Book Review – Pupil’s President Kalam
While the Indian Government over the years can be credited with many controversial, idiotic, pointless acts and decisions, a stand-out achievement of theirs is the tenure of Late Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam as the President of India. It was a choice that the entire nation approved of, even as most don’t care much about the figurehead Presidential post. It speaks volumes about a person whose gigantic professional achievements often get dwarfed by the warmth of his personality, and that is not an easy thing in an achievement and records obsessed nation.
And that was also the reason I picked the book. To know Kalam better.
Kalam had famously said that he would prefer his legacy to be that of teacher, rather than be remembered as the Missile Man or one of the finest Indian Presidents. Pupil’s President retains Kalam’s desire to be a teacher as it’s central theme. His interactions, his love for children, the mentorship he received from his teachers, and the way he mentored others – these form a big part of the book, and are driven home from multiple vantage points at different points in his life.
The book is not an authorised or unauthorised biography. It is a compilation of content pulled together post Kalam’s demise. It aggregates Kalam’s own articles/ quotes, tributes to Kalam, media coverage articles, some of his poems, and a narrative around his post-death ceremonies. It comes across as something eerily similar to a 300+ page MBA research project. There is a huge amount of content which is directly sourced from his official website, hopefully with permission.
The book does a fine job of compiling the collected content into sections like his early days, or Kalam’s tributes to his teachers, etc. It also goes beyond the usual voices to collate tributes from a wider set of audience – some students and professors who had the honour of interacting with him, for instance. It also does a good job of pushing the well-crafted tributes of politicians to the background. In that sense, it is a deliberately humanised tribute to Kalam.
While being chronological in the early chapters, it does not go beyond the surface to understand what shaped such a wonderful human being. Probably because of lack of access to the previous generation or published material, the real influence that his father, or his brother-in-law or his mother would have had on his formative years are only cursorily touched. Satyam could have invested in trying to have more conversations with the family and friends, because the brief ones that are captured are a lot more touching than a lot of the polished content that comes with afterthought. I also felt that he could have taken a harder editorial look at the book rather than reproduce all these articles as it is. For instance, in a linear compilation of speeches, a lot of the content is bound to get repeated because of Kalam’s passion for certain themes. As someone bringing it all together, a condensed version that builds a profile across all his speeches with relevant quotes and events would have been a lot more interesting. Or, you may just call the book Collected Speeches of A P J Abdul Kalam.
Something that bugged me immensely – no clear attribution of the source for all the content. In a compilation where 80% of the content is not original, it is important to get the bibliography right. There is a brief mention in the prologue about gratitude but not about it being reproduced with permission. It is only fair that the original source be credited.
It is a large compilation of materials about a great man, but it is just a compilation with very limited editorial value addition. And the lack of a bibliography killed my mood a bit more.
Browse through the full list of book reviews in the depths of the Pensieve.