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‘Kalam Island’ should be the new name of Wheeler Island


New Delhi: There is a growing demand that as a fitting tribute to former President A P J Abdul Kalam, the country’s most advanced missile testing site in the Bay of Bengal should now be named ‘Kalam Island’.

It was there that Kalam tested scores of missiles. The quiet sea washed sylvan surroundings also gave him inspiration to write many poems for his book “My Journey”.

As India’s missile man and aeronautical engineer par excellence took his last flight into the heavens on July 28, it is time his most loved playground, a tiny island off the Odisha coast be named in his memory as ‘Kalam Island’.

As the man pioneering missile development in India, he himself described the Wheeler Island as his ‘theatre of action’. The first successful land-to-land test of the Prithvi Missile was conducted from the mainland and it landed on the then uninhabited ‘Wheeler Island’ on November 30, 1993.

Having travelled to the Wheeler Island many times, I am aware of how the island itself is steeped in history of the successes and failures encountered during the missile development program and the whole place is replete with tales about Kalam’s escapades. Ironically, the island is today named after an English commandant Lieutenant Wheeler.

“It is high time we need to call it Kalam Island since it is a one-of-its-kind hi-tech facility in India and it was actually spotted and built from scratch by Kalam,” asserts V K Saraswat, member of the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog).

Saraswat was Kalam’s associate for 35 years as a missile scientist and then rose to be the Director General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In 1993, it was Saraswat and his co-worker S K Salwan who as scientists were the first to set foot on the ‘Wheeler Island’ when Kalam instructed them to look for these uninhabited islands that he had initially spotted on the naval hydrographic maps.

Saraswat recalls those sultry day in 1993 when he hired a boat for Rs 250 and then got lost in the Bay of Bengal and had to spend the night on the Wheeler Island itself surviving on bananas. The islands were not visible from the mainland.

In his book “Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India”, Kalam writes “to their surprise they (Saraswat & Salwan) found a Bangladeshi flag flying atop a tree, as the island may have been frequented by fishermen from the neighbouring country. My friends quickly removed the flag”.

S K Salwan recalls that over the years, Kalam may have visited the Wheeler Island more than dozen times and hence this was truly his ‘playground’.

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