Who is Kalam? R. Ramana-than; Konark Publishers, Delhi; pp 232; Rs 395.00
Does anyone these days need to ask who Kalam is? If the question was raised half a century ago, Kalam would have been recognised as Abdul Kalam Azad, one time Congress President and later Education Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru. But these days the only Kalam known all over India?and very rightly, too?is A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the 12th President of the country.
Actually, the President´s name is Abdul Kalam. When a schoolboy once asked him what his initials stood for, he said, ?The first ?A´ is Avul, the name of my great grandfather. ?P´ is for Pakir, the name of my grandfather. ?J´ is for Jainulabdeen, the name of my father.? And he added, ?As I have all the names of three generation, I get the blessings of them all?.
What this book tries to show is that he had additionally the blessings of all the people of India, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion and community. Past Presidents have been respected, but it is clear that none has been loved as much as A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who had been awarded the country´s highest honour, the Bharat Ratna for his services to the Defence industry, long before he was elected President.
Who is Kalam? Its is not a biography in the accepted sense of the term. It is more the reminiscences of a lot of people who have worked with him, known him at close quarters in many capacities and could speak about him with authority. Towards the end there is a short?all to short?biodata, that is tantalisingly brief. It is true that Dr Kalam has written about himself but one suspects that there is still a lot of scope to get a full-length biography of practically the first non-political President of the country?and this is not to ignore the role played by Dr Radhakrishnan?who was scholar philosopher.
What is so remarkable about Dr Kalam is his utter simplicity who could handle complicated mathematical and engineering problems, with relative ease. The author of this work, who has worked closely with Dr Kalam for ten long years, quotes extensively from many of Dr Kalam´s colleagues, none of whom has one unkind word to say about him. And one can believe them. For one thing Dr Kalam has been an excellent manager of men. Ramanathan states that, ?Dr Kalam is very sensitive to the needs of the subordinate staff.? But then, he was equally concerned about his colleagues, men who worked with him because, as one of them put it, he ?reduces all issues to human basics?. He was a hard worker but at no meeting would he give the impression that he was pressed for time. His door was always open. He would give his full attention to anyone conversing with him as if he had all the time in the world. A vegetarian and a teetotaller, he was not one to impose his own views on another, no matter how correct he himself was. He could get angry, but only if he was confronted with dishonesty. If he won the hearts and minds of others it was because, above everything else, he cared. He was guided by his inner voice, for him religion was a bridge that connected him with spiritualism. He could walk with kings and not lose his common touch. He had a vision for his country.
As one colleague, Dr Gopalaswamy, former Chairman of Bharat Dynamics was to say: ?Dr Kalam knows the nuances of igniting the minds of people with high and noble visions.? But more than that, his ability to motivate people had become a legend. As another colleague of his, Dr Lazar Matthew notes: ?Dr Kalam brings forth the best in each person; ordinary people perform extraordinarily under his leadership.?
For Dr Kalam all that mattered was work. His memory was phenomenal. His capacity to recall remarkable. Just one word described him best: Human.
A retired Army officer, Major General A.K. Dasgupta writes about him thus: ?I cannot think of any one who had so many qualities: simplicity, sincerity of purpose, dedication, determination, knowledge, memory, kindness, approachability all packed in one.? Status did not bother him. A vegetarian by choice, his food habits were simple. He disliked pomp and pageantry. If he felt he had something to convey to his juniors and subordinates he would walk to their desks instead of summoning them to his room. He was so gentle, unassuming and sincere that as another friend of his put it, ?When we retired to our rooms, our anxieties about the formal meeting simply evaporated. We were not only charged up, we felt committed to work for him.?
Dr Kalam had one great virtue: He could make ?the other man´ feel important. No one who wanted to meet him was ever refused an appointment. Indian to the core, shopping abroad was anathema to him. His outlook was: ?Be Indian, buy Indian.? He had no sense of inferiority vis-a-vis the White man.
He would quote C.V. Raman, India´s first Nobel Prize winner in Physics who said that the quality of the Indian mind was equal to that of the Teutoni Nordic or Anglo-Saxon mind, and that what India needed most was the destruction of the ?defeatist spirit?.
His one major desire, as many have said, is to fire up the young Indian mind, in other words to ?ignite? it and his biggest ambition, apart from making India strong was to talk to 100,000 children in schools across the country to motivate them to work for their motherland. Yet another of his many colleagues has noted that ?focus with a clear vision, unrelenting effort, courage in the face of failure, equanimity in success, humility unshakeable faith in the divine power, generous in praise, constructive in criticism and exemplary conduct? have been some of the attributes that went into Dr Kalam becoming a huge success in the field of defence technology. No wonder.
His father´s close friend was Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, the high priest of Rameshwaram Temple. Dr Kalam´s father told him: ?When you pray, you transcend your body and become part of the cosmos which knows no division of wealth, age, caste or creed.?
Dr Kalam could not be more secular. As one younglad wrote to him: ?When Diwali has Ali and Ramzan has Ram, what right do we have to fight on grounds of being a Hindu or a Muslim?? Dr Kalam could not agree with him more.
This book is an excellent introduction to the man that is Dr Kalam?an icon for the young, a model for his contemporaries and a leader of men in every way. He has been called a missile man, a nuclear scientist and many other flattering things. Strictly speaking, he is more than all these descriptions. He is a human being in the highest sense of the term and a living model for all citizens of India. And that said, all is said.