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Rising up through work and word

Monday, August 26, 2013
By Robin Shukla

Two books this week, of different genres altogether.  Thoughts for Change by APJ Abdul Kalam and Sivathanu Pillai emphasises that the glory of the past is reason enough to feel confident that much more glory can, and will be, achieved in the future. Final Cut by Uday Gupt is an interesting and well-written debut effort, and has six short stories, each of them taking a surprising turn towards the end. There is a short novella too, arising probably when the gripping story couldn’t be cut really short.

Igniting the spark within us
Thoughts for Change – We Can Do It by the venerable former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam and distinguished scientist Sivathanu Pillai, is a book that exhorts Indians, young and hold, to take our fate in our hands, and steer our nation back into the kind of glorious position it enjoyed in ancient times. This sub-continent has a fascinating culture that spans more than the two thousand years referred to as the Christian era. There is art and culture duly understood as advanced in style and technique, from the exquisite carvings in around caves and temples all across the country to the architecture of the temples and other monuments themselves, which are nothing short of spectacular. There is also the astounding literature of vedic times, pre-vedic times and later, in Sanskrit and other languages and scripts like Tamil, Pali, and other ancient tongues, most of them lost to civilisation as we know it today.

These are of course, in the realm of art, literature and culture, and have exponents who are carrying the legacies forward, and showcasing them before an appreciative world. The ancient texts are understood to be the scriptures of Hindusim, Buddhism and other religious denominations and philosophic sects and sub-sects. And these are referred to, recited and chanted on most occasions for the purpose of spiritual ablutions. But there is much more to this India of old that can similarly help propel us forward to a higher industrial and economic plane.

The authors have provided a glimpse into why we can be extremely proud of our past and hopeful for the future.  And as scientists and visionaries, they should know.

Apart from being President from 2002 to 2007, Kalam is popularly known as the Missile Man of India, for having made significant contribution in the development of missile technologies which were responsible for successful fruition of the Agni and Prithvi strategic missile projects. Kalam not only pioneered India’s space research but launched our very first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3) that put the Rohini satellite into its near-earth orbit. He is a soft-spoken, kindhearted man but there is no contradiction in his having enabled India to attain the status of a nuclear weapon state. He was honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.

Dr. Apathukatha Sivathanu Pillai, a Padmashri himself, was part of the core team that created the SLV-3 and he is Chief Controller of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Chief Executive and MD of the Indo-Russian venture currently developing the BRAHMOS Supersonic Cruise Missile. He has also been very much a part of the Agni, Prithvi, Nag and Akash missile programmes.

The two have painstakingly compiled all the developmental activities that we, as a nation, are involved in, and reading it makes one proud. The only grouse we have is that not many of us are involved in these front-running scientific and technological programmes that could have taken us far ahead of the current milestones we are slowly plodding past. Explanations are provided almost as a primer for the layman and the youth, who are seen as the ones the baton has to be passed on to.

So you have a recap of the various programmes from the initial days of planning and development, like the Green Revolution in Agriculture, the Operation Flood in Milk pioneered by the late Dr. Varghese Kurien in Anand in Gujarat, the setting up and commencement of large industries by J.N. Tata of iron and steel fame, Walchand Hirachand of the Hindustan  Aeronautics, Hindustan Shipyard. These were among the stalwarts who patriotically sought to take the country forward through industrial advancement. Not to forget Homi Bhabha and his contribution to atomic energy, and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who pioneered India’s space programme.

The authors take us through the futuristic future of nanotechnologies, robotics engineering, geospatial technologies, solar power, stealth technologies, etc and list out all the various activities Indians are involved in. Inspiring and filling one with hope, though one understands that we have a very long way to go, given our personal reluctance towards any hard work and striving.  But the hope lies in the fact that we were always pioneers, ahead of the times in ancient days.

To give us a future, they hearken back to the past, when Aryabhatta (476 AD) was the first to proclaim that the earth is round and rotates on its own axis. He is a major figure in the field of mathematics and calculated the value of Pi, even as he calculated the movements of planets and the time of the eclipses.

Bhaskaracharya II (1114-1183 AD) discovered gravity 500 years before Sir Isaac Newton. Acharya Kanad (600 BC) declared, “Every object of creation is made of atoms which in turn connect with each other to form molecules.” Nagarjuna (100 AD) was a researcher with a great number of inventions and discoveries in the fields of chemistry and metallurgy. Charak (600 BC) wrote the Charak Samhita which is considered to be the encyclopaedia of Ayurveda, documenting the facts of human anatomy, embryology, pharmacology, blood circulation, and diseases like diabetes, heart problems, tuberculosis, etc.  Acharya Shushrut (600 BC) was a surgeon who documented 300 types of surgical procedures!  By touching upon all these, the authors hope to rekindle the fire in India’s youth, and there is every likelihood they will succeed.
Thoughts for Change – We Can Do It
by APJ Abdul Kalam & Sivathanu Pillai
Pentagon Press

Surprises around the corner
Final Cut by Uday Gupt is a collection of six good stories and one short novella (which is a written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. Now you know!). The author has been a career banker for the past 20 years, and is with one of the largest banks in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East. There is, therefore, an appreciably different perspective in all the works here, the hallmark being ‘a surprising, unexpected and intriguing twist in the last paragraphs.’ This is a device that has been successfully tried by quite a few writers, including Jeffrey Archer with his A Twist in the Tale, and of course, Mumbai’s own Noel Keymer with his Poison in the Tale.

The author writes excellently well. Sample this from the second story, Friends, based on Naxalism: In mid-1967, led by city-bred and educated Marxist leaders, the peasants of North Bengal arose in violent revolt against their landlords. In May that year, in the village of Naxalbari, police turned their guns on a group of farmers demanding cropping rights to a piece of land, killing eleven.

This was a gift sent straight from wherever revolutionary heaven is.

Within months, students were closing down schools and colleges, and the city’s best and brightest went forth to do urban warfare with the class enemies of humankind, armed with bombs and crude guns manufactured in the chemistry laboratories of their alma maters. They were joined by many disaffected, unemployed youth, a commodity never in short supply in Kolkata.

The government acted with meticulous brutality and savagery.

Final Cut
by Uday Gupt
Frog Books

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