When A.P.J. Abdul Kalam wrote India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium with Y.S. Rajan in 1998, little did they expect the magnitude of the response they would get. The idea that India could actually be a developed nation in a short time rather than remain condemned to a subsistence diet of marginal improvements and promises struck a chord among readers. The book continues to be a best-seller. Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India goes the logical next step and examines why, given all our skills, resources and talents, we, so obviously capable of being the best, settle so often for the worst. What is it that we as a nation are missing? For at the heart of Ignited Minds is an irresistible premise: the people of a nation have the power, by dint of hard work, to realize their dream of a truly good life. Kalam offers no formulaic prescription in Ignited Minds. Instead, he takes up different issues and themes that struck him on his pilgrimage around the country as he met thousands of school children, teachers, scientists and saints and seers in the course of two years: the necessity for a patriotism that transcends religion and politics; for role models who point out the path to take; and for confidence in ourselves and in our strengths. Who was he to write on so large a theme, he wondered as he started writing this book. But at the end, Kalam's humility notwithstanding, this may well prove to be the book that motivates us to get back on the winning track and unleash the energy within a nation that hasn't allowed itself full rein.
It was like any other day on the Anna University campus in Chennai. I had delivered a lecture 'Vision to Mission' and the session got extended from one hour to two. I had lunch with a group of research students and went back to class. As I was returning to my rooms in the evening the vice-chancellor, Prof. A. Kalanidhi, fell in step with me. Someone had been frantically trying to get in touch with me through the day, he said. Indeed, the phone was ringing when I entered the room. When I answered, a voice at the other end said, 'The prime minister wants to talk with you ...' Some months earlier, I had left my post as principal scientific adviser to the government of India, a Cabinet-level post, to return to teaching. Now, as I spoke to the PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, my life was set for an unexpected change. Turning Points takes up the incredible Kalam story from where Wings of Fire left off. It brings together details from his career and presidency that are not generally known as he speaks out for the first time on certain points of controversy. It offers insight not only into an extraordinary personality but also a vision of how a country with a great heritage can become great in accomplishment, skills and abilities through effort, perseverance and confidence. It is a continuing saga, above all, of a journey, individual and collective, that will take India to 2020 and beyond as a developed nation.