Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kaleidoscopic tribute to millennium’s Man Friday

Reviewed by Asif Anwar Alig

Dear Kalam Sir, by Saji Mathew and Jubie John, Bloomsbury Publishing India, Year 2016, 224pp, Indian Rupees 1274, Hard

he book Dear Kalam Sir by Saji Mathew and Jubie John seeks broader perspective to suit into a specific genre. A passionate outcome of the duo alongside hundreds of thousands of common men representing different parts of India and world’s distant locations, it is a tribute to 11th President of India late Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam—the People’s president. The Missile Man—and other metaphors used for him—was a rarity in this millennium.       

Neither thorough biography nor an attempt to elusively eulogize a personality, this book is unique attempt to sum the emotions of millions of admirers in simplistic yet appealing manner. Missionary zeal of the author(s)’ compliment initiative LetterFarms inspired common masses for their incessant involvement and this book saw the light of the day. They raise indisputable question where new generation through ignoring the handwritten culture and for their forced dependency on technology tools—the smart devices.
To translate an idea into reality by heralding everybody especially adolescents, for whom Dr. Kalam is still an icon, LetterFarms offered viable platform for personal tributes. Technically insulating platform offered the masses decisive choice to go back to writing culture to express feelings through postcards. They unquestionably remain ultimate canvases for masses to express emotions. People from all walks of life wrote painstakingly emotional expressions as tributes through sketches, art and letter dedications on postcards. Author(s) meticulously assessed to scrutinize selected ones that find room in this book.

It is rightly said that a picture is worth thousands of words. This book is a fabulous tribute to Dr. Kalam in uniqueness of personalized accolade by thousands remembering him. The idea to stimulate old-fashioned yellow postcards to turn an exemplary source for millions from more than 200 cities, across the length and breadth of India fruition as all joined hand for common perceptive tribute to this public leader. It transformed into a people-powered movement. Arrival of Dear Kalam Sir book is the resurgence from dearkalamsir campaign for a persona extraordinaire which Indian subcontinent produced.  

Dr. Kalam’s simplicity of lifestyle became embodiment of Indian subcontinent’s heritage and diversity. This book uniquely portrays the incessant efforts of Saji Mathew and Jubie John handpicking selected postcards out of hundreds of thousands they received at the LetterFarms. Selected ones added in the book are people’s creative and passionate emotional tributes for a person who still inspires millions.

Creatively compiled postcards in Dear Kalam Sir showcase compelling stories of personal inspirations as reflections by the common masses representing diverse backgrounds. It irresistibly narrates extra-ordinary journey of Dr. Kalam from tiny Rameshwaram town to Rashtrapati Bhavan(President’s Residence). He is most admired icon of the contemporary modern India receiving such unmatched respect.

Dr. Kalam still commands unparalleled admiration from the masses, especially youngsters being inspired from him to dream big. Rare attributes distinguished his personality like personally replying even random letters written by common people. Personal replies to them and the books he authored sill ignite hearts and minds of countless people.   

Sudden demise of Dr. Kalam on 27th July 2015 at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong from an apparent cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture to students was a big shock. World leaders sent tributes and mourned for India’s big loss with the death of a person of such towering caliber.

This book exceptionally tributes to celebrate the life sketch of great scientist and visionary leader. It is an archetypal effort from the author(s) to reprint ordinary masses’ handwritten postcards. Readers assume as if they authored it and so do they realize true reflection of emotional expressions to tribute the person who redefined the concept of Presidency during his tenure as country’s first citizen.

Rise and rise of Dr. Kalam’s personality from a science lab to nation’s topmost scientific establishment and finally becoming the President isn’t a fairy tale. He made us believe that willpower and determination to fulfil dreams can surely bring towering rewards for even a common man. 

Born Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam on 15 October 1931 in Rameswaram Island in now Tamil Nadu state, he was India’s 11th President from 2002 to 2007. A career scientist turned politician served Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for four decades. His valuable contributions for India’s civilian space program to military missile development initiatives were always lauded. 

Denoted with Missile Man of India for contributions to develop ballistic missile and for launching the vehicle technology advancements he was bestowed with several prestigious awards including India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna conferred in 1997.

Born in a Tamil Muslim family nearby the Hindu pilgrimage center at Rameswaram on the Pamban Island in then Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu) to a boat owner cum mosque Imam Jainulabudeen, he got first lesson of secularism in childhood while his father ferried Hindu pilgrims back and forth between Rameswaram to now uninhabited Dhanushkodi areas. Youngest of four brothers and one sister, Dr. Kalam faced tough phase in early childhood. He had to even sell newspapers to support family to run.  

Eminent Indian Nuclear Program scientist late Raja Ramanna would personally invite Dr. Kalam to witness country's first nuclear test Smiling Buddha as representative of TBRL, even though later didn’t participate in its development. He directed Project Devil and Project Valiant in 1970 to develop ballistic missiles for successful SLV program. Even though Union Cabinet had disapproved, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under his directorship and he played pivotal role to develop many missiles under Agni and Prithvi missions. His rigorous involvement during Pokhran-II nuclear tests conduction is equally lauded.  

Spirituality and religion remained important for Dr. Kalam throughout his life. A proud Muslim he never missed daily namāz (Muslim prayers) and fasting during Ramadan. His father, as an Imam of a mosque in Rameswaram, strictly instilled Islamic customs in him and in his siblings. He would see his father valuing interfaith respects and dialogue. He recalled: “Every evening, my father A.P. Jainulabdeen, an Imam, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, the Head Priest of the Ramanathaswamy Hindu Temple, and a Church Priest used to sit with hot tea to discuss issues concerning the island.” Such early exposure to communal harmony proved convincing for him to find answers to India's multitudinous issues in the “dialogue and cooperation” among religious, social, and political leaders in the country.

In addition to Dr. Kalam’s faith in Holy Qur’an and Islamic practices, he obtained extensive knowledge of Hindu traditions. He read Bhagavad Gita and remained strict vegetarian throughout his life. Composing Tamil poetry, playing Veena (a South Indian string instrument) and listening to Carnatic music were his personality’s distinctness.  

Besides receiving 7 honorary doctorates from 40 universities Dr. Kalam was honoured with the Padma Bhushan (1981) and the Padma Vibhushan (1990) by the Government of India. 

Several educational & scientific institutions and or places are now renamed or named to honour Dr. Kalam. Kishanganj, Bihar based an Agricultural College was renamed to Dr. Kalam Agricultural College Kishanganj by the state government on the day of his funeral. Uttar Pradesh Technical University (UPTU) was renamed to .P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University by that state government. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial Travancore Institute of Digestive Diseases is a research institute in Kollam, Kerala. Likewise, a national missile test site in Odisha named Wheeler Island was renamed to Abdul Kalam Island in September 2015. The list is too long. 

Dr. Kalam wrote several inspirational books including India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium; Wings of Fire: An Autobiography; Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India; The Luminous Sparks; Forge your Future: Candid, Forthright, Inspiring amongst others.
This book’s Foreword by Dr. Shashi Tharoor passionately expresses gratitude for Dr. Kalam in the light of his indomitable contributions which endeared him to people from all walks of life. “Life and works of Dr. Kalam are embodied best of what India can be. India has never had a more beloved President than him,” said Tharoor. Founder of Infosys NR Narayana Murthy writes in Preface that “as an essentially engineering-project manager, Dr. Kalam extensively used scientific concepts to express most humane ideas.” His passion for teaching was irrefutable until he breathed his last.

A seminal book curated like playlists to fill ordinary people’s thoughts and personal reflections on a rare personality in postcard expressions it seeks everybody’s attention. They portray people’s passion for Dr. Kalam’s incomparable commitment.

People-powered anthology of handwritten postcards in book shape, Dear Kalam Sir is a highly appealing tribute for a public leader as first-of-its-kind in the nine languages including two international languages.

This book review was first published in Colombo based Ceylon Today newspaper [] in its August 08, 2016 edition.   

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