Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: Former President of India
  Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam    
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11-12-2006 : 
Teachers Shape your Life

I am delighted to be here in Chittoor, and interact with the students of Peepal Grove School. My greetings to the Chairman and members of Peepal Grove School Management Committee, principal, teachers, students, parents and other distinguished guests participating in this function. When I am with you, I would like to talk about how "Teachers shape your Life".


First Teacher - My Father

To begin with I am going to talk to you about my father Janab Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen, as a teacher. My father taught me a great lesson when I was a young boy. What was that lesson? It was just after India got independence. At that time panchayat board elections took place at Rameswaram. My father was elected panchayat board member and on the same day he was also elected the President of Rameswaram Panchayat Board. Rameswaram Island was a beautiful place with 30,000 population. At that time they elected my father as panchayat board President not because he belonged to a particular religion or a particular caste or spoke a particular language or for his economic status. He was elected only on the basis of his nobility of mind and for being a good human being. I would like to narrate one incident that took place on the day he was elected President of Panchayat board.

I was at that time studying in School. Those days we did not have electricity and we used to study under ration kerosene lamps. I was reading the lessons loudly and I heard a knock at the door. We never used to lock the door in Rameswaram in those days. Somebody opened the door, came in and asked me where my father was? I told him that father had gone for evening Namaz. Then he said, I have brought something for him, can I keep it here? Since my father had gone for Namaz, I shouted for my mother to get her permission to receive the item. Since she was also on the Namaz there was no response. I asked the person to leave the item on the cot. After that I continued my studies.

I used to learn by reading aloud in my younger days. I was reading loud and fully concentrating on my studies. At that time my father came in and saw a ?tambulam? kept in the cot. He asked me "what is this? Who has given this?" I told him, "somebody came and has kept this for you". He opened the cover of the tambulam and found there was a costly dhoti, angawastram, some fruits and some sweets and he could see the slip that the person had left behind. I was the youngest child of my father, he really loved me and I also loved him a lot. He was upset at the sight of the Tambalum and gifts left by some one. That was the first time I saw him very angry and also that was the first time I had got a thorough beating from him. I got frightened and started weeping. My mother embraced and consoled me. Then my father came and touched my shoulder lovingly with affection and advised me not to receive any gift without his permission. He quoted an Islamic Hadith, which states that, "When the almighty appoints a person to a position, He takes care of his provision. If a person takes anything beyond that, it is an illegal gain." Then he told me that it is not a good habit. Gift is always accompanied by some purpose and a gift is a dangerous thing. It is like touching a snake and getting the poison in turn. This lesson stands out always in my mind even when I am in my seventies. This incident, taught me a very valuable lesson for my life. It is deeply embedded in my mind.

which states that ?By Accepting gifts the divine light in the person gets extinguished?. Manu warns every individual against accepting gifts for the reason that it places the acceptor under an obligation in favour of the person who gave the gift and ultimately it results in making a person to do things which are not permitted according to law.

I am sharing this thought, with all of you, particularly the young ones, do not be carried away by any gift which comes with a purpose and through which one loses his or her personality greatly.


My second teacher - Primary School teacher Shri Siva Subramania Iyer

When I think of my second teacher, I am reminded of my childhood days when I was studying in 5th class at the age of 10. I had a teacher, Shri Siva Subramania Iyer. He was one of the very good teachers in our school. All of us loved to attend his class and hear him. One day he was teaching about bird's flight. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard depicting the wings, tail and the body structure with the head. He explained how the birds create the lift and fly. He also explained to us how they change direction while flying. Nearly for 25 minutes he gave the lecture with various information such as lift, drag, how the birds fly in a formation of 10, 20 or 30. At the end of the class, he wanted to know whether we understood how the birds fly. I said, I did not understand how the birds fly. When I said this, the teacher asked the other students whether they understood or not. Many students said that they also did not understand. He did not get upset by our response since he was a committed teacher.

Our teacher said that he would take all of us to the sea shore. That evening the whole class was at the sea shore of Rameswaram. We enjoyed the roaring sea waves knocking at the sandy hills in the pleasant evening. Birds were flying with sweet chirping voice. He showed the sea birds in formations of 10 to 20 numbers. We saw the marvelous formations of birds with a purpose and we were all amazed. He showed us the birds and asked us to see that when the birds fly, what they looked like. We saw the wings flapping. He asked us to look at the tail portion with the combination of flapping wings and twisting tail. We noticed closely and found that the birds in that condition flew in the direction they desired. Then he asked us a question, where the engine is and how it is powered. Bird is powered by its own life and the motivation of what it wants. All these things were explained to us within Fifteen minutes. We all understood the whole bird dynamics from this practical example. How nice it was? Our teacher was a great teacher; he could give us a theoretical lesson coupled with a live practical example available in nature. This is real teaching. I am sure many of the teachers in schools and colleges will follow this example.

For me, it was not merely an understanding of how a bird flies. The bird's flight entered into me and created a special feeling. From that evening, I thought that my future study has to be with reference to flight and flight systems. I am saying this because my teacher's teaching and the event that I witnessed decided my future career. Then one evening after the classes, I asked the teacher, "Sir, please tell me, how to progress further in learning all about flight." He patiently explained to me that I should complete 8th class, and then go to high school, and then I should go to engineering college that may lead to education on flight. If I complete all my education with excellence, I might do something connected with flight sciences. This advice and the bird flying exercise given by my teacher, really gave me a goal and a mission for my life. When I went to college, I took Physics. When I went to engineering in Madras Institute of Technology, I took Aeronautical Engineering.

Thus my life was transformed as a rocket engineer, aerospace engineer and technologist. That one incident of my teacher teaching the lesson, showing the visual live example proved to be a turning point in my life which eventually shaped my profession.


My third teacher ? Iyadurai Solomon

My teacher, Iyadurai Solomon, was an ideal guide for an eager young mind that was yet uncertain of the possibilities and alternatives that lay before it. He made his students feel very comfortable in class with his warm and open minded attitude. He used to say that a good student could learn more from a bad teacher than a poor student from even a skilled teacher. During my stay at Ramanathapuram, my relationship with him grew beyond that of teacher and pupil. In his company, I learnt that one could exercise enormous influence over the events of one?s own life. Iyadurai Solomon used to say, ?To succeed in life and achieve results, you must understand and master three mighty forces- desire, belief and expectation.? Iyadurai Solomon, who later became a Reverend, taught me that before anything I wanted could happen, I had to desire it intensely and be absolutely certain it would happen. I have seen him giving coaching free to many students who were not doing well in the class. They used to make up and subsequently perform better. This message, I am sure is applicable to all the students and youth of today. If all of you desire to live in a developed India you will definitely achieve. Now, I would like to discuss about the experience of my friend who was studying during the period 1955 to 1960 in Villupuram.

My friend Prof. N. Balakrishnan, Associate Director, IISc, Bangalore was studying in a Muslim School in West Chetti Street, Mandakarai. The beauty of the school was an old house that was converted as a school. There were five classes and only three teachers. The three teachers were so efficient that they were able to manage the children in all the five classes and were able to provide quality education. Prof Balakrishnan?s teacher was Janab Wahab Rauther. He was very good in English and insisted that all the children must learn English and attain high proficiency in the language. Apart from English he used to conduct prayers in Urdu and simultaneously talked about Ramayana and Mahabharatha. He took personal interest in each student of the class and gave double promotion to deserving students without any hassle. He taught the students who wanted certain additional help in their lessons without any tuition fee. Also, he prepared the students to appear for the entrance test in high school. Eighty percent of the students who studied in the Muslim school were Hindus and they all lived in harmony in an integrated way. The school provided them an opportunity to live together and contribute collectively in many areas.



Education is not just teaching and learning lessons. It has to be concerned about building human values along with knowledge. The examples of the teachers cited above clearly show how they have influenced the entire life of individuals and enabled them to chart their future life. I am sure the teachers of Peepal Grove School will be providing such guidance to the students of this school which the students will remember for their entire life.

Let me once again greet all the members of the Peepal Grove School. My best wishes to all of you for success in all your missions.

May God bless you.


Question and Answer Session

1. Sir, how did you get interested in Science?

- Shravan

Shri Sivasubramania Iyer story.

2. Sir, what do you like and what do you not like about being the President of India?

- Maithilee

As a President of India, I would like to see the smiles in the faces of all the billion people in our country.

3. Sir, how would you like to see us grow up?

- Harsha

You should have a goal in life. Acquire knowledge. Work hard. Problem shouldn?t defeat you, you should defeat the problem and succeed.

4. Sir, there are not many women scientists in India. I am a girl. Will I be able to become an astronomer?

- Sharada

There are many women scientists in India. I have personally come across Smt. Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, a brain researcher, Smt. Manju Sharma, a bio-technologists, Smt. Rohini Devi, a specialists in Carbon composites and Smt Geeta Varadhan, a space scientist. There are many more in our Universities and Research and Development laboratories. You can definitely become an astronomer. All that you need to do is fix your aim. Keep on acquiring knowledge. You may encounter some problem, when problem occurs do not allow problems become your master. For becoming an astronomer you take up mathematics and physics in your higher secondary education. Later, you specialize in aero space engineering. This will lead you to study of astronomy.

If you want to pursue your career in astronautics, I would like to quote the example of Ms. Sunita Williams, who has become an astronaut. She has just flown in the Discovery and she will be in space for about six months. Also, you may know that traces of water have been found on the surface of Mars. India is also planning to launch a manned mission to space. This will give enough opportunity for you to become an astronaut.

5. Sir, your autobiography is called 'Wings of Fire'. What is the meaning of the title?

- Vedanth

Wings of fire refers to dream, thoughts and action. Wings enable particularly the youth to fly with their thoughts and ideas. Fire kindles those thoughts and purifies them. That is why the book is called "Wings of Fire".

6. Sir, will it be possible to protect forests like the one we have around our school?

- Samhitha

Recently, I visited two states Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal. Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal have got 45% and 65% of the total area as forest respectively. The average forest area in the country is less than 20% of the total area. We have a goal of realizing 30% of the total area as forest area. If every student plants 5 trees in a year, we will be adding over one billion trees in a year. Thus, the students play a very important role not only in protecting but creating new forest wealth for the country.




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