WINGS OF FIRE – An Autobiography by APJ Abdul Kalam

“We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire”

Often when we read autobiographies of great men that inspire us and instigates us with zeal, passion, and enthusiasm. But rarely do we come across a book, an autobiography of an induvial that not only elevates us but also leaves behind stark realizations which may change the course of our lives. Indeed, Wings of Fire, the autobiography of the ‘Missile Man’ of India, the late president APJ Abdul Kalam is a book that may have a significant impact in our own biographies.

There is nothing more challenging than to honestly review a book about a man from whom you hold nothing but love and respect. Why? Because the love, the belief in the person itself clouds your judgment. So, in this piece of misguided words I will try to retain a neutral perspective, but, forgive me if I fail to do so, because irrespective of the standards of the book, the man himself has transcended every confinement of criticism and the book is a mere reflection of his struggle only.

The journey begins with the early life and childhood days of Abdul Kalam. The book has portrayed a picture of the southern Indian town Rameshwaram in the state of Tamil Nadu, and amidst the story of young boy glimpses of communal harmony have been vividly drawn out.

“One day when I was in the fifth standard at the Rameswaram Elementary School, a new teacher came to our class. I used to wear a cap which marked me as a Muslim, and I always sat in the front row next to Ramanadha Sastry, who wore a sacred thread. The new teacher could not stomach a Hindu priest’s son sitting with a Muslim boy. In accordance with our social ranking as the new teacher saw it, I was asked to go and sit on the back bench. I felt very sad, and so did Ramanadha Sastry. He looked utterly downcast as I shifted to my seat in the last row. The image of him weeping when I shifted to the last row left a lasting impression on me. After school, we went home and told our respective parents about the incident.

Lakshmana Sastry summoned the teacher, and in our presence, told the teacher that he should not spread the poison of social inequality and communal intolerance in the minds of innocent children. He bluntly asked the teacher to either apologize or quit the school and the island. Not only did the teacher regret his behavior, but the strong sense of conviction Lakshmana Sastry conveyed ultimately reformed this young teacher.”

But life wasn’t an easy journey for Kalam. Coming from a middle-class Indian family with aspiring dreams of engineering, Kalam had to struggle to support his education. The book mentions that his sister had to mortgage her gold ornaments to provide for his education at the Madras Institute of Technology. Amidst the hardship, the reflection of a family bond and a vivid description of the personalities of Kalam’s family, his upbringing help the reader connect with the person and understand the personality of the man himself.

Later the engineering student under the influence of eminent mentors like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Brahm Prakash developed into a technocrat and later, spent years working as a scientist at NASA. Thereafter he was awarded the Padma Bhushan and later came back to India and his gradual growth towards being the “Missile Man” begins. Abdul Kalam was intricately involved with several Missile launches in India including – Prithvi, Agni, and Trishul. The book provides immense insight into the Indian Satellite and Missile program and helps the reader understand the technological details.

Arun Tiwary, the co-author of the book should be credited for the detailed research and collection of verses from the common people of India regarding Abdul Kalam. Tiwary’s flawless narration helps the readers’ peak into the mind of the great personality and leaves behind the hint of the down-to-earth man that Abdul Kalam was. Tiwary writes – “This is the story of Kalam who flourished from darkness into the bright sunlight, his personal and professional effort. . . This is also the narrative of independent India’s struggle for technological self-adequacy & sovereignty in defense systems – a story as much regarding politics, as it is regarding science”

Kalam has addressed several sensitive issues explaining them with simplicity. From political debates to the hurdles of caste and creed, Wings of Fire has encompassed several problems of the country offering solutions and persisting harmony. Despite being one of the renowned scientists of the decade, his faith in god has not dwindled. He seemed to have succeeded in the eternal god versus science dwell, saying – “I wonder why some people tend to see Science as something which takes man away from God. As I look at it, the path of science can always wind through the heart. For me, science has always been the path to spiritual enrichment and self-realization.”

From selling newspapers with his brother to becoming the President of India, the story is an inspiration for anybody regardless of their age, profession or choices. Time and again it reflects hardship and the motivation to struggle through it. Wings of Fire is a fiery work of art that sets your dreams ablaze and makes you desire the greatest. It is indeed one of those books that you can read over and over again, and each time it is a new experience, a new connection and each time it will succeed to leave you enthused.


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