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Friday, October 24, 2003

The Missile Scientist and the Historian

Many thanks to Rueben for sending me this fascinating link (another version here ). The Indian president in Bulgaria. Well it's pretty common to have some non-obvious interests, but when two of them collide, that's kind of strange. However I'm not surprised, there is a lot of unused human capital knocking around in Bulgaria, and it's extremely cheap, maybe - in some instances - even by Indian standards.

A missile scientist with an artist’s unruly locks met a historian with a movie star’s looks on a rainy, cold day in a cobblestoned street here on Thursday. There couldn’t be a better indicator that the world had changed.

‘‘Many ask why I came to Bulgaria,’’ President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said after signing agreements with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov in a grand, Gothic building called the Coat of Arms Hall. ‘‘I came because I have been fascinated by your expertise in mathematics and precision manufacturing,’’ he explained as he departed, as is now usual, from the formal statement. More than 30 television stations lapped up everything that Kalam had to say. The centre of Sofia was closed down for three hours and the secret service intensified continuing sweeps against Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan refugees, and closely investigating Muslims without passports.

Between the two Presidents, there was little talk of ideologies or geopolitics, the stentorian waffling so common in the days of old. Though there was the usual reference to terrorism, Kalam, 72, the bachelor, and Parvanov, 46, the father of two, talked mathematics, science and how both countries could do business in their great leap outwards.

Presently there is very little of such business, though there are clear links to be made: Bulgaria is known for its world of shadowy but supremely skilled hackers. That stems from a highly skilled pool of mathematicians and computer scientists. Bulgarians scheduled to join the EU in 2007, also urged Kalam’s delegation to sell Bulgaria to Bollywood. Bulgaria is an old Indian friend, evident from all the young students of Indology from the University of Sofia attached to the Indian delegation.

Indeed, Kalam made a special address to the Department of Indology at the university in the evening. The human flotsam of the transition is everywhere. Old women beg for alms in the streets.

This morning, however, all that was visible was some Soviet-style pomp and glory. In the shadow of the massive walls and gold-plated dome of the 1909 Gothic Alexander Nevski cathedral built to commemorate the ousting of the Turks, Kalam was given his grandest welcome yet of the week.
Source: Indian Express

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