“My Childhood” is an extract taken from the autobiographical book, ‘Wings of Fire’ by A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. Here Dr. Kalam who is one of the greatest scientists of India and also the 14th President of India gives an account of his childhood days. His journey from a middle-class family in Rameswaram to the President’s house has not been a soomth ride. He worked hard and faced all the challenges of life. This great scientist and the missile man of India was born in a middle class muslim family in 1931 in the island town of Rameswaram, Tamilnadu. In his childhood he was greatly influenced by his parents, his teachers and his friends. His father, Jainulabdeen, was not much educated but he was very generous and kind person. He was not rich but provided a secure childhood to Abdul and his brothers and sisters. Abdul inherited honesty and self discipline from his father and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother.
Kalam earned his first wages by working as a helping hand to his cousin, Samsuddin, who distributed newspapers in Rameswaram.
In his childhood he had three close friends- Ramanadha Sastry,Aravindam and Sivaprakashan. Once when he was in fifth standard, a new teacher asked him not to sit in the front row along with the high caste Brahmin boys. Abdul found Ramanadha Sastry weeping as he went to the last row. This made a lasting impression on Abdul.
Abdul was also greatly influenced by his science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer. He learnt the lesson of breaking social barriers from him. Iyer invited him to his home for a meal. His wife was an orthodox Brahmin who refused to serve food to a muslim boy in her so called ritually pure kitchen. Iyer served him with his own hand and sat down beside him to eat his meal. He convinced his wife to serve meal with her own hands and thus was successful in changing the conservative attitude of his wife.
For higher education he sought permission from his father to leave Rameswaram and study at the district headquartes in Ramanathapuram. He said, “Abdul! I know you have to go away to grow. Does the seagull not fly across the sun, alone and without a nest?” To his hesitant mother, quoting Khalil Gibran, he said, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.”
Q: What happened when Kalam was in fifth standard?
A: When Kalam was in fifth standard a new teacher asked him to sit on the back bench due to his caste. The teacher could not stomach a Hindu priest’s son sitting with a muslim boy
Q: Why did Lakshmana Sastry summon the new teacher?
A: Lakshmana Sastry summoned the new teacher because he was trying to spread the poison of social inequality and communal intolerance in the minds of the innocent children. He asked the teacher to apologise or quit the school and the island.
Q: “Once you decide to change the system, such problems have to be confronted”. Who said these words to whom?
A: The science teacher, Sivasubramaniam Iyer said these words. He was talking to Abdul Kalam. He invited Kalam for dinner. But Kalam was hesitant. So, observing his hesitation, he told him not to get upset and spoke these words.
Q: What happened when Abdul Kalam visited his science Teacher’s house for the second time?
A: When Abdul Kalam visited his science Teacher’s house for the second time, Sivasubramaniam Iyer’s wife took him inside her kitchen and served him food with her own hands.
Q: How did Kalam’s family contribute during the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony?
A: Kalam’s family used to arrange boats with a special platform for carrying idols of the Lord from the temple to the marriage site.
ANSWERS OF THE TEXT BOOK
Q: Where was Abdul Kalam’s house?
A: Abdul Kalam’s house was on mosque street in Rameshwaram.
Q: What do you think Dinamani is the name of? Give a reason for your answer.
A: The fact that Abdul Kalam used to read headlines, to know about the WWII and the fact that he assisted his cousin in collecting newspaper bundles thrown from the train indicate that Dinamani is the name of a newspaper.
Q: Who were Abdul Kalam’s school friends? What did they later become?
A: One of his friends Ramanadha Shasrty became a priest in Rameshwaram, Arvindam went into a business of tour operator and Shivaprakasham became a catering contractor with Southern Railways
Q: How did Abdul Kalam earn his first wages?
A: When stoppage of trains was cancelled at Rameshwaram because of WWII, then his cousin asked him for help in collecting newspaper bundles which were thrown from the moving train. This task helped Abdul Kalam earn his first wages.
Q: Had he earned any money before that? In what
A: Before the newspaper episode there was unusually huge demand of tamarind seeds. Abdul Kalam used to collect tamarind seeds and used to sell them for a princely some of one annah a day.
Q: How does the author describe: (i) his father, (ii) his mother, (iii)
A: The author has described his father as a man following austerity, but giving due care to all needs of his family. He has described his mother as a woman with a large heart who used to cook for everyone visiting the household. Moreover, Abdul Kalam has described himself as a short and thin boy from tall and handsome parents.
Q: What characteristics does he say he inherited from his parents?
A: He inherited honesty and self discipline from his father. From his mother he inherited a sense of kindness and faith.
Q: “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?
A: Kalam has mentioned Hindus and Muslims as two distinct social groups living in Rameshwaram. They had their different dress codes and rituals. For example Kalam used to wear a cap while his friend Ramanadham used to wear the sacred thread.
(ii) Were they aware only of their differences or did they also naturally share friendships and experiences?
A: Kalam has mentioned three childhood friends and all of them have Hindu names, so their friendship is evident. Kalam has also mentioned about bedtime stories from Ramayana being told by his mother. Moreover, Kalam’s family used to arrange for carrying idols of Hindu gods. This explains the natural Hindu Muslim cooperation in most parts of India. They were aware of their different identities but they were living harmoniously as people do in any normal society.
Q: 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?
A: The first person mentioned was Ramanadhan’s father. He, after hearing that the new teacher tried to segregate pupils on the basis of religious divisions, called the teacher and convinced him to revert his decision.
The second person was Shivasubramania Iyer, the science teacher. He invited Kalam to have meal with him. This way he changed his conservative wife’s mindset.
Q: Narrate two incidents that show how differences can be created, and also how they can be resolved. How can people change their attitudes?
A: The new teacher in Kalam’s school tried to create communal differences among students. Science teacher’s wife did not want to serve food to Kalam as he was a Muslim boy. In both incidences the persons who are trying to change the mindsets stood firm on their ground. They did the straight talk and practiced what they preached. This created a change of attitude among people who were of old thoughts.
Q: Why did Abdul Kalam want to leave Rameswaram?What did his father say to this?What do you think his words mean? Why do you think he spoke those words?
A: Kalam wanted to get a better ambience to study which was available in the city. So he wanted to leave Rameshawaram. His father encouraged him to leave Rameshwaram. He took example of young seagulls who leave their parents’ nest to learn to fly.
His words have very deep meanings. Unlike human beings most of the animals grow on their own after a certain age. This makes them more independent and courageous. Even in the plant kingdom most of the seeds cannot germinate if they are left lying under the mother tree. They get spread by various means and then only they are able to sprout to become a new plant and ultimately a tree.For human also after a certain age certain degree of responsibility and independence is always helpful in making a perfect adult.