1.KALAM THE MAN
It was in early September 1996. The location is fourth floor of India Habitat
Centre, New Delhi, a small room at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the mighty Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister of India with hundreds of critical responsibilities came inside the room and discussed with a few young professionals of the Technology Division of CII about the vision for Indian Industry and possible tasks for the CII Technology Division. He described some contours of paths for realizing the Technology Vision for India 2020. A series of documents with that title was generated by TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council)an autonomous institution under Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India, after a massive national exercise of two years. They were released by the then Prime Minister of India a month earlier (August 2, 1996). The three young professionals were so excited that a Technology Vision for CII was born.
Why did he come there? Of course, Industry Associations like â€“ ASSOCHAM, CII and FICCI call him for many of their top functions. He shares his experiences, dreams and concrete action plans. Why did he then come there?
That is because a person who had been associated with him for a long time in his life and who was Adviser in the Deptt. Of Science & Technology (DST), Govt. of India had just taken an early voluntary retirement when he had still several years to go for retirement. That person had been in Government job all the time. How was he going to perform in an entirely different atmosphere ? Many persons would have wondered in hush. No so with Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
He wanted to show his affection; his solidarity at a time when that person would feel alone and when he had to adjust to a great change; conveying a nice feeling of security and a special warmth. He came to show it amidst his busiest schedules. While that was the primary objective, he also converted the opportunity to create a new Mission for his friends and also for the young professionals with whom he would work further. It fits in also beautifully the major task of creating a Developed India, a cause to which he is passionately committed to.
That person who Dr Kalam went to meet was I (Y S Rajan). Amidst all these serious discussions he also saw out of the large glass window a lot of parrots sitting on the modern architectural structure. He told with a lot of excitement, â€œRajan see outside there! A lot of parrots. A place which the parrots make as habitat should be a very happy placeâ€¦â€¦â€¦.. So you are going to be very happy!â€
I elaborated this narration because it described a good many facets of â€œKalam: the Manâ€. A deep concern for friends and colleagues and a quick and timely touch of encouragement at times when probably they might be in trouble; also not to have such a touch as a mere ritual of â€œhelloâ€, â€œget wellâ€ alone but also try to provide them with a meaningful action plan â€“ a plan which can take them to greater heights. Such a help is similar to what is described as a unique feature of true friendship by Thiruvalluvar, the great saint poet who has written a masterpiece called Thirukkural about two millennia ago. (Dr Kalam quotes from /thirukkural often). Thiruvalluvar says that the nature of friendship is similar to the hand, which rushes to set rights the dress when the dress worn by a person tends to slip from the body.
In addition to taking care of the friends and colleagues he also wants to encourage others. He did not want my other CII colleagues feel they were left out. He spoke to them; took them to great heights. Also his talking was not empty. He has a vision â€“ a Mission, which can last many years. Their tasks in fulfilling the Mission will make them intellectually and emotionally strong and in addition, it will help the people of the country.
A similar pattern will be there in most of his interactions. That is what makes him so naturally popular with young and old, irrespective of the chairs he occupies. That is because of the innate humanism in him.
2.KALAM: THE MAN OF PEOPLE
A recent event when Dr Kalam as Rashtrapati visited Almora to launch the â€œMobile Diagnostic Clinic and Research Centreâ€ â€“ TIFAC Vision 2020 project jointly implemented with Uttaranchal Government (for more information visit at www.tifac.org.in). The mobile unit is meant to reach most modern diagnostic tools and services to hill regions of Uttranchal which have very little access to medical facilities. Such units can serve most parts of India, almost one or two per district. Such is the potential reach. It can be of great help to the poor people of India, by extending modern medical services. Therefore Dr Kalam, the Rasthrapatiji was there. He wants to encourage such efforts. Dr Col. (retd.) C S Pant, an eminent radiologist from New Delhi who is also the Project Director for the mobile unit told me â€œHe (Kalam, the President) saw all the facilities and seeing them doing well, he held my hand and congratulated the team and asked a question â€œHow much you will charge the poor, those below poverty line?â€ â€œNone Sir.â€ I said. Dr Kalam pressed my hand almost a minute with great affection and with a glow in his eyes â€œThat is a promise! A promise! Will you keep it?â€ I said, â€œYes Sirâ€. I was touched by his deep concern for the suffering and the poor people of our country.
Kalam, the Human is driven to a large extent with his heart felt mission of removing the pain of out people â€“ pain of poverty, helplessness due to illiteracy and lack of skills etc. The intellectually articulated Developed India concept by him is a sublimated version of his deep human feeling and a great commitment to the well being of all human beings.
All those who are familiar with him and those who are not, are struck by the great simplicity and humility. He is reachable and accessible any time to people from all walks of life. He listens. He consults. He encourages. He remembers you.
He works hard. He loves children. He really enjoys interacting with them. He draws out energy from them for himself and for the nation. He respects all religions and spiritual leaders and practitioners. He is respectful to everybody including those who do not agree with him. He is at ease with poets, philosophers, politicians, business leaders and scientists, technologists and also â€˜ordinaryâ€™ persons. His kindness to a number of persons who had earlier harmed him or attempted to harm him, is his unique human quality, so difficult to acquire. I know many such events personallty and for obvious reasons I will not give examples.
Does it mean that Dr Kalam is a giant figure always possessed by ideas and actions? Not so. He enjoys small things as well. Streaming hot rice. Certain nicely cooked vegetables. Sambar, Dal, Rasam. Certain sweets and variety of hot pickles. He has excellent sense of humour. He can â€œput legsâ€ through jokes and would also cut jokes on himself too. He is attached to his family. When he meets them, he talks with everybody even for a few minutes discussing simple items of importance to them.
I had travelled with him to many parts of India before he was awarded Bharat Ratna, later, and also earlier after he left the Government of India position of Principal Scientific Adviser (a Cabinet Minister rank position) to work at the Anna University, Chennai as a Professor for Technology and Societal Transformation. I had travelled with him when he was being nominated for the election as the President of India. Also I am fortunate to travel with him during a few trips when he is Rashtrapatiji. I find that he draws people to him as much as he is drawn to people. Despite the constraints of security he manages to communicate with them through a smile or waving of hands or saying a few words or listening to them.
People of India in every part of the country be it Gujarat, Tripura or Manipur or anywhere else are excited and enthused to see him and respond beautifully to the positive call he makes for Developed India. His â€˜Song of Indiaâ€™, â€˜The National Prayerâ€™ etc. are becoming so popular in different languages.
His reach is also to those who are physically and mentally challenged and to those who work for them.
3.KALAM : THE MAN OF SCIENCE
I am using here the word â€˜scienceâ€™ in a Nehruvian fashion â€“ search for knowledge about nature, a whole set of view point about life which Nehru called scientific temper, application of science and technology and all aspects concerning reaching of the benefits which can be derived from the utilization of scientific and technological knowledge to the people, especially to the poor and deprived ones. Providing national security also forms a part of the overall thinking of applications of science.
Kalamâ€™s primary training has been as an aeronautical engineer or technologist. After joining ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) he not only applied certain elements of the knowledge to rocket and launch vehicle development but also graduated as a par excellence Project Manager of multi-disciplinary teams to deliver products in time and within budgets.
Tempered by failures, strengthened by successes and with an indomitable spirit, he also mastered the skills and leadership quality required for long-term vision and planning. He became the focal point planning and technology development of Launch Vehicle programme in the country. Even while doing so, he applied his mind within the severe constraints of time (as the rocketry and launch vehicle tasks were very demanding) to social and economic spin-off from these technologies. For example, being the pioneer in the country for Advanced Fibre Reinforced Plastics products, since they were required for rockets, he also attempted applications such as boats and food grain silos.
The list of his achievements in ISRO and later in DRDO (Defence Research & Development Organisation) are well known and reasonably well documented. Therefore, I do not repeat them. Since his main aim was (is) to deliver operational and products in time and keep on progressing further and further to make India â€˜Number Oneâ€™, and creating motivated teams, he hardly concentrated on writing scientific and technical papers in his name. He had motivated thousands of others to generate reports and papers. He has supported many persons from the academic sector to pursue research. At DRDO he also encouraged spin off especially in the biomedical sector.
Full growth of his ideas regarding technological contributions for about social and economic transformation, took place during his leadership of TIFAC as its Chairman. This led to the magnum opus of 25 documents â€œTechnology Vision for India 2020â€ (see www.tifac.org.in).
4.KALAM: THE POINT
He writes poems in Tamil and English. I am quoting from a recent article in POET October 2002 by Manoranjan Das â€˜Human Feelings and Philosophy in Prof. Dr APJ Abdul Kalamâ€™s poetryâ€™.
â€œHe did not believe the autonomy of arty, or separation of art from other activities. He promotionally, affirms a poetâ€™s idea is a mirror, which holds and images forth the universal scheme and working of the world â€¦. His own realization of fundamental unity of the world and poetry, and the spiritual reality immanent in, it removes the ideas of separate existence from thought, and it reveals the wide spread of spirit. This spiritual understanding has its effect upon life. It allows an experience of the vastness of being, richness of life and wide amplitudes of harmony and reveals the secret of an ideal unity behind the apartment divided concreteness of life where the eventful day, river, cloud, divine, silence, heavenly display and beautty are roamed aboutâ€¦. On the whole Prof Dr AAPJ Abdul Kalamâ€™s poetry is revolved in the arena of menâ€™s mind, by acknowledging the unique meaning of life through the base of universal whiteness of reflection like sun-ray in the sky.â€
5.KALAM: THE EMERGING WORLD STATESMAN
Thus one finds in Dr Kalam a unique integration of many human qualities: an intellectual, a dreamer, a visionary, a leader, a mission director, a project manager, a writer, a poet and a man with deep innate sensitivity for other fellow human beings. He has also imbibed in him the best traditions of spirituality. At the same time, he is also like any other simple person enjoying simple things in life and interacting with everybody at an equal level.
It is fortunate that such full rounded man is now the President of our nation. In a number of ways, he represents the great and noble civilizational heritage of India. Over about 37 years, I had the opportunity to get the glimpses of his multifaceted personality; its generic inner strengths; and ability to adapt to new situations and grow further and excel. Therefore, I believe that world will soon witness a great Statesman emerging from his persona.