Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On "Wings of Fire"

I recently finished reading the celebrated book ‘Wings of Fire’ depicted on the life and works of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

It is a wonderful book that made me think a lot. To imagine that a person who hailed from such a small house (picture depicted in the book) rising to such an extent as to become the President of India is simply unimaginable. After having read that book, I was not sure if I was inspired or demotivated. Inspired because he has brought the country to forefront in Defence Technology; Demotivated because I feel as if I have achieved nothing till date.

The best part about the book is it gives life to many eminent personalities which were but just names in the history. Vikram Sarabhai is someone I had just read about in the books but never gave a thought but after reading this book, I realized what a great personality he was. I was personally very touched when I heard about his death in the book. Ditto with Prof Brahm Prakash. Like wise, the book showcases and appreciates so many great personalities that at one point you feel as if you are reading about the Leading Scientists of India rather than just about Dr APJ Abdul Kalam! (Footnote: Apart from Mrs Indira Gandhi, there is no notable mention of any eminent lady-personalities / female-scientists in the book – a food for thought on it’s own!)

During the post-Independence era, it is possible that one had thoughts of improving one’s country. But somehow I feel that we are now living in an era when we want the world to be a better place and not just country. Look at Earth Hour. Likewise, so many countries are working in harmony to churn out new products in shorter span of time making best use of the daylight across the globe due to the Earth’s rotation. As they say, the world is flat now!

But there were sections in the book which miffed me. At one point, Dr Kalam mentions that professionals going abroad and settling down in foreign countries is not a thing to be proud of (not same words but that’s the gist). Well, I don’t know about that. Doesn’t it speak volumes for Indians to compete in the global arena and not just compete, but come out successful to such an extent that it jitters prominent World Leaders to ask their countries’ younger generation to buck up?! Isn’t that an achievement? To view the fact that one goes abroad and settles down for a comfortable life is just an aesthetic outlook. The effort and struggle that has gone into competing in the Global Workforce is something to be noticed and appreciated.

What about me (and millions like me)? It is not without struggle that I have managed to be what I am. It is not without effort that I have managed to get accolades from professionals across the continents, to work in and amongst professionals across the world and still be appreciated (I am speaking on behalf of millions of Indians here). Isn’t that an achievement? Or is it an achievement only if we get Bharat Ratna?

What about family life? It is not easy to have a family life and a professional life. Each demands a significant section of life and to come out successful in both is an achievement on its own. Again, to view marriage life as a walk in the park holding hands is just an aesthetic outlook. The effort and struggle that goes on to walk the tight rope of family life as well as continue to excel in work is a challenge in itself which perhaps Dr Kalam never experienced.

To think about rockets and missiles 20 hours a day, 365 days a year is indeed laudable. But is that all life is about? We get only one life. Should we not experience every bit of it instead of working up ourselves to such turmoil as to deliver the goods and achieve great heights?

But I guess it is such thoughts as these that differ me from great personalities! If we have people just like me, and we never had people like Dr Kalam, we wouldn’t have been safe from enemies and leading such a peaceful life as we are now.

Frankly, a big Thank You to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for highlighting the progress of Indian Space Research Program and for his efforts in making India what it is. The thought that came to my mind repeatedly when I read the book was the thought that always comes to my mind:

Endaro Mahanubhavulu Andariki Vandanamulu.

PS: Janani, a good friend of mine, after reading the book asked Dr Kalam a question that is common to every reader. The question and Dr Kalam’s answer is reproduced [with permission from Janani] below to stop further readers asking same question to Dr Kalam!

On 7/15/08, Janani Krishnan wrote:
Dear Sir,

I just finished reading the book "Wings of fire". I found it very interesting and inspiring. The thoughts expressed in the book are profound and your personality is very motivating, the characteristic that stands out among many, is your simplicity. However, towards the end of the book a question started taking shape and i could not come up with a convincing reply. At this point, i decided to write to you. I would consider myself very lucky, if you would clarify this nagging doubt of mine.

There is no denying the fact that its the effort of all the scientists working ardently towards the technological advances which has put India on the global map. Like you have said in the book, this proved to the world India's capability and capacity to develop and successfully implement many an indigenous techniques and inventions, to be able to be on par with developed nations. The term "Missile man", as you are fondly known to us, indeed does complete justice to your dedication and devotion to work. Thank you for setting such high standards for us and being the personality whom we can look up to!

The question that is troubling me is this - Missiles, the main objective of one is destruction! If in future there is an outbreak of war (God forbid), then wouldn't these missiles be put into use? Wouldn't millions of people die in the process? Of course, that would be only to defend ourselves, But, ultimately it is used for destruction! I have read somewhere (I am not sure how much of truth is in this piece of information) that Alfred Nobel, was disillusioned and depressed because he felt guilty that his invention - the dynamite - was responsible for the death of numerous lives. The reason for him to have donated his fortune towards the Nobel Foundation was to appease this guilt. Sir, my question to you is, would you also feel the same if a scenario like this should occur? If one devotes one's entire life and energy towards a goal which may ultimately serve the purpose of destruction, is it justified? Can you please give me your view point on this.

I have put down my questions and doubts as they occurred to me. Please do forgive me if there is anything offensive in the content of this email.

Thanking you

On Wed, Jul 16, 2008 at 2:52 PM, Abdulkalam APJ wrote:

Dear Janani,

Thank you for your mail. Technology is double edged weapon. It can be used for societal upliftment and also for destruction. Technology basically is innocent. It is how the political system use as the technology. If there is an enlightened user, there is no damage to the society. We always hope, we will have enlightened uses. My association with missile is purely scientific. In that science process I have no regrets.

Greetings and best wishes

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