The Kalam Effect: My Years with the President by P M Nair

A P J Abdul Kalam is a name which draws attention and curiosity. While his own books Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds, India 2020 became popular and were raved about, this book about him, written by his secretary failed to make any news. Nevertheless, the book drew my attention and I read it in one sitting.

The book states its goals very clearly. It is not meant to be Kalam's biography or his journey in life. It is about P M Nair's experience of working closely with Kalam for those five years when Kalam served as the 11th President of India between 2002 to 2007. It is not about how Kalam was born or what a troubled childhood he had or how he became a scientist. This book is about Kalam, the President, through Nair's eyes.

Nair has a great respect for Kalam and it shows. He points out Kalam's generosity, child like innocence and the dream he had for India. He set out to make a mark as the President in his five-year tenure. He made a mark and how! The book talks about many incidents to showcase Kalam's nature.

Don't we all read about Pratibha Patil going on foreign tours, one after the other, accompanied by her village family? Here is a change in the scene. When Kalam's extended family paid him a visit at his presidential house, Kalam ensured that not a penny from the government was used. He spent 2.5 lakhs on his family's expenditure - cars, hotels, tours, food. Doesn't that show this man's integrity? Nair jots down many incidents like this which makes you respect Kalam even more.

Nair is quick to point out certain qualities which Kalam should work on. Kalam's punctuality (the lack of it) is something that annoyed Nair and no matter how much he tried, Kalam never changed his ways. Kalam's innocence, which the entire world knew about and took advantage of, put Nair in trouble sometimes. People would write to Kalam to give them jobs, education and money or else they will commit suicide. Kalam was genuinely moved by these letters and would ask Nair to fulfill the people's wishes.

There are tidbits like this which give us a glimpse of Kalam and the man he was. Bush's visit to India, Musharraf's visit, Mohammad Afzal's pardon plea, Sonia Gandhi's prime ministerial candidate - all these find a mention in the book.

While the book is interesting to read, it doesn't leave you better than what you were when you picked up the book. You know a few more things about Kalam, but what's the use of that? Narrating an incident is not enough. One should narrate it in a way that the reader gets inspired and that is not one of Nair's skills. The book is bland in its form, but rich in content. If you really want to know about Kalam, isn't it better to read books written by him than about him? I am indifferent to this book. No recommendations, no dissuasion.