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The girl behind 'Who is Kalam'?
Tuesday July 28, 2015 11:39 PM, Preetha Nair, IANS

New Delhi:
The book title "Who is Kalam?" may be intriguing but has a heart-warming story behind it -- of a teenaged schoolgirl who asked the tough question to the former president and was in turn inspired by him and went on to become a scientist.

It was in 2001, that Sudarkodi Sukumar, a 14-year-old from Tamil Nadu's Vellore district, sent a question to Kalam in a Tamil monthly for children, with it never occurring to her that she was going to inspire him to name a book after her question.

Her question was: "Please rank yourself among the following: Scientist, Tamilian, Human Being and Indian." Kalam's answer was: "One can find all three in a human being".

In 2003, Sukumar got an invitation to New Delhi for the release of the book "Who is Kalam? A Good Human Being", which was dedicated to her. The book by Kalam's aide R. Ramanathan, about the personal side of the scientist-turned-Indian president, was released by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The next day, Sukumar, along with her family, called on Kalam in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the meeting changed the course of her life.

"I realised that one has to pursue the passion of one's life. I used to read all his writings when I was in school," she recalled.

The title "Who is Kalam?" was suggested by the former president himself, according to K.P.R. Nair, managing director of Konark Publishers, who published the book.

"Though I suggested some titles for the book, Dr Kalam himself came up with 'Who is Kalam'. The question raised by the girl was etched in his memory," Nair told IANS. The book was published in more than 12 languages.

Meanwhile, Sukumar, after pursuing B.Tech from Anna University in Chennai, went to Singapore for her PhD. Now a scientist with IIT Madras, she feels that her encounter with Dr Kalam has made her more responsible and confident in life. Her aim in life is to become a teacher and help people.

"I want my research to help people like the way Dr Kalam did. The meeting with him is a memory which I cherish for lifetime," Sukumar told IANS.

After the success of "Who is Kalam?", Konark Publishers published another book "Children Ask" with the former president. A selection of interactions between the Dr Kalam and children, the book was published in 2006.

"Working with Dr Kalam was a fruitful experience and it gave me many wonderful insights," recalled Nair.

(Preetha Nair can be contacted at

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