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India’s ‘renaissance man’ Kalam honoured in UK

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London: Ten years after describing a shabby-looking fuse box as something that appeared to have been “put in by an Indian”, Prince Philip applauded as an Indian engineer, who happened to be a former president, was presented with one of Britain’s top engineering awards.

Former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who is on a lecture tour of Britain and Ireland, was presented the 2008 International Medal of the Royal Academy of Engineering at a gala dinner in London Tuesday night.

The award was given by Academy president Lord John Browne, former chief executive of British Petroleum.

According to the Royal Academy, the International Medal is awarded occasionally to an individual resident outside the European Union for his or her “outstanding and sustained personal achievement in the broad field of engineering, including commercial or academic leadership”.

At the dinner Tuesday night was the Academy’s Senior Fellow Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II and a man who is famous for making controversial off-the-cuff remarks.

In August 1999, Prince Philip caused a stir by remarks made during a trip to a factory in Edinburgh, Scotland.

According to The Guardian, the Prince was at the Racal-MESL factory to unveil an award for its rail safety system technology.

As he walked around the building, he stopped in a corridor and looked up at the fuse box, which appeared somewhat less sophisticated than other devices in the factory, with electric cables stretching into the ceiling above.

“Terry Nisbet, managing director of the company, noticed the Duke’s interest and joked: ‘That’s the national grid.’ The Duke replied: ‘It looks as though it was put in by an Indian’,” the paper said.

The remarks prompted a barrage of criticism from political parties and race campaigners, leading the Prince to admit that “what were intended as light-hearted comments were inappropriate”.

The former Indian president was also given an honorary degree Wednesday by the prestigious Queens University Belfast, whose Vice Chancellor Peter Gregson described him as “a scientist and engineer of international stature”.

“Few people so clearly personify the term ‘Renaissance Man’,” Gregson said.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Academy said the Prince gave away the 40th MacRobert Award, Britain’s biggest prize for engineering innovation, to the British firm Arup.