the book

Wings Of Fire


the story

This book was my fourth one and the first to attract acclaim, the first three being with R. Swaminathan, namely, ‘Super Vision’ (DESIDOC, 1988), ‘Broken Bones Don’t Kill, Broken Hopes Do’ (Wiley Eastern, 1992) and ‘Kindling Creativity’ (DESIDOC, 1996). It took me close to six years to write this book, overcoming the resistance of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to share his story, stopping people close to him from inserting their own agendas into the book and finally, my own inadequacies as a writer. Madhu Reddy of University Press stood by me and even gave the book its title.

Dr. Kalam would sit with me and talk. There were no laptops then and I would take notes. He was in Delhi and I was at Hyderabad, so each session would happen after many months. Then I would give him the manuscript, which he would return at the next session with corrections, sometimes even rejecting the entire material. Finally, we wrote 340 pages, which, on second thoughts, he cut down to about 200, removing the portions wherein he shared his conflicts with people. Finally, the book emerged as pure gold (as Bhawani Prasad Chattopadhyay wrote in ‘The Statesman’).

Dr. Kalam explained to me the metaphor of life as a journey that is given form in the Quran. He said, “The course of the journey, in the Quran, explains life as a moral journey. A man is given the gift of free will. There is a good, moral life and there is a bad, immoral life. There is a good way, a straight path and there is a bad way, a convoluted path. Then, there are many fellow travellers. There are righteous fellow travellers. There are wicked fellow travellers. There is God as a guide, and the Shaitan as the one who misleads, permitted by God to test man. God is ever-ready to support the righteous and obstruct the wicked. He sends fellow travellers accordingly.”

When I reflect upon those years spent in writing ‘Wings of Fire’, I found them a process of transformation, enveloping both of us in two different ways – he was evolving from a scientist into a philosopher, and I was understanding the importance of a guru in one’s life, which has been the constant theme of Dr. Kalam’s journey. The writing of the book indeed changed each of us. Dr. Kalam told me later, “Buddy, today people call you Kalam’s man; later, when I would have gone, whenever they would see you, they would say I was your man.”

This book, now in it’s 20’th year, has been translated into nine Indian languages (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi and Kannada), six foreign languages (Chinese, Russian, French, Korean, Thai and Arabic) and in Braille, with sales of over 2 million. Its portions are used as lessons in schoolbooks and many universities prescribe it as part of their degree courses. When I find its pirated copies sold on the pavements of Connaught Place in New Delhi, I get goosebumps. I earned a fortune from my equal share of the royalty that comes from the book every year. I saved every rupee of it, with the wish to use it for a purpose that is unselfish, and that shall sustain even after I leave this world.



Originally Published

universities press



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