President A P J Abdul Kalam spoke for about 45 minutes at the concluding session of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9, and to many it might have seemed like a professor giving a lecture to a class, complete with a power point presentation.
Yet, even if the lecture appeared to drag a bit in the middle, what with cluttered slides coming up on the screen, the President whose speaking style can best be described as, well, unique, knew when to step up the tempo by throwing a challenge to the vast audience.
He asked the overseas Indians to set up an Overseas Indian Foundation with a seed capital of $100 million. And in these post-tsunami times, he asked them to get the foundation to work on predicting the occurrence of earthquakes. Lest the thought appear almost impossible, he then added his very personal caveat.
"Scientists will tell you that it is impossible to predict an earthquake," he said. "I am sure you guys have heard of the bumblebee, which is different from the honeybee.
"As someone who knows avionics, I can tell you that the bumblebee cannot fly - it is too heavy, its wings are too small, and so on.
"But we all know that it does fly. It defies science and it flies. Similarly, we need to go out and find a way to predict earthquakes," he said prompting yet another round of sustained applause from the audience.
To the Indian diaspora, the President has always stood out for the simple fact that he is not a regular politician; in fact, he was and is hailed as the technologist who fathered India's missile programme.
After he finished his speech, voices from the audience yelled across promising $50,000 and someone else $100,000. At this rate, the seed capital should be set up soon!
The President presented the Bharatiya Samman Awards to prominent overseas Indians, selected by a jury led by The Hindu editor N Ram.
|Bharatiya Samman Awards: Honours List|
|1.||M Arunachalam, businessman, Hong Kong|
|2.||Amina Cachalia, member of Transvaal Indian Congress, South Africa|
|3.||Sir J K Chande, founder of school for deaf children in Tanzania|
|4.||Prof Alokeranjan Dasgupta, Bengali poet, Germany|
|5.||Ahmed M Kathrada, for his role in South Africa's liberation struggle|
|6.||Prof Sunil Khilnani, political scientist and author of The Idea of India|
|7.||Basdeo Pandey, former prime minister, Trinidad and Tobago|
|8.||Lord Bhiku Parekh, political scientist, United Kingdom|
|9.||Sam Pitroda, technocrat hailed for bringing about telecom revolution in India, United States|
|10.||Dr Sant Singh Virmani, rice scientist, Philippines|
|11.||Yusuffali M A, businessman, United Arab Emirates|
|Jagdish Bhagwati (economist), Vikram Seth (novelist), Manoj Night Shyamalan (filmmaker) and Vijay Singh (golfer) were in the list but were unable to attend the function|
In his speech, the President recalled that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was being held on January 9 to commemorate the day that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India (from South Africa) 90 years ago.
He said that when he had visited South Africa in 2004, he had undertaken a journey in a train pulled by a steam engine to recreate Gandhi's historic journey, and had disembarked at Petermaritzburg station, the same one where Gandhi was thrown out in 1893 simply because he was a black person in a first class coach.
At the station today stands a bust of Gandhi and a plaque recalling that event.
When he met South Africa's former president and leading freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, they spoke about Gandhi's contribution to both India and South Africa.
"Mandela told me that while India had given South Africa M K (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi, South Africa gave India Mahatma Gandhi after two decades," he recalled.
There was another round of applause when the President spoke about India's greatest Pravasi Bharatiya.
The President said that today India still had some 260 million people below the poverty line. "Some economists tell me that a 10% growth for the next 10 years will ensure that this poverty is wiped out," he said before inviting the overseas Indians to contribute to this effort.
The President said the thrust should be on agriculture and called for linking of India's many rivers, pointing out that while the rivers in the east often flooded, those in the south and west were running dry.
He urged every Indian abroad to replicate himself in India, passing on his special knowledge to someone here.
The President urged NRIs to enrich the countries in which they were settled with 'sweat, dignity and knowledge' because 'that is the tradition of the country from where you come'.
Before the President spoke, there were two musical events. First, visually impaired children from the Happy Home for the Blind rendered the national anthem, and which they also did when the programme ended, and in which the audience joined in with gusto.Then, four young children, Ambi Subramaniam (violin), Rumpa Shiva (tabla), Chandrashekhar (ghatam) and Kiran (mridamgam) played Carnatic classical music that set the hall on fire. Ambi Subramaniam is the son of maestro L Subramaniam (violin).