An afternoon with President Kalam

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When I learned that His Excellency Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the President of India, was to deliver the 27th Singapore Lecture I registered without hesitation. As a regular visitor to India, devotee of Indian culture (particularly its cuisine) and amateur ‘India watcher’ I am very interested in this man. He has always struck me as an eccentric professor type, and not the sort of person you would normally expect performing the role of President. Furthermore, despite his role in India becoming a nuclear weapon state, he has given me the impression of being a humble, philosophical man, capable of rising above the cesspit of party politics. As a result, Dr Kalam’s lecture this afternoon was a bit of a disappointment. With a title like: “Evolution of Enlightened Societies on our Planet” I expected some deep philsophising with a strong dose of moral rectitude. Instead, the audience was presented with a technocratic exposition of the ‘World Knowledge Platform’ that, supposedly, will serve as a vehicle for societies to become ‘enlightened’. Of most concern to me was what appeared to approving tones in connection with a reference he made to river networking/ linking. I hope I got this wrong, but I have written to him via his website (he invited the audience to do this on no less than four occasions) to seek clarification. Overall, it wasn’t a bad lecture, just a little ‘underwhelming’, I guess, given my heightened expectations beforehand. (Someone also needs to counsel him about the use of text and colours in PowerPoint presentations!)

Any reader who attended and feels similarly short-changed might like to listen to the first part of this podcast (about 30 minutes) from Radio National’s Late Night Live. It’s an Australian show, but in this programme there is an interview with P. Sainath, a very erudite journalist, on the issue of farmer suicides in India. Sadly, it demonstrates that India (like many other countries around the world) will need a lot more than access to a World Knowledge Platform if it is to become enlightened any time soon.