Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of A.P. J. Abdul Kalam



An Excerpt from the Book Wings of Fire:

I was born into a middle-class Tamil family in the island
town of Rameswaram in the erstwhile Madras state. My
father, Jainulabdeen, had neither much formal education
nor much wealth; despite these disadvantages, he possessed great
innate wisdom and a true generosity of spirit. He had an
ideal helpmate in my mother, Ashiamma. I do not recall the
exact number of people she fed every day, but I am quite
certain that far more outsiders ate with us than all the members of our own family put together. My parents were widely regarded as an ideal couple. My mother’s lineage was the more distinguished, one of her forebears having been bestowed the title of ‘Bahadur’ by the British.
I was one of many children—a short boy with rather undistinguished looks, born to tall and handsome parents. We lived in our ancestral house, which was built in the middle of the 19th century. It was a fairly large pucca house, made of limestone and brick, on the Mosque Street in Rameswaram. My austere father used to avoid all
inessential comforts and luxuries. However, all necessities were provided for, in terms of food, medicine or clothes. In
fact, I would say mine was a very secure childhood, both materially and emotionally.
I normally ate with my mother, sitting on the floor of the
kitchen. She would place a banana leaf before me, on which she then ladled rice and aromatic sambhar, a variety of sharp, home-made pickles and a dollop of fresh coconut chutney. The famous Shiva temple, which made Rameswaram
so sacred to pilgrims, was about a ten-minute walk from
our house. Our locality was predominantly Muslim, but there were quite a few Hindu families too, living amicably with
their Muslim neighbours. There was a very old mosque in
our locality where my father would take me for evening
prayers. I had not the faintest idea of the meaning of the Arabic prayers chanted, but Iwas totally convinced that they
reached God. When my father came out of the mosque
after the prayers, people of different religions would be
sitting outside, waiting for him. Many of them offered bowls of water to my father who would dip his fingertips in them
and say a prayer. This water was then carried home for
invalids. I also remember people visiting our home to offer
thanks after being cured. My father always smiled and
asked them to thank Allah, the benevolent and merciful. The high priest of Rameswaram temple, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, was a very close friend of my father’s. One of the most vivid memories of my early childhood is of
the two men, each in his traditional attire, discussing
spiritual matters. When Iwas old enough to ask questions, I asked my father about the relevance of prayer. My father
told me there was nothing mysterious about prayer. Rather, prayer made possible a communion of the spirit between
people. “When you pray,” he said, “you transcend your body and become a part of the cosmos, which knows no division
of wealth, age, caste, or creed.” My father could convey complex spiritual concepts in
very simple, downto-earth Tamil. He once told me, “In his own time, in his own place, in what he really is, and in the
stage he has reached—good or bad—every human being
is a specific element within the whole of the manifest divine
Being. So why be afraid of difficulties, sufferings and
problems? When troubles come, try to understand the
relevance of your sufferings. Adversity always presents opportunities for introspection.”
….. Let the latent fire in the heart of every Indian acquire wings, and the glory of this great country light up the sky. No one, however poor, underprivileged or small, need feel disheartened
about life. Problems are a part of life. Suffering is the
essence of success. As someone said: God has not promised Skies always blue, Flower-strewn pathways All our life through; God has not promised Sun without rain, Joy without sorrow, Peace without pain.
Iwill not be presumptuous enough to say that my life can
be a role model for anybody; but some poor child living in
an obscure place, in an underprivileged social setting may
find a little solace in the way my destiny has been shaped. It could perhaps help such children liberate themselves from
the bondage of their illusory backwardness and
hopelessness. Irrespective of where they are right now, they
should be aware that God is with them and when He is with
them, who can be against them? But God has promised Strength for the day, Rest for the labor Light for the way.