Today I met the President

Yes yes, I met a president of India, the ex President of India more exactly. Ok, I didn’t meet him meet him as in “Hi how are you” but I still got to listen to his 45-minute speech. And I am deeply honored.

This morning I listened to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, President of India from 2002 to 2007. Here, the role of the President is rather less than that of the Prime Minister, but he’s a well known international figure. As proof, when I goggled him, I recognized his face. When I told my Indian friends I was going to meet him, they all were in awe. They all agreed he is a great man. When I learned last week that I would see him talk, I downloaded a couple of his books and crammed!

It’s all thanks to my school. In a nutshell, the founder of my school wants to change how science in taught by exposing children to “real life” science. As one of the participants on the videos stated “I am glad I never took science in school or I would never have become a scientist”.  She organized a week long festival for 20 schools in Bangalore of all economic backgrounds, centered on the theme of water, with hands-on applications, such as visiting treatment facilities, reading water bills, experiments in water conservancy and many others they would not disclose yet!

Dr. Kalam is a short man, and old man, with a helmet of silver hair. It sounds cliché but he radiated warmth and respect when the walked into the auditorium (preceded a few minutes before by two old overweight bomb sniffing labradors). He was a scientist, worked on the Indian space program before becoming President and is known to have a very good relationship with children. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand much of the first half of his speech: his accent is not one I am accustomed to, and there was a problem with the mike. But the second part was very entertaining. He engaged an audience of over 200 13-year olds on the topic of science to the point that he went over time. 

The next speakers made me want to go back to school. It’s always a pleasure to see experts talk about their passion, with passion. In this case, they are all “water experts”. They talked about water conservation and I now know for a fact that India has some of the greatest minds in the world, but there is a profound disconnect between those brains and the hands that put their work into practice. One man was describing how water comes into Bangalore, from the cauvery river 100 kms south. It is then treated and transported around town. But 45% of the water never reaches destination and is lost due mainly to leakages in the pipes. When you realize these pipes are being installed and repaired by legions of mainly illiterate people with no education and who make at most 200 rupees a day, you understand the organizational pattern of this country: brilliant minds but inadequate execution. Then add corruption to the mix.

I went with Sathya. I had asked the school principal if he could accompany me, since Dr. Kalam is “his” president, not “mine”. I thought it was only fair. I wasn’t sure he would even accept since there is a clear divide between what driver and drivee can do together (basically nothing). He did, and on the way back, we talked about the environment, about plastic bags, about sewer and lake pollution, and the cows he leaves food for every morning. We talked about article 51-A of the Indian Constitution. Ha! I talk about the Constitution with my driver!

Article 51A in The Constitution Of India 1949

51A. Fundamental duties It shall be the duty of every citizen of India (…)

(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;

(h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;

You know what we have in the U.S. Constitution? The right to bear arms. Bang.


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2 Responses to Today I met the President

  1. ShethP says:

    “brilliant minds but inadequate execution”
    Hmm. That’s one way of looking at it. 🙂
    As an Indian, I enjoyed reading your views through this post. Thanks for sharing your experience – must have been a memorable one.

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