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Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021
Outlook.com
Review

Under The Shade Of Two Thousand Umbrellas

Nair recounts all the goodness of the man, but also his flaws: his unfailing unpunctuality, pedagogy

Under The Shade Of
Two Thousand Umbrellas
Under The Shade Of Two Thousand Umbrellas
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

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".

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