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APJ Abdul Kalam's book Ignited Minds is but the reflection of the mind of a great visionary and humanist. The very name of APJ has now become the synonym for optimism and hope. If one looks deeper it is love that makes him dream for us. This book is the manifestation of positive energy, and as you move along with Kalam you realise that the annihilation of negative energy is happening. There is perfect harmony between the author and his work; a great author and a great work. It is said that Johnson the man was greater than Johnson the writer. But Shakespeare's works are great in themselves. Here Kalam's work Ignited minds is great in itself.

In the preface Kalam writes: “This book is all about breaking away from the forces that would prefer us to remain a nation of a billion people selling cheap labour and raw materials and providing a large market for goods and services of other nations.” He continues, As it is said, Thinking is the capital, Enterprise is the way, Hard work is the solution.” Kalam himself tells us about the style of writing he used in the book and in a way justifies that the message which needs to be conveyed requires such a style. He writes: “ You will find in this book plain speaking: Surge ahead as a developed nation or perish in perpetual poverty, subservient to a few countries that control the world politically and economically.”

The book is divided into nine chapters:
1.The Dream and the Message,
2. Give Us a Role Model,
3. Visionary Teachers and Scientists,
4. Learning from Saints and Seers,
5.Patriotism beyond Politics and Religion,
6. The Knowledge Society,
7. Getting the Forces Together,
8. Building a New State, and,
9. To My Countrymen.

The Dream and the Message

On 30 September 2001, Kalam was on his way to Bokaro from Ranchi in Jharkhand and the helicopter carrying him crashed just before landing, but all the passengers escaped miraculously. Despite the incident Kalam went ahead with his programme. At night he took a tranquillizer as the doctors persuaded him to do so. The drug made him sleep longer though he woke up at night and fell into a dream like thought; a thought that was centred on the humanity. Five great men took part in that thought process and they spoke out their minds. Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Emperor Asoka, Abraham Lincoln and Caliph Omar were these great men. Each of them shared their views on humanity in general and as their importance that spreads beyond their time and social context these views sound universal.

Kalam discusses different stages in one's life:
  1. athlete stage,
  2. warrior stage,
  3. states-person stage, and,
  4. spirit age.
These stages in a man's life is also applicable to a state. Kalam logically describes how a nation passes through these stages. It is amusing that he calls himself a rocket man! Here he narrates his journey as a rocket man living these stages one by one (being in his fourth stage). He would like to converse with the school children for he believes they are tomorrow's India. He ends the chapter saying,”How can we make up for missed opportunities and the failures of the past?

Give Us a Role Model

India is spiritual and the west is materialistic, Kalam believes that the progress of the developed nations is due to their way of thinking that they must live a good life in a strong and prosperous nation . He emphasises the need for change in India's way of thinking which views wealth and progress as opposite to virtue and spirituality. "I do not think that abundance and spirituality are mutually exclusive or that it is wrong to desire material things."  One can lead a life of asceticism but this should be out of choice and not because one is forced to do so.  "This was the basis of my decision to contact our young. To know their dreams and tell them that it is perfectly all right to  dream of a good life..."

Kalam met students in Tripura, and their question was that where do they get a role model from.  Father, mother and school teacher are the first role models for an individual, Kalam explains his this notion with examples.  'Why dream?' was another question asked to Kalam referring to his book Wings of Fire.  'Dream transforms into thoughts.  Thought result in actions', was his reply.   

Visionary Leaders and Scientists

Kalam shares with us his thoughts about some ancient mathematicians like  Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya.  Great minds like Srinivasa Ramanujan, Prof.  S.  Chandrasekhar, C.V. Raman and others are also brought before us.  Dr. D.S.Kothari, Dr. Homi.J.Bhaabha and Dr.Vikram Sarabhai are portrayed here as great visionary scientists.  They are the founders of three great institutions--DRDO, DAE and ISRO.  There is a beautiful incident in the book narrated even more beautifully by Kalam, which describes how Dr. Bhabha met the Bishop and got the consent for acquiring the land where the church building stood as part of establishing the space research station in Thumba.     He ends this as follows ;  In the Sunday morning service the Bishop told the congregation, "My children I have a famous scientist with me who wants our church and the place I live for the work of space science and research.  Science seeks truth that enriches human life.[...] Children can we give them God's abode for a scientific mission?"  'There was silence for a while followed by a hearty "Amen" from the congregation which made the whole church reverberate.'  

Learning from Saints and Seers

The fusion of science and spirituality according to Kalam will do good for the humanity.  He had a detailed discussion with Pramukh Swami Maharaj of Swaminarayan Sanstha at Ahmedabad regarding this fusion, and the vision we should have as a nation.  He made several visits to different spirtual centres of India and sought for solutions.  Kalam Summarises this chapter; 'Our spiritual wisdom has been our strength.  We survived as a nation the onslaughts of invaders and the numbing effects of colonialism. [...] But in the process of all the adjustment, we also lowered our aims and expectations. We must regain our broad outlook and draw upon our heritage and wisdom to enrich our lives. [...] We need to home-grow our own model of development based on our inherent strengths.  

   Patriotism beyond Politics and Religion

"For great men,"  Kalam writes, "religion is a way of making friends; small people make religion a fighting tool."   The answer Kalam gives to a student at Anna University for the question that deals with Dr. Amartya Sen's stance against India's nuclear programme is logical and convncing.  Kalam asks,  "But after the long independence struggle when we got our freedom and the country got united and has physical boundaries, is it possible to remain with economic prosperity as the only goal?"     Patriotism must not be polluted by religion or politics.  

Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw said “Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.”   I was aware of this definition for a long time, and so when coming across Kalam's remarks on patriotism I paused for a while.  Kalam, I believe, thinks not of being superior to any other nations  but of being NOT inferior to.  Shaw is ideal but Kalam is practical. Shaw wrote books while Kalam made missiles.  In fact Kalam has writen books that are being sold well.  Hitler too was a patriot.  But it is obvious that Kalam is different kind of a patriot. Shaw excluded the good ones though he (Shaw) was a vegetarian. 

Kalam observes; "The greatest danger to our sense of unity and our sense of purpose comes from those ideologists who seek to divide the people. [...] It is when we accept India in all its splendid glory that, with a shared past as a base, we can look forward to a shared future of peace and prosperity, of creation and abundance. our past is there with us forever.  It has to be nurtured in good faith, not destroyed in excercises of political one-upmanship."

The Knowledge Society

In the twenty-first century capital and labour are replaced by knowledge as the primary production resource.  For Kalam a very important mission for India is to become a knowledge super power.  Ancient India was more than anything else a knowledge society, and naturally it fostered civilization.  Today India should regain the lost status of being a nation and civilization founded on knowledge.  

Getting the Forces Together

Kalam writes; " In India 2020 we have identified five areas where India has a core competence for integrated action."   These five areas are;
1.  agriculture and food processing,
2.  power,
3.  education and healthcare,
4.  information technology, and,
5.  strategic sector.

On 15 October 2000 a website was launched for Kalam.  He posted three questions; 

1)  India has been a developing country for more than half a century.  What would you as young boys and girls like to do to make it a developed India?

2)  When can I sing a song of India?

3)  Why do we love anything foreign in spite of our capabilities in many fields, whereas other countries celebrate their own successes?

From more than a hundred answers he received he discusses five answers.  The fifth answer is what the 30 per cent of the respondents said; 'the need for  greater transparency in various facets of our lives.'   This chapter is rich with the narration of incidents Kalam has had in his life. 

Building a New State

Kalam in this chapter shares an incident which shows the power of human mind.  He was to submit the design drawings for a project on designing a low-level attack aircraft.  But Kalam got delayed by more than two weeks in submitting his drawings.  Dr. Srinivasan was the Director of Madras Institute of Technology, and he realizing that Kalam was nowhere near completion of the drawing told Kalam that if he did not complete the work in three days his scholarship would be stopped.  Kalam was fully depending upon the scholarship, for the cost of education at MIT was high.  For the next three days he went out only for food and at night slept on a bench in the college.  Exactly after three days Dr.Srinivasan visited Kalam's drawing board.  He spent an hour examining what Kalam had done and said, "This is good.  You have performed a few weeks' work in a few days."   Kalam writes; Coming from, it was a great compliment. [...] I realized then that if something is at stake, the human mind gets ignited and working capacity gets enhanced manifold.

Building a new state must be carried out in a mission mode.  

To My Countrymen

I think it will be appropriate to include this chapter in the syllabuses of all Indian Universities and schools. He ends this chapter as follows:

"And to God the Almighty!  Make my people sweat.  Let their toil create many more Agnis that can annihilate evil. Let my country prosper in peace.  Let my people live in harmony.  Let me go to dust as a proud citizen of India, to rise again and rejoice in its glory."



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