(An extract from A.P.J Abdul Kalam’s autobiography ‘Wings of Fire’)
About the author – A.P.J Abdul Kalam(1931- 2015)
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam , also known as the ‘Missile Man’ of India was an aerospace scientist and the 11th President of India. He won the ‘Bharat Ratna’,’Padma Bhushan’, ‘Hoover Medal’,’Veer Sarvakar Award and several other awards. Some of his famous books are – ‘Wings of Fire’, ‘ Ignited Minds’, ‘ ‘ My Journey : Transforming Dreams into Actions’. ‘Turning Points: A Journey Through Challenges’. He encouraged students to think scientifically and to learn the art of giving.
SUMMARY of ‘My Childhood – by A.P.J Abdul Kalam’
In this extract Abdul Kalam talks about his childhood experiences which carved his future. Abdul Kalam was born on 15th October, 1931 to a middle class muslim family in the temple town of Rameshwaram. His father Jainulabdeen was not much educated but was wise and honest. He did not belive in luxury but provided his children a secure childhood. His mother Aishiamma was his father’s strong support and was a loving and kind-hearted person. Abdul Kalam inherited honesty from his father and goodness and kindness from his mother.
When he was eight the Second World War started and there was a sudden demand for tamarind seeds. Abdul Kalam collected and sold the seeds for one anna to a store on Mosque Street. Later when the train stopped halting at the Rameswaram station he helped his cousin Samsuddin to catch newspaper bundles and earned his first wage from him.
Abdul Kalam’schildhood friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan and Shivaprakashan. Ramanadha Shastry was the son of the head priest of Rameswaram temple and took the priesthood when he grew up. Aravindan took up the business of arranging transport for pilgrims and Sivaprakashan became a catering contractor for Southern Railways.
When he was in the fifth standard a new teacher made him sit at the last bench; when he saw him sitting with the head priest’s son Ramanadha Sastry. This hurt the feelings of the two boys’ and Laxmana Sastry, the head priest, made the teacher apologise for teaching intolerance among children. He influenced the new teacher’s thoughts and reformed his ways.
His family and friends did not distinguish on the basis of social differences. His family prepared boats to carry the idols during Sri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony. He grew up listening to stories from Ramayana and life of Prophet which were told by his grandmother and mother.
His Science teacher Sivasubhramania Iyre taught him to overcome social barriers by inviting him to his house for lunch. Sivasubhramania Iyre’s wife, who was a conservative Hindu refused to serve him food in her pure kitchen. Sivasubhramania Iyre served him food himself and sat down by him to have their lunch, thereby setting an example of equality. The next time Kalam was invited, Sivasubhramania Iyre’s wife took him to the kitchen and served him food with her own hands.
With the end of the Second World War, Abdul Kalam decided to go to the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram for higher studies. His father encouraged him by saying that sea gulls fly across the sea alone without a nest, implying that success could be achieved solely through individual endeavours. His mother was reluctant to let him go, therefore his father pacified her by quoting from the poem ‘Your Children’ by Khalil Gibran. The lines from the poem meant that each child has his or her own thoughts and their own life to live. Parents should not impose their thoughts on them and impede their development.
I. Answer these questions in one or two sentences each.- My Childhood
1. Where was Abdul Kalam’s house?
Ans. A.P.J Abdul Kalam lived in a fairly big house made of limestone and brick, located on the Mosque Street in Rameswaram during his childhood
2. What do you think Dinamani is the name of? Give a reason for your answer.
Ans Dinamani is the name of a Tamil newspaper.
I think it is a newspaper because Abdul Kalam searched for news headlines about the second world war.
3. Who were Abdul Kalam’s school friends? What did they later become?
Ans. Abdul Kalam’s friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan and Sivsprakashan.
Ramanadha Sastry took over the priesthood of Rameshwaram temple. Aravindan became a businessman and arranged transport for pilgrims, and Sivsprakashan became a catering contractor for the Southern railways.
4. How did Abdul Kalam earn his first wages?
Ans. Abdul Kalam earned his first wage by catching newspaper bundles for his cousin Samsuddin. The bundles were thrown out of the train on the Rameswaram Road between Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi.
5. Had he earned any money before that? In what way?
Ans. Yes he did. There was a sudden rise in demand for tamarind seeds during the Second World War, so Abdul Kalam collected them and sold them for one anna to a shop on Mosque Street.
II. Answer each of these questions in a short paragraph (about 30 words) – My Childhood
1. How does the author describe:
(i) his father, (ii) his mother, (iii) himself?
- his father – The author describes his father, Jainulabdeen, as an austere person who avoided unnecessary luxury. He provided his family with everything that was necessary, like food, clothes and medicine. He was not educated but was honest, generous and wise.
- (ii) his mother – He describes his mother as a kind hearted person who supported her husband and was a protective and understanding mother.
- (iii) himself – He portrays himself as a short boy with rather undistinguished looks, born to tall and handsome parents.
2. What characteristics does he say he inherited from his parents?
Ans. He inherited kindness and faith in goodness from his mother. Honesty and self-discipline from his father.
III. Discuss these questions in class with your teacher and then write down your answers in two or three paragraphs each. – My Childhood
1. “On the whole, the small society of Rameswaram was very rigid in terms of the segregation of different social groups,” says the author.
(i) Which social groups does he mention? Were these groups easily identifiable (for example, by the way they dressed)?
Ans. The social groups mentioned by Abdul Kalam were mainly the religious groups consisting of Hindus and Muslims.
Yes, the Hindu Brahmins could be identified by their sacred threads, and the Muslims through their caps.
(ii) 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. Though there were people in the society, like the new teacher, who created differences; Abdul Kalam and his Hindu friends shared a strong bond and shared their experiences. Kalam grew up listening to stories from Ramayan and the life of Prophet from his mother and grandmother. His family arranged boats for carrying the idols during the Sri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony.
(iii) 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. People like the new teacher who came to their class in the fifth standard and made Kalam sit in the last bench and Sivasubhramania Iyre’s wife, who refused to serve him food, were the ones who created differences on the basis of religion.
There were also people who tried to bridge the differences like the high priest Lakshmana Sastry, who admonished the young teacher and asked him to apologise for sowing seeds of social inequality and communal intolerance in the minds of young children. His science teacher, Sivasubhramania Iyre served food to Kalam with his own hands when his wife refused to do so, and finally reformed her.
(iv) Narrate two incidents that show how differences can be created, and also how they can be resolved. How can people change their attitudes?
Ans. The first incident occured in Rameshwaram Elementary School when Kalam was in the fifth standard. A new teacher came in the class and found Kalam sitting in the first bench with Ramanadha Sastry. While Kalam wore the cap which marked him as muslim, Ramanadha Sastry wore the sacred thread which marked him as muslim. He ordered Kalam to sit on the last bench which hurt their feelings. Ramanadha’s father the head priest Laksmana Sastry scolded the teacher and made him apologise for his actions, which ultimately reformed him.
The second incident mentioned by Kalam was when his science teacher Sivasubhramania Iyre invited him for lunch. His wife, who was a conservative Hindu woman and was shocked to see a muslim boy being invited to dine in her ritually pure kitchen. When she refused to serve him food, Sivasubhramania Iyre served Kalam with his own hands which reformed his wife. The next time he was invited, Sivasubhramania Iyre’s wife took him inside the kitchen and served the food herself.
2. (i) Why did Abdul Kalam want to leave Rameswaram?
Ans. Abdul Kalam left Rameshwaram to study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram.
(ii) What did his father say to this?
Ans. His father encouraged him to go for further studies by saying that sea gulls flew across the sun alone, without a nest. He consoled his hesitant mother by quoting from Khalil Gibran.
(iii) What do you think his words mean? Why do you think he spoke those words?
Ans. When Kalam’s father Jainulabdeen gave the example of the sea gull he possibly wanted to say that if Kalam wanted to have success in life and fly high, he would have to do so with his own efforts even if it meant being alone away from home. By quoting from Gibran’s poetry ‘Your Children’, he wanted their mother to know that each life in this earth has been born to live their own lives. It would not be wise to keep them sheltered and prevent them from reaching their potential.
He spoke these words to encourage Abdul Kalam to pursue higher studies in Ramanathapuram.
Glossary – My Childhood
Secure – safe
Materially – in terms of material things like food, shelter, clothes
Emotionally – taking care of feelings
Princely sum- an amount fit for a prince (here it is used ironically)
Isolated – cut off,
Allied forces – armies of U.K., U.S.A and Russia during 2nd W.War
Suspension – pausing of train stoppage for some time
Slot – opening
Orthodox– one who has strict views
Could not stomach – could not digest the fact, could not tolerate
Downcast– looking down sadly
Summoned – called
Bluntly – speaking honestly even if it offends others
Apologize – to ask for forgiveness
Quit – leave
Conviction – strong belief
Convey – tell something to someone
Rigid – strict
Segregation – division, separation
Conservative– one who believes in tradition and dislikes change
Rebel– one who refuses to accept rules as he wants change
Mingle – to mix with others
On par – at the same level as others
ritually pure – clean and undefiled as per tradition
perturbed – upset
Thinking about Language – My Childhood
I. Find the sentences in the text where these words occur:
|erupt surge trace undistinguished casualty|
Erupt – ‘a sudden demand for tamarind seeds erupted in the market
Trace – ‘I would later attempt to trace in the headlines in Dinamani.’
Surge –‘ I can still feel the surge of pride in earning my own money for the first time.’
Undistinguished –‘ I was one of many children — a short boy with rather undistinguished looks,’
Casualty –‘ The first casualty came in the form of the suspension of the train halt at Rameswaram station.’
I. Find the meanings of these words:
i) erupt – (here) to start suddenly
ii) surge – a sudden strong movement or feeling
iii) trace – (here) Try to find out
iv) undistinguished – unexceptional
v) casualty – (here) something badly affected by a situation.
Look these words up in a dictionary which gives examples of how they are used.
Now answer the following questions.
1. What are the things that can erupt? Use examples to explain the various
meanings of erupt.
Ans. Some of the things that can erupt are: riots, violent protests, volcanoes, emotions, anger.
A universal protest against the administration erupted across Sri Lanka.
The active volcanoe erupted suddenly causing panic among the inhabitants of that area.
Now do the same for the word surge. What things can surge?
Ans. Things that can surge are: energy, storm, emotions, prices, wave, popularity, crowd,
Prices of essential commodities surge during the festive season.
A surge of waves inundated the surrounding areas during the flash foods in Himachal.
2. What are the meanings of the word trace and which of the meanings is closest to the word in the text?
Ans . There are several meanings of ‘trace’ used in different context.
- to copy
- to draw an outline
- to find out
In the text ‘trace’ means ‘to find out’.
3. Can you find the word undistinguished in your dictionary? (If not, look up the word distinguished and say what undistinguished must mean.)
Ans. Yes. ‘undistinguished’ means unexceptional or without any distinct or specific difference.
II. 1. Match the phrases in Column A with their meanings in Column B.- My Childhood
|1||(i) broke out||(c) began suddenly in a violent way|
|2||(ii) in accordance with||(f) according to a particular rule, principle, or system|
|3||(iii) a helping hand||(d) assistance|
|4||(iv) could not stomach||(b) was not able to tolerate|
|5||(v) generosity of spirit||(a) an attitude of kindness, a readiness to give freely|
|6||(vi) figures of authority||(e) persons with power to make decisions|
2. Study the words in italics in the sentences below. They are formed by prefixing un – or in – to their antonyms (words opposite in meaning).
• I was a short boy with rather undistinguished looks. (un + distinguished)
• My austere father used to avoid all inessential comforts.(in + essential)
• The area was completely unaffected by the war.(un + affected)
• He should not spread the poison of social inequality and communal intolerance. (in + equality, in + tolerance)
Now form the opposites of the words below by prefixing un– or in-. The prefix in can also have the forms il-, ir-, or im– (for example: illiterate –il + literate,
impractical – im + practical, irrational – ir + rational). You may consult a dictionary if you wish.
III. Passive Voice
Study these sentences:
• My parents were regarded as an ideal couple.
• I was asked to go and sit on the back bench.
• Such problems have to be confronted.
The italicised verbs in these sentences are made up of a form of the verb be and a past participle. (For example: were + regarded, was + asked, be + confronted)
These sentences focus on what happens, rather than who does what. Notice that the doer of the action is not included in the sentences.
If necessary, we can mention the doer of the action in a by-phrase. For example:
• The tree was struck by lightning.
• The flag was unfurled by the Chief Guest.
IV. Rewrite the sentences below, changing the verbs in brackets into the passive form. -My Childhood
1. In yesterday’s competition the prizes (give away) by the Principal.
2. In spite of financial difficulties, the labourers (pay) on time.
3. On Republic Day, vehicles (not allow) beyond this point.
4. Second-hand books (buy and sell) on the pavement every Saturday.
5. Elections to the Lok Sabha (hold) every five years.
6. Our National Anthem (compose) Rabindranath Tagore.
1. In yesterday’s competition the prizes was given away by the Principal.
2. In spite of financial difficulties, the labourers were paid on time.
3. On Republic Day, vehicles are not allowed beyond this point.
4. Second-hand books are bought and sold on the pavement every Saturday.
5. Elections to the Lok Sabha are held every five years.
6. Our National Anthem was composed by Rabindranath Tagore.
V. Rewrite the paragraphs below, using the correct form of the verb given in brackets.
1. How Helmets Came To Be Used in Cricket
Nari Contractor was the Captain and an opening batsman for India in the 1960s. The Indian cricket team went on a tour to the West Indies in 1962. In a match against Barbados in Bridgetown, Nari Contractor (seriously injure and collapse). In those days helmets (not wear). Contractor (hit) on the head by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith. Contractor’s skull (fracture). The entire team (deeply concern). The West Indies players (worry). Contractor (rush ) to hospital. He (accompany) by Frank Worrell, the Captain of the West Indies Team. Blood (donate) by the West Indies players. Thanks to the timely help, Contractor (save). Nowadays helmets (routinely use) against bowlers.
Nari Contractor was the Captain and an opening batsman for India in the 1960s. The Indian cricket team went on a tour to the West Indies in 1962. In a match against Barbados in Bridgetown, Nari Contractor was seriously injured and collapsed. In those days helmets were not worn. Contractor was hit on the head by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith. Contractor’s skull was fractured. The entire team was deeply concerned. The West Indies players were worried. Contractor was rushed to hospital. He was accompanied by Frank Worrell, the Captain of the West Indies Team. Blood was donated by the West Indies players. Thanks to the timely help, Contractor was saved. Nowadays helmets are routinely used against bowlers.
2. Oil from Seeds
Vegetable oils (make) from seeds and fruits of many plants growing all over the world, from tiny sesame seeds to big, juicy coconuts. Oil (produce) from cotton seeds, groundnuts, soya beans and sunflower seeds. Olive oil (use) for cooking, salad dressing etc. Olives (shake) from the trees and (gather) up, usually by hand. The olives (ground) to a thick paste which is spread onto special mats. Then the mats (layer) up on the pressing machine which will gently squeeze them to produce olive oil.
Vegetable oils are made from seeds and fruits of many plants growing all over the world, from tiny sesame seeds to big, juicy coconuts. Oil is produced from cotton seeds, groundnuts, soya beans and sunflower seeds. Olive oil is used for cooking, salad dressing etc. Olives are shaken from the trees and gathered up, usually by hand. The olives are ground to a thick paste which is spread onto special mats. Then the mats are layered up on the pressing machine which will gently squeeze them to produce olive oil.
To Sir, with Love
1. From Rameswaram to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it’s been a long journey. Talking to Nona Walia on the eve of Teacher’s Day, President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam talks about life’s toughest lessons learnt and his mission — being a teacher to the Indian youth. “A proper education would help nurture a sense of dignity and self-respect among our youth,” says President Kalam. There’s still a child in him though, and he’s still curious about learning new things. Life’s a mission for President Kalam.
2. Nonetheless, he remembers his first lesson in life and how it changed his destiny. “I was studying in Standard V, and must have been all of 10. My teacher, Sri Sivasubramania Iyer was telling us how birds fly. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard, depicting the wings, tail and the body with the head and then explained how birds soar to the sky. At the end of the class, I said I didn’t understand. Then he asked the other students if they had understood, but nobody had understood how birds fly,” he recalls.
3. “That evening, the entire class was taken to Rameswarm shore,” the President continues. “My teacher showed us sea birds. We saw marvellous formations of them flying and how their wings flapped. Then my teacher asked us, ‘Where is the birds’ engine and how is it powered?’ I knew then that birds are powered by their own life and motivation. I understood all about birds’ dynamics. This was real teaching — a theoretical lesson coupled with a live practical example. Sri Siva Subramania Iyer was a great teacher.”
That day, my future was decided. My destiny was changed. I knew my future had to be about flight and flight systems.