In loving memory of Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen “A. P. J.” Abdul Kalam (15 October 1931 – 27 July 2015)
There are two kinds of people in the world: Givers and takers. The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.
I waited a long time before posting this one. Three reasons.
- Teacher’s Day seemed like the ideal time to put something like this on a public forum.
- I really didn’t want to add another drop in the ocean of spontaneous social media posts about Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
- Honestly, I was too shocked to for at least a couple of weeks after one of my most favourite / inspirational / motivating teacher / role model whom I have never met personally left this world. I could have used a drink to calm my shaking nerves, and I wasn’t able to precisely pinpoint the resurgence of the overwhelming guilt I felt until I sat down and thought about it.
This may sound like I am over exaggerating, talking in hyperbole. Well, to each his own.
I hope you’re in a happy place, Mr. Kalam. And I hope our generation is responsible enough to give your restless soul some peace by 2020, if not earlier.
This one’s for you. (And a few notable teachers in my life whom I am not going to name outright, but I hope they know it’s them I am talking about here.)
(Courtesy – zenpencils.com)
Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (1931-2015) was a scientist, aeronautical engineer, writer, and the 11th President of India, serving from 2002-2007. During his decorated 40-year scientific career, Kalam pioneered India’s space, missile and nuclear programs, earning him the nickname “Missile man of India”. Some of the posts he held include director of India’s first satellite launch vehicle, chief of the guided missile development program and chief scientific advisor to the Prime Minister.
Throughout his career as a scientist, one of Kalam’s goals was to inspire and motivate the youth of India to get excited about science and knowledge. For instance, after his position as chief scientific advisor ended in 1999, Kalam announced he would personally meet at least 100,000 students in a two year period to help spread the word of science. Kalam’s fame grew even more during this time, as his first autobiography Wings of Fire was released (the quote used in the comic is taken from the book). In it, Kalam recounted how a poor country boy from the small town of Rameswaram went on to study physics, work his way through the ranks of the Defence Research and Development Organisation and then the Indian Space Research Organisation, visit NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Centre in the United States during the height of the space race, play a large part in India’s technological advancement and become India’s most-famous scientist. All of this BEFORE Kalam became the President of India in 2002, in which he gained another nickname, the “people’s president” for continuing to connect with the youth of India and allowing the public to visit the presidential palace in New Delhi.
It’s crazy to think that Kalam didn’t even want to be a scientist, he just wanted to fly. Dreaming of becoming a pilot, Kalam studied aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology: “What fascinated me the most at MIT was the sight of two decommissioned aircraft displayed there. I felt a strange attraction towards them, and would sit near them long after other students had gone back to the hostel, admiring man’s will to fly free in the sky, like a bird. … The goal was very clear in my mind, I was going to fly aircraft. I was convinced of this.” After graduating, Kalam landed two job interviews. One was for his dream gig of joining the Air Force, the other a technical role at the Ministry of Defence. At the selection board, only the best eight candidates out of 25 would be selected to join the Air Force. Kalam finished 9th. He was devastated, but picked himself up and accepted the new path of his life and went to work for the Ministry of Defence. Turned out to be a pretty good Plan B.
Kalam was a deeply spiritual man and practised what he preached, shunning material possessions and rewards. The only material goods Kalam coveted were books, owning over 2500 of them. His only other possessions were a watch, six shirts, four pants, three suits and a pair of shoes. He did not own any property, a fridge, TV, car or air conditioner. From Kalam’s former media advisor, “He would never accept a gift, save a book, and whenever somebody brought him a packed gift and tried to pass it off as a book, he insisted on examining what was inside. Anything other than the book was politely returned.”
Kalam died after suffering a heart attack while giving a speech titled “Creating a liveable planet Earth”. Over 350,000 people attended his funeral in his home town of Rameswaram.
He died doing what he loved best. Teaching. Igniting young minds.
I remember clearly. This goes back almost an year from today. I was only just back in India from the corporate job training program, having received my degree after a hasty stop over in Nagpur, coming back to Bangalore, squirming in my chair at the office because I still felt awkward in my grown-up clothes. But I was in a whole different world altogether, listening to this great personality talk from the same auditorium, the same dias that still remains one of my fondest places to be in my alma-mater.
I won’t go into the entire details of the speech. (I do believe you had to be there or watching the webcast live.) Pictures / quotes never replace having been there, and words can never replace feelings. But will repeat two of the memorable learnings that stuck.
- His favourite work in life, of all the awesome stuff that he had done (my words, not his), was teaching. Imagine that.
- He repeated Confucius’ quote when asked a question about terrorism –
- If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations.
When there is order in the nations, there will peace in the world.
- If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
I think we owe it to him, as Indians, to achieve the vision he set out for India.
I also feel he should have been alive to witness it fulfilled himself, but what the heck, I don’t remember one instance when life was fair to good people.
Of course, the condition that our nation, that we, as citizens of the largest democracy, are in right now, isn’t entirely too optimistic. I am trying to be objective about this, as I write this. Playing the blame game isn’t my forte. Never has been.
Propaganda everywhere. Behind everything. Media, politics. Lots of naysayers. The doers get criticized without anyone noticing the fact that the others don’t because they’re not actually doing anything. Not creating anything.
An American former naval officer and aviator, test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and NASA astronaut said it best. Edgar Mitchell (1930-) was the pilot of Apollo 14 and the sixth man to walk on the moon in 1971. On his journey back into Earth orbit, Mitchell had a profound out-of-body experience where he says he became aware of a universal consciousness.
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty.
You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
There’s a rhythm in rush these days. It leaves you empty with nothing but dreams. In a world gone shallow, in a world gone mean.
Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know. There’s no place to run and no gasoline. Engine won’t turn, and the train won’t leave.
Well the way I feel is the way I write. It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies. There is a truth and it’s on our side. Dawn is coming. Open your eyes. Look into the sun as the new days rise.
There are responsible people out there.
I have had the good luck to have some of the most wonderful teachers through my school life, coaching classes and college. And the three in my family continue to educate me about life everyday.
Teachers mold the lives that they influence. Lessons learned from teachers remain with their students throughout life. Teachers who break down barriers and reach into the souls of the students do not get the recognition or gratitude they have earned. Many teachers are exhausted from their workload and responsibilities. They have their own families, financial and life stresses that challenge them along with everyone else. We should always respect our teachers. Teachers need encouragement and support from the community to feel that their devotion to students is appreciated.
A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.
Today, I sincerely feel that teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.
Isn’t this true? Our teachers do so much for us, and what do we do? So little!
By teachers, just to clarify, I sincerely consider our immediate family as the first and last teachers of our life.
“Khalil Gibran said that parents are like a bow, And children like arrows. The more the bow bends and stretches, the farther the arrow flies. I fly, not because I am special, but because they stretched for me…”
– Sundar Pichai, new Google CEO
Today, on the lines of APJ’s Wings to Fly poem, let us promise India something. Let us promise him to give our best. Whatever we are today, whatever we have done till now, let us all forget it. Remember this: no one can go back in the past and change a beginning, but anyone can start working hard today, and create a new ending. Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose. There is nothing in a caterpillar, which tells you it will be a butterfly. What we are and what we have been has nothing to do with what we can be.
We must take personal responsibility. We cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but we can change ourselves. That is something we have charge of. If we don’t go after what we want, we’ll never have it. If we don’t ask, the answer is always no. If we don’t step forward, we’re always in the same place.
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Let us start where we stand, and work with whatever tools we may have at our command, and better tools will be found as we go along. We’ve had some tough times, but we’ve hung in there. We have not performed in the past, but that does not mean we cannot perform in the future. If we’re going to do something, we do it spectacularly or we don’t do it at all. Attempting half-heartedly is like expecting failure and achieving it.
Tough times never last, but tough people do. And there’s still hope. The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done. Let us prove that we can do things that were unimaginable to be done. But I know somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.
“Keep hope alive” is my message to you today.
And tomorrow, when you stop trending.
And make it to pages of textbooks of history.
May young students not memorise your name.
Just to overtake another by half a percentage.
Tomorrow may not a school be built.
Where deserving pupils lie buried in rupees and rupees of management quota.
May there be no lane with thy name,
Where communities stand divided, on either side…
May you not become a book, a plaque,
A signboard to an elite hallmark.
May you be remembered.
In spirit of equality.
Not as a chapter
But as the essence of humanity.
May we rise to be worthy to spell your name.
You are not just a quotable quote, and an excuse to trend my name.
RIP Dr APJ Kalam.
Credits : Harish Iyer