'Abdul Kalam's legacy should live on in Delhi'

Updated: Nov 01, 2015, 08:20 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon |

Family of former Indian President Abdul Kalam upset that his official bungalow in Delhi will now house Union Cultural Minister, and not the knowledge centre they were hoping for

The central government’s decision to allot APJ Abdul Kalam’s official residence at 10 Rajaji Marg, Delhi, to controversial union culture minister Mahesh Sharma, has upset the former president’s family. Kalam (in pic below), who served as India’s 11th President from July 2002 to July 2007, passed away in July this year while delivering a lecture at IIM, Shillong.

Also read: Mahesh Sharma to move into Abdul Kalam's Rajaji Marg bungalow

Soon after his death, Kalam’s family, back in his hometown in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu, had expressed the wish of converting his official residence (which he retained even after the end of his presidential term), into a museum and knowledge centre to be accessed by students. This was reported in mid-day’s August 21, 2015, issue.

The Centre hired a leading firm of movers and packers, which delivered all of Kalam’s effects to Rameshwaram on October 20
The Centre hired a leading firm of movers and packers, which delivered all of Kalam’s effects to Rameshwaram on October 20

The Centre’s decision, announced last week, to allot the bungalow to Sharma has upset not just the family but also Kalam’s colleagues, who feel that a knowledge centre in Delhi or Chennai will help a greater number of students as opposed to one in not-so-accessible Rameshwaram.

His laptop, veena, shoes and few clothes he would wore at functions, were also sent home
His laptop, veena, shoes and few clothes he would wore at functions, were also sent home

In their bid to have Kalam’s former Delhi residence converted into a museum-cum-knowledge centre, his nephew Shaikh Salim (34) and niece Dr Nazeema have met Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh and officials from the PMP. In the first week of October, they met President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan, submitting a detailed note sighting why such a center is needed in Delhi.

Speaking to Sunday mid-day from Rameshwaram, Salim said. “We could only request the government. We made efforts towards convincing them, but it is saddening. We hope the Centre will consider our request of allotting an alternate place in Delhi for the centre,” he said.

Dr Nazeema said that while the family received a letter from the President’s office a few days ago, stating that they have forwarded their request to PMO, that was it. “We haven’t received any further communication. We have concealed this from Kalam’s elder brother Muthu Meera, as it will upset him,” she added.

Vision documents
Among the personal effects that Kalam has left behind at his official Delhi residence are over 5,000 books. There’s also the document pertaining to his dream project PUARA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) which was part of his India Vision 2020 plan. These documents, the family and others believe, will help young researchers convert Kalam’s dream into reality.

“Kalam sir spent his life for the country and even when death came, he was addressing the student community, discussing with them leadership qualities and how to make this planet more liveable. His selfless contribution to the country and his knowledge, his books and literature on science and technology, should be preserved. We will continue writing to the central government,” said Salim.

The family believes that Delhi, being well-connected with the country through a massive rail, road and air network, would be the best location for the centre as it would allow more people access, compared to a centre in Rameshwaram. On October 20, Kalam’s belongings reached Rameshwaram.

Besides his books, the packages also contained a hand bag that Kalam was carrying with him on the day of his demise. There was also the speech he had written for that day, a poetry book, his spectacles, mobile handset etc. His laptop, veena, shoes and few clothes that he wore for functions, were also sent.

The packages, however, remain unopened. Dr Nazeema said, “We intend to keep a few books at Kalam House, a small museum here in Rameshwaram. As space is a constraint, we have decided to keep approximately 1,000 books in a 100 sq feet room. The books will be displayed and students from neighbouring villages who come here daily to pay homage to him will be allowed free access to the books. No one will be allowed to take the books home.”

Where’s the memorial?
On October 15, Kalam’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that the memorial would be built at Pei Karumbu, in Rameshwaram, where Kalam was buried. However, no official communication has been received from the Urban Development Ministry to the Central Public Work Department office, Southern Regional Head Quarters.

Meanwhile, officials from the office of K Nandakumar, Collector Ramanathapuram, said, “As and when the government intimates us to handover the area of burial (approximate two acres), we will do the needful. We have not received any communication on this yet, however.”

Former colleagues say
G Madhavan Nair, former chairman of ISRO and secretary to the Department of Space, Government of India, told SUNDAY mid-day, “The tremendous knowledge that Kalam collected during his life, needs to be preserved and protected in its original form for coming generations. A knowledge centre in the name of Kalam is more appropriate than a museum.”

He added, “Kalam was my guru, I learnt everything on management and technology from him. I will never forget the time I spent with him.” Venkata Rao, former senior scientist at ISRO, who worked with Kalam as Project Director for India's first experimental satellite launch vehicle (SLV-3) at ISRO said, “If the central government is not able to provide space in Delhi, then Tamil Nadu should allot it a place in Chennai, which is also easily accessible .”

Books can’t be neglected
Meanwhile, the condition of Kalam’s books is a cause for concern. T Jagath, Chief Operating Officer (COO), of Kitab Khana, a book store at Fort, said, “Any book, if kept inside a carton, will be attacked by pests like roaches, silverfish and various types of beetles.”

These insects, he said, eat the protein and starch components in books and other materials and their faeces can disfigure the collection material. The books should also be kept at a proper distance from the walls as damp walls can harm them. “Kalam was a book lover, and the family should immediately get his written material chemically treated, so that the paper and content is protected from damage.”

It’s a concern for the family which is hoping for a centre to be set up for preserving Kalam’s treasures. “We are willing to return everything that belonged to Kalam, including his books and personal belongings to the Central government, provided they assure us of preserving it for the public and allowing students free access,” said Salim.

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