The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kaka Kalam’s candour greets children’s rocket

Lucknow, Aug. 11: The missile man of India faced a barrage of questions from his young audience here today on his first visit to Lucknow as President.

How did you feel when SLV III failed to take off under your leadership' If missile and nuclear technology is destructive, why should we use it in Gandhi’s India' How can you justify beating up of children and teachers by police in a Lucknow school' The questions came pouring but A.P.J. Abdul Kalam did not flinch.

His eyes twinkling, the children’s Kaka Kalam smiled and answered all questions with candour. “It (SLV III launch) only proved that everyone fails once in a while,” he said, recalling the launch in August 1979. “But it also proved that if one doesn’t give up, one is bound to succeed.”

“I was the project director when it happened. The computer takes over the launch when six to eight minutes are left and when it showed failure in the last minutes, it was too late for damage-control. But we tried again in 1980 and this time it was a success.”

Kalam’s visit to inaugurate the National Children’s Science Festival at a public school here not only drew the children but also chief minister Mayavati, who had earlier decided to skip the event.

At the end of the two-hour visit, the children, touched by Kalam’s affection, came up with their token of admiration.

Sapna Agarwal, a class IX student of St Fidelis School, recited a poem in Kalam’s honour: “The piercing rays through cloudy days, Kaka its your leadership inspiring in all ways, For each Indian you love and care, Shouldering responsibility of millions you are rare.”

The children were so thrilled by the direct interaction with the President that they kept asking him questions as he got ready to leave. Not wishing to disappoint them, Kalam asked them to write to him. “I have to leave for Gorakhpur but e-mail your questions to me at and I assure that you will get the answer within 24 hours of sending your mail.”

Mayavati, for once, did not bother to take to the dais. “I know that you (the children) want to hear your President so I will not come between you and him,” she said when invited to speak.

Kalam, too, clarified that he would not give a speech as he was here to meet the children. He admonished securitymen who tried to stop children from approaching him. “Don’t stop children if they want to come forward and take my autograph,” he said.

As hundreds of children breached barricades and jostled each other to get to the President, Kalam assured them no one would be turned away. “I am giving my autographs on a knowledge card and the school authorities will ensure that each of you should get a xerox copy of the same.”

Earlier, the President inaugurated the silver jubilee function of the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants and opened an exhibition highlighting the institute’s 25 years of research. He also interacted with farmers involved in cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Kalam urged the scientists at the institute to make science available to the common man and link it to the country’s economy.

“Value addition is the need of the hour. Bio-medicine should be subjected to clinical trials and connectivity to hospitals is needed for optimum utilisation of research here.”

The President underlined that bio-diversity and abundance of human resources were the greatest assets of India. He wanted institutes like the medicinal institute to promote the culture of medicinal plant through herbal health farms and develop it as a centre of excellence.

“Marketing and export are important factors in economy and the science of herbal medicine should be linked to both. The menthol mint technology and geranium cultivation have great export potential and this must be encouraged,” he said.

The President asked the institute to set up demonstration units in interior rural areas so that poor farmers could take to cultivation of medicinal plants. This will give them an additional income of Rs 50,000-60,000 a year and they will realise science is for the good of the common man, he said.

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