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Ignited minds, p.1

Ignited Minds, page 1


Ignited Minds

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Ignited Minds


  Ignited Minds

  Unleashing the Power within India



  About the Author



  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

  9. To My Countrymen


  Song of Youth



  Copyright Page



  A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is one of India’s most distinguished scientists. He was responsible for the development of India’s first satellite launch vehicle, the SLV-3, and the development and operationalization of strategic missiles. As chairman of the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, he pioneered India Vision 2020, a roadmap for transforming India into an economically developed nation by 2020, focusing on PURA as a development system for countrywide implementation.

  Kalam held various positions in the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation and became principal scientific adviser to the Government of India, holding the rank of a cabinet minister.

  The President of India between 2002 and 2007, Kalam has been awarded honorary doctorates from thirty-eight universities and the country’s three highest civilian honours—Padma Bhushan (1981), Padma Vibhushan (1990) and Bharat Ratna (1997).

  Kalam has authored fifteen books on a variety of topics that have been translated into many languages across the world. His most significant works are Wings of Fire, India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium and Ignited Minds. He now conducts lectures on societal development in many international institutes and is involved in research on different societal missions.

  Praise for the book

  ‘The strength of Ignited Minds … lies in the scientist’s ability to present some of the most tangled issues that confront the nation in easily digestible packages of information.’

  –Raj Chengappa in India Today

  ‘Kalam is a dreamer of great dreams … Ignited Minds will fire the minds of the young to whom it is primarily addressed.’

  –Khushwant Singh in Outlook

  ‘It is not possible in [a] short review to convey the vast erudition of a man who covers so much of India’s past, present and future in such simple, communicable terms. Or his many revolutionary as well as practical ideas for the country which he so obviously loves, of which he is so proud and which he feels can be the country of his dreams by 2020.’

  –Amita Malik in Hindu

  ‘ Ignited Minds is a book to be read by the leaders and led, by young as well as old and by all who love their country … Kalam[dares] to say what has long needed to be said but which has gone unsaid …’

  –M.V. Kamath in Sentinel

  ‘ Ignited Minds is a lucid and elegant expression of [Kalam’s] dreams about India’s future … This is a feel-good book. It is a true patriot’s self-help guide to a better nation.’

  –Wilson John in Pioneer

  I dedicate this book to a child who is studying in class 12. Her name is Snehal Thakkar. On 11 April 2002 when I reached Anand by road in the evening, it was under curfew following communal disturbances. The next day, at the Anandalaya High School, while talking to the students, a question came up: ‘Who is our enemy?’

  There were many answers, but the one we all agreed was correct came from her: ‘Our enemy is Poverty.’

  It is the root cause of our problems and should be the object of our fight, not our own.


  Nations consist of people. And with their effort a nation can accomplish all it could ever want. Motivating India’s people, and its youth especially, is the central theme of Ignited Minds, which continues the trajectory of thoughts taken up in my earlier two books, Wings of Fire and India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium, written with my friends Arun Tiwari and Y.S. Rajan. I have chosen to write about this subject of igniting young minds so that India turns into a developed nation by the year 2020 because all through my career in the field of technology and its management, I relied on the power and potential of youth. My strength has been my young teams who never let me down. And what satisfaction there was in working with them on some of the most complex projects in some of the most challenging situations! Given the freedom to achieve and guided properly, I am convinced the young of India can accomplish far more.

  As I began writing, I wondered if I was not overreaching myself. I thought: Who am I to write about this capacity of India to realize its destiny as a developed nation? What do I really know about how this can be accomplished beyond what I have learned in my projects and missions evolved around science and technology? Isn’t this an area that political leaders, economists, thinkers and other competent people would address better? How am I qualified to tell others about an ability that has been generally ignored?

  At first as I was putting down my experiences with youth, I had no idea of what I would have to say. However, I put aside my doubts and began to examine what I hear from the people I meet during my visits to different places, particularly children, saints and seers, teachers, scientists, industry leaders and even political leaders. I am sure on my part that India has the ability to transform itself into a developed nation. Through my projects in space, defence and nuclear sectors, I know that our people have the ability to achieve the best in the world. They have a fantastic mix of belief and knowledge that sets them apart from any other nation on earth. I also know that their potential has gone untapped because we have become used to being subjugated and docile. What better project can I undertake than to tell my people that what they dream of can become possible, that they can have anything that comprises a good life: health, education, the freedom to pursue their goals, and above all, peace.

  My quest for answers as to how this could be done took me to schools, the countryside, ashrams and many other places which were not part of my itinerary earlier. It was a new kind of experience, a very stimulating one at that. The paddy fields in Bihar left to an ad-hoc cycle of agriculture, the untapped mineral wealth of the newly formed state of Jharkhand and the unattended biodiversity of Tripura are throwing a great challenge to the knowledge era that is dawning. In Assam the sight of the mighty Brahmaputra almost mesmerized me. Its vast expanse of water filled me with a strange sense of helplessness too–the river’s untapped flow was taking a gigantic mass of water into the sea. It made me think, that as a nation too we were failing to utilize our tremendous energies.

  Where are we making a mistake? What is it that needs to be corrected? We have a roadmap in our five-year plans that covers some of the things we need to achieve. We have most of the necessary resources. There seems to be an attitude problem, as if we cannot shake ourselves out of a mindset of limited achievement. 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.

  I am writing this book to make my young readers hear a voice that says, ‘Start moving.’ Leadership must lead us to prosperity. Young Indians with constructive ideas should not have to see them wither in the long wait for approval. They have to rise above norms which are meant to keep them timid in the name of safety and to discourage entrepreneurship in the name of trade regimes, organizational order and group behaviour. As it
is said, Thinking is the capital, Enterprise is the way, Hard Work is the solution.

  Every nation has struggled to achieve its goals. Generations have given their best to make life better for their offspring. There is nothing mysterious or hidden about this, no alternative to effort. And yet we fail to follow the winning track. More than the problems outside–globalization, recession, inflation, insurgency, instability and so on–I am concerned about the inertia that has gripped the national psyche, the mindset of defeat. I believe that when we believe in our goals, that what we dream of can become reality, results will begin to follow. Ignited Minds is about developing that conviction in ourselves, and discarding the things that hold us back.

  This was, in fact, a central thought that I kept in mind as I wrote. Share my dream of a developed India and see it made real in your own and others’ lives. In my own way, I have tried to follow my beliefs, to do what I loved doing. I have tried, however, to guide but not to impose my views on others.

  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. There are no other alternatives.

  In the nine chapters of this book, I take up various themes. I begin with a rumination on peace, without which there can be no progress, and on the shift in the direction of my own life that occurred after surviving a helicopter crash. There is a chapter based on my interaction with children all over India. Other chapters contain the insights I gained in my meetings with saints and seers, scientists, outstanding thinkers and others. There are accounts of some promising experiments in agriculture and in the medical field. Elsewhere I deal with concepts that carry the seed of solutions. The contents essentially come from the people of this nation, from what they have taught me.

  I have written this book as an expression of my faith in the potential of India and my countrymen. We have all the resources we need, whether it be people, talent, natural bounty or other assets. India is truly blessed with a real, though latent, abundance. Scarcity of resources is not the cause of our problems. Our problems originate in our approach towards them. We are spreading our resources too wide and too thin. With our resources and the money we spend we could easily accomplish three times what we do, in half the time we normally take, if we were to operate in mission mode with a vision for the nation. The vision generates the best in every field.

  We must change tracks. It is imperative that our policy making become more responsive and efficient so that the stifled entrepreneurship is liberated. Key to that is better coordination among the various departments, rather than emphasis on priorities according to the preferences of individual departments. There are more reviews than views available. Every channel appears blocked by some obstacle or the other. The trapped energies and the suppressed initiative need to be freed and properly harnessed. Nor do we particularly need every time to borrow models from elsewhere. I don’t think the American, Japanese or Singaporean solutions will work for us. Knocking at others’ doors will be futile. Instead of importing theories and transplanting concepts we need to grow our own solutions. Instead of searching for answers outside we will have to look within for them.

  I hope that when you go through these nine chapters you will be given the guidance that I got from the people of my country and feel connected to the wisdom that is so special to this soil. The reality of a developed nation will become part of your daily life. Twenty years from now I may not be around. But I am sure many of you will be there to share in the glory of success and agree that I was right in being so confident.

  Many friends and associates helped me put this book together. I am grateful to them all. My special thanks to Mr Y.S. Rajan, and Dr M.S. Vijayaraghavan for shaping my thoughts with their vital inputs. Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai has worked with me for a long time and his contribution has been both timely and invaluable in giving shape to ideas and thoughts. I am fortunate to have his friendship. I am grateful to Mr H. Sheridon who directly keyed in my dictations into his laptop computer with outstanding skill. My co-author in Wings of Fire, Mr Arun K. Tiwari, did his usual craftsmanship with words on the manuscript and I appreciate every bit of that. It was a great pleasure to work with Mr Krishan Chopra of Penguin Books. From the emanation of my thoughts to the book’s realization, his constant interaction was of great support.


  April 2002

  A.P.J. Abdul Kalam


  The Dream and the Message

  Dream, Dream, Dream

  Dream transform into thoughts

  And thoughts result in action

  On 30 September 2001, I was on my way to Bokaro from Ranchi in Jharkhand when the helicopter carrying me crashed moments before landing. It hit the earth with a thud after its engine failed. All of us on board had a miraculous escape. Grateful to God but unfazed by the incident, I went ahead with my scheduled programme of addressing the students in Bokaro. At night, however, a panel of doctors persuaded me to take a tranquillizer to alleviate my perceived shock. The drug made me sleep hours ahead of my usual time–1 a.m. I also failed to rise at my usual 6 a.m. and woke up only after eight o’clock.

  It was, however, a disturbed sleep, and sometime in the middle of it, I fell to thinking why the human race, the best of all of God’s creations, has been so deeply divided by violence. I imagined a conversation between five people who together symbolize the finest attributes of the human mind and whom I admire deeply. Through their conversation, I sought an answer. In this experience, much more intense and vivid than a dream, though for want of a better word I shall term it that, I saw myself in a desert with miles of sand all around. There was a full moon and the desert was bathed in its light. Five men– Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Emperor Asoka, Abraham Lincoln and Caliph Omar– stood in a circle, their clothes ruffled by the wind.

  I felt myself dwarfed standing next to the majestic Emperor Asoka. Asoka led two lives, one as a ruthless conqueror and the other as a compassionate ruler. The man I stood beside was the one who had just returned from conquest. But victory had been obtained at heavy cost: the battle of Kalinga claimed the lives of at least 300,000 people and an equal number were wounded. I saw everyone looking at Asoka who fell on his knees and removed his armour and crown. His face was pale, reflecting the death surrounding him. He looked at the sky. He saw the bright cool moon shining and God’s grace pouring down on mother earth. And he looked down at the horror he had created, making blood flow everywhere. In that moment of beauty and horror–the silver moonlight and the suffering and pain on the ground, when Nature itself seemed to speak out against what he had wrought, Ahimsa Dharma was born. Emperor Asoka embraced God’s command to propagate love for human beings through this doctrine.

  As I stood by, I wondered. Why the Kalinga war, why the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and of Abraham Lincoln? Or many others like them? Has God Almighty faltered in His Creation? Is the destruction of mankind essential for a Second Creation?

  In that blissful silence the Mahatma spoke, ‘Friends, the divine message we are hearing is the message of creation. Since we all belong to planet earth, we may give a message to mankind, how people of different races, religions and languages can live peacefully and prosperously together.

  ‘God Almighty has blessed us all with something unique that we passed on to mankind through our deeds and efforts. Is that working? Is there any divine message or doctrine? Divine beauty should enter the human soul and happiness blossom in the body and mind. Is it possible?’

  Asoka said, ‘Friends, there is one thing I have realized, there is no victory in causing suffering. Triumph is a peaceful kingdom.’

  Caliph Omar said, ‘I learned after I entered Jerusalem that all men are equal. There is no point in forcing others to follow your path. You will get only that which is ordained for you. God alone is the sovereign.’

  Caliph Omar never saw his position in terms of the special privileges that it
carried. To him government was a sacred trust and he did his best not to betray that trust in any way.

  It was Einstein’s turn. ‘I would like to recall my friend Werner Heisenberg’s view, “You know, in the West we have built a large, beautiful ship. It has all the comforts in it, but one thing is missing: it has no compass and does not know where to go. Men like Tagore and Gandhi and their spiritual forebears found the compass. Why can this compass not be put in the human ship so that both can realize their purpose?”’

  Abraham Lincoln, the great American leader who fought against slavery and whose life paralleled that of the Mahatma in certain respects, said at this point, ‘There is one thing that I would like to say: happiness comes from a family’s prosperity at various levels. God’s grace gives bliss to human lives. Happiness and bliss are two important components of a godly life on earth. Perhaps there is so much conflict between peoples and nations because in our pursuit of prosperity and power we have lost sight of ethical values. We must ask ourselves, what is the role of human consciousness? Does it have a part in political thinking, scientific thinking and theological thinking? Is spirituality acceptable in the business of life?’

  Mahatma Gandhi recalled sage Ashtavakra who propounded, ‘“Oh my son! You are the very Consciousness within which arises this phenomenal universe that is not separate from what you are. How can there be a question of anything being acceptable or unacceptable?” Let the business of life be peace and prosperity, and not exploitation and conflict.

  ‘This is our message to the planet. Everything that we do, any doctrine that we espouse, should be for the good of humankind.’

  The next morning I kept sitting for some time drinking my tea and pondering about this strange dream. What if the helicopter had lost power at some more height? Just a few hours before my own mishap, a plane carrying a promising leader and a team of young and talented journalists had crashed, killing all. I had been lucky to survive and now there was the night’s experience that seemed to hold a message for me. What should I do?

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