Nair’s deep admiration for Kalam is as manifest in this book as the trust reposed in him by the president he served. Yet, to his credit, the author hasn’t gone overboard. In the words of Fali S. Nariman, who has contributed a brief Foreword, Nair has written on Kalam’s undoubted qualities "with frankness, sincerity and affectionate reverence, and without flattery and fawning". His portrait of the great scientist-turned-arguably the most popular president makes no attempt to hide the warts. Kalam’s unfailing unpunctuality was a source of much inconvenience and irritation all round, but he made no attempt to remedy it. Ditto his penchant to be pedagogic at almost all gatherings, including breakfast meetings to which he invited members of Parliament and other distinguished people. Heavily outweighing these flaws were Kalam’s simplicity, humility, uprightness and, above all, sterling integrity. Refusing to spend public money on an ostentatious Iftar dinner—a must during the month of Ramzan for everyone in high office—he directed that the estimated two-and-a-half lakh rupees to be spent on the lavish meal be donated—in kind, not cash—to orphanages. He also insisted on contributing a lakh of rupees from his personal resources.
The "newsy" and "juicy" parts of the book have already been publicised. But among its other notable sidelights is Nair’s account of the President’s "morning meetings" that usually took place in the afternoon. Kalam was always willing to listen to views contrary to his. He was also punctilious about paying detailed attention to every piece of paper or e-mail received at Rashtrapati Bhavan or on his website. Their volume was enormous and some letters were clearly sent by mentally disturbed people. A particularly hilarious communication was from a woman in Patna offering to serve as "Official Hostess (First Lady) of Rashtrapati Bhavan", and stating that the letter had the consent of her husband, "a free-minded social being".
Of Nair’s own flaws, a major one is that even while trying to be objective, he sometimes errs on the side of subjectivity. A glaring example is his laboured and lame defence of the prompt presidential assent, from distant Moscow, to the May 2005 dissolution of the Bihar assembly, rightly held by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional and improper. Interestingly, according to Nair, while the President was mulling the issue, it was he who had advised Kalam, "Sir, please sign." Similarly, it is true that popular support for a second term for Kalam was overwhelming. But the spin Nair tries to put on Kalam’s shifting statements on the subject is untenable.
Nair recounts former chief justice of India M.N. Venkatachaliah as telling him that sitting next to President Kalam, the CJI had felt "palpable sensations of godliness and divinity reverberating in me..." Was it because of this touch of divinity that heavy rain that looked like washing out the President’s Independence Day reception stopped in good time and resumed just as he had left? The panicky dispersing glitterati and chatterati were saved from being drenched by the 2,000 umbrellas thoughtfully collected in advance. But, as Nair charmingly puts it, at the end of the day a large number of umbrellas were "found missing".
Altogether, The Kalam Effect is a nice read that should not be missed.