Turning Points – A Journey through Challenges By Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
I purchased a copy of Turning Points – A Journey through Challenges after reading a few of its excerpts that were published in the editorial of The Hindu. This book is a sequel to the popular autobiography of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the “Wings of Fire”. “Turning Points” consists of fourteen small chapters, each with a running theme and two appendices. In one of the chapters, Dr. Kalam shared the seven turning points that changed the course of his life. The first one was in 1962 when he was appointed as a rocket engineer at the newly formed ISRO while the latest one was his election as the President of India in 2002. Most of the other chapters consist of a first person account of different events, anecdotes and experiences of Dr. Kalam, primarily as the President of India. In these pages, he talked about how he transformed the Rashtrapathi Bhavan for better communication with the Prime Minister’s office, his favourite times in the Mughal Gardens, his visits to the foreign nations, the difficult (and allegedly controversial) decisions he had to take as the President and his reasons behind those decisions and finally about his life after the Presidency.
At first glance, the contents of the book appear to be somewhat fragmented with a lack of flow and continuity from one chapter to another. However an astute reader would soon realize that the common thread passing through all the pages of the book is Dr. Kalam’s vision to see a developed India by 2020 and how he used every opportunity that he had got to contribute towards this dream. The book is up-to-date in that it contains events that happened as late as May 2012. However, in a few places, I did feel that appropriate editorial intervention to rephrase some of the sentences would have made the book much more comfortable to read.
I would like to mention some of my observations from the book which struck the right chords of inspiration for me. Dr. Kalam did not think of the Presidency as an honour given to him in recognition of the services he had rendered to the country. He rather thought of it as another opportunity given to him to serve the country. As soon as he occupied the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, he asked himself the question – how he could contribute to the country as its President. He travelled widely within the country to see the people from different parts of the country and to understand their culture, strengths and needs. He used his office and power as the President to gather information, about anything he needed to know, from the appropriate ministries. He then made mission statements and development plans keeping in mind the core competencies of the states. He presented these plans to the legislative assemblies and governors of the respective states urging them to work towards their implementation. He thought of the cabinet as his team and being a part of the team, he could not and did not want his team to go wrong. For every decision he had to take or approve, he tried to understand the situation, constitution and the consequences with the help of experts in the field. He then tried to take the most informed and unbiased decision keeping in mind the best interests of the country. He worked hard and more importantly, he seemed to have enjoyed working hard as the President of India. Every speech he delivered had a theme, a great amount of research and a realistic mission for the future. To quote an example, the speech titled “Dynamics of Unity of Nations” which he delivered at the European Parliament in 2007, had gone through 31 drafts of perusal and improvement!
To reiterate, throughout the book, we see one common theme, which is “How to work towards making India a developed nation by 2020?”. Dr. Kalam being an engineer, defined an objective function NPI (National Prosperity Index) which needs to be maximized to achieve this goal of “Vision 2020”. He aptly defined NPI to be a function of not only the GDP growth rate, but also the quality of life and values and harmony in the society. He also pointed out that implementation of plans to realize “Vision 2020” necessitates effective communication, cooperation and synergistic action from different ministries of the government. To achieve this, he proposed structural and functional re-organization of the cabinet and the ministries, the details of which are elaborated in the final appendix titled “Mission Mode Implementation”.
We find Dr. Kalam, an engineer and a visionary, in the guise of the President, working relentlessly and motivating others towards achieving a developed and harmonious India.
“Turning Points” is undeniably an inspirational account. As we read the book, we can not only bask in the comfortable warmth of the childlike enthusiasm and optimism radiating from Dr. Kalam’s words, but also arise and warm-up for the long run that we need to undertake to achieve our common goals.
K. Aswani Kumar (MBU)
Banner in the Sky – by James Ramsey Ullman
“Dream on, dream on, till your dream comes true”
Everyone said the Citadel could not be climbed. It stood great, terrible and alone, amidst the other mountains of the Alps. Several men had dreamt of climbing it, but only one was brave enough to try and realise his dream – although he died in the process. Now, his son Rudi wanted to scale it, to stand atop it and proudly plant his banner in the sky. To live the dream.
Don’t we all have a childhood dream? A deep burning desire that calls out to us from time to time? This book by James Ramsey Ullman is about one such dream that fills the mind and the soul of a boy. The dream of conquering an insurmountable peak. Based on his experiences as a mountaineer and the story of the ascent of Matterhorn, the author describes the expedition to scale the Citadel. The peak, although fictitious, has been described in such detail that one can almost picturise it, with its cliffs, ridges, towers and chimneys; huge and formidable.
The book also describes the life of alpine guides and the code they live by. The tale proceeds slowly at first, but picks up pace midway and becomes un-put-downable. While it is categorised as a children’s book, it holds enough thrills for adult readers too.
Comments: Easy, enjoyable and enchanting read.
Chetana Baliga Nabar (MBU)
Illustration: K. Vijayanth Reddy (ECE/CeNSE)