Music

Kalam’s story and its musical spin

Kalam receiving the copy of the CD back in 2004 with Shobha.

Kalam receiving the copy of the CD back in 2004 with Shobha.

Two years into his term as the 11th president of the country, APJ Abdul Kalam, precisely in 2004, had quite a surprise knocking his office door. His autobiography, Wings of Fire, published in 1999, an inspirational treasure-house for many readers to date, just got its regional translations printed (Hindi, Tamil, an abridged version of English) and released in an audio book format, by the Karadi Tales publishing house.

Known for his love for the veena, an aspect that did add more weight to the surprise he received, were the contributions of the likes of actor-writer Girish Karnad, Vairamuthu and Gulzar in lending their voices for the audio book versions in English, Tamil and Hindi respectively.

From the temple bell in the street in Rameshwaram to which he woke up, to the diverse spectrum of cultures he was consistently bound by in the several places he’s resided through the years, the narration packaged in CDs, had several editions being released in the country in quick succession, owing to humungous demand among niche audiences, despite the format not reaching its pinnacle stages then.

The demand wasn’t only for the voices behind the autobiography but also for the array of musicians it brought together for the background score and several songs, hymns and compositions in the three versions that fall a little short of the 90-minute length. The names included the famous brother trio of Parasurams — Sriram, Vishwanath and Narayan — and their violin besides established classical and playback singers like Anuradha Sriram, Shankar Mahadevan, Bombay Jayashree, Sneha and Sumitra Tatapudy.

With references of the Eeshopanishad, Thirukkural, Shabad, Annamacharya kritis and select Bhagavadgita slokas in the same, the treatise, as much as the text comes as a haunting musical tribute that takes a devotional turn. And as a reader of Wings of Fire, the book, one realises, there’re specifically outlined reasons for the inclusion too.

“On reading the book, we realised each chapter had a poignant theme especially as we reached the conclusion. The role of Kalam’s father, the influence of his teachers, his first trip to NASA, each of the episodes lends itself to an interpretation in our ancient texts, the Upanishad, the Tirukural, Guru Nanak’s shabad, the Shukraana namaaz which of course was an interpretation from the reader’s point of view,” is what Narayan chooses to say.

When asked if the man’s love for music helped them pin this along, he adds more. “The life story in itself was so inspiring and the narration only brought in more solidarity to the total exercise.”

Directed by Shobha Viswanath, she and the Karadi Tales team were conscious to portray a humanitarian picture of his rather than that of just the scientist Kalam. “Our idea was to keep the highlights of the story without making it too technical (the unabridged book has a lot of technical aspects with respect to the space projects),” Shobha says.

Even if this work took shape to widen the respect that Kalam had, there were minor hiccups they had to face, such as bringing Girish Karnad on board. “When we approached him to give the voice to the story, he initially refused as he was against Kalam’s nuclear policy.

But I remember talking to him and telling him to at least read the abridged script and if he still felt the same way, we were happy to consider another voice. I sent him the script and within a day he called me to say that he would do it. He said that the book had opened his eyes to who Kalam was and that he would be honoured to give voice to such a wonderful human being,” Shobha recollects.

A unique aspect of the work remains that, despite Vairamuthu and Gulzar working on Tamil and Hindi/Urdu translations, there’s a seamless blend with which you see their personal touch and yet see enough of Kalam’s stance on most aspects of his life being retained, including the commonness of the way he had chosen to live. The concerted efforts paid rich dividends, especially fulfilling, when the team was at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to check his responses.

“When our team went to meet him at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he had listened to the audio book the previous evening with a group of Russian delegates. He told us that after the listening, there was not a dry eye in the room,” she states with a sense of gratification the work received.

Understanding that a release in the last couple of years would have certainly done more justice to their effort, Narayan still is reasonably happy with the timeframe and the scale in which it had a release. “This audio book has been a phenomenal bestseller selling over 2 lakh copies across different channels. Its success has been very quiet but in a domain where a sale of 10000 units is considered a success, Wings of Fire, has reached out like wildfire,” he affirms.

However, post Kalam’s death, the team working for the former President’s official Youtube channel has taken the pains to upload the Hindi and the English versions of the audio book that has garnered good hits too. This makes Narayan happy as he quips with a lot of hope, “That there has been such an extensive dissemination of the audio book in channels which cater primarily to film soundtracks, is hugely redeeming. We have now released this content as a Digital Flip Audiobook (FAB) which we hope would take the experience of the audio book to a far wider audience.”

Songs included:

Poornamadah (Eeshopanishad)-Parasuram brothers

Thandai Magan (Thirukkural)-Bombay Jayashree

Auliya Tere Daaman Lagi (written by Amir Khusro)- Shankar Mahadevan

Saadh Sangi (Shabad)- Vishwanath Parasuram

Nanati Bratuku (Annamacharya Kriti)- Bombay Jayashree

Anandache Dohi (Abhang)- Shankar Mahadevan

Swadharmam (Bhagavadgita Sloka)- Vishwanath Parasuram

Ye Zameen Meri (written by Gulzar)- Anuradha Sreeram


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Printable version | May 21, 2022 2:32:14 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/kalams-story-and-its-musical-spin/article7633346.ece