That President APJ Abdul Kalam revered, almost worshipped, his mother is no secret, but there was one more woman whom he immensely admired all his life.
"She was an extremely traditional and conservative woman of her generation...To the very end, she remained the simple, neat, devout, down-to-earth person she always was, with a genuine interest in others... I bathe my soul in her music," says Kalam, referring to M S Subbulakshmi- the doyenne of Carnatic music - in his latest book, Guiding Souls-Dialogues on the purpose of life.
The book, co-authored by Arun Tiwari, his friend and pupil of many years, reveals the hitherto unexplored spiritual side of the President.
The book is structured as dialogues between Kalam and Tiwari and is divided into three parts. The first deals with the concept of inner experience, thoughts, images, emotions, perceptions and insights. In the second part, both of them discuss the essence and life history of some eminent figures who have 'offered mankind a movement forward in the most sselfless manner'. The concluding part describes the journey of the soul and its various manifestations.
Guiding Souls... gives us an insight into the personality of the President, his life in different roles, as a child, a student, an aeronautical engineer, his days at DRDO and as the 11th President of India.
Taking a cue from his earlier book, Ignited Minds, in which a dream is narrated wherein the author meets five people whom he eulogizes, this book, too, touches upon the lives of the people Kalam idolises.
Kalam believes that in the overall context of human affairs, former United States president Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi, 'made the most difference to people's lives'. 'His life was a great struggle, his task was so enormous. He presided over the Civil War and faced so much criticism bravely...', Kalam says when asked by Tiwari whether Lincoln was a part of his psyche.
The book, covering a wide spectrum of history and human activity, is replete with quotes of sage Ashtavakra, philosophies of saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, legends of Caliph Umar, Sikh guru Guru Nanak Dev and emperor Ashoka, showing the President's erudition in different religions and scriptures of the world.
When Tiwari asks him how he reacted to difficult circumstances in his life when success was not in sight and the hurdles were many, Kalam says, "I always kept Thiruvalluar's wisdom close to my heart, particularly in different times of my life. 'Grief they face and put to grief, who grieve not giref by mind's relief' which means that successful leaders can never be defeated by problems. They become masters of the situation and defeat the problems."
The readers can see an emotional Kalam in the pages when he talks about his childhood days and his mother who left the 'deepest imprints' on his life who symbolised a culture where 'honour, respect and family solidarity took precedence over individual desires'.
Kalam confesses in the book that he was very surprised and humbled when he learnt that his mother revered a simple, anchored life of his father than her son's ambitious and career-oriented life.
'He was never like you. He never dreamed of being a lawyer, professor or anything other than a husband, father and grandfather...On this island, there was just only one career for him, and that was being a hardworking man...' was her response when Kalam asked her what his father was like at his age.
Interestingly, though Kalam chose to remain a bachelor all his life, he blesses all the couples of the world who have mutual respect for each other.
While personally, Kalam says the most profound impact on his soul was the 'devotion' of his parents for each other, professionally he was inspired the most by Thomas Alva Edison for 'creating the modern world'. However, he related the most to the South African visionary, Nelson Mandela, who he revered as a 'great teacher of life'.
'His (Mandela's) presidency saw an unprecedented truth and reconciliation exercise...He brought the oppressors and opressesed in front of each other and let forgiveness emerge. His life symbolises the triumph of the human spirit over man's inhumanity to man. He personifies struggle...', he says.
In the first part of the book, where the duo talk about the soul, the essence and the eternity, Kalm underscores the need of knowledge for all human beings and explains how knowledge is infinite. 'When we open up to pure knowledge, we are then in touch with the knowledge potential in consciousness, the inexhaustible source of all possible knowledge....How can knowledge be finite,' he asks.
When questioned about his 'inner journey', Kalam says, 'I covered a very long distance. It's a journey of maturation and completeness... It has been a journey of realisation of the nature of soul and reality, a journey of insight and wearning...but the journey is inconclusive as there is hatred and violence among my people.'
The uneasiness and adversities amongst people nowithstanding, the dialogue and the book end on a positive note as Kalam is optimistic of peace and harmony among Indians once they get connected to what he calls their 'Indian essence', which he is certain, will help them sail through the adversities of life.