|If A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has a message for all of us, it is that sense of humility he radiates.|
Past Presidents in the United States are addressed this way long after they have demitted their office. I would like to follow this tradition and will continue to address him as President Kalam. He was different in ways that are too numerous to recount. He moulded the presidency in his own unique way, going beyond past precedence and the ways in which the Constitution binds and limits the role of the Indian head of state.
But my first encounter with Mr. Kalam was when he was not President, in fact a few days before he became President. At that time, had I laid a wager on him for the presidency, some agent in London would have given me odds of a million to one against Mr. Kalam becoming President.
Five years ago he was here, inaugurating my new Technology Development Centre in Hyderabad. After the inauguration, I took him round to show the Centre. Even though it was a technology centre, because of my love for art and sculpture my people commissioned a sculptor from Mahabalipuram; and we had many pieces of sculpture lined along the corridors together with many HPLCs and Rotavapours in the labs. Mr. Kalam stopped at a statute and, as if he was in a trance, recited some Tamil poems and translated them into English for our benefit. It was the statue of Tiruvalluvar: it moved and inspired him.
We walked into the amphitheatre for his inaugural address. The first thing I noticed was that he was uncomfortable with his security man standing behind him; he finally asked him not to do so. We can never forget his remarks on this occasion on leadership and how his mentor, Satish Dhawan, treated the first rocket launch, which was a failure. He asked them to go back to their workstations and he took the press head on. When the next launch was successful, he asked them to address the press and retired to his office.
He told my scientists that the success rate of a drug coming into the market is 1 in 10000; he looked at me and said that for those 9999 failures Dr. Reddy will take the responsibility, and you, the young scientists, will get credit for that one success. If he were to ask me now about our performance I will have to tell him: “We were almost there – 9990 have failed.” There will be one success shortly. If he has a message for all of us, it is that sense of humility he radiates.
Unfortunately, I could not invite him again to Hyderabad, as both of us, in our own different ways, were busy in the service of our nation. I was keen to share with him the work of two foundations I am running: the Naandi Foundation (feeding and teaching half a million children daily as well as working towards provision of safe drinking water to every Indian village) and Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, which has been running a different LABS (Livelihoods Advancement Business School) across India, providing training and employment to over 100,000 underprivileged youth. I am sure both these programmes will be dear to his heart, given their role in leapfrogging India into a leadership position in the league of developed nations of the world.
I hope to keep my promise of getting President Kalam to inspire my large contingent of young social scientists working out of these foundations in Hyderabad and connect them to opportunities for multiplying their successes in other backward regions of India.
Let me end this tribute with a little known incident from President Kalam’s life. Years ago, while he was at work, a drop of sweat caught up in the reactor led to a huge explosion. Having personally worked with sodium metal, I can understand how miraculously he must have escaped from the jaws of death. He is now in his seventies and it is our duty to keep him healthy.
(Dr. K. Anji Reddy is the Founding Chairman of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd.)
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