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Ignite your minds! Kalam to India's youth

July 27, 2017 08:39 IST

Two years ago, on July 27, A P J Abdul Kalam was delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management-Shillong, when he collapsed and passed away soon after.
India's beloved President -- there has been no other who has influenced the nation as much -- never stepped back from inspiring people to be the very best that they could be.
In this excerpt from Pathways To Greatness -- a book he completed just a few months before he passed away -- President Kalam outlines his expectations from India's youth.

Enthusiastic children greet President A P J Abdul Kalam at a school in Bengaluru.

IMAGE: 'We need to teach our youth to transcend the divides that exist in society.' Photograph: Jagadeesh/Reuters

As a teacher, a scientist, a technologist and as the President of India, I have met millions of people from all walks of life.

In Parliament and legislative assemblies, I have met political leaders and members.

In schools, I met students and teachers.

I have met doctors and paramedical staff in hospitals.

During my travels to some of the remote parts of India, I have met tribal leaders.

Wherever I have gone, I have administered oaths to the thousands of people I met, keeping in mind the group or profession they belong to.

I believe that these oaths do influence their lives or bring about a change in them in some small way.

President A P J Abdul Kalam inspects the guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan, July 25, 2007, his last day in office.

IMAGE: 'The most important, and also difficult, part for an individual is to remove "I" and "me" from his thinking.' Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

In Wayanad, Kerala, in February 2011, I met students of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya at 2.30 am. They were fresh and full of life even at that hour and happily took this 10-point oath that I administered:

1. I will have a goal and work hard to achieve it. I realise that having a small aim is a crime.

2. I will work with integrity and succeed with integrity.

3. I will be a good member of my family, of society, of the nation and of the world.

4. I will always try to save or improve someone's life without any discrimination because of their caste, creed, language, religion or state.

5. Wherever I am and whatever I do, I will always think, 'What can I give?'

6. I will always remember the importance of time. My motto will be: 'Let not my winged days be spent in vain.'

7. I will always work for a clean planet Earth and clean energy.

8. As a youth of my nation, I will work with courage to achieve success in all my tasks and enjoy the success of others.

9. I am as young as my faith and as old as my doubt. Hence, I will light the lamp of faith in my heart.

10. My national flag flies in my heart and I will bring glory to my nation.

President A P J Abdul Kalam during the National Folk Dance Festival in 2006.

IMAGE: 'The youth can work for national development even as they work hard for an individual goal.' Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

A society must always give special attention to the dreams, concerns and aspirations of its youth because they are the ones who will shape its future.

More than 40 per cent of India's population is below the age of 20, according to the census data of 2011.

I often say that the ignited minds of the youth are the most powerful resource on the Earth, above the Earth and under the Earth.

I am convinced that youth power, if properly directed and controlled, could bring about transformational changes in humanity for its progress, meeting its challenges and bringing about peace and prosperity.

Let us consider some of the major problems that the world faces.

Two-thirds of its population lives in poverty, often without any access to safe drinking water, leave alone quality education.

How can the youth of the world contribute to correct the situation?

Can every educated person spread literacy to at least five people in his or her lifetime?

Can the youth spread the message of water conservation?

Can they come up with out-of-the-box solutions to different problems?

Around 6,000 students created a paper filigree of former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam to mark his birth anniversary in Chennai.

IMAGE: 'Youth power, if properly directed and controlled, could bring about transformational changes in humanity for its progress.' Photograph: PTI

Some years ago I started the Lead India 2020 movement.

It is indeed a youth movement, based on my 10-point oath for the youth and born out of my belief that the youth can make a difference to society in the areas of literacy, environment, social justice and minimising the rural-urban divide.

They can work for national development even as they work hard for an individual goal.

I insist that having a small aim is a crime. A youth working towards a career goal can also simultaneously serve his family, the society, the nation and humanity as a whole. All are complementary.

There are some key principles, drawn from real-life anecdotes and the teachings of different religions and spiritual thinkers, on which my oath for the youth is based.

Let me tell you the story behind them.

1. Save or Improve Someone's Life

Mahatma Gandhi's mother had once said to him: 'Son, in your entire lifetime, if you can save or improve someone's life, your birth as a human being and your life will be a success. You have the blessings of the Almighty God.'

This advice had a deep impact on Gandhiji and made him work for humanity throughout his life.

School boys with their faces painted in the colours of India's national flag, take part in Independence Day celebrations in Jammu.

IMAGE: 'A society must always give special attention to the dreams, concerns and aspirations of its youth because they are the ones who will shape its future.' Photograph: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

2. Remove 'I' and 'Me' from Your Outlook

I happened to visit a 400-year-old Buddhist monastery in Tawang during a tour of Arunachal Pradesh in 2003.

I was there for almost an entire day.

I observed that the people of the nearby villages radiated happiness in spite of the severe winter.

The monks of all age groups at the monastery seemed serene.

I asked myself what it was about Tawang and the surrounding villages which allowed the people to be at peace with themselves. I then posed the question to the chief monk at the monastery.

He did not answer immediately.

He smiled at me and said, 'You are the President of India. You must know all about us and the whole nation.'

'Please give me your thoughtful analysis,' I repeated. 'It is very important to me.'

Behind us was a beautiful golden image of Lord Buddha smiling and radiating peace.

The chief monk assembled nearly a hundred young and experienced monks. He and I sat in their midst. He then gave a short discourse, which I would like to share with all of you.

'In the present world,' he began, 'we have a problem of distrust and unhappiness transforming into violence. This monastery spreads the message that when you remove "I" and "me" from your mind, you will eliminate your ego.'

'If you get rid of your ego, your hatred of your fellow human beings will vanish.'

'If hatred goes out of your mind, the violence in your thinking and actions will disappear.'

'If the violence in your mind goes away, peace will spring in its place.'

'Then peace and peace alone will blossom in society.'

That is how I came to understand the beautiful formula for a peaceful life.

The most important, and also difficult, part of it is for an individual to remove 'I' and 'me' from his thinking.

For this, the teachings of our ancient philosophers need to be inculcated in our children at a young age.

3. Forgiveness

In Tawang I received one part of the answer to my question, 'How to evolve a peaceful and prosperous society?' But my search for the complete truth continued. Then I happened to visit Bulgaria that same year.

At the end of a two-day State visit, I went to the famous Rila monastery.

Founded in the tenth century by the followers of Bulgarian hermit saint Ivan Rilski, it is one of the most significant cultural centres of the nation and was completely rebuilt in the nineteenth century after it was destroyed in a fire.

I was interested in the historical and spiritual aspects of the place considered to be holy by Bulgarians.

I discussed the message from Tawang with the monks there. They supplied another part of the answer.

Their core message was that forgiveness is the foundation of a good life.

 Then President Kalam waves to students during his visit to the state university in Quezon City, north of Manila.

IMAGE: 'A youth working towards a career goal can also simultaneously serve his family, the society, the nation and humanity as a whole. All are complementary.' Photograph: Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters

4. Giving Leads to Peace and Happiness

In 2004, I had a similar memorable experience at the birthplace of Swami Vivekananda.

His ancestral home at 3, Gourmohan Mukherjee Street, in north Calcutta, was restored over five years and opened to the public amidst much fervour in October that year, and I was invited to inaugurate it.

Swamiji was born in that house in 1863. At that time, it was surrounded by a garden and beyond that was a large open space. But, in later years, owing to the city's growth, the approach road to the house narrowed down to a lane.

The eighteenth century building had been in a dilapidated state before the Ramakrishna Mission acquired and restored it as a memorial-cum-museum, along with a newly constructed cultural and research centre and textbook library on an adjacent plot.

I interacted with Swamiji's disciples on the occasion of the inauguration and spoke to them about my Tawang experience.

They too felt that it was a beautiful message and added that the trait of giving adds to peace and happiness.

5. Good Deeds Result in Good Actions

I once visited the famous dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan.

I participated in the Friday namaz there and interacted with a Sufi expert.

He told me that the Almighty's creation, man, is challenged by a powerful force, Shaitan, the devil, who tempts man to perform evil deeds.

Only good deeds lead to good thinking, and good thinking results in actions that radiate love as commanded by the Almighty.

When I was a boy of 10 years, I would regularly witness the meetings of three people in my house: Pakshi Lakshmana Sastrigal, the head priest of the famous Rameswaram temple and a Vedic scholar; Reverend Father Bodel, who built the first church in Rameswaram island; and my father, who was an imam in the local mosque.

All three of them would sit together and discuss the island's problems and come up with solutions.

In addition, they built religious bridges with their compassion.

This memory always comes to my mind whenever I think of what kind of a world our youth need to strive to create.

India has had a culture of integration of minds for thousands of years. What I wish to say is that we need to teach our youth to transcend the divides that exist in society.

That is the only way for them to solve many of the problems plaguing our nation and the world.

Excerpted from Pathways To Greatness: Coming Together For Change by A P J Abdul Kalam, with the kind permission of the publishers, HarperCollins India.

A P J Kalam