Ulluvathellam uyarvullal matratu
Tallinum tellamai nirttut

Abdul Kalam quotes this kural from Tamil literature in his book and goes on to give us its translation in English: ‘Think of rising higher. Let it be your only thought. Even if your object be not attained, the thought itself will have raised you.’ The book is a veritable treasure of quotes that are spread throughout… but then it isn’t just quotes that My Journey is all about.

The author gives us exclusive insights from his own life… and these aren’t wild and whirling words of philosophy without the backing of people and real incidents. Abdul Kalam writes about various factors that have influenced him in some way… and one of these factors is reading a newspaper. He tells us of the great influence his cousin Samsuddin and his newspaper distribution business had on his thought process. ‘These men,’ he writes, ‘understood my deepest thoughts and feelings before I could articulate them. To me they were adults who could reach out beyond the narrow confines of their daily lives and businesses and see the world.’ His interactions with Samsuddin and the newspaper distribution in Rameshwaram is heart-warming particularly when the author reveals that he was just eight when he began helping his cousin to make sure that the family business prospered.

The book takes us on a journey of discovery of how greatness evolves through losses, struggles, and disruptions. The book is all about resilience or the ability to bounce back with enhanced vigour because ‘there is a latent larger energy and force that can crush our ambitions and plans in the blink of an eye, and the only way to survive is to face your troubles and rebuild your life.’

Reading was always a passion with Abdul Kalam and in this ‘nostalgic, honest and deeply personal’ book, he not only talks about people and incidents but also reveals the three books that are his all-time favourite though he has ‘read innumerable books’. The books mentioned include ‘Light from many lamps’ edited by Lillian Eichler Watson which he came across in 1953 and there ‘has hardly been an occasion when the words mentioned in the book have not brought me solace in my hours of sadness, or uplifted me when I needed advice’. The next book that he says has been influential to his thinking is ‘Thirukural’ written by Thiruvalluvar more than 2000 years ago. This book is ‘a collection of 1330 rhyming couplets or aphorisms (kural)’ and has provided the author a code of conduct and is also ‘a work that truly elevates the mind’. The next book listed is ‘Man the unknown’ by the Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel and talks about ‘how humans can be healed when both the body and mind are treated together’… and books and good writing has certainly influenced him a lot.

Abdul Kalam is a person who is ‘fascinated by the flight of birds in the sky’, looks at everything with ‘wide-open eyes, thirsting to know more’, and it is his innate curiosity that finally transforms him into ‘a much more assertive and confident individual’.

The book takes us through his childhood, his years in college and at various institutes, gives us glimpses into anecdotes from his professional life… but clearly steers away from politics. There is no mention about his years as the President of India… no mention about what he thinks of politics and politicians and this is one thing that irked me… but then the book is all about his journey that helped him transform dreams into actions and obviously, politics has little that positive transformation is all about. In fact, the absence of politics in this book is indicative of the fact that everything but politics ‘has lingered in my mouth even years later, made sweeter still knowing that it contained’  his love for everything that has the power to take us ahead as an evolved person.

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Book Details:

Title: My Journey: Transforming dreams into actions
Author: A P J Abdul Kalam
Publisher: Rupa
ISBN: 978-81-291-2491-3
Price: Rs 195 (in 2014)



Arvind Passey
Review written on 13 April 2014
Published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 14 April 2014…

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