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Ours was a large family and I am sure there were many pressures on him to see to our needs. I thought of him and his words. Sudhakar and I had been working for a long time. I only fleetingly wondered how he knew about my sadness before I embarked on an explanation of the recent developments in my life. I would have to live out the rest of my life without their guidance. There he meets Swami Sivananda himself, who tell him to accept it as destiny.
It did involve hard work, but definitely taught him the disciple of work life. It talks of Kalam who was not allowed to sit next to his best friend, who was a Pandit by his new teacher. Without creating much of a hue and cry his father, the Pandit of the village and the Bishop of the church explained it to the teacher that this kind of discrimination is completely unacceptable in their village. What could have created communal disharmony was solved with just a conversation.
This is something modern India needs to imbibe. It reminds me of an India where most women went through life in the four walls of their house. All their dreams and aspirations were either tied to their brothers or husbands. The following story is about Jalaluddin, his distant cousin and brother-in law who gave him wings to his dreams.
It was Jalaluddin who persuaded him to do his high school outside his village and later was a key reason for him to join MIT in Chennai. Jalaluddin also died young, but what strikes the most was the conversation he has with his father, who inspite of the heartbreak accepts it as will of God. When he failed to make through the interview of Air Force Selection Board, he makes a trip to Haridwar and takes a dip at the holy Ganges.
There he meets Swami Sivananda himself, who tell him to accept it as destiny. Kalam adds that his being a Muslim never mattered to Swami ji. The next story is about his love for books. Though a scientist it is fascinating to see how the Quran or the Gita were the books that inspired him to sail along with life.
This story also includes the incident when eight men lose their lives at the Aarokoram crash. This anecdote is an amazing insight to the man Sarabhai was and why India owes him so much. As, a reviewer for the first time it is difficult for me to find real flaws in this book. It is so impactful that I am sitting down to find a place I can find the dent. May be all I can say, we wish the book was thicker with more stories that could inspire in days like today.
I recommend this book to every Indian and specially to students. It will remind what society needs, and a vision of an India we can definitely proud of. I can vouch that A. J Abdul Kalam will leave imprints on the hearts of people even after he is no more. Through his books generations will learn from and call him a hero. View all 4 comments.
Mar 09, Manoj Arora rated it really liked it. My learnings: The only way forward is to survive, and then rebuild your life. Yet, she will find a way to guide her family out of any crisis and she will do it with such love that it will inundate your heart. That's when your true self is revealed to you 11 The best way to win is not to covet the win too much. Keep a calm and open mind to new challenges. The belief in yourself that comes along in life changing. One must keep dreaming at various phases of life Work hard to realize those dreams Then success is imminent Dreams are not those that we see in our sleep But the ones that never let us sleep Father He was just a man who lived by his convictions and the tenets of his religion His mere presence that calmed people and gave them hope Adversity When troubles come, try to understand the relevance of your sufferings.
Adversity always presents opportunities for introspection There is a divine power that looks ove One must keep dreaming at various phases of life Work hard to realize those dreams Then success is imminent Dreams are not those that we see in our sleep But the ones that never let us sleep Father He was just a man who lived by his convictions and the tenets of his religion His mere presence that calmed people and gave them hope Adversity When troubles come, try to understand the relevance of your sufferings.
Destiny, tradition, situations will test her again and again She will have to worry and compromise, save and innovate Jalalluddin God was almost like a friend. He talked to God, and presented all his problems to Him in the way one does to a living entity God Was it possible that in this serene atmosphere of Rameswaram the prayers of so many of the faithful, uttered in different tongues and born from various beliefs, were reaching different gods? Surrender yourself to the wish of God Goals Every person who sets out with a goal has had to face unexpected obstacles We've had to rethink our goals, reorient our paths Each setback teaches us a new facet of life and something about our own personalities When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realize that these resources were always there within us We only need to find them and move on with our lives Books Novels by Leo Tolstoy, Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy Light from Many Lamps, edited by Lillian Eichler Watson Thirukural by Thiruvalluvar "Think of rising higher.
Let it be your only thought. Even if your object be not attained, the thought itself will have raised you" Man the Unknown by the Nobel laureate and doctor-turned-philosopher Alexis Carrel The Koran, the Vedas, the Bhagwad Gita "The best way to win was not to need to win" Poetry by T. Eliot Between the conception And the creation Between the emotion And the response Falls the Shadow Angels Books gave me dreams Dreams resulted in missions Books helped me confidently take up the missions Books gave me courage at the time of failures Good books were for me angels Touched my heart gently at the time Change Events of great magnitude that shift something within us at a fundamental level These are the times when our sense of self and our ego witness deep changes Politics Political rhetoric alone does not build a nation unless it is backed by the power of sacrifice, toil and virtue Sadness In sadness you are truly alone.
That is when your true self is revealed to you Moments are our true friends Joy is fleeting, whereas true happiness and calm can come to us only after intense pain Grief For each person I lost I found a new layer of grief to cover myself with Retrospection So long that when I think back I wonder if it all happened to me, or is it some story that I myself read in a book somewhere?
Knowledge Science sought to provide answers to all natural phenomena, and spirituality helped us understand our place in the entire scheme of the universe Sensory perceptions were not the only source of knowledge and truth True knowledge lay in exploring the inner self Mind Mind is unbelievably elastic It can expand as much as you let it, and once it opens up, there are no barriers—the belief in yourself that comes as a result is something no one can take away from you Commitment Total commitment is not just hard work, it is total involvement It is also about setting a goal It is having a goal in front of you that makes a difference to the final outcome of your hard work Mission Do not make rocketry your profession, your livelihood—make it your religion, your mission Cornerstones Hard work and piety, study and learning, compassion and forgiveness—these have been the cornerstones of my life View 2 comments.
Feb 25, Abdul Kareem rated it it was amazing. This Book is some type of inspiration for me.. This book somehow gave a way to my goal.. This book urge the reader to work hard for his destiny. View all 3 comments. Jun 20, Hesamul Haque rated it it was amazing. I am not afraid of death because when I will die then I will get a chance to meet him. Apr 18, Said AlMaskery rated it it was amazing Shelves: One of the few books that touched me, opened my eyes, and made me a little bit more wiser.
India has a wealth of wisdom I wish we could have taken some of it, especially that related to nation building and multi-faith tolerance. This will be a book I will recommend my children to read View 1 comment.
Jul 29, Ritu Raveendran rated it really liked it Shelves: I love the fact that this book is written in such a lucid manner and it pretty much reflects APJ who was himself such a humble and down to earth person. These are collection of some incidents in his life which may seem pretty normal to others but held a lot of significance in his life. Lovely and a light reading material indeed.
Sep 06, Arti rated it really liked it Shelves: It is a collection of his recollections, in the form of short stories, of various events in his life. He says that he too starts his day with a morning walk. He mentions in another story that watching a boat come to life from pieces of wood was probably his first introduction to the world of engineering.
He learnt that we have to acknowledge the power of nature. As an eight year old, during World War II, when sanctions were imposed on India, he would distribute newspapers to supplement the family income. He talks about how the religious leaders of various religions would meet every Friday evening to discuss the events happening in the town and how they managed to manage matters firmly and openly without letting it grow and fester- his first lesson in management.
In another story, he has spoken about his mother who served everyone and God with utmost devotion, selflessness and piety- a lesson that he has carried from her life- commitment. He talks about his sister, Zohra, who used her gold as a guarantee with a moneylender to borrow money required for his admission to a college.
Jalalluddin, whom he has mentioned in a lot of stories, was his first mentor. The author mentions that he was the one who introduced him to the world outside, encouraged him, influenced him and instilled in him the power of positive thinking. He even mentions about his disappointment at not being able to join the Indian Air Force, and how he started believing in destiny.
He talks about his favourite books and mentions that the religious texts from all religions have influenced him greatly. He mentions about his brush with death and his realization that a nation is built by the power of sacrifice, toil and virtue. He describes his deeply emotional and intellectual relationship with Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who taught him to look beyond failures and also how the scientific and spiritual leaders can work harmoniously or larger goals. He talks about his life in various scientific institutions of India- his failures and successes in the world of science.
A beautifully written book with a lot of nice stories. The stories may be short but the message they carry goes very deep. I would recommend reading one story at a time, slowly to actually understand the deep meaning present there. The charcoal drawings by Priya Sebastian have added a lot of meaning to the chapters. Dec 05, Bookish Devil rated it really liked it. Lovely read. In this book, APJ shares his Childhood memories and experiences. Though some of the events,incidents have already been mentioned in his other books, it never fails to impress.
It also provides a deeper insight to his life when he was young and also about the hardships that he had to face while doing his studies in School, College etc. Its basically a Rags to Riches story. Here, Richness is defined by his kind, honest attitude and not by the size of his pockets! But however, I was pr Lovely read.
But however, I was pretty let down by the fact that this book was pretty short. But still, It's a book that i recommend everyone to read, For he is , one of the Greatest persons that India has ever seen.
Oct 04, Alekhya rated it really liked it. I remember a chilly evening when my mother looked at the mushrooming schools and said "its sad that so many schools don't have a playground".. I responded saying "at least most of the children have basic education ma" she gave that saintly look and replied "over all development is a necessity for a growing mind" - this is the first thing that stuck me after i finished this book - it just strengths my mothers thought.
A playground can just be a minuscule in this world of needs for the growing chi I remember a chilly evening when my mother looked at the mushrooming schools and said "its sad that so many schools don't have a playground"..
A playground can just be a minuscule in this world of needs for the growing child but the book proves how important it is to have a emotionally strong childhood guided by a mentor, a friend above all a fuming desire to learn.
A read for sure! Dec 29, Raghu Velagaleti rated it it was amazing. This book is like Bhagavadgita to all dreamers and achievers. This book is a must read for every single child. In this book, Dr. Loved the encouraging words. Short and precised. Well written. Loved the poetry a lot. Oct 04, Anwesha Bose rated it it was amazing.
Touching, inspiring and heartwarming, My Journey: It will motivate you to aspire for your dreams, try to reach your goal and at the same time teach you that even once you reach the top, staying humble and true to one self is what will help you remain truly loved and respected by all.
Read complete book review - " My Journey: Transforming Dreams Into Actions by A. Abdul Kalam Book Review ". Nov 19, Bharadwaja Penumaka rated it really liked it Shelves: Probably this is the first book from Kalam i read. I took hardly 6 hours without break to complete.
I read this book at the situation when i messed up with my life. I felt like cool breezes coming from the sea reached me in my room. Nov 29, Divya rated it really liked it. A heart touching and inspiring story that will leave you thinking and questioning about various aspects of life. One of the best parts was that the story was set in an environment I could relate to. The struggle, the sacrifice, the toil described is something that everyone can relate to.
Sep 01, Narayanan rated it it was amazing Shelves: Definitely worth a read Nov 04, Navneet Ojha rated it it was amazing. He is my idol. Truly motivational: Sep 23, Rajesh Lakkakula rated it it was amazing. Jun 09, Raja Sampath rated it it was amazing. What an inspiration Dr. Abdul Kalam has been and his books has been no different. I had earlier read one of his other books "Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India" and wanted to read some of his other books too.
The book had easy and fluent English and I was so eager in reading the complete book at once, it was so inspiring. The book had decent amount of history from his childhood to becoming the President of India. He had mentioned about the childhood days, about his mentors, hi What an inspiration Dr. He had mentioned about the childhood days, about his mentors, his parents and just about everything to what he was actually.
Dec 08, VaultOfBooks rated it it was amazing. J Abdul Kalam. Invariably, all of t By A. Invariably, all of these impact your thinking and unknown to you have the capability to mould you into a person you are. If such seemingly little things could have so much impact, what about the people who have strived for your good, have held your hand and walked you through the crevices of darkness through their strength and wisdom?
Kalam has shown the readers the true spirit of India, the wisdom of simple Indians who inspire and motivate a young boy to dream big and achieve his dreams. His writing is uncomplicated and tender, sprinkled with his essence of simplicity which unfailingly touches your heart.
He shares his life experiences, his values, his life lessons through the twelve thought-provoking stories spanning his childhood, teenage and adulthood. The underlying tone in all these chapters is of how as children, we pick up lessons not just from school but from the simple people who surround us. We are shown that despite the communal riots that tore apart the harmony of civilians in other parts of the country, the three religious heads of Rameshwaram managed to upkeep the peace of the town.
The head priest of the temple, the head of the mosque Dr. We can see from the anecdote how deep an impact the three men had on Dr. Kalam which resonates highly in his personality. Kalam expresses his gratitude for the man who most probably played the pivotal role in nurturing him. Kalam as well. They make us think about life, success, failure, and the people behind the scenes who make us who we are.
The book is merely not a collection of his experiences but a befitting tribute to all those people who have molded him. A must-read for everyone who adores the Missile Man, or is looking for a lift in his life.
We are looking for perceptive readers who can write well, and we are eager to provide lots of free books in exchange for reviews.
Shoot us a mail at contact vaultofbooks. Sep 16, Rajani rated it it was amazing. About the Book: He tells about his father, a deeply spiritual man whose mere presence calmed the people who came to share their worries with him. Kalam Sir shared a strong, emotional bond with his mother; a gentle, pious woman with love, care and security. My father.
Sita would not wait and fashioned a lingam with her own hands to worship Shiva. Complex mathematics and scientific research would be the bedrock of those engineering marvels. I would learn how to make rockets and missiles. It brought Ahmed Jalalluddin into my life.
There were days when I would slip in among the crowd and sit with the crew as they steered the boat to and from Rameswaram. He recognized the inherent desire within me to learn and question. Rameswaram has. He could read and write English. The boat business was a great success. Watching the boat come to life from pieces of wood and metal was perhaps my first introduction to the world of engineering.
People visiting our town would go to Dhanushkodi as part of their pilgrimage. Many years later. The wind had picked up speed for days. Now when I think of that day. My thoughts travelled again and again to the open seas. Our boat had been washed away. It altered the geography of the area. He had to rebuild his business yet again. Pilgrims and tourists returned. It felt as though something I had made with my own hands had been gathered up and tossed away thoughtlessly. Was anyone trapped there?
What was it like to be in a storm such as this without your mother's comforting presence close by? The next morning. I still remember the night of that terrible cyclone vividly. In the light of the morning. Ahmed Jalalluddin and others taught me so many things. Of knowing that there is a larger energy and force that can crush our ambitions and plans in the blink of an eye. Then one day. In that flickering darkness. In my mind I mourned our lost ferry boat fiercely. I tried to gather my thoughts.
This was just one of them. A train that was on Pamban Bridge at the time was washed away. The months of November and May in particular are dangerous in this regard.
The Bay of Bengal is hit frequently by cyclones. The temple and the mosque filled with worshippers and the markets bustled with men and women.
In this way. I realize that perhaps my father had known this would happen the night before. Even today. My father lost his ferry boat once more in that storm.
I even learnt to sleep through them. And so the years went by. But the boat and the people who sailed in it were no less important. In time another boat came. I always remembered the look on my father's face the day after the storm. This time. There was no electricity in those days. I could not do much to help him practically. In his life he had already witnessed so many storms and cyclones. Cyclones and storms struck us again and again.
It was an acknowledgement of the power of nature. It screamed and whistled in our ears and pulled and hacked at the trees or anything that stood in its way.
The roads had disappeared under water and debris flown in by winds that had come in at speeds of over miles an hour. But the worst news of all was the one that hit us like a punch to the stomach.
Soon torrential rain started. We had retreated into our houses much earlier. My school. What would happen to our papers then? How were they to be. Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Samsuddin came up with a proposal that excited and delighted me tremendously. When I was about eight. India too. One fallout of the conditions was that the rail stop at Rameswaram station had been done away with.
The British government had placed a number of sanctions and rations on goods. World War II broke out. To me they were adults who could reach out beyond the narrow confines of their daily lives and businesses and see the larger world.
They came by morning train and were kept at Rameswaram station. These news items would be read and discussed with great gusto among everyone.
The papers carried news about the Independence Movement that was heading towards a crescendo at the time. Along with Jalalluddin. This was Samsuddin's business and he managed it effortlessly. As a person closely involved with engineering and science. The way the papers reached Rameswaram was quite unique.
Daily life. Something like a state of emergency now prevailed in the country. The town was dominated by the temple. During my travels abroad I like to stay in touch with news from India. The agency that distributed newspapers was run by my cousin Samsuddin.
The inhabitants went about their way fairly peacefully. Our large family felt the difficulties acutely. My grandmother and mother had to stretch every resource to the utmost to keep everyone fed. There were about a thousand literate people in the town. There would also be news from the war front. Yet he had such affection for me and encouraged me in so many ways. India's war effort saw a record number of Indian soldiers being deployed in various warzones around the world.
The wealth of information now available at the click of a finger amazes me. These men understood my deepest thoughts and feelings before I could articulate them. Of course. In our family there were five sons and daughters. The only source of information about the outside world was the newspaper.
Rameswaram in the s was a sleepy little town that came alive with the arrival of pilgrims. The inhabitants were mostly tradespeople or small businessmen. Samsuddin was not well travelled nor highly educated.
From there they had to be collected and sent to all the subscribers. As the difficulties of the war started affecting us. The Tamil paper Dinamani was the most popular of all these papers.
Though he could read and write. Samsuddin's newspaper distribution agency was the only one in Rameswaram. As I have mentioned. I was born in the year In the evening. I would sprint away to the railway station.
A simple meal would be served. Some would tell me to hurry back home so I would not be late for school! I think most enjoyed being handed their papers by a cheerful eight year old. Among my siblings and cousins. Periyar E. For about an hour I tore around Rameswaram. Our town being on the east coast.
She would then help me bathe and send me on my way to my teacher's home. I would do the rounds of Samsuddin's customers again. There I would study for an hour and return by 5 a. She herself would have risen before me and got my bath ready. Then I would meet him. I had worked out the best spot from which to keep an eye out for the flying newspaper bundles.
Soon I began to identify people by the papers they read. My father had arranged for me to take tuitions from our mathematics teacher. My mother made sure I ate every morsel before sending me off to school. So for a year. Samsuddin found a way out. There I would wait. The train would then huff and puff away. For many days I had noticed the amount of food on my mother's and grandmother's plates becoming lesser and lesser as they divided the portions between all of us.
I would trace the photos and words with my fingers. Many would be waiting for me. And that is where I came in. By then my father would be ready to take me to the Arabic School nearby. The children were always fed first and I don't remember any of us ever going hungry. I started my day while it was still dark outside. As the train chugged down the Rameswaram—Dhanushkodi track.
Like clockwork. One of them would read aloud the news items. I agreed to Samsuddin's offer with alacrity. All of us would pore over the black type of the Dinamani.
The horn would be tooted loudly and with a thunderous roar. Samsuddin's person in the train would wave out to me and as the train receded.
I had shown an early aptitude for mathematics. Now I headed back home. But my work did not end there. Jalalluddin or Samsuddin would finally open up the day's paper. I was only eight. The papers would be kept ready in large bundles.
At that time. After my lesson on the Koran Sharif was over. I then picked up the bundles. Samsuddin offered me the enjoyable job of catching these bundles of papers being thrown from the moving train and then taking them around town for distribution! My enthusiasm knew no bounds. My studies and school had to continue as before. I learnt that to be a working man meant you had to be up and ready to face the day. Knowing that my earnings were somehow helping us all. This routine continued for about a year.
There was homework to be done. I thought to myself. In that one year of running around with the papers. Bombay and Calcutta. I also learnt that I could now judge quite accurately the distances I could cover at a sprint with a bundle of papers in my hand. My mother often fretted at my taking up this additional work and the toll it was taking on me.
It was also a most enjoyable time and I loved every moment of it. I could calculate in my head the amount owed to Samsuddin by each of his subscribers. What would I say if I ever got to meet people like Gandhi and Nehru? But such thoughts were soon interrupted by the calls of my playmates. It was my first brush with taking up a responsibility and seeing to it that I kept my word to my cousin Samsuddin.
I grew taller and browner. I would be fast asleep. The temple has a number of tanks dotting it. The small local population consisted of mostly Hindu households.
I still remember his visage perfectly. Our ferry service was used by the temple too. Like I have mentioned in another chapter. This was a rare honour for anyone. Rameswaram is one of the holiest pilgrimage spots for many Indians.
He was a deeply devout man with complete and utter faith in the Koran. One of his closest friends was the priest of the Ramanathaswamy Temple. He leapt into the tank and retrieved the idol in no time. He was one of the kindest. Its highest spot is the top of a hill called Gandamadana Parvatham. He inculcated all the habits of a good Muslim in his children and indeed in his entire family.
The gratitude of the priests and other temple officials was overwhelming. The story went that on a certain festival day. My father loved to tell us the story of our great-great-grandfather. Sastrygal was not only the priest but also a very learned man. This sense of harmony continued into later years. The temple also made a proclamation that from now on. It meant that on each such festival day.
The daily papers brought news of upheavals and communal fault lines being drawn elsewhere. This quiet harmony had been in place for generations. The divisions and vicissitudes of the outside world rarely made their way here.
For the people of the town. Standing there. This tradition went on for years and years and the marayadai would be given to my father too. What a calamity that was! People stood rooted in horror.
He was as involved in the welfare of the churchgoers of Rameswaram as my father and Sastrygal. My father was the imam of the Rameswaram mosque. He was always dressed in the traditional attire of a temple priest. And yes. During one such procession. There was a third person who was as important in the spiritual life of our little community and that was Father Bodal. Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry. Each community lived in healthy contentment next to the other. The people made their living from either fishing or coconut farming.
It was a quiet town then. On his head he sported the mandatory tuft of the Brahmins. One person. The memory of these three learned men is still etched in my mind. I can still see them—one in his turban and imam's cloak, another in his dhoti and the third in his cassock. They met every Friday evening, at around four-thirty, and discussed matters of religion and the happenings of the town.
Sometimes people came to visit them at that time with specific issues to be resolved, or the three men kept each other apprised of anything that could potentially threaten the peace among the people and together, they tried to work out ways of clearing miscommunication or scotching rumours before they assumed dangerous proportions. The fundamental requirement for peace—effective communication among sections of the people—was always kept alive by these three patriarchs.
Their discussions ranged over a number of topics—the Freedom Movement that was taking the country in an entirely new direction, the attitude of the British government to the calls of the nationalists and how all this affected us, concerned them deeply.
They quietly soothed the society around them, making it a harmonious whole where everyone could have an opportunity to speak freely to them. One incident from my childhood brought this reality close to my life.
I was then about eight years old, and studying in the third standard. My best friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. We led the usual life of schoolboys, spending most of the day together in the classroom and outside. Like all good friends, our day was incomplete if, at any time, one of us was absent and we could not share with each other the minute details of all that is important for boys of that age.
In the classroom, we sat near one another and Ramanadhan and I shared the same bench. Before I proceed with the main story, I would like to sketch a portrait of my school, which holds such beautiful memories of days of innocence and mischief and learning for me. It was situated near the seashore, and was not the most sturdy building certainly! Parts of it were built with bricks but the roof was thatched.
But it was the only school in Rameswaram in those days and all the children of the town studied there. We were boys and girls in total. Yes, this school had an unimpressive building and scanty amenities but it was an interesting place nonetheless. The teachers, particularly those who taught history, geography and science, were loved by the students. Because they loved teaching and ensured that each one of us excelled in our studies.
To give equal attention to the fifty-five children in each class could not have been an easy task. They did not want us to only earn good marks in our exams, they also wanted us to develop a love for the subjects they taught us. We saw the light of purity shining in our teachers. Even if one student was absent for a day, they would go to the parents and enquire about the child's welfare and the reason for his not coming to school.
If one of us got high marks, the teacher would be the first person to go to our homes and share the information with our parents. My school was a happy place. All of us who started our schooling there completed our studies till the eighth standard. I don't remember even a single person dropping out. These days, when I visit schools, both big and small, all across the country, I tell them that true quality does not come from a great building or great facilities or great advertisements.
It happens when education is imparted with love by great teachers. To return to my story, schools of that time, particularly small ones like mine, did not have uniforms. We were free to wear any traditional items required by our religion. My friend Ramanadhan sported a tuft, or kudumi, like his father. Later, when he grew up, he too became the priest of the temple after his father.
I went to school wearing my little woven skullcap, like all Muslim boys of the town. Not once had any of us either noticed or remarked upon this. When we were in the third standard, there was a great excitement in our lives—we had a new.
In a small self-contained community, this was a matter of much excitement and discussion. We students were agog with anticipation to know what our new teacher would be like.
Would he be strict or lenient? Quick-tempered or patient? We could not wait for him to start teaching us. And the first day he came to the classroom, all our eagerness spilled forth. The teacher was also a Hindu, a Brahmin. As soon as he entered the classroom, he cast a quick appraising eye over us all, perhaps taking in the diverse attire of this bunch of boys.
Today, I think he must have missed noticing the bright eyes and eager smiles of the children—strangely, those are the first things that strike me when confronted by a roomful of children!
But our new teacher was quick to get down to business. He walked to the front of the class and the first people his eyes settled on were Ramanadhan and I. We were the star pupils, always eager to learn and participate, and sat right in front. His eyes lingered on my cap and on Ramanadhan's tuft.
A look of annoyance, even disbelief, washed over his face. Without giving any reason, he demanded to know my name. When I told him, I was peremptorily told to gather my things and move to the back row, for reasons known only to him. I felt sad, even humiliated. I wondered why this had happened. Ramanadhan was in tears. I still recall his large eyes awash with tears as I picked up my books and moved away from him. But neither of us was ready to let this go unreported. That very day I told my father about it, and Ramanadhan told his father too.
The men were shocked and dismayed. This went against everything they had worked for! A teacher, who was supposed to be imparting knowledge and opening up our minds, was instead doing just the opposite.
We had rarely seen these two mild-mannered gentlemen so agitated. They immediately spoke to one another and confirmed the details of the incident.
The next Friday, when dusk was falling, they met as usual. Father Bodal was present too. The teacher had been summoned, and presented himself. In the gathering darkness, as day turned into night, my father and Sastrygal told him in no uncertain terms that the scourge of religious divisions, which was disturbing India's fabric in other parts of the country, would not be allowed to grow here.
They would not allow children to be segregated; they would certainly not tolerate anyone who made religion a divisive factor instead of being inclusive; and they would never let this infect the minds of the youngest members of the society. All of this was conveyed to our teacher with dignity and courtesy. Would he want to see himself as a man of knowledge to whom the future of the country could be entrusted, he was asked. Our teacher stood silent, thinking.
Then finally he spoke. Yes, he acknowledged, he had tried to separate the two boys. And no, he had not bothered to think through the consequences of his actions when he did so. This was the way he had seen society being structured around him always, and he was just blindly following the rules.
No one had ever taught him otherwise, or made him see the futility of such divisions. He promised to rectify the wrong he had done the very next day. And he did do so. This was how I had a first-hand experience of the way the three religious elders settled a matter firmly and openly. They made the problem go away without letting it grow and fester—the essence of good management in any situation, I later learnt. It was also the first glimmer of a thought that has shaped me since: External forces, temptations and counsels will always be dinned into us, but those among us who can stand up to what we innately believe to be good and right will finally be at peace with ourselves.
Our country needs citizens who trust their individuality, who cannot be manipulated by people with unscrupulous agendas. As far as the fact of my religion is concerned, from Rameswaram I followed my destiny that took me into the world of science and technology.
I was always a believer in science, but the spiritual atmosphere of my youth has stayed with me. I well understand different points of view, particularly. I have read and assimilated the knowledge contained in different religious texts—from the Koran to the Gita to the Holy Bible. Together they have made me a product of this unique land of ours, a syncretic creation of the best of our diverse traditions. And if ever I am asked what it is like to be a Muslim in this country, I can point to the people I grew up with—my father, Sastrygal and Father Bodal, indeed many others like them whom I met later—who have upheld the religious and moral standards of our nation.
In their own ways they have contributed to make ours a country we can justly proclaim to be a multi-religious, multi-ethnic nation, where there is space for each of us to breathe.
Yes, we have deep problems and fissures being created daily, but if the generations to come remember the stories of people like my great-great-grandfather and the imam and priests of the Rameswaram of long ago, I am sure we will continue to survive and thrive as a secular democracy forever.
Rameswaram Mosque Street. During the World War II years. Then he softened and explained. At first I had no idea why I was being pulled up. Her cooking was deceptively simple and till today. One day. She saved and understood frugality. It is again in connection with food that another anecdote from my childhood comes to me.
My mother was a gentle. My Mother! My growing up years. She was a devout Muslim. Sea waves. I have not eaten sambar that balances the tart and the spicy tastes as delicately as hers did.
Later that night. Amma will never say no to you. Such was the Indian concept of hospitality once upon a time. My father had his own small business besides being the imam of the mosque. My mother. Providing for everyone was always a stretch on the resources. My mother and grandmother did their best to tide over those days.
It was not a time of plenty for anyone. I picked up my banana leaf plate and walked away to wash up. I sat at my place on the floor and ate with great relish as she rolled out one fresh chapatti after another. Almost daily. When I had finally had my fill.
We ate off banana leaves. One of my earliest memories is of eating with my mother. Now that I think about it. Ours was a middle-class family. In these circumstances. We had a good steady income from my father's businesses—his coconut groves and ferry business—but that just about covered our expenses.
I was a hungry little boy after all. I feel that she cooked and served for as many—if not more—guests as there were members of the household. They kept coming and I kept eating. I stared uncomprehendingly at him.
Our family consisted of my siblings and I. She had a large family to look after and that was where most of her energy went.
I wrote a poem called 'My Mother'. Mine was a happy. Her realm of work remained the home and the family. I left home fairly early in life. I have described how I took the job of a newspaper delivery boy. Before I could stop them. My eyes were still closed. When I had to leave. I remember I fell asleep with my head in her lap. Early in the morning. I was in the thick of building the SLV-3 rocket. I cried to myself. When I once questioned her. She never once asked me to stay back.
I knew that many times my mother decreased her own share so that I could have enough. Her fingers ran tenderly through my hair. My father lived to the age of But she did not stop her caresses. His passing away affected me deeply. She did not make a career in the way we think of it nowadays. When he passed away. Should I have done so? Should I not have been so preoccupied with my work. You have so much to do all through the day. What a lesson that was for me to never forget the needs of those around me!
Her love drove her to share her food with me without a second thought. She sat quietly. She knew exactly what was giving rise to those tears—the extreme tiredness of a boy suddenly trying to be a man. Among all my siblings. But her generosity and caring spirit stayed in my heart always.
I could not remain my mother's little boy for too long. It is this lesson that I have carried from her life—that it does not matter how large or small your sphere of activity is.
After I received the news of her passing. My mother saw me off and would be waiting for me to come back an hour or two later. I could never again eat without making sure there was enough to go around—especially for my mother and grandmother.
Unknown to me. They dropped on to my folded knees and seeped into my mother's sari. I have asked myself this. It was perhaps fitting that she would not live long alone.
This simple lady. In all this. As a result. This is what mothers look out for. My mother passed away soon after my father did. She did not step out of the house and take part in the affairs of the town.
I came home from my work at Thumba and sat by my mother for a long time. As I went from place to place during the daytime.
I was always given precedence in taking a place by her. The two people who had created me. My day began well before dawn. It was perhaps because I was a bit of a dreamer even then. But I knew one could not have lived long without the other. Zohra had married Jalalluddin. I was not as boisterous as my companions. Jalalluddin recognized the fact that I would soon outgrow the school in Rameswaram. He indulged my curiosities and did his best to find answers to the questions I asked. Nothing would stop her little brother.
My parents had saved and got some pieces of gold jewellery made for her. My life took its course. In the intervening years. There was always a tree to climb. My sister. How could they afford to pay the sum of that was the admission fee at MIT?
While today this may seem like a very small amount. I would have to live out the rest of my life without their guidance. Zohra looked out for me as much as she could so that the soft innocence of her little brother was not destroyed. Like my mother. The azaan from that mosque once used to bring all of us together—our parents leading all the children in the prayers.
Now it is a sweet reminder of a beautiful childhood. We were a happy bunch of children—squabbling and then making up. He had studied up to middle grade. In fact. He came like a breath of fresh air to the tiny community. Zohra was determined that I give wings to my aspirations and Jalalluddin remained my mentor. Besides my own brothers and sisters. Our household was still dependent on the earnings from the businesses started by my father. That was when I saw the true grit in my sister.
He discussed with my father the need to send me to Ramanathapuram. I was always full of questions about the things I saw around me—why do birds fly. Jalalluddin took a great liking to me. She went to school and studied. He stayed close by and became a part of the daily life of the family very quickly. The bond of mother and daughter changed into that of friendship as they toiled for the family. When I was quite young. The two of them were the biggest supporters of my dreams and ambitions.
She grew up as many girls in her circumstances did. This woman is a person who cannot be cowed down too long by her circumstances.
I was deeply touched by her gesture. She kept faith in my abilities—that I would qualify as an engineer. She was as efficient.
Indian households. Where are her own dreams. Her gold bangles and chain were mortgaged. At the time of need Zohra had the solution to the problem.
Zohra lived out her life in Rameswaram. Without a moment's further thought. She knew that her brother would work hard. I eventually did do so by studying hard and earning a scholarship. It was one of the most selfless things anyone had ever done for me.
I vowed at the time to release her jewellery from mortgage as soon as I started earning. She will think of her father. Many times she thinks of the ambitions of her husband.
She will have to worry and compromise. I wonder? Zohra announced that she would use the pieces as guarantee with a moneylender and borrow the sum required for my admission. My father was a pious man who followed every rule of worship—not just outwardly but as a deeply felt need within him. Our first halt would be the Shiva temple. For him.
The town would be busy at the time. What I remember most distinctly from the time are our walks around Rameswaram town. As we made our way with the pilgrims and I watched them perform their rituals. We would talk about the boat. Seeing the respect with which he was treated by the townspeople. It could not be. Our conversations gradually took other turns. As days turned into years and both of us grew older.
But I also secretly wondered if my friend had a special connection that allowed him to see God everywhere. Saying the namaz and every other form of prayer was as much a part of his being as breathing or eating. Amongst these people. I know what I would do. Our relationship took on more depth.
God was almost like a friend. Jalalluddin's relationship with God was slightly different from the one I was used to seeing in my father. Jalalluddin became my brother-in-law—he married my sister Zohra. We would set out almost every evening starting from Mosque Street. I too wanted to be like him and study as much as possible.
But he was also among the few in Rameswaram with some knowledge of the English language. When I was still a young boy. Jalalluddin was not very highly educated. From there an unusual friendship grew between me—a little boy—and Jalalluddin—a much older. I found it harder and harder to tear myself away from that place by the beach where the boat was being built.
As each plank of wood was slotted into its place and the outline of the boat became clearer. I was fascinated with the way the boat was taking shape. They are like the sun that warms the face and the winds that embrace. He talked to God. To these mentors I am always grateful and remember them more and more each day.
Unlike the other adults. One such person in my life was Ahmed Jalalluddin. As they said their prayers. I was convinced that the one who heard everyone out was a common entity.
Was it possible that in this serene atmosphere of Rameswaram the prayers of so many of the faithful. He had been able to complete his education till the eighth standard only.
On his part. I would spend time in remembering these people who shaped my life. I missed my family. Jalalluddin was among the first to encourage me to break away from the confines of Rameswaram.
They could then draw these out from within me and help me set my life's goals. He would tell me that I needed to control these emotions in order to fulfil my desires for a better education.
In those days I had an insatiable interest to learn more about everything.
Whenever I felt homesick and sad. I now think that Jalalluddin not only held my hands and taught me to walk tall in this world. They were men who saw only the good in me and had implicit faith in my following the correct path always.
I was overcome by my sentiments and my love for them and tears filled my eyes. I grew into a man with my own ideas and creative thought processes under his influence—an influence that remained with me even when I moved far away from him and my family. My trepidation about travelling abroad was reflected in their anxiety about being in a big city like Bombay.
How can I forget the day when he and Samsuddin accompanied me to Bombay now Mumbai. Jalalluddin and Samsuddin saw me off at Santa Cruz airport. I plied him with more and more queries and he would answer me as patiently as he could and with as much knowledge as he had gathered.
I have often pondered the question: How much does the environment play a part and how much of it is inborn? If I look back at my life. At that time it was Jalalluddin who instilled in me the power of positive thinking.
When I wanted to continue my studies in a bigger school in a different town.