Former President of India Dr.A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s message
on the eve of Teachers’-Day (05.09.2003)
(few introductory sentences could not be recorded)
To begin with, I am going to talk to you about my father who taught me as a teacher.
My father taught me a great lesson when I was a young boy. What was that lesson? It was just after India got independence. At that time, Panchayat board election took place at Rameshwaram. My father was elected as Panchayat board member and on the same day he was also elected as President of Rameshwaram Panchayat Board. Rameshwaram island was a beautiful place with 30,000 population. That time, they elected my father as Panchayat Board President not because he belonged to a particular religion or particular caste or spoke a particular language or for his economic status. He was elected only on the basis of his nobility of mind and of being a good human being. Dear listeners, I would like to narrate one incident that took place on that day he was elected President of Panchayat board. I was at that time studying in School. Those days we did not have electricity and we used to study under rationed kerosene lamp. I was reading the lessons loudly and I heard a knock on the door. We never used to lock the door at Rameshwaram in those days. Somebody opened the door, came in, and asked me where my father was. I told him that my father has gone for evening Namaz. Then he said he has brought something for him, Can I keep it here? Since my father had gone for Namaz, I shouted for my mother to get her permission to receive the item. Since she was also under Namaz, there was no response. I asked the person to leave the item on the cot. After that, I continued my studies. I used to learn by reading aloud in my younger days. I was reading loud and fully concentrating on my studies. At that time my father came in and saw a tambulam kept in the cot. He asked me, “What is this? Who has given that?” I told him somebody came & he has kept this tambulam on the cot. He opened the cover of the Tambulam and found there was a costly Dhoti, Angavastram, some fruits, some sweets and he could see the slip that the person has left behind. I was the youngest child of my father. He really loved me and I also loved him a lot. He was upset at the sight of the Tambulam and gift left by someone. That was the first time I saw him very angry. And also that was the first time, I had got a thorough beating from him. I got frightened and started weeping. My mother embraced and consoled me. Then, my father came and touched my shoulder lovingly with affection and advised me not to receive any gift without his permission. He quoted an Islamic haziz, which states that “when the Almighty appoints a person to a position, he takes care of his provision. If a person takes anything beyond that, it is an illegal”. Then, he told me that it is not a good habit, gift is always accompanied with some purpose and a gift is a dangerous thing. It is like touching a snake and getting the poison in return. This lesson stands out always in my mind even when I am in my seventees. This incidence taught me a very valuable lesson for my life. It is deeply embedded in my mind. I would like to also to mention a writing in Manu Smriti which states that “by accepting gifts, the divine light in the person gets extinguished”. Manu wants every individual against accepting gifts for the reason that it places the acceptor under an obligation in favour of the person who give the gift and ultimately it results in making a person to debt which are not permissible according to law. I am sharing these thought with all of you, particularly the young ones. Do not be carried away by any gift that comes with a purpose and through which one loses one’s personality greatly. Do you think you can follow this in your life? I will be very happy if you can practice this sincerely.
My second teacher, primary school teacher, Sri Sivasubramani Iyer. When I think of my second teacher, I am reminded of my childhood days when I was studying in 8th class at the age of 13. I had a teacher, Sri Sivasubramani Iyer; he was one of the very good teachers in our school. All of us liked to attend his classes carefully. One day he was teaching about a bird’s flight. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard depicting beak, tail, the body structure with the head. He explained how the bird takes the lift and fly, he also explained how they change the direction while flying nearly for 25 minutes. He gave the lecture with various information about lift, drag, how the bird fly in the formation of 10, 20 and 30. At the end of the class he wanted to know whether we understood how the birds fly. I said, “I did not understand how did the bird fly”. When I said this, the teacher asked the other students whether they understood or not. Many students said that they could not understand. He did not get upset by the response since he was a committed teacher. Our teacher said that he would take all of us to the seashore. That evening the whole class was at the seashore of Rameshwaram. We enjoyed the roaring sea-wave, knocking at the sandy hills in the pleasant evening. Birds were flying in the formation of 10 to 20 in numbers. We saw the marvelous formation of birds with a purpose and we were all amazed. He showed us the birds and asked us to see how the birds fly, what they looked like. We saw the wings flapping. He asked us to look at the tail portion with the combination of flapping wings and twisting tail. We noticed carefully and found that the birds in that condition flew in the direction they desire. Then he asked us a question. Where the engine is, and how it is powered. Bird is powered by its own life and the motivation of what it was. All these things were explained to us with in 15 minutes. We all understood the whole bird’s dynamics from this practical example. How nice it was! Our teacher was a great teacher. He could give us a theoretical lesson coupled with a live practical example available in nature. This is a real teaching. I am sure many of the teachers in schools and colleges will follow this example. For me, it was not an understanding of how birds fly. The bird’s flight entered into me and created a special feeling. From that evening, I thought that my future study has to be with reference to flights and flight systems. I am saying this because of my teacher’s teaching and the event I observed I decided about my future career. Then, one evening after the classes I asked the teacher, “Sir, please tell me how to progress further in learning all about flight?” He patiently explained to me that I should complete 8th class, and then go to high school, and then I should go to engineering college that may lead to education on flight. If I complete ordinary education with excellence, I may do something connected with flight sciences. This advice and the bird’s flying exercise given by my teacher really gave me a goal and a mission for my life. When I went to the college, I took Physics, and then I went to Engineering in Madras Institute of Technology and took Aeronautical Engineering. Thus, my life got transformed as a Rocket Engineer, Aerospace Engineer, and technologist. That one incident of my teacher teaching the lesson, showing the visual life example proved to be turning point in my life, which eventually shaped my profession.
A student during his school life up to 10 + 2 spends 25,000 hours in the school campus. His life is more influenced by the teacher and the school’s environment. Therefore, the schools must have the best of teachers with ability to teach and live teaching and bring moral qualities. Teacher should become a role model. Similarly, the student must be allowed to build himself or herself with the best of qualities and to get ignited with vision for his or her future life.
My third teacher, the design teacher Prof. Dhawan. I would like to share with you another experience with my teacher Prof. Satish Dhawan. First I worked in Delhi with Ministry Of Defense, later I
joined Defense Research and Development Organisation in 1958 at Aeronautical development establishment in Bangalore. There, with the advice of the Director, I took up the development of Hovercraft. Hovercraft design needed the development of a ducted contra-rotating propeller. I didn’t know how to design the contra rotating propeller, though I knew how to design conventional propeller. Some of my friends told me that I could approach Prof. Satish Dhawan of Indian Institute Of Science who was well-known for his Aeronautical Research and he would help in designing the ducted contra-rotating propeller. I took permission from my Director and went to meet Prof. Satish Dhawan who was sitting in a small room in Indian Institute Of Science with lot of books in the background and the blackboard on the wall. Prof. Satish Dhawan asked me what the problem was that I would like to discuss. I explained the problem to Prof. Satish Dhawan about my project work. He told me that it is really a challenging task he would teach me the design if I attend his class in Indian Institute of Science between 2 pm. to 3 pm. on all Saturdays for next 6 weeks. He was a visionary teacher. He prepared the schedule for the entire course and wrote it on the blackboard. He also gave me the reference material and books I should read before I start attending the course. I considered this as a great opportunity and started attending the discussions and starting meeting with him regularly. Before commencing each meeting, he will ask critical questions and assess my understanding of the subject. That was the first time that I realised how a good teacher prepares himself for teaching, with meticulous planning and prepares the student for acquisition of knowledge. This process continued for the next six weeks. I got the capability for designing the contra-rotating propeller. Professor told me that I am ready for developing the contra-rotating propeller for the Hovercraft configuration. That was the time I realised that Prof. Satish Dhawan was not only a teacher but, also a fantastic development engineer of aeronautical systems. Later, during the critical places of testing Prof. Dhawan was with me to witness the test and find solution to the problems. After reaching the smooth test phase, contra-rotating propeller went through 50 hours of continuous testing. Prof. Satish Dhawan witness the test himself and congratulated me. That was a great day for me when I saw the contra-rotating propeller designed by my team performing to the mission requirement in the Hovercraft. However, at that time, I didn’t realise that Prof. Satish Dhawan will become chairman, ISRO and I would get the opportunity to work with him as the project-Director in the development of a satellite launch vehicle SLV3 for injecting the Rohini Satellite into the Orbit. Nature has its own way to link to the student’s dream and the real life later. This was the first design in my career, which gave me the confidence to design many complex aerospace systems in future. The Hovercraft could fly just above the ground level carrying two passengers. I was the first pilot on this Hovercraft and I could control and maneuver the vehicle in any direction. Through this project, I learnt the techniques of designing and developing the contra-rotating propeller. Above all, I learnt that in a project problem will always crop up and we should not allow the problems to be our masters but we should defeat the problems. Then, the success will sparkle.
The three teachers in my life, what did they give me? In an integrated way it can be said that any enlightened human being can be created by three unique characteristics. One is moral value system that I got from my father, the hard way. Secondly, the teacher becoming a role model, not only does the student learn but, the teacher shape his life with great dreams and aims. Finally, the education and learning process have to culminate in the creation of professional capability given to confidence and will power to make a design, to make a project, to make a system bravely combating many problems. What a fortune and blessings I had from my three teachers.
Among the listeners, there may be many parents, many teachers and a large number of students. Every one of us in this planet creates a page in human history irrespective of who he or she is. I realise the experience is a small dot in human life. But that dot has a life and light. That light let it light many lamps. My best wishes to all of you on this occasion of “Teachers’ day”.
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