After the Kargil conflict in 1999, three service chiefs briefed prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the inadequacy of modern weapons and the delay in development of systems by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. This put Vajpayee under pressure to ask DRDO chief A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to step down. Vajpayee, who had great respect for Kalam, instead made him principal scientific advisor to the government.
Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai, architect of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, has narrated many such anecdotes in 40 Years with Abdul Kalam: Untold Stories. Pillai shared many iconic moments with the former president of India over the four decades they worked together. Besides stories about ISRO, DRDO and BrahMos, the book gives insight into the evolution of national security technologies over the years.
Pillai says Kalam was a man without ego and could adapt himself to any situation. Kalam once told Pillai that Vajpayee had even requested the president to travel less as he had become more popular than the prime minister.
While the first four chapters talk about Kalam’s early days as a scientist, the chapter on strategic industries gives insight into how India has steadily progressed in the defence sector.
While assessing Kalam’s life, Pillai counts the upsets, too. When Kalam failed in his ambition to become an IAF pilot, he landed up at Swami Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh. He learnt to deal with the disappointment and the experience changed him. Kalam would go on to become commander-in-chief of the Indian armed forces.
40 Years with Abdul Kalam: Untold Stories
By A. Sivathanu Pillai
Price Rs795; pages 230