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Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (1931-2015) was one of the pioneers of aerospace engineering in India. For a major part of his life, he worked as a scientist in Indian space programs. Some of his famous works are India 2020, Ignited Minds, Wings of Fire. He was the President of India from 2002 to 2007. Strong Roots is an extract from Dr Kalam’s autobiography Wings of Fire. In this extract, he talks about his childhood in his hometown. The piece presents a delightful sketch of the author’s early life and the development of his spiritual growth.
APJ Abdul Kalam– a great scientist who was India’s President from 2002 to 2007
Jainulabdeen– Kalam’s father
Ashiamma– Kalam’s mother
Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry– the high priest of Rameswaram temple
Kalam’s Family and Childhood
APJ Abdul Kalam was born into a middle-class Tamil family in the island town of Rameswaram in the former state of Madras. His father, Jainulabdeen, did not have much formal education or wealth but possessed great natural wisdom and was very kind. His mother, Ashiamma, was similarly kind and fed a lot of people every day. One of his mother’s ancestors had been given the title of ‘Bahadur’ by the British.
Kalam’s parents were regarded as an ideal couple. He was one of their many children. They lived in their ancestral house on the Mosque Street in Rameswaram. His strict father used to avoid all luxuries. However, all necessities were provided for. Kalam normally ate with his mother, sitting on the floor of the kitchen.
The Shiva temple, which made Rameswaram so famous to pilgrims, was near their house. The locality was mostly Muslim, but there were a lot of Hindu families too. There was a very old mosque in the locality where Kalam’s father would take him for evening prayers. When his father came out of the mosque after the prayers, people of different religions would be sitting outside, waiting for him to bless them. His father always smiled and asked them to thank Allah.
The high priest of Rameswaram temple, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, was a very close friend of Kalam’s father. They would discuss spiritual matters. Once Kalam asked his father about the relevance of prayer. His father answered that prayer made possible a union of the spirit between people.
His father could convey complex spiritual concepts in very simple, down-to-earth Tamil. Kalam asked him why he didn’t say these things to the people who came to him for help and advice. His father said that when humans are in trouble, they look for someone to help them, and for the people who came to him in distress, he was just a medium to win against demonic forces with prayers and offerings.
Kalam remembers his father starting his day at 4 am by reading the namaz before dawn. After the namaz, he used to walk down to their small coconut grove, to get about a dozen coconuts before breakfast. This remained his routine up till his late sixties.
Kalam has, throughout his life, tried to emulate his father in his own world of science and technology. He has tried to understand the fundamental truths revealed to him by his father, and feels convinced that there exists a divine power that can lift one up from a bad place and guide one to one’s true place.
Kalam tells us about his childhood and the simple life his family led. This chapter also reveals his deep respect for his parents. Kalam admits how his early experiences and his father’s beliefs shaped him as a person as he grew up, and this shows us how our early years and our parents mould us into the adults we eventually become. Therefore, strong roots are required for us to become strong people.