It happened on the day he came to release the Semmangudi book at the Music Academy, 25th July 2008. I was very keen to hand over to him the two books I had already written – ‘Carnatic Summer’ and ‘The Devadasi and The Saint’. I had been told I would be on stage with him during the book release but I did not want to hand over the books in full view of the audience. So I hung around the reception hoping to get a suitable moment when he walks in.
When his car entered the Academy, a huge crowd surrounded it and he was received by the President of the Music Academy and others. As he walked towards the building, I managed to thrust my hand between two policemen and held out the books. Mr Kalam stopped when he saw the cover and beckoned to me. I was pushed in front by the two policemen. In a kind of daze I heard Mr Kalam speak.
“Are you Sriram?” he asked.
I could only nod.
“This book,” he said, tapping Carnatic Summer. “I have read it you know.”
I held my breath. It was as though the whole world had come to a halt. Supposing he said it was all trash?
“I picked up this one night at 10.00 pm and finished it the next morning at 3.00! I could not put it down and enjoyed it immensely. You must write more. You began your book with the Trinity. You must look at what happened before the Trinity. Write more… more!”
I could only gape like a goldfish. In a daze I thrust my second book at him.
“What is this?”
“A biography of Bangalore Nagarathnamma, the woman who built the Tyagaraja Samadhi” a croaking voice replied. I turned around to see who it was and discovered it was me!
“I will read it” said the peoples’ President and his eyes twinkled. And in a trice he was gone. I was still standing at the same place and then a security guard found me and ushered me onto the stage. The book was released and at the end of it he came and shook hands warmly with me and that was that.
But I dont think I can forget that day as long as I live.