Dr A P J Abdul Kalam never stuck to allotted time slots while making speeches in the country or abroad as President of India, according to a book written by his then secretary P M Nair. Dr Kalam was to address the European Parliament, comprising 27 nations, on April 25, 2007 and had been allotted 25 minutes to make the speech. ''It would be first time that a President of India would address the European Parliament. It would be a significant occasion, hence we did not want it spoilt by exceeding the time allotted for the speech,'' Mr Nair writes in ''The Kalam Effect: My Years With The President.'' ''I made it a point to tell him day after day, at the risk of being obnoxious, that he should limit his speech to 25 minutes.
The overrun to the 26th minute would not exactly bring glory to him or the nation,'' he says.
Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told him (Dr Kalam) the same. Nalin Surie, Secretary (West) in the External Affairs Ministry, advised him similarly. Dr Kalam heard them all quietly.
''Two days before our departure for the foreign tour, the draft of his speech to the European Parliament came to me. Twenty-nine pages! I stiffened. How could he read out 29 pages in 25 minutes? I went to him and reminded him of the time limit and how his speech did not seem to fit the time allotted,'' Mr Nair writes.
''Okay, okay. I will edit it, don't worry. I will not exceed the time limit,'' Dr Kalam assured Mr Nair.
''Thus assured - but still unsure - I came back,'' he adds.
The day of his address arrived. The European Parliament hall in Strasbourg, France. Much bigger than the Central Hall. The hall was full. Doordarshan was making last-minute adjustments to its equipment for the live telecast of the address. NDTV was also checking its links. ''We were all in the visitors' gallery, my colleagues and I. A sense of expectancy all around,'' adds Mr Nair.
Dr Kalam had the scheduled preliminary meeting with European Union President Hans-Gert Pottering for about 10 minutes and then they entered the hall. There was an introduction of a minute and a half, and the President began his address.
Minutes ticked by. The audience rose to applaud him twice. It was close to 25 minutes and there was no sign of his stopping.
''The Power Point slides kept on coming. I started perspiring.'' ''The allotted time was already over. Half an hour, thirty-five, forty minutes... My discomfort was all too evident to anyone who looked at me. Then I heard Dr Kalam say, 'I have composed a poem for you. This is from Mother Earth to the European Parliament.
Shall I read it out for you?' he said in his innocuous way. And having received assent, he read it out,'' Mr Nair says.
Dr Kalam finished and the members stood up again and gave a thunderous ovation. Forty-five minutes had gone by. ''Kalam said 'God bless you' and sat down. I too relaxed, finally, though still dazed, and so proud of him as an Indian,'' writes Mr Nair. President Pottering rose to thank Dr Kalam. ''We have never heard such a speech. Thank you, Mr President,'' was the gist of it. The formal lunch followed. It was a lunch in Dr Kalam's honour. Fully vegetarian! Kalam had carried the day.
''Later in the day, one to one, I asked Kalam, 'Sir, how did you choose to exceed the 25 minutes given to you? I was worried.' He (Dr Kalam) smiled benignly and said, 'You know what I did. During our introductory meeting. I told their President that you gave me only 25 minutes, but I have composed a poem for you and this may take some more time.
And he said OK, go ahead, you take my time too'.'' Mr Nair says the incident was reminiscent of a similar situation when Dr Kalam was to attend a meeting of the Pan-African Parliament in Johannesburg in 2005. There was, however, no address scheduled.
''But Kalam told me, 'You just get me inside the Parliament and leave the rest to me.' And sure enough the Chairman introduced him to the Pan-African Parliament and invited him to address the House,'' he adds.
In his address, Dr Kalam laid out his plans to set up the Pan-African e-Network with India's help and expertise.
''This project, which showcases India's expertise in the field of IT, will provide tele-education, tele-medicine and e-connectivity to all the 53 countries of the African continent.
And all this because of a short but well-thought-out statement to the Pan-African Parliament,'' writes Mr Nair.