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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prosperity & Peace for the 21st Century: APJ Abdul Kalam

APJ Abdul Kalam

I’m reading a compilation of APJ Abdul Kalam’s speeches in Canada graciously gifted to me by S. Kalyansundaram of Canada India Foundation.  

The book – Prosperity and Peace for the Twenty-First Century – covers three broad areas – Vision, Culture and Spirituality and Education. The editors – V. Ponraj, R. Swaminathan, and V. I. Lakshmanan – have wisely broken down the speeches and clubbed them into these three themes.

When one thinks of APJ Abdul Kalam the image that comes to mind is of an activist. He redefined the ceremonial office by being a knowledge activist.

There is a rising disquiet to the process of economic and cultural homogenization that globalization seems to be imposing especially on the non-western world.

Two distinct approaches have evolved to deal with this – the assimilative and the contrarian.

There are activists both in the categories – assimilative and contrarian, although the mainstream often fights shy of acknowledging the assimilators as activists.

In the mainstream, the term activist is often used pejoratively, and this has to do with the perception that an activist is someone with head-in-the-cloud opinions but without a viable alternative.

The contrarian questions the concept of development and upholds the traditional rights of people – rights that they have enjoyed for generations and are inalienably linked to their land and their way of living.

The assimilator believes in an encompassing approach that aims at bringing everyone together to achieve greater good. There is no doubt that the assimilator is also an activist.

Kalam is an assimilative activist.

In a world where knowledge economies are reshaping the new world order, India has a fighting chance to emerge as one of the leading nations if it is able to retain and build upon its lead in the knowledge sector.

India’s post-liberalization surge in the knowledge sphere in the late 1990s coincided with Kalam’s term as the President.

Kalam epitomizes the best of what India stands for and what it offered – a scholastic mixture of the science and culture, heritage and progress, inclusive ethos and forward thinking.

Kalam – the soft-spoken and the unassuming scientist – has given India and Indians a vision for the future – something that the country and its people could aspire to achieve if Indians put their mind to it.

In a large measure, India has seized Kalam’s vision for its future. Indians are working in a myriad different ways to bring to fruition a grand dream.

The slim volume is rich in Kalam’s knowledge of the Indian society, and his vision for the world. I found the section on Culture particularly appealing, and in particular his lecture at the Sringeri Community Centre on 26-09-10 on Tolerance has universal relevance.

 “Tolerance is the foundation of sustainable development and peaceful society. It will be appropriate to have introspection by all of us about the social awakening needed for the national and international development. Every civilized society exists not for day-to-day, but with a clear perception for the future and the generations to come. Such a situation would pre-suppose that each individual in such a society would cherish and translate into practice noble ideals of constructive tolerance, positive fellow-feeling and a total commitment to live and let live. Albert Einstein could not have expressed this better, when he said: “Laws alone can’t secure freedom of expression; in order that every man presents his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

“We have to evolve a society that will respect differences and celebrate differences. What are the various issues on tolerance?
  1. Tolerance for people’s opinion
  2. Tolerance for people’s culture
  3. Tolerance for people’s belief system
  4. Tolerance for people’s styles

In fact, such an attitude, be it that of an individual or a collection of them i.e. society, is the hallmark of civilization and that is what characterizes and differentiates life from sheer existence. Honesty and integrity – both in thought and action, independence and inter-dependence – in their wholesome and positive manifestations, would distinguish a civilized society in its true sense. It is for each individual to strive to inculcate these external values in him or her, and that alone would be the surest path and unfailing guarantee for a civilized society and its future.”

Many such vignettes pepper this treasure of a book. 

A word on V. I. Lakshmanan, one of the editors of the book, and someone I’m privileged to know personally. Lakshmanan is an academician-turned-entrepreneur. For someone who has lived in the West for four decades, Lakshmanan is quite the antithesis of what is supposed to be the accepted norm of social behaviour here – he never projects himself and remains extremely humble despite his considerable achievements. 

1 comment:

  1. Great review, it's always nice to read about APJ Kalam - one of the best President and gentle soul representing whatever is good about India. Thanks for sharing this.