Introduction

An extract from “Wings of Fire”, this story narrates the childhood of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and his upbringing as a child. His best friends were Hindus yet he felt no difference between his family and friends.

The Tamarind Seeds

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was born in a middle-class family in Madras. His father, Jainulabdeen, was neither an educated nor a wealthy person but was very wise. His mother, Ashiamma, was an ideal partner of his father. He lived with his parents in their ancestral house built in the 19th century. 

His childhood was secure both materially and emotionally. He was eight years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939. The war caused sudden demand for tamarind seeds. He used to collect the seeds and sell them.

It gathered him a sum of one anna. The area where Dr. Kalam lived was unaffected by the war. However, soon India joined, and a state of emergency was declared. He soon found work with his cousin Samsuddin who distributed newspapers in Rameswaram.

Bedtime Stories

He now had this talent to earn his own money and felt proud about it. Dr. Kalam inherited honesty and discipline from his father and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother. He had three friends. His friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan, and Sivaprakasan.

He felt no difference between himself and his friends. His family used to arrange boats for carrying idols from the temples to the marriage site. Dr. Kalan used to hear stories from Ramayana and the life of Prophet Mohammed from his parents.

The Seeds of Hatred

One day at school, he was sitting in the front row with his friend Sastry (a Brahmin). His teacher separated him and ordered him to sit at the last bench as he could not bear a Muslim sitting with a Brahmin. Sastry cried on this, and this left a lasting impression on Dr. Kalam. Sastry and Dr. Kalam narrated the whole story to Sastry’s father, and he scolded the teacher. 

No Brahmin, No Meal!

One of his teachers, Sivasubramania Iyer, encouraged Dr. Kalam to gain knowledge to face cities’ knowledgeable people. His teacher once invited Dr. Kalam for a meal, but his wife was refused to serve Kalam as he was a Muslim. His teacher was not angry and served Kalam with his hand and also ate with him. Next time, when Kalam visited his teacher’s house, his wife served him food with her own hands.

Wings of Fire!

After the end of the Second World War, when India’s independence was imminent, Dr. Kalam sought his father’s permission to study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram. His father quoted Khalil Gibran and told his mother that children have their own thoughts.