By A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
(An extract from Wings of Fire)
About the Author
Image Reference: britannica.com
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam was an Indian scientist who played a leading role in the development of India’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. He served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007. He was born on October 15, 1931 in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu and studied physics and aerospace engineering at Madras Institute of Technology. Kalam wrote several books and received numerous awards. He was awarded the country’s highest honours – the Padma Vibhushan in 1990 and the Bharat Ratna in 1997. He died on July 27, 2015, in Shillong, Meghalaya.
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam talks about his childhood days in this autobiographical account. He talks about his parents, his childhood friends and his experiences at school. He grew up in a traditional society. People of different religions lived in that society. But in spite of different religions, people lived in peace and harmony. He was greatly influenced by his father who taught him honesty and self-discipline. Written in a very humble and a modest manner, the extract is very inspirational.
The theme of “My Childhood” is that our life is shaped by our experiences and the people around us. Kalam’s secure childhood, inspiring parents, supportive friends and honest teachers instilled great values in him that gave him ‘wings of fire’.
Prof. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam tells us about his childhood. He was born in the town of Rameswaram. His father’s name was Jainulabdeen and his mother’s name was Ashiamma. Kalam’s father was neither educated nor rich. Yet he was wise and generous. His mother was also very kind. A number of outsiders daily ate with their family. Abdul Kalam had three brothers and one sister. They lived in their ancestral house in the Mosque Street in Rameswaram. It was a large pucca house. His father avoided all luxuries. However, the house had all things of daily necessities.
Abdul Kalam was eight years old when the Second World War broke out. Suddenly, there was a great demand for tamarind seeds. He would collect those seeds and sell them in the market. He got one anna (about six paise) for a day’s collection. It was a good amount in those days. His cousin, Samsuddin distributed papers in Rameswaram. He needed a helping hand and employed Abdul Kalam. Kalam still remembers the pride that he felt on earning his own money for the first time.
Abdul Kalam was greatly influenced by his parents. He learnt honesty and self-discipline from his father. He inherited goodness and kindness from his mother. He had three close friends in his childhood. They were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. All these boys belonged to orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. As children, they never felt any religious differences among themselves. During the annul Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony. Kalam’s family arranged boats for carrying idols of the Lord. At bed time, his father and grandmother told the children stories from the Ramayana and the life of the Prophet.
Once when Abdul Kalam was in the fifth standard, a new teacher came. Abdul Kalam was sitting with his close friend Ramanadha Sastry in the first row. The new teacher could not tolerate a Muslim boy sitting with a son of a Hindu priest. He asked Abdul Kalam to sit on the back bench. Both Abdul Kalam and Ramanadha Sastry became sad later. Sastry’s father rebuked the teacher and he realised his mistake.
Abdul Kalam’s science teacher Sivasubramania Iyer was a high caste Brahmin. But he did not believe in social and religious barriers. One day, he invited Abdul Kalam to his home for a meal. Iyer’s wife was very conservative. She refused to serve a Muslim boy in her kitchen. But Iyer served Abdul Kalam with his own hands and sat down beside him to eat his meal. After meals, his teacher invited him again for dinner the next week. Noticing Kalam’s hesitation in accepting his invitation, Iyer told the child to be prepared to face such situations if he wished to change any system. When Kalam visited Iyer’s house again, his wife took him to her kitchen and served him food with her own hands.
When the Second World War was over and India’s freedom was imminent. The whole country was filled with a mood of joy. Abdul Kalam asked his father’s permission to go and study at Ramanathapuram. His father gladly allowed him to go because he wanted his son to grow. He even convinced Kalam’s mother by telling her that parents should not thrust their ideas upon their children as they have their own way of thinking.
This lesson gives the message that tolerance, acceptance, broadmindedness and brotherhood are essential for an all-round growth. In order to reform social systems that are infected by prejudices of caste and status, one must be ready to confront obstacles without losing one’s cool. Mutual trust and ease of communication help resolve all the hindrances.
Q. Where was Abdul Kalam’s house?
Ans. Abdul Kalam’s house was on the Mosque Street in Rameswaram in the former Madras state.
Q. What do you think Dinamani is the name of? Give a reason for your answer.
Ans. Dinamani could be the name of a newspaper because Abdul Kalam used to try to trace the stories of the Second World War, which his brother-in-law told him, in the headlines in Dinamani.
Q. Who were Abdul Kalam’s school friends? What did they later become?
Ans. Abdul Kalam had three close friends in school “Ramanandha Sastry, Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. Ramanandha Sastry took over the priesthood of the Rameswaram temple from his father; Aravindan started a business of arranging transport for visiting pilgrims; and Sivaprakasan became a catering contractor for the Southern Railways.
Q. How did Abdul Kalam earn his first wages?
Ans. During the Second World War, the newspapers were bundled and thrown out of a moving train. Abdul Kalam earned his first wages by helping his cousin, who distributed newspapers in Rameswaram, to catch these bundles.
Q. Had he earned any money before that? In what way?
Ans. Yes, Abdul Kalam had earned some money before he started helping his cousin. He used to collect and sell tamarind seeds at a provision shop, during the Second World War, earning one anna for a day’s collection.
Q. How does the author describe: (i) his father, (ii) his mother, (iii) himself?
Ans. (i) Kalam’s father, Jainulabdeen was not a wealthy or educated person. However, he was an honest and generous man, who possessed great innate wisdom. He was self-disciplined and avoided all inessential luxuries.
(ii) Kalam’s mother, Ashiamma was an ideal helpmate to her husband. She believed in goodness and profound kindness, and fed many people every day.
(iii) The author describes himself as a short boy with undistinguished looks, who had a secure childhood. He is an honest and self-disciplined person, who believes in goodness and deep kindness.
Q. What characteristics does he say he inherited from his parents?
Ans. The author inherited honesty and self-discipline from his father, and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother.
Q. “On the whole, the small society of Rameswaram was very rigid in terms of the segregation of different social groups,” says the author.
(a) Which social groups does he mention? Were these groups easily identifiable (for example, by the way they dressed)?
Ans. The author mentions the two major religious groups of India “Hindu and Muslim” as the social groups predominant in Rameswaram.
Yes, these groups were easily identifiable. The factors that demarcated these groups from one another were their dressing sense and the place they lived in. Abdul Kalam wore a cap, which marked him as a Muslim. Besides, he lived on the Mosque Street. On the other hand, his friend, Ramanandha Sastry, wore the sacred thread as he belonged to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family.
(b) Were they aware only of their differences or did they also naturally share friendships and experiences? (Think of the bedtime stories in Kalam’s house; of who his friends were; and of what used to take place in the pond near his house.)
Ans. They naturally shared friendships and experiences. Abdul Kalam was a Muslim while his friends were from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. However, they were tied with a strong bond of friendship. Besides this friendship, during the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony, Kalam’s family arranged boats with a special platform for carrying idols of the Lord from the temple to the marriage site. Moreover, events from the Ramayana and from the life of the Prophet were the bedtime stories his mother and grandmother would tell the children of their family. All these incidents show that different social groups co-inhabited in Rameswaram.
(c) The author speaks both of people who were very aware of the differences among them and those who tried to bridge these differences. Can you identify such people in the text?
Ans. Kalam mentions two people who were very aware of the differences among the two religious groups. One of them was the new teacher of Abdul Kalam’s school, who did not let Abdul Kalam and his friend, Ramanadha Sastry, sit together.
The second person was the wife of Sivasubramania Iyer (Abdul Kalam’s science teacher). She was very conservative and did not want Kalam to eat in her pure Hindu kitchen.
The people who tried to bridge these differences were Lakshmana Sastry (Ramanadha’s father) and Sivasubramania Iyer (his science teacher).
(d) Narrate two incidents that show how differences can be created, and also how they can be resolved. How can people change their attitudes?
Ans. When Kalam was in the fifth standard, a new teacher came to his class. The teacher was a bigot and could not tolerate Kalam, who was a Muslim, to sit with Ramanandha Sastry, who was a Hindu priest’s son. Thus, he changed Kalam’s seat. This broke the heart of the two boys. When Ramanandha Sastry’s father came to know about it, he rebuked the teacher for spreading communal intolerance in the minds of innocent children. The teacher apologized and regretted his behaviour.
In another incident, Kalam’s science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, invited Kalam for a meal to his house. But his conservative wife refused to serve a Muslim in her pure Hindu kitchen.
The unperturbed teacher served Kalam himself and even invited him for another meal the next weekend. Iyer believed that once a person has decided to change the system, such problems have to be confronted. However, by Kalam’s next visit, Iyer’s wife’s views had changed. She took Kalam inside her kitchen and served him food with her own hands.
Hence, attitudes can change if we take initiative to resolve the differences.
Q. Why did Abdul Kalam want to leave Rameswaram?
Ans. Kalam wanted to leave Rameswaram for further studies. He wanted to study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram.
Q. What did his father say to this?
Ans. After giving his consent to Kalam for pursuing his higher studies in Ramanathapuram, Kalam’s father said that he knew Kalam had to go away to grow and follow his dreams.
He gave the analogy of a seagull that flies across the sun alone, without a nest. He then quoted Khalil Gibran to Kalam’s mother, saying that their children were not their own. They were the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through their parents, but not from them. Parents may give love to their children, but not their thoughts, as children have their own thoughts.
Analogy = a comparison of two things based on their being alike in some way
Q. What do you think his words mean? Why do you think he spoke those words?
Ans. The words he spoke reveal his viewpoint. He believed that at some point of time, children will leave their home and parents, to follow their dreams and to grow as an individual. Just like a seagull flies away alone and finds its own food and nest, children will leave their parents to make their own life and family. Parents can merely nurture their children with love. They cannot give them their thoughts. The children have their own opinions and beliefs.
He spoke these words to comfort Kalam’s mother, who was probably hesitant to let Kalam leave Rameswaram. Besides, he could also be consoling his own self for the same.
Short Answer Type Questions
Q. What kind of poison was the young teacher spreading in the class?
Ans. He did not like that a Muslim boy would sit with a Hindu Brahmin boy in the class. Thus the young teacher was spreading the poison of social inequality and communalism. He was poisoning the minds of children.
Q. How did Lakshmana Sastry reform the young teacher?
Ans. Lakshmana Sastry was Ramanadha Sastry’s father. When he came to know that the young teacher had shifted Kalam to the last row he got very angry. He summoned the teacher. He told the teacher that he should not spread the poison of social inequality and communal intolerance in the minds of innocent children. He asked him either to apologize or quit the school. Thus the teacher regreted and he was reformed.
Q. What kind of a person was Kalam’s father?
Ans. Tall and handsome, Kalam’s father – Jainulabdeen, did not have much of formal education. He didn’t even have much wealth. However, he was a very practical man with a vast store of wisdom. He was generous and never obstructed the progressive ways of his children. As a responsible head of the family, he provided both material and emotional security.
Q. How was Kalam’s mother an ideal support to her husband?
Ans. Kalam’s mother, Ashiamma, was an ideal support to her husband. She was a picture of goodness and deep kindness. She was tall, good looking and very attached to her children. Like her husband, she was very generous and fed a number of outsiders daily. Kalam inherited the values of kindness and generosity from her.
Q. What characteristics does Kalam say he inherited from his parents?
Ans. Kalam inherited honesty and self-discipline from his father and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother. His socio-economic and emotional environment trained him as well as his three brothers and sister to acquire these characteristics.
Q. Who were Kalam’s school friends? What did they become later?
Ans. Kalam’s three close childhood friends were Ramanad Sastry, Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. All three of them settled well in life. Ramanadha inherited priesthood of Rameswaram temple from his father, Aravindan took up the business of arranging transport for visiting pilgrims and Sivaprakasan became a catering contractor for the Southern Railways.
Q. What did Ramanadha Sastry’s father do when his son told him that the new teacher had sent Kalam to the last seat?
Ans. Ratnanadha’s father, Lakshmana Sastry was deeply distressed to learn that the new school teacher had shifted Kalam to the last bench. He did not approve of this disparity. So he summoned the teacher and told him not to spread the poison of social inequality and communal intolerance in young minds. He bluntly told him to either apologise or leave the school. The teacher not only regretted his action but also reformed himself.
Q. Who was Sivasubramania Iyer? / In what sense was Sivasubramania Iyer ‘something of a rebel’?
Ans. Sivasubramania Iyer was Kalam’s science teacher. Though an orthodox brahmin, he was something of a rebel. A man of liberal views, he wanted to change the society that was rigid in terms of segregation of different social groups. He knew that if one wished to change the system, one was bound to confront many problems.
Q. Why did Sivasubramania’s wife refuse to serve food to Kalam in her kitchen?
Ans. Sivasubramania Iyer’s wife was an orthodox and conservative Brahmin. She had peculiar notions about the sanctity of her kitchen which she feared would be defiled if she served meals there to someone who belonged to a different faith. So, she refused to serve food to a muslim boy in her kitchen.
Q. How did Sivasubramania react to his wife’s behaviour when she refused to serve Kalam (a muslim boy) in her kitchen?
Ans. Sivasubramania was mentally prepared for such behaviour from his conservative wife. So, without getting angry or perturbed, he served Kalam with his own hands and sat beside him to eat his meal.
Q. Why did Sivasubramania invite Kalam for dinner again the next weekend?
Ans. Kala m was visibly upset by Sivasubramania Iyer’s wife’s refusal to serve him food in her kitchen. This must have pained Iyer. So, in order to make amends and to ensure that Kalam overcame his disappointment and hurt, Sivasubramania Iyer invited Kalam to another dinner the following weekend. During the intervening time Iyer must have wanted to speak with his wife on the issue. lyer wanted Kalam to brace up for such obstacles, if he wanted to change the system.
Q. What did the Indians feel when the nation’s Independence was in full sight?
Ans. Indians were filled with unprecedented optimism when India’s independence was in full sight at the end of Second World War. Gandhiji’s declaration that Indians would build their own India made everyone hopeful.
Q. Why did Kalam’s father allow Kalam to leave Rameswaram and go to Ramanathapuram?
Ans. Though not educated himself, Kalam’s father understood the significance of education. He did not want to hinder the growth of his children in any way. Since Rameswaram had nothing more than an elementary school, his father willingly allowed Kalam to go to Ramanathapuram to pursue higher studies.
Q. What did Kalam’s father mean to say when he quoted Khalil Gibran? Why do you think he spoke these words?
Ans. Kalam’s father meant that every human being must be given the opportunity to build his life as per his wishes and parents should not hinder this effort. He spoke these words to convince Kalam’s mother that her son’s decision to leave home was right. She should allow him happily to shape his life according to his own ideas.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q. Write a character sketch of Abdul Kalam.
Ans. Abdul Kalam was a boy of ordinary looks. He had many sterling qualities right from his childhood. He had immense affection and respect for his parents. He inherited the values of honesty and self-discipline from his father and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother. Kalam was an enterprising and a hard-working child. He collected tamarind seeds, when they were in demand, and sold them to earn small yet significant amounts. Very confident of himself, he did every piece of work assigned to him with full dedication. He helped his cousin to catch bundles from the running trains when the train-halt at Rameswaram was suspended during the Second World War. He was also a sensitive child and learnt valuable lessons from his experiences. He learnt early in life that caste based segregation is a poison that must not be allowed to thrive. Kalam was also progressive and took decision at the right time to leave his hometown to study further and grow in life.
Q. How did Abdul Kalam earn his ‘first wages’? How did he feel at that time?
Ans. Abdul Kalam’s cousin, Samsuddin, used to distribute newspapers in Rameswaram. The Second World War broke out in 1939. Now the train’s halt at Rameswaram was suspended. The bundles of newspapers were thrown out from the moving train on the Rameswaram road between Rameswaram anu Dhanuskodi. Now Samsuddin needed a helping hand to catch the bundles which were thrown out of the moving train. He employed Abdul Kalam to do this job. Thus Abdul Kalam earned his first wages. This was a great moment for him. He felt a great wave of joy and pride in earning his own money for the first time. Even atter tiny years Abdul Kalam clearly remembers that day
Q. What does Abdul Kalam say about his parents in the lesson ‘My Childhood’?
Ans. Abdul Kalam is full of praise for his parents. He was born into a middle class family of Rameswaram. His father was Jainulabdeen. He was neither educated nor rich. Yet he had plenty of natural wisdom. He was also very generous. Abdul Kalam’s mother was Ashiarnma. She was a kind and helpful lady. Kalam’s parents were generous. A number of outsiders daily ate with the family. Their number was more than all the members of Kalam’s family put together. Abdul Kalam was greatly influenced by his parents. His father taught him the value of self-discipline and honesty. From his mother he inherited faith in goodness and deep kindness. His parents were not rich but they provided their children all the bask necessities of life like food, clothes and medicines. Thus, Abdul Kalam’s parents greatly influenced him.
Q. “Once you decide to change the system, such problems have to be confronted.” What ‘system’ is this sentence referring to? What are `such problems’? Does the text suggest that the problems have been tackled?
Ans. The above sentence refers to religious differences between people. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam belonged to Rameswaram. At that time, the small society of that town was rigid in terms of the segregation of different social groups. This system was prevalent in the whole of the country. The high caste people did not like to eat or drink with the people of low castes. The new teacher in Abdul Kalam’s class could not tolerate that a Muslim boy should sit with the son of a Hindu priest. He sent Abdul Kalam to the back bench. But some people have tried to fight these problems. Abdul Kalam’s teacher, Sivasubramania lyer served Abdul Kalam with his own hands. He sat down beside him to eat. Later, his wife realised her mistake. The next week, she served Abdul Kalam in her kitchen. Yet these problems are deep rooted in India. These have not been tackled even now.
Q. How does Abdul Kalam describe his three close friends?
Ans. Abdul Kalam says that in his childhood, he had three close friends. Their names were Ramanadha Sastry,Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. All these boys were from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. Ramanadha Sastri was the son of Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry. He was the high priest of the Rameswaram temple. When Ramanadha grew up, he took over the priesthood of the temple from his father. Aravindan went into the business of arranging transport for the pilgrims who visited Rameswaram.The third friend, Sivaprakasan became a catering contractor for the Southern Railways. Abdul Kalam says that althbugh they were from different refigOts, none of them ever felt any difference among themselves because of different religious backgrounds. Their parents were also liberal and generous. Ramanadha’s father rebuked the new teacher for spreading the poison of social inequality in the minds of innocent children.
Q. In this chapter, A.P.J.Abdul Kalam describes two of his teachers. What is the difference in the outlooks of these two teachers?
Ans. Abdul Kalam describes two teachers of his school days. When he was in the fifth standard, a new teacher came to the class. Abdul Kalam was sitting in the front row, next to his close friend Ramanadha Sastry. The teacher could not tolerate that a Muslim boy should sit with a Brahmin boy. He sent Abdul Kalam to the back bench. It made both Abdul Kalam and Ramanadha very sad. Later, however, the teacher realised his mistake.
The attitude of Abdul Kalam’s science teacher was quite different. His name was Sivasubramania lyer. He did not believe in social barriers and tried his best to break them. One day he invited Abdul Kalam home for a meal. His wife was a traditional lady. She refused to serve a Muslim boy into her kitchen. But Iyer served Abdul Kalam with his own hands. Then he sat down beside him to eat his meal. Thus we find that there is a lot of difference in the outlooks of the two teachers.