INTERVIEW Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam whose book of memoirs has just been launched on why the state of our democracy is our responsibility
Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, who has authored several books, has come out with a deeply personal, readable and pocket-sized book of memoirs, My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Action (Rupa). Dedicated to “the sixteen million youth I have met and interacted with in the last two decades,” the book relates his life story that began in Rameswaram, a temple town on the Tamil Nadu coast. Every chapter contains a lesson. He relates, for example, how his father, who was the imam of the mosque at Rameswaram, conferred with his friends — the priest of the temple and of the local church — to thwart communal feelings before they got out of hand. He affectionately recalls his mentors, ranging from his parents and cousins to the eminent scientist Vikram Sarabhai. In the process, a moving portrait of a boy burning with zeal to learn emerges. The simplicity of the small-town boy is overwhelmingly apparent in Dr. Kalam, who made the transition from first citizen to ordinary Indian without a hiccup. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Today, greatness is largely measured by material wealth, and this in turn brings about discontent in society. Do you feel there is a need for us to shun materialism as your father and elders did?
I studied till High School in British India. In 1947, we got freedom and I started living in India’s India. I have seen various transformations in society, be it the economy or the value system. While our economy is developing, we need citizens with ethics and a value system. For the last 10 years I’ve been promoting an idea called Evolution of Enlightened Citizens. It has three dimensions. One is education with value system. This comes from the family, or may be from a primary school teacher. After all, the evolution of enlightened citizens is essential for India and the world. Second, comes economic prosperity. Third, religion should transform into a spiritual force. I advocate these three (www.abdulkalam.com).
I have given lectures in our Parliament, addressed the European parliament of 23 nations, a pan-African parliament of 53 nations, and the Korean parliament. I am not saying the Indian value system should be taken to other countries. They also have great leaders and traditions based on their value system. I believe that one’s value system, the joint family system, economic growth and different religions transforming into a spiritual force are vital. That’s why I have shared this at various interactive forums.
Your work gives pre-eminence to inspiring and changing the thought pattern of the youth. However, as we see the country deluged with problems such as hunger, disease, deteriorating environment and unfit living conditions, how long will it take to see change, or is it already visible ?
Thought is the seed of action. Thought is as ancient as Socrates. Tiruvalluvar, 2,200 years ago, has also said that…That’s why I proposed in Parliament that we need India Vision 2020. That is, by 2020, India should become economically developed. Even now, it’s not too late. Parliament should consider how it can activate the vision for the nation, so prosperity can be aimed at. Our priority should be to use PURA – ‘providing urban amenities in rural areas’. Our farmers are producing 250 million tonnes of food. But we don’t do value addition, which means greater export potential. We are leading producers of fruits and vegetables but we don’t process these as juice or packaged food. And third, of course, small scale industries which are spread across the country.
Are you in touch with the PURA projects, and are these showing results?
I have seen in Madhya Pradesh, the Chitrakoot PURA founded by Nanaji Deshmukh. He is a pioneer and they are doing very well, more than 500 villages are connected, and there is prosperity. Another one I saw in Maharashtra, Warana PURA. There is no poverty there, because the cooperative movement is doing very well. And the third I have seen in Tamil Nadu at Vallam, Thanjavur.
I am in touch with these three, and visit them often. But apart from that, the Government of India has started a few PURAs with public-private participation. The number of PURAs is increasing. But it has to be fast. After all, there are 600,000 villages; we have to establish 7000 PURAs in 10-15 years’ time. We have less than 100.
What is the status of the Youth Brigade which exhorts young people to stand up even to their parents if they indulge in corrupt practices, and the “What Can I Give” mission?
Many schools and colleges have started ‘What Can I Give’ missions. It is not a structured programme, we don’t want one; it will not grow. It is the responsibility of each institution to start a programme and promote reform within their institution. Then we have started what is called Happy Home which has four components: spirituality, mother’s happiness, transparency, and a green and clean environment. The youth have taken an oath that they will live in a house free from corruption.
Your writing reflects great contentment, yet this never stops you from action.
God helps only those who work hard. There is nothing like contentment. Success is not the ultimate aim.
However, at no time should you allow your problems to overwhelm you. I can’t say that I am content, because I meet 80,000 to 100,000 youth a month. I know their dreams, their pain. A nation without a vision dies. Parliament has to give this vision.