WHAT CAN I GIVE? Life Lessons from My Teacher A P J Abdul Kalam - The India Saga



WHAT CAN I GIVE? Life Lessons from My Teacher A P J Abdul Kalam

“ 51zmP-rqZtL._SX324_BO1204203200_”” alt=””51zmP-rqZtL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_”” />The book — WHAT CAN I GIVE? Life Lessons from My Teacher, A P J ABDUL KALAM…

WHAT CAN I GIVE? Life Lessons from My Teacher A P J Abdul Kalam

51zmP-rqZtL._SX324_BO1204203200_”” alt=””51zmP-rqZtL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_”” />The book — WHAT CAN I GIVE? Life Lessons from My Teacher, A P J ABDUL KALAM — is a tribute by his student Srijan Pal Singh who worked closely with the “”missile man of India”” till the last day of his life. Recollecting his mentor’s values, oaths and messages to the youth, the author shares what Dr Kalam taught beyond the classroom. 

The book endeavours to help readers get up close and personal with the greatest Indian of contemporary times. This is the story of one exemplary teacher who changed Srijan’s life for ever. He believed Kalam was not only a great guru but could polish ordinary pebbles into pearls of wisdom and share them with the world. 

Kalam was a scientist, a saint, a writer, a teacher, a poet and a philosopher — all rolled into a single entity of compassion and wisdom. He was an eternal believer in the ignited minds of the new generation which he considered the most powerful gift on earth. 

Srijan came in contact with Kalam in his second year at the prestigious IIM-A, came to know him closely and started working with him in 2008. The bond Kalam shared with his students was sacred to him, completely uncoloured by heirarchies. 

Srijan was the first ever intern to work with Kalam. “”My life had changed. From a classroom teacher Kalam had become my personal mentor,”” emphasised the author. He graduated from an intern to becoming an officer on Special Duty and advisor to the former President of India. 

In another year Kalam and Srijan published their first book titled “”Target three Billion””. This association held strong “”till my teacher’s last breath.””  Interestingly Kalam had never incurred the debt of criticism in his life. Kalam always ended his speeches to youngsters with one question. “”What would you like to be remembered for?”” 

It was a powerful way of imbuing young students with energy and dreams. It inspired them to aspire, think and act. Srijan had conjured up several things that Kalam might like to be remembered but all of that proved to be wrong. In an excited tone, he disclosed “”I want to be remembered as a teacher. That is my goal.”” 

Soon Srijan got a big notebook where he noted Kalam’s ideas and observations and aptly named it the “”Kalam Diary.”” A new entry made in it that “”critical stakes ignite the mind and awaken hidden potential. Difficulty cannot be handled by being scared of how high the peak is. It can be tackled by drawing a path to the peak, and when you toil in the process of scaling that height, you learn and grow.”” 

Kalam emphasised “”science and faith must coexist for the human good. Science provides focus — focus helps us solve questions, discover the truth and conceive inventions. Faith provides perspective — perspective helps us see how our creations and discoveries go on to impact humanity and civilisation. 

Focus and perspective make a combination vital for the success of societies. Science accelerates progress and faith curbs it within reasonable limitations. If the two function true to their roles, they will together work for the betterment of humanity.’ 

The ability to find a simple answer to a complex problem was the hallmark of Dr Kalam. “”When you trust your abilities you should not fear in taking risks”” was the missile man’s moto. This is connected with the test launch of the country’s first 100 per cent indigenous ballistic missile — a world class weapon which could match the ones being used by developed countries. 

Only the final test on the missile stood between India and its place in the prestigious list of nations fielding ballistic missiles. As the designated date for testing fixed for 22 May 1989 drew closer there was nervous excitement at the Chandipur based Integrated Test Range in Odisha. 

Pressure was mounting from the US and NATO to delay the testing. The then cabinet secretary T N Seshan gave the green signal saying “”okay, go ahead.”” That was all Kalam needed as the Director of the DRDO and his wish was fulfilled. 

After completing his term as President Kalam moved to 10 Rajaji Marg. Anyone who visited him there he would invariably ask them a question “”Have you met my friend Arjuna? Let me introduce you to him. He is a wonderful fellow.”” He would then escort the guest to the front garden where Arjuna stood — tall and majestic like the warrior he had been named after., the long years proudly etched on his body. 

Dr Kalam would then say this fellow is very old. Hundred and ten years old. He must have seen so much, imagine — Gandhi, Nehru, the freedom wars and India’s rising story.  He holds an entire section of his history in his heart. He is my best friend.”” 

Kalam breathed his last at IIT Shillong where he had been invited to give a lecture. He completed his speech saying “”I believe that when the youth all over the world come together for creating a better society and a better earth, then all the conflicts between nations will cease.””

There was a long pause. It was 6.40 PM on a chilly Shillong evening and the chirps of the last birds returning home were heard in silence. Just as Srijan looked at him, his knees buckled and with a loud thud, he fell on the stage. 

The author says “”I will never forget the look in his half closed eyes when I placed my hand on his head. I was desperately massaging his hands which were turning cold. His fingers curled tightly around my fingers. His face had become still. His wide eyes were still radiating wisdom as they gradually become motionless. He did not show any pain — there was only peace on his face,”” the author recalls. 

In a few minutes the missile man had taken the eternal flight into the unknown. The doctors tried to make some miracle happen, but fate had passed its verdict….The author maintains the Kalam story is far from over. It is living a life like Kalam. It is in being a Kalam and “”always asking ourselves what can I give…..?”” 

Kalam had told Srijan that “”someday you will have to write a book on me….””It had startled the author at that time. Less than half a decade later the book has been written embodying the simplicity of Kalam immersing himself in finding solutions to problems affecting humankind.

Book:Making Sense of Modi’s India
Author:Srijan Pal Singh


(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)