the 36-minute flight.
"I wanted to be a pilot since my childhood. Today, I was with my friend and teacher Wing Commander Ajay Rathore, who taught me successfully how to pilot the plane as well as [handle] warfare controls of the fighter," he had said.
Earlier the same year, Kalam had created history in February by becoming the country's first President to undertake an undersea journey in a submarine onboard INS Sindhurakshak, a Russian-origin kilo class submarine, from Vishakapatnam naval dockyard.
"It was my first experience (to sail in a submarine underwater) and I learnt how the silent force of Indian Navy would function when it was underwater.
"Success comes if we work vary hard in the midst of challenges. I experienced the challenges the submarine faces to make our country powerful," Kalam had said.