In the recent three weeks, I have read two books of Bharat Ratna A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, a great son of India. Both these books are autographical in content and message. The first book is My Journey – Transforming Dreams into Actions. The book contains inspirational stories from the life of the most respected thinker and scientist of India. The book has been dedicated by the author “to the sixteen million youth who I have met and interacted with in the last two decades”. The narration in My Journey is ‘nostalgic, honest and deeply personal’. I would strongly recommend the younger generation to read this book. The second book of President Kalam, gifted to me by my daughter Vaishali (autographed by APJ Abdul Kalam), is Wings of Fire – An Autobiography. The book has been dedicated by the author “to the memory of my parents”. Most of the scientific accounts go over my head. But I found that the Wings of Fire is a brilliant account of the success story of the space and missile program of India. Somebody has rightly nicknamed APJ Abdul Kalam as the ‘Missile Man. It is a thumbnail sketch of President Kalam’s life and a must read.
It has been my good fortune to see President APJ Abdul Kalam in person and briefly interact with him once. In fact, my office was located in the same wing of the South Block when he was the Scientific Adviser to the Minister of Defense and I was the Director of Central Asia Division of the Ministry of External Affairs from 1997-2000. I could see this great man many a times either in the lift or crossed our ways in the stairs. I found him an embodiment of simplicity and spirituality.
President Kalam is a renowned scientist of high standing. India and the erstwhile USSR and now Russia, and countries of Central Asia have had good scientific cooperation particularly on defense related technologies and equipment. A scientific delegation from Kyrgyzstan visited India sometime in 1998-99. The hosts invited me, as Director of Central Asia at the MEA to a dinner meeting at Oberoi Grand Hotel in old Delhi to meet the Kyrgyz delegation. President Kalam, then Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, also came to meet the delegation. I could see personally the respect and regard the visiting delegation showed to him. Undoubtedly, President Kalam commands great recognition as a scientist of caliber and standing. I have yet another story to tell. When I went to Minsk as Ambassador of India to Belarus, in the process of my First Arrival calls with the Belarusian leadership, I called on the Chairman of the India-Belarus Joint Commission for Military and Technical cooperation, who was also a scientist of standing in the erstwhile USSR and now Belarus. After the meeting, he took me to his personal office and with a sense of great pride showed me his photograph with APJ Abdul Kalam which was kept on the side of his office table. He said that President Kalam was one his best friends and wanted me to convey his regards to him. I felt a sense of elation within me.
President APJ Abdul Kalam is a living legend. I wish him good health in the years to come.