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What Can I Give?: Life lessons from My Teacher - Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Paperback – 21 Jul 2016
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This book that stunned me and got to know more about Guru Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam i thank Srijan Sir for penning it down, Kalam Sirs concern for various subjects and especially for his 'Fellows' which is irreplaceable - regards and Jai Hind, an Ardent Disciple of Kalam Sir --By A Customer on 1 August 2016
Beautiful book..Dr A P J Abdul Kalam is one of the most revered and rspected person (for me) and Srijan Pal Singh ji has beautifully described his life with Kalam ji. Must read. Especially recommended for teenagers and youth --By Yogita on 8 August 2016
A beautiful tribute with an equally great cause. Must have for anyone who is a Kalam fan. It is an extremely inspirational read for adults and youngsters alike. If there is one book on Dr Kalam that I would ask people to read, it is this. Definitely recommended! --By A Customer on 27 July 2016
About the Author
Srijan Pal Singh is an engineer and management graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He was with the Indian Institute of Space Sciences and Technology (IIST) where he directly worked with Kalam as a scientific advisor.
From the Publisher
Life Lessons from my Teacher Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
By Srijan Pal Singh
Dr Kalam and I met for the first time during my IIM-A days. He was visiting our campus as co-faculty for a course called Globalizing Resurgent India through Innovation and Transformation and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the group he was teaching. What followed was a series of interactions during the class and a chance meeting after the course got over, which completely changed my life in ways unimaginable. And so began our wonderful journey together. My association with Dr Kalam goes back to 2009 during which I had the fortune to know him not just as a teacher, a public figure, a scientist but as the real man behind the legend. I had the chance to be a part of not just his professional journey but much beyond. Due to the nature of our work we spent a considerable amount of time together and travelled the world for various lectures, researches and addresses. And what I inherited during these interactions, are some precious life- lessons that now are my guiding principles. It is near impossible for me to encapsulate all that I have imbibed however, let me try and express some of the many things that I have learnt from him.
The Value of Family in Life
One of my greatest learnings with Dr Kalam was recognizing and appreciating the value of family in one’s life. Dr Kalam deeply regarded familial bonds and was most sensitive towards the mother and child relationship. With my schedule that entailed numerous travels from one place to another, I often used to forget calling back home or simply get lazy about checking things back home. On most mornings, Dr Kalam’s first question to me used to be – “Did you fellow call your parents? How are they?” He always motivated me to keep a close connection with my parents – despite the physical distances. One of his biggest worries for the younger generation was, “some of the younger fellows, forget about their parents when they grow up and succeed in life.” When addressing his students and youth, many of his sessions ended with a beautiful question: ‘What did you do to make your mother smile today?’ Every time, I heard him say that, my conscience probed me to look back, introspect and act.
The Bonds of Friendship
Not only did Dr Kalam value family, but also taught me about the strength of the bonds of friendship and how the ones dear to us are never too far to be remembered. There is an extremely heart-warming incident detailed in the book that I would like to briefly mention here. It’s an event that will always remain strongly etched in my memory. Back in 2014, Dr Kalam and I were visiting the Scottish city of Edinburgh, known world over for its research. Dr Kalam got extremely engrossed in a particular speech technology which could help those who lost the ability to speak over time. While it was characteristic of him to take interest in any new developments in the field of Science and research, his interest in the said technology made me curious. Unable to hold myself back, when I asked him his reason for such curiosity, he simply replied, “I want to hear a friend of mine speak beautifully again!” What touched me most was that he hadn’t met the friend for the longest time and yet when the moment arrived he thought of him.
Criticism is a Debt One Must Repay:
Dr Kalam seldom criticized anyone. Infact, he believed in providing alternatives and positive suggestions rather than criticizing others. He often said criticism is a heavy debt on the one who criticizes; and must duly be paid through appreciation when the opportunity arises. In today’s times, it not uncommon to see people resorting to the blaming one another when things go wrong. But, what I have realized is that finger pointing, at the end leads to no great achievements. What does help is mindfully nudging people in the right direction. Criticism indeed comes with a heavy debt, one that’s not easy to pay! Thinking far ahead in time, even beyond the horizon of one’s own life Dr Kalam was a thinker, and a visionary. Dr Kalam taught me how important it is to not only think big but also think for the future. Many of the projects he undertook in his eighties were surely at least 50 years away in terms of fully materializing. One day we were chatting about one such project I casually remarked about how it was too far in the future and asked him why he thought we should take it up. My remark originated from a basic human desire of deriving benefits from the efforts we put into something. What followed was a simple but profound lesson that gave me a strong perspective on the responsibility we have towards the future generations. He taught me the importance of thinking far ahead in time, even beyond the horizon of one’s own life without worrying about what we can reap now but looking ahead to see what we can create for the times to come!
Tolerance to Humor, An Essential for the Thinking Society
Dr Kalam was often depicted in cartoons— usually in good light but sometimes things did go a bit overboard. One of the very valuable lessons I learnt from Dr Kalam was to deal with jokes, good or bad, without taking them personally. Sometime ago one of the famous comedians, Vir Das, joked about Dr Kalam on his show. It did not go very well with the general public who had immense respect for Dr Kalam . What ensued was an ugly series of incidents disrupting the performance. I showed the clippings to Dr Kalam and told him of what had happened as a result. He simply asked me what I thought, and I said it may have been offensive to some. He said ‘How can comedy of any kind be offensive? Jokes are meant to be laughed at. You smile at a joke, not the subject of the joke. Understand. That is the idea of a joke. If a joke is good, you laugh— if it is not, you don’t. That’s it. There is no need to feel offended. Tolerance to humour is essential for a thinking society.’
What Can I Give?
The greatest message of Dr. Kalam’s life and work was – ‘What Can I Give?’ He taught us (all his students) that the solution to all the worldly problems, is in having a pure soul which resonates with the message of giving. He taught me through examples, incidents and interactions how a benevolent attitude can expand one’s might and abilities and while there are numerous such anecdotes that I can recount, there is one very strong message from one of our conversations that struck a chord with me. Dr Kalam, during one of our chats had said, ‘We think that we can take from the environment and destroy it indiscriminately; we think of what we can take from other humans, leading us to corruption and inequity. This attitude of taking and taking even destroys families. To keep this planet liveable and the human race thriving, we have to replace this attitude of “what can I take” with the goodness of “what can I give”.’ This became my secret motivation. The spirit of what can I give that had been the core foundation of my mentor’s life is the most precious lesson that I have inherited from him.
The Presidential Elections, 2012
One of the most tense yet exciting periods that I have spent with Dr. Kalam came unannounced in the summer of 2012. Smt. Pratibha Patil was on the verge of retiring from the highest office of the nation, and the election for the 12th President of India was scheduled to be held on 19 July 2012. In India, the presidential elections are conducted through a process of indirect voting, wherein the MPs and the MLAs cast votes for their favourite presidential candidate. Back then, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the Indian National Congress (INC), had a clear majority in choosing the next President.
By the end of April, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the opposition party, announced that they wanted to put up a candidate of their own. As the day of the election drew closer, the media went into a frenzy, trying to predict who the next President would be. Of course, the presidential elections in India are indirect, with only sitting MPs and MLAs being allowed to vote. The media, on the other hand, went on a different tangent; they started conducting surveys to find out which candidate was most popular among the citizens. The results of these surveys started getting published. Dr. Kalam’s name surfaced at the top of every single survey.
Mamata Banerjee met Congress president, Sonia Gandhi to discuss her choice for the new President. Soon after the meeting, Mamata Banerjee spoke candidly to the media and disclosed, ‘Soniaji’s first choice is Shri Pranab Mukherjee and her second choice is Shri Hamid Ansari.’ The media was confused as to why she had two choices in mind instead of having one clear candidate. Within a couple of hours, Mamata Banerjee and Shri Mulayam Singh, chief of the Samajwadi Party, addressed a joint press conference where they declared, ‘Our choices are Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or Dr. Manmohan Singh or Shri Somnath Chatterjee.’
The long-simmering presidential race was now on fire. Though the speed at which the events were unfolding surprised us, the events themselves did not. Some of the senior leaders had already been asking Dr. Kalam if he was willing to take on the presidential position again. Since he had dropped out of the presidential race in 2007, the political class was unsure of whether he would contest at all in 2012.
The support from Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh soon gave the BJP its choice of candidate, whom they could pitch against any UPA candidate. The Congress, the leading party of UPA, was visibly shocked because Mamata Banerjee had disclosed the discussion that she’d had with Mrs Gandhi.
They quickly gathered consensus and decided on a single name—Shri Pranab Mukherjee. Pranab Mukherjee was accepted by almost everyone. He was the ruling party’s best chance at keeping smaller ally parties from swinging away into supporting Dr. Kalam’s candidacy, should a contest happen. But both the BJP’s hopes and the Congress’s fear hinged on one key question—would Dr. Kalam actually contest for the post? If he did contest, there was a likelihood of him losing the elections and, moreover, he had already forgone the opportunity to do the same in 2007.
The next day, we were scheduled to go to Patna for the launch of Dr. Kalam’s What Can I Give initiative in Bihar. In those delicate times, every moment was important. Since this particular event was organized solely by my team, the first thing I suggested to Dr. Kalam the night before 14 June was— ‘Sir, let me postpone this event. We can do it later. Right now, we should stay in Delhi and monitor the situation.’ ‘Who have you called as the audience?’ ‘Sir, about six hundred school children and some parents from Bihar.’ ‘So why should they suffer because we have some funny events going on here? They are good guys, they are young, and they are on a mission to work for the nation and eradicate corruption. My first duty is to attend to them, before I do anything for politics. Forget all this for one day; we must fulfil our responsibility first. Let us go through my lecture now.’
Earlier that day, the media had gathered outside Dr. Kalam’s house. There was a frenzy of activity—journalists jostling against each other, OB vans honking. Dr. Kalam and I were taking a walk around the garden that evening—he was the picture of calm, despite the obtrusive antennas of the vans peeking above the wall.
I urged him again. ‘Sir, you should consider delaying. Look at all these people—the general public, other than the media personnel. They are also waiting to hear from you.’ He replied, ‘Let me tell you a story. Do you know the great teacher and scientist C.V. Raman?’ I nodded and said, ‘Of course.’ ‘When C.V. Raman was conferred the Bharat Ratna in 1954, he got a telegram asking him to report to the Rashtrapati Bhavan on a particular date. Of course, getting the Bharat Ratna was a big thing but the date of invitation worried Raman. He pondered over it for a few hours and then wrote a letter, expressing his inability to go receive the award.’
I did not know this story. ‘Really? Why?’ ‘Think of what could have been more important to him than the highest award of the nation . . . Raman politely apologized in his letter and stated that he could not attend the event on the mentioned date, because on that very day his research student was supposed to deliver his final presentation.
He said, “My student needs me. He has worked hard on his thesis for many years. I cannot let him down for my award.” Raman found it unbecoming of a teacher to put his personal benefits above his professional commitment to a student. Of course, the award ceremony was shifted to another date.
‘Those students in Patna have followed our mission, and have walked on a difficult path in the current times. I cannot let them down. They are our students.’ We made a few short calls to friends and long-time colleagues of Dr. Kalam, asking for their opinion. That was all. Everything else was pushed aside, to be dealt with after the Patna event.
On the evening of 14 June, when we were in Patna, the CM of Bihar, Shri Nitish Kumar came to meet Dr. Kalam. He too was curious to know if Dr. Kalam would contest for the presidential post. Minutes later, the press asked the same question. Dr. Kalam clearly had not put much thought into it, and said, ‘Wait and watch. I will decide at the right time.’ This puzzling statement set off a fresh round of speculations.
When we returned to Delhi the next day, things became even more tense. We summoned many people to the office, and that day our little room was buzzing with opinions and ideas. Out of the ten people present in the room, only two were of the opinion that Dr. Kalam should contest again—I was one of them. But the rest were either skeptical or completely opposed to the idea. The evening ended without any concrete decisions.
On the morning of 16 June, the third day since the drama had begun to escalate, we heard from the BJP president, L.K. Advani. His ambassador, Sudheerandra Kulkarni, told us, ‘Advaniji has spoken to all our CMs. Everyone wants to see you contest. It is a unanimous decision.’ While the BJP was still awaiting Dr. Kalam’s approval, the RSS chief, Shri Mohan Bhagwat, openly declared their support for him on the 17th.
The situation intensified even further on 18 June. Advaniji called personally and said that he was willing to go on a national campaign to garner support for Dr Kalam, if the latter agreed to contest. Everybody, including those openly supporting Dr Kalam, knew that the numbers were stacked oddly against him. Media polls were also in agreement with this assessment. With the Congress party against him, and the UPA having a clear majority in both houses and in most of the state assemblies, the highest percentage of votes that Dr. Kalam could get was just 42 per cent.
The media opined that Dr. Kalam could win only if he promoted cross-voting within all the parties. Many media experts believed that with Dr. Kalam’s popularity, it was likely for the MPs and MLAs to cross-vote. But we, his close associates, knew that he would never encourage the petty politics of cross-voting. In reality, we also knew that there was no chance of Dr. Kalam winning the elections. He might have been the unanimous winner in the hearts of the people, but politicians were a different group altogether.
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I learned many things about our missile man and i want to keep them in mind life long. Like srijan sir said great teachers never die they just transform from mortal humans into Immortal lessons, lessons carried over generations. Life is simple and beautiful when you knew about the way of dealing things that l learned a lot from this.
I am deeply touched with Raghu story. I am inspired by Kathiresan,chellappa and hanumant success stories. Learned some rituals from this book and want to continue them from today.
1. Calling parents everyday at least to say hai
2. Dining table rule (God brought us together since we are like minded people)
3. Respect hard work of every creature (bees story, in his term fellows)
In this book Srijan sir introduced some great books of Dr Kalam who reads them often.
Even in insurance there is no negativity or talking bad about third person. After finishing reading this book what I am thinking is
What Can I Give?
I recommended to read this book to every guys....
Such a great personality Dr Kalam is & his humility,integrity,love towards giving to humanity... i will be out of words to describe more about it & that all too by his very own favorite student, Mr. Srijan Pal Singh.
Thank you Dear Author, I always dreamt to attend Dr. Kalam's lecture one day, i couldn't, thanks to you i can still atleast get glimpse of his teachings/motivation/ideas through your articles & books.
The narrative of this beautiful journey called life with India's beloved teacher, people's President, Missile (Smile) Man, witty yet a GEM of a human being conveyed by Srijan Pal Singh leaves you with tears and smiles at the same time!
Goodness does exists and it needs to be spread far and wide. Miss it not!