Class 9- My Childhood Complete Explanation

My Childhood,Sivasubramania Iyer,apj abdul kalam

Chapter 6, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s “My Childhood” Summary, Theme, Character Sketch, Important Passages, Question Answers and Extra Questions.

Next on Beehive: Poem 6- ‘No Men Are Foreign‘ by James Kirkup


Erstwhile Madras State: (Later renamed Tamil Nadu) refers to the former name of the region where Rameswaram is.
Ideal helpmate: Someone who is a perfect companion or partner, especially in providing support, assistance, and cooperation.
Great innate wisdom: “Innate” means existing naturally or inherent from birth. So, “great innate wisdom” refers to a significant level of natural intelligence, insight, or understanding.
True generosity of spirit: A genuine and sincere willingness to give, share, or help others, stemming from a kind and compassionate nature.
Ancestral house: A house passed down through generations within a family, often holding sentimental value and historical significance.
Inessential comforts: Luxuries or unnecessary conveniences for survival or basic well-being.
Necessities provided for: Essential items or requirements that are supplied or made available, such as food, shelter, clothing, or healthcare.
State of emergency: A situation of danger or crisis that requires immediate action or intervention by authorities to protect the public and maintain order.
A state of emergency declared: When authorities officially announce or declare that a state of emergency exists due to a crisis or disaster.
Poison of social inequality: The harmful and divisive effects of unequal treatment or opportunities based on factors such as race, religion, or social class.
Sense of conviction: A strong belief or firm confidence in something, often accompanied by a determination to act on it.
Reforming the teacher: The process of causing a teacher to change their behaviour or beliefs, typically for the better, through persuasion, education, or example.
Social segregation: Enforced separation of different social groups, often based on race, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status.
Ritually pure kitchen: A kitchen that adheres to specific religious or cultural rituals or standards of cleanliness and purity.
Observing my hesitation: Noticing or paying attention to my reluctance or uncertainty in a particular situation.
Change the system: To alter or reform a system, social structure, or framework, typically to improve it.
Imminent optimism: A feeling of hopefulness or positivity about the future that is perceived as being very close or about to happen.
Seagull not fly across the sun: Metaphorically implies breaking free from constraints or limitations, like a seagull flying across the vast expanse of the sky.
Khalil Gibran: A Lebanese-American writer, poet, and philosopher known for his profound and inspirational writings on life, love, and spirituality. 

Summary “My Childhood”:

In the excerpt “My Childhood” from “Wings of Fire,” APJ Abdul Kalam recounts his childhood in a middle-class Tamil family in Rameswaram. His wise and generous father and kind-hearted mother provided a secure upbringing. During World War II, Kalam earned his first wages and felt proud. He formed close friendships with boys from different religions and experienced discrimination in school, which his friend’s father resolved. His science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, encouraged him to overcome social barriers. As India’s independence approached, Kalam’s father supported his educational aspirations with wisdom and a quote from Khalil Gibran. Kalam left Rameswaram for further studies, shaped by his family’s and teachers’ influences and the socio-political environment, valuing hard work, communal harmony, and knowledge.

Theme “My Childhood”:

1. Harmony and Prejudice:

In “My Childhood” from “Wings of Fire,” APJ Abdul Kalam’s childhood is a testament to the coexistence of harmony and prejudice. Growing up in Rameswaram, he fostered close friendships with boys from different religions, reflecting the communal harmony in their society. Despite their religious differences, Kalam and his friends treated each other equally. However, he also faced prejudice when a new teacher discriminated against him for his Muslim identity. Instead of breaking his spirit, this incident fueled his determination to overcome such barriers. His friend’s father, a beacon of wisdom and moral principles, addressed the discrimination. This episode highlights the challenges of prejudice and the inspiring possibility of overcoming it through resilience and strong moral principles.

2. Tradition and Change: 

The themes of tradition and change are evident in Kalam’s upbringing and his interactions with his teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer. Kalam’s family adhered to traditional values, providing a stable and nurturing environment. His parents supported his educational ambitions, understanding that change was necessary for progress. Sivasubramania Iyer, although an orthodox Brahmin, exemplified the need for change by breaking social barriers. He invited Kalam to dine at his home, challenging societal norms. These experiences taught Kalam the importance of balancing respect for tradition with the need for change.

Character Sketch:

Character Sketch of APJ Abdul Kalam:

1. Humble Background:

  • Born into a middle-class Tamil family in Rameswaram.
  • His father lacked formal education and wealth but possessed wisdom and generosity.
  • Grew up in a secure, disciplined, and loving environment.

2. Curious and Hardworking:

  • Showed curiosity and eagerness to learn from a young age.
  • Collected and sold tamarind seeds during World War II, earning his first wages.
  • Assisted his cousin in distributing newspapers, demonstrating a strong work ethic.

3. Strong Sense of Pride and Independence:

  • Felt a surge of pride in earning his own money for the first time.
  • Valued the dignity of labour and self-reliance.

4. Inclusive and Communal Harmony:

  • Maintained close friendships with children from different religious backgrounds.
  • Never felt any religious or social differences among his friends.

5. Resilient Against Prejudice:

  • Faced discrimination in school due to his religious identity.
  • Overcame this with the support of his friend’s father, who challenged the teacher’s prejudice.

6. Inspired by Role Models:

  • Influenced by his father’s wisdom and mother’s kindness.
  • His science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, encouraged him to overcome social barriers and pursue education.

7. Embraced Tradition and Change:

  • Balanced respect for traditional values with a progressive mindset.
  • Learned the importance of breaking social barriers for personal and societal growth.

8. Optimistic and Forward-Looking:

  • Inspired by the optimism surrounding India’s impending independence.
  • Motivated to pursue higher education and make significant contributions to society.

9. Philosophical and Thoughtful:

  • Reflective about his experiences and the lessons learned from them.
  • Influenced by philosophical quotes, such as those from Khalil Gibran, to understand life and personal growth.

10. Supportive Family Influence:

  • Supported by his family in his educational aspirations.
  • His father’s wisdom and encouragement played a crucial role in shaping his character.  

11. Visionary and Innovative:

  • Demonstrated a forward-thinking mindset, envisioning a brighter future for himself and his community.
  • Showed innovative thinking through his endeavours, such as collecting tamarind seeds and distributing newspapers during World War II.

12. Resilient in Adversity:

  • Exhibited resilience in the face of challenges, such as overcoming discrimination in school and navigating societal barriers.
  • Used setbacks as opportunities for personal growth and learning.

13. Passionate about Education:

  • Valued education as a means of empowerment and self-improvement.
  • Driven by a passion for learning and knowledge, which fueled his desire to pursue higher education.

14. Compassionate and Empathetic:

  • Displayed compassion and empathy towards others, as seen in his mother’s kind-heartedness and his teacher’s efforts to break social barriers.
  • Cared deeply about societal issues and sought to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

15. Strong Moral Compass:

  • Guided by strong moral principles instilled by his parents and mentors.
  • Upheld values of honesty, integrity, and fairness in all aspects of life.

16. Courageous and Determined:

  • Demonstrated courage in standing up against prejudice and injustice.
  • Showed determination in pursuing his dreams despite obstacles and societal norms.

17. Leadership Qualities:

  • Exhibited leadership qualities through his ability to inspire and influence others.
  • Served as a role model for his peers and community members, inspiring them to strive for excellence.

18. Gratitude and Humility:

  • He expressed gratitude for the support and guidance from his family, teachers, and community.
  • Maintained a humble demeanour despite his accomplishments and recognition later in life.

19. Life-Long Learner:

  • Embraced a life-long learning mindset, continuously seeking new knowledge and experiences.
  • Open to new ideas and perspectives, fostering personal growth and development.

20. Legacy of Inspiration:

  • Left a lasting legacy of inspiration and empowerment, inspiring generations to come with his journey from humble beginnings to becoming a renowned scientist and statesman.

Character Sketch of Sivasubramania Iyer:

1. Orthodox Background:

  • Belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family with traditional values and customs.
  • Upheld religious and cultural traditions, including strict social norms.

2. Rebel Against Social Barriers:

  • Displayed a rebellious streak against societal norms and prejudices.
  • Challenged rigid social barriers by befriending and mentoring students from diverse backgrounds.

3. Progressive Outlook:

  • Possessed a progressive mindset, advocating for inclusivity and equality.
  • Valued education as a tool for personal growth and societal advancement.

4. Courageous Advocate for Change:

  • Demonstrated courage in defying social conventions to promote harmony and understanding.
  • Took bold actions to break down caste, religion, and class barriers.

5. Compassionate and Empathetic:

  • Showed compassion and empathy towards marginalised individuals, including his students.
  • Recognized the importance of empathy in fostering mutual respect and cooperation.

7. Teacher and Mentor:

  • Served as a dedicated teacher and mentor, guiding students beyond academic learning.
  • Inspired students to challenge prejudice and discrimination through his actions.

8. Open-Mindedness:

  • Maintained an open-minded approach to cultural and religious diversity.
  • Encouraged dialogue and understanding among individuals from different backgrounds.

9. Stand Against Discrimination:

  • Took a principled stand against discrimination and injustice, supporting marginalised individuals.
  • Advocated for fairness and equality in educational and social settings.

10. Role Model for Inclusivity:

  • Served as a role model for inclusivity and acceptance in the community.
  • Inspired others to embrace diversity and reject prejudice.

11. Legacy of Social Change:

  • Left a lasting legacy of social change and progress in challenging discriminatory practices.
  • Remembered for his courage, compassion, and commitment to fostering a more inclusive society.

Important Passages/Lines “My Childhood”: 

1. “My father, Jainulabdeen, had neither much formal …………..great innate wisdom and a true generosity of spirit.” The passage describes Abdul Kalam’s father, Jainulabdeen, who didn’t have much formal education or money. However, despite these challenges, he possessed great wisdom and generosity towards others. This means that despite facing difficulties, he had a lot of knowledge and was kind to people.

2. “In fact, I would say mine was a very secure childhood, both materially and emotionally.” The excerpt highlights that Abdul Kalam felt very safe and protected during his childhood, regarding material things like food and clothes and his emotions. This means that he felt comfortable and happy during his early years.

3. “Half a century later, I can still feel the surge of pride in earning my own money for the first time.” Abdul Kalam talks about feeling proud of earning his own money for the first time, even many years later. This indicates that the experience of earning money himself left a strong and positive impression on him, and he still remembers that feeling of pride.

4. “I inherited honesty and selfdiscipline from my father; from my mother, I inherited faith in goodness and deep kindness.” Abdul Kalam explains that he learned essential qualities from his parents. His father taught him honesty and self-discipline, meaning he knew to be truthful and responsible. From his mother, he learned about faith in goodness and kindness towards others, meaning he learned to believe in being reasonable and treating people well.

5. “Events from the Ramayana and from the life of the Prophet were the bedtime stories my mother and grandmother would tell the children in our family.” Abdul Kalam’s mother and grandmother used to tell stories from the Ramayana (an ancient Indian epic) and the life of the Prophet (likely referring to stories from Islamic tradition) to the children in their family before bedtime. This means they would share these stories to entertain and educate the children before they went to sleep.

6. “The image of him weeping when I shifted to the last row left a lasting impression on me.” Abdul Kalam describes a moment when he was asked to move to the back row of his classroom because of his religious identity. He remembers how his friend, Ramanadha Sastry, felt sad and cried when Abdul Kalam had to move. This memory stayed with Abdul Kalam for a long time, showing that the emotional impact of this event was significant.

7. “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.” Abdul Kalam recalls a teacher mistreating him because of his religion. However, Ramanadha Sastry’s father, Lakshmana Sastry, stood up for him. He told the teacher that it was wrong to teach children about social inequality and intolerance based on religion. This means that Lakshmana Sastry intervened to protect Abdul Kalam and to teach the teacher an important lesson about equality.

8. “He did his best to break social barriers so that people from varying backgrounds could mingle easily.” Here, Abdul Kalam talks about his science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, who tried encouraging mingling between people of different backgrounds. Despite societal barriers, Sivasubramania Iyer made efforts to break down these barriers so that people from various social groups could interact easily. This means that he worked to create a more inclusive and tolerant environment where everyone felt welcome to interact with each other.

9. “Observing my hesitation, he told me not to get upset, saying, ‘Once you decide to change the system, such problems have to be confronted.'” 

Abdul Kalam recounts a moment when his science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, noticed his hesitation or uncertainty about confronting societal problems related to discrimination. Sivasubramania Iyer encouraged Abdul Kalam not to become upset or discouraged by such challenges. He emphasised that if Abdul Kalam decided to work towards changing the unjust aspects of society, he would inevitably face difficulties. This means that Sivasubramania Iyer advised Abdul Kalam to stay strong and be determined to bring about positive change despite obstacles.

10. “I asked my father for permission to leave Rameswaram and study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram.” Here, Abdul Kalam talks about seeking permission from his father to leave his hometown, Rameswaram, to pursue further studies in Ramanathapuram. This indicates that Abdul Kalam wanted to leave his familiar surroundings to pursue higher education in a different place, which shows his ambition and desire for learning and growth.

11. “He quoted Khalil Gibran to my hesitant mother, ‘Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.'” 

Abdul Kalam mentions a moment when his father quoted Khalil Gibran to his mother, who was hesitant about letting Abdul Kalam leave home to pursue his studies. The quote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself,” emphasises that children do not belong to their parents alone; they are also shaped by the larger forces of life and destiny. This means that parents should support their children in following their paths and fulfilling their potential, even if it means letting them go and pursue their dreams independently.

12. “Every child is born, with some inherited characteristics, into a specific socio-economic and emotional environment, and trained in certain ways by figures of authority.” These lines mean that when a child is born, they naturally possess certain traits passed down from their parents or ancestors. They are born into a particular social, economic, and emotional context, influenced by their family and community circumstances. Moreover, as they grow, children are guided and taught by people in authority, such as parents, teachers, or other caregivers, who help shape their behaviour, beliefs, and skills through instruction and example. These lines highlight how children inherit qualities from their family, grow up in a specific environment, and learn from important adults.

Questions Answers “My Childhood”: 

Thinking About The Text:

I. Answer these questions in one or two sentences each. 

Q1: Where was Abdul Kalam’s house? 

A1: Abdul Kalam’s house was located on Mosque Street in the island town of Rameswaram.

Q2: What do you think Dinamani is the name of? Give a reason for your answer. 

A2: Dinamani is likely the name of a newspaper. This assumption is based on the context of collecting newspapers and tracing headlines during the Second World War.

Q3: Who were Abdul Kalam’s school friends? What did they later become? 

A3: Abdul Kalam’s school friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan, and Sivaprakasan. Ramanadha Sastry became a priest, Aravindan worked in pilgrim transportation, and Sivaprakasan became a catering contractor for the Southern Railways.

Q4:  How did Abdul Kalam earn his first wages? 

A4: Abdul Kalam earned his first wages by helping his cousin catch newspaper bundles thrown from a moving train.

Q5: Had he earned any money before that? In what way? 

A5: Before earning his first wages, Abdul Kalam collected tamarind seeds and sold them to a provision shop, earning a small amount of money.

II. Answer each of these questions in a short paragraph (about 30 words) 

1. How does the author describe: 

(i) His father: The author describes him as possessing innate wisdom and true generosity of spirit despite lacking formal education and wealth. 

(ii) His mother: His mother is depicted as embodying faith in goodness and deep kindness. 

(iii) Himself: He portrays himself as having a materially and emotionally secure childhood.

Q2: What characteristics does he say he inherited from his parents? 

A2: The author mentions inheriting honesty, self-discipline, and faith in goodness and kindness from his father and mother.

III. Discuss and write down your answers in two or three paragraphs each. 

1. “On the whole, the small society of Rameswaram was very rigid in terms of the segregation of different social groups,” says the author. 

(i) Which social groups does he mention? Were these groups easily identifiable? 

The social groups mentioned by the author primarily revolve around religious identities, particularly Hindus and Muslims. These distinctions are evident in paragraph 6 when the author describes his childhood friends, highlighting that they all came from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. The incident where the author was asked to move to the back row of the classroom due to his religious identity further highlights the religious divide within Rameswaram’s society.

These social groups were likely easily identifiable, not only by religious practices but also by cultural customs and attire. For instance, the author’s friend Ramanadha Sastry, the son of the high priest of the Rameswaram temple, would likely have been recognised as a Hindu Brahmin due to his family’s position and associated religious practices and the fact that he wore the sacred thread. Similarly, the author’s Muslim identity was discernible through attire like a skull cap. 

(ii) Were they aware only of their differences or did they also naturally share friendships and experiences? 

Despite the societal divisions, there were instances of shared experiences and friendships among the children in Rameswaram. The author’s recollection of bedtime stories from Hindu epics, like the Ramayana and Islamic stories, suggests a cultural blending within his household. Also, his close friends, who came from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families, were mentioned without indicating religious barriers hindering their friendship at school or outside. 

Furthermore, events like the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony involving Hindu and Muslim elements were held near the author’s house, indicating a shared cultural heritage and communal experiences transcending religious divides. Therefore, while there were visible social distinctions, there were also shared experiences and friendships among the different groups in Rameswaram.

(iii) The author speaks both of people who were very aware of the differences among them and those who tried to bridge these differences. Can you identify such people in the text? 

The author depicts individuals keenly aware of social differences and those endeavouring to diminish these disparities. For instance, a new teacher (in paragraph 6) enforced segregation in the classroom based on religious identities, exemplifying a person deeply conscious of religious differences and upholding rigid social norms.

Conversely (as portrayed in paragraph 7), characters like Lakshmana Sastry intervened when the author and his friend faced discrimination, advocating for equality and tolerance. His actions challenged prevailing social norms, fostering inclusivity within the community. The author’s science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer (in paragraph 8), actively encouraged interaction between people from different backgrounds, aiming to break down social barriers and promote integration. These individuals exemplify efforts to bridge differences within Rameswaram’s society.

(iv) Narrate two incidents that show how differences can be created, and also how they can be resolved. How can people change their attitudes? 

Two incidents from the text illustrate the creation and resolution of differences. (In paragraph 6) a new teacher enforces segregation in the classroom based on religious identities, showcasing how discrimination can create divisions. However, (in paragraph 7), Lakshmana Sastry confronts the teacher, advocating for equality and fostering inclusivity within the community.

Another example is (in paragraph 9) where the author’s science teacher faces resistance from his wife when inviting the author, a Muslim boy, to dine in their home. This incident demonstrates how societal norms can create barriers between people from different backgrounds. Yet, through his actions, Sivasubramania Iyer challenges stereotypes, fosters understanding, and promotes acceptance.

Individuals must engage in self-reflection, empathy, and education to change attitudes. By questioning biases and fostering empathy through exposure to diverse experiences, people can recognise and appreciate the humanity in others. Education is crucial in challenging stereotypes and promoting inclusivity, providing opportunities for dialogue and critical thinking. Individuals can gradually change their attitudes and contribute to a more harmonious society through these efforts.

2. (i) Why did Abdul Kalam want to leave Rameswaram? 

A(i) Abdul Kalam wanted to leave Rameswaram to study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram, presumably seeking better educational opportunities and broader horizons.

(ii) What did his father say to this? 

A(ii) When Abdul Kalam asked his father for permission to leave Rameswaram, his father responded by referencing a line from Khalil Gibran’s poetry: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”

(iii) What do you think his words mean? Why do you think he spoke those words?

A(iii) His father’s words likely convey the idea that children are not owned or controlled

Thinking About Language: 

I. Find the sentences in the text where these words occur: 

  1. The word “erupt” is used in the phrase “a sudden demand for tamarind seeds erupted in the market.” According to the dictionary, “erupt” can mean to burst out suddenly or violently, as in a volcano erupting, or it can refer to something suddenly becoming active or violent, such as a conflict or a protest erupting. In the chapter, the sudden increase in demand for tamarind seeds could be likened to a sudden and unexpected surge in demand.
  1. The word “surge” is used in the phrase “, I can still feel the surge of pride in earning my own money for the first time.” According to the dictionary, “surge” can mean a sudden, powerful forward or upward movement, like a surge of water or electricity, or it can refer to a sudden and significant increase, such as a surge in prices or a surge of emotion. So, in the excerpt, the author feels a sudden and decisive increase in pride upon earning his own money for the first time.
  1. The word “trace” in  “My brother-in-law Jallaluddin would tell me stories about the War which I would later attempt to trace in the headlines in Dinamani.” can mean to find or discover by investigation or search, as in tracing the origins of a problem, or it can mean to copy or imitate a drawing or pattern by following its lines. In the chapter context, the closest meaning of “trace” is to find or discover, as the author attempts to trace the stories he hears about the war in the newspaper headlines.
  1. The word “undistinguished” is found in the dictionary. It means not distinguished or noteworthy, lacking distinction or fame. This word is the opposite of “distinguished,” which means well-known, respected, or marked by excellence. In the chapter, the author describes himself as a “short boy with rather undistinguished looks,” indicating that he was not particularly remarkable or outstanding in appearance.
  1. “The first casualty came in the form of the suspension of the train halt at Rameswaram station.” Casualty” refers to an unintended loss or setback resulting from an event or decision. Here, the suspension of the train halt at Rameswaram station is described as the “first casualty,” suggesting that it was the initial adverse consequence of the situation described. It highlights the disruption caused by the wartime circumstances, highlighting the impact on daily life in Rameswaram.

II. 1. Match the phrases in Column A with their meanings in Column B.

                    A                    B
(i) broke out (c) began suddenly in a violent way
(ii) in accordance with (f) according to a particular rule, principle, or system
(iii) a helping hand (d) assistance
(iv) could not stomach(b) was not able to tolerate
v) generosity of spirit (a) an attitude of kindness, a readiness to give freely
(vi) figures of authority(e) persons with power to make decisions

2. Study the words in italics in the sentences below. They are formed by prefixing un – or in – to their antonyms (words opposite in meaning).

in-adequateun-acceptable ir-regular in-tolerant 
un-demanding in-active un-true im-permanent 
un-patriotic in-disputed in-accessible in-coherent
il-logical il-legal ir-responsible im-possible

III. Passive Voice

  1. In yesterday’s competition, the prizes were given away by the Principal.
  1. In spite of financial difficulties, the labourers were paid on time.
  1. On Republic Day, vehicles were not allowed beyond this point.
  1. Second-hand books are bought and sold on the pavement every Saturday.
  1. Elections to the Lok Sabha are held every five years.
  1. Our National Anthem was composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

V. Rewrite the paragraphs below, using the correct form of the verb given in brackets. 


How Helmets Came To Be Used in Cricket
Nari Contractor was the Captain and an opening batsman for India in the 1960s. The Indian cricket team went on a tour to the West Indies in 1962. In a match against Barbados in Bridgetown, Nari Contractor was seriously injured and collapsed. In those days helmets were not worn. Contractor was hit on the head by a bouncer from Charlie Griffith. Contractor’s skull was fractured. The entire team was deeply concerned. The West Indies players were worried. Contractor was rushed to the hospital. He was accompanied by Frank Worrell, the Captain of the West Indies Team. Blood was donated by the West Indies players. Thanks to the timely help, Contractor was saved. Nowadays helmets are routinely used against bowlers.


Oil from Seeds
Vegetable oils are made from seeds and fruits of many plants growing all over the world, from tiny sesame seeds to big, juicy coconuts. Oil is produced from cotton seeds, groundnuts, soya beans, and sunflower seeds. Olive oil is used for cooking, salad dressing, etc. Olives are shaken from the trees and gathered up, usually by hand. The olives are ground to a thick paste which is spread onto special mats. Then, the mats are layered up on the pressing machine, which will gently squeeze them to produce olive oil.


To Sir, with Love 

Passage 2:
“Nonetheless, he remembers his first lesson in life and how it changed his destiny. ‘I was studying in Standard V and must have been all of 10. My teacher, Sri Sivasubramania Iyer was telling us how birds fly. He drew a diagram of a bird on the blackboard, depicting the wings, tail and the body with the head and then explained how birds soar to the sky. At the end of the class, I said I didn’t understand. Then he asked the other students if they had understood, but nobody had understood how birds fly,’ he recalls.”

Passage 3:
“‘That evening, the entire class was taken to Rameswaram shore,’ the President continues. ‘My teacher showed us sea birds. We saw marvellous formations of them flying and how their wings flapped. Then my teacher asked us, ‘Where is the bird’s engine and how is it powered?’ I knew then that birds are powered by their own life and motivation. I understood all about birds’ dynamics. This was real teaching — a theoretical lesson coupled with a live practical example. Sri Siva Subramania Iyer was a great teacher.’ That day, my future was decided. My destiny was changed. I knew my future had to be about flight and flight systems.”

Passage 1:
“From Rameswaram to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it’s been a long journey. Talking to Nona Walia on the eve of Teacher’s Day, President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam talks about life’s toughest lessons learnt and his mission — being a teacher to the Indian youth. ‘A proper education would help nurture a sense of dignity and self-respect among our youth,’ says President Kalam. There’s still a child in him though, and he’s still curious about learning new things. Life’s a mission for President Kalam.”



While career building is an important aspect of education, it shouldn’t be the sole goal. Education serves a broader purpose beyond just securing a job; it’s about personal growth, critical thinking, and contributing positively to society. Being a good human involves values such as empathy, compassion, and integrity, which are equally crucial to career success.

According to some, focusing solely on getting a good job might lead to a materialistic mindset, where personal values are neglected. Quite a few think education should aim to develop well-rounded individuals who excel in their careers and make ethical and meaningful contributions to society.
What do you think about this topic? Do you agree that career building is the only goal of education, or do you believe that being a good human is more important?



Life in Rameswaram in the 1940s was likely a mix of simplicity, tradition, and hard work. People in Rameswaram during that time were probably not very rich, as it was a small island town with limited resources. Many families may have relied on traditional occupations like fishing, agriculture, or small-scale trading to make a living.

Most likely, people in Rameswaram were hardworking, as they would have had to work diligently to sustain themselves and their families. They might have had to wake up early to tend to their fields or head out to sea for fishing. Life would have revolved around daily chores and responsibilities.

As for their attitudes towards change, it’s possible that people in Rameswaram were somewhat resistant. The town might have been deeply rooted in its traditions and customs, and any proposed changes may have been met with scepticism or caution. However, there may have also been a sense of hopefulness for better opportunities and improvements in living conditions, especially considering the significant historical events happening in India during that time, such as the fight for independence from British rule.
To conclude, life in Rameswaram in the 1940s would have been characterised by simplicity, hard work, and a mix of traditional values and aspirations for change.

Extra Questions “My Childhood”: 

Set 1- Short Answer Type Questions:

Q1: Describe A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s family background.

A1: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was born into a middle-class Tamil family in Rameswaram, Madras State. His father, Jainulabdeen, had little formal education and wealth but was wise and generous. His mother, Ashiamma, was equally supportive. The family was large, lived in a pucca house, and valued simplicity and generosity.

Q2: What was Kalam’s childhood home like, and how did his father approach comfort and luxury?

A2: Kalam’s childhood home was a sizeable pucca house on Mosque Street in Rameswaram, built of limestone and brick. His father, Jainulabdeen, avoided unnecessary comforts and luxuries but ensured all essential needs, like food, medicine, and clothes, were met. This created a secure and nurturing environment for Kalam.

Q3: How did the Second World War affect Kalam’s early life?

A3: The Second World War, which began when Kalam was eight, created a demand for tamarind seeds, enabling him to earn money by selling them. The war also led to changes in newspaper delivery, prompting his cousin Samsuddin to employ Kalam, marking his first experience of earning a wage.

Q4: What values did Kalam inherit from his parents?

A4: Kalam inherited honesty and self-discipline from his father, Jainulabdeen, and faith in goodness and deep kindness from his mother, Ashiamma. These values, shared with his three brothers and sister, profoundly shaped his character and approach to life.

Q5: Who were Kalam’s close friends in childhood, and what was unique about their relationship?

A5: Kalam’s close childhood friends were Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan, and Sivaprakasan. Their unique relationship was marked by religious harmony; despite coming from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families, they never felt any differences due to their varied religious backgrounds, reflecting mutual respect and unity.

Q6: Describe an incident from Kalam’s school days highlighting social inequality.

A6: In school, a new teacher made Kalam, a Muslim, sit at the back, separating him from his Hindu friend Ramanadha Sastry—this upset both boys. Ramanadha’s father, Lakshmana Sastry, confronted the teacher, condemning his behaviour and demanding an apology, which ultimately reformed his views on social equality.

Q7: How did Lakshmana Sastry respond to the teacher’s discrimination against Kalam?

A7: Lakshmana Sastry summoned the teacher, rebuked him for spreading social inequality and communal intolerance, and demanded an apology. He insisted the teacher rectify his behaviour or leave the school and the island. The teacher regretted his actions, leading to his reformation.

Q8: What role did Sivasubramania Iyer play in Kalam’s life?

A8: Sivasubramania Iyer, Kalam’s science teacher, defied social barriers and encouraged Kalam’s academic growth. Despite his conservative background, he mentored Kalam, aiming to elevate him to a highly educated individual in big cities. His support and guidance were instrumental in shaping Kalam’s aspirations and breaking societal norms.

Q9: How did Sivasubramania Iyer handle his wife’s initial refusal to serve Kalam?

A9: Sivasubramania Iyer’s wife initially refused to serve Kalam in her kitchen due to social norms. However, Sivasubramania remained unperturbed and served Kalam with his own hands. He calmly addressed his wife’s concerns and continued demonstrating hospitality towards Kalam, eventually changing his wife’s attitude.

Q10: What significant event happened after the Second World War, and how did it influence Kalam’s decision about his education?

A10: After the Second World War, India’s impending independence filled the country with optimism. Inspired by this, Kalam sought permission from his father to leave Rameswaram and pursue further education in Ramanathapuram. His father, quoting Khalil Gibran, encouraged Kalam’s pursuit of knowledge, recognising the need for personal growth and independence.

Q11: What advice did Kalam’s father give him about leaving home for further studies?

A11: Kalam’s father encouraged him to pursue further studies, quoting Khalil Gibran to emphasise the certainty of children leaving the nest to fulfil their destinies. He likened Kalam to a seagull flying across the sun, highlighting the importance of independence and personal growth.

Q12: How did Kalam contribute to his family during the Second World War?

A12: During the Second World War, Kalam collected tamarind seeds, which were in sudden demand, and sold them to a provision shop, earning money for his family. He assisted his cousin Samsuddin in catching newspaper bundles thrown from trains, marking his initial experience of earning wages and contributing to his family’s income.

Q13: What type of stories were told to Kalam by his mother and grandmother?

A13: Kalam’s mother and grandmother told him stories from the Ramayana and the life of the Prophet. These bedtime stories enriched Kalam’s understanding of religious and moral teachings, fostering a deep sense of cultural and spiritual heritage within him from a young age.

Q14: How did the teacher’s discriminatory actions emotionally affect Kalam and his friend Ramanadha Sastry?

A14: The teacher’s discriminatory actions made Kalam and Ramanadha Sastry saddened and upset. Kalam was moved to the back of the class, separating him from his friend based on religious differences. This act of segregation deeply affected both boys emotionally, highlighting the injustice and inequality they experienced.

Q15: What was the outcome of the confrontation between Lakshmana Sastry and the new teacher?

A15: Lakshmana Sastry confronted the teacher, condemning his behaviour and demanding an apology. The teacher regretted his actions and underwent a reformation. This confrontation resolved the immediate issue of discrimination and conveyed a strong message against social inequality and communal intolerance, fostering a more inclusive environment.

Set 2- Short Answer Type Questions:

Q16: Describe Sivasubramania Iyer’s attitude towards social barriers and his approach to overcoming them.

A16: Despite his conservative background, Sivasubramania Iyer defied social barriers by mentoring Kalam. He advocated breaking down social barriers and encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to mingle easily. His inclusive approach challenged societal norms, emphasising the importance of education and personal growth in overcoming prejudices and fostering harmony.

Q17: How did Kalam’s friendship with Ramanadha Sastry demonstrate religious harmony?

A17: Kalam’s friendship with Ramanadha Sastry, a Hindu Brahmin, showcased religious harmony. Despite their different backgrounds, they shared a deep bond and mutual respect, transcending religious divides. Their friendship exemplified tolerance, understanding, and acceptance, demonstrating that unity and friendship can thrive despite religious differences.

Q18: How did Sivasubramania Iyer’s wife react after observing Kalam during his first visit?

A18: Sivasubramania Iyer’s wife initially watched from behind the kitchen door, hesitant to serve Kalam due to his Muslim background. However, after observing him during the meal, her attitude changed. By his next visit, she overcame her reservations and personally served him food, reflecting a significant shift in her perspective.

Q19: What does Kalam’s story about his second visit to Sivasubramania Iyer’s house signify about change?

A19: Kalam’s second visit to Sivasubramania Iyer’s house, where Iyer’s wife personally served him, signifies that change is possible through patience, persistence, and leading by example. It highlights how prejudices can be overcome, demonstrating the impact of inclusive actions on transforming social attitudes and breaking down barriers.

Q20: What did Kalam’s father mean by quoting Khalil Gibran to his mother about their children?

A20: By quoting Khalil Gibran, Kalam’s father meant that children are independent individuals with thoughts and destinies. Parents can provide love and support but not impose their thoughts on their children. This emphasised the importance of allowing Kalam to pursue his path and personal growth.

Q21: How did the end of the Second World War influence the general sentiment in India, according to Kalam?

A21: According to Kalam, the end of the Second World War brought unprecedented optimism to India, fueled by the imminent prospect of independence. Gandhiji’s declaration that “Indians will build their own India” inspired hope and a collective sense of purpose, invigorating the nation’s spirit and aspirations for the future.

Q22: In what ways did Kalam feel pride in earning his first wages, and what did he do to earn them?

A22: Kalam felt immense pride in earning his first wages by helping his cousin Samsuddin distribute newspapers. Catching bundles from the moving train, he earned a small amount of money, which instilled a sense of accomplishment and independence, marking his initial step into work and responsibility.

Q23: What role did Kalam’s cousin Samsuddin play in his early working life?

A23: Kalam’s cousin Samsuddin played a pivotal role in his early working life by employing him to help distribute newspapers. This job provided Kalam with his first earnings, instilling a sense of pride and responsibility and introducing him to the value of hard work and financial independence.

Q24: How did Kalam’s father’s views on material and emotional security affect Kalam’s upbringing?

A24: Kalam’s father prioritized essential needs over luxuries, ensuring a materially and emotionally secure upbringing. This fostered a sense of stability and contentment in Kalam, teaching him the value of simplicity, self-discipline, and the importance of focusing on what truly matters in life.

Q25: What was the significance of the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony in Kalam’s childhood?

A25: The annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony was significant in Kalam’s childhood as his family arranged boats to carry the idols to the marriage site. This event fostered a sense of community and cultural participation, providing Kalam with vivid experiences of local traditions and religious harmony.

Q26: How did the Second World War outbreak create an unusual market demand on which Kalam capitalised?

A26: The outbreak of the Second World War created an unusual market demand for tamarind seeds. Kalam capitalised on this by collecting and selling the seeds to a provision shop, earning money from the sudden surge in demand. This opportunity marked his initial venture into entrepreneurship and earning his income.

Q27: How did Rameswaram’s social environment influence Kalam’s childhood?

A27: Rameswaram’s social environment, marked by religious diversity and community cooperation, influenced Kalam’s childhood by fostering values of tolerance and inclusivity. Despite prevailing social rigidities, Kalam experienced harmony and mutual respect among different religious communities, shaping his outlook on unity and social equality.

Q28: What was the significance of Kalam’s father’s advice about the seagull flying alone?

A26: Kalam’s father’s advice about the seagull flying alone symbolises the inevitability of personal growth and independence. He encouraged Kalam to embrace new experiences and challenges, emphasising that individuals must venture out alone, like the seagull crossing the sun, to fulfil their destinies and aspirations, away from the safety of their nest.

Q29: How did the declaration by Gandhiji influence the national mood in India, as Kalam observed?

A20: Gandhiji’s declaration that “Indians will build their own India” filled the nation with unprecedented optimism, inspiring a sense of collective purpose and determination. Kalam observed a surge of hope and enthusiasm among people as they anticipated India’s imminent independence and embraced the responsibility of shaping their nation’s future.

Q30: What role did newspaper headlines in Dinamani play in Kalam’s understanding of the world during the war?

A30: Newspaper headlines in Dinamani provided Kalam with valuable insights into the war’s events. They served as a source of information, allowing him to stay informed about global developments and understand the broader context of the war, shaping his understanding of the world beyond his immediate surroundings.

Long Answer Type Questions: 

Q1: How did APJ Abdul Kalam describe his family background and upbringing in “My Childhood”?

A1: In “My Childhood,” APJ Abdul Kalam depicted his family background as middle-class, hailing from the island town of Rameswaram in Madras State. His father, Jainulabdeen, possessed innate wisdom and generosity despite limited formal education and wealth. Kalam’s mother, Ashiamma, was noted for her kindness and hospitality, often feeding more outsiders than family members. 

Their ancestral house, though austere, provided material and emotional security. Kalam’s childhood was marked by the simplicity of life and strong familial bonds. He emphasised the values he inherited from his parents, including honesty, self-discipline, faith in goodness, and kindness, which laid the foundation for his character and future endeavours.

Q2: What role did APJ Abdul Kalam’s parents play in shaping his childhood experiences and values?

A2: APJ Abdul Kalam’s parents played a pivotal role in shaping his childhood experiences and values. Despite their modest means, they instilled in him invaluable qualities such as honesty, self-discipline, faith in goodness, and kindness. His father, Jainulabdeen, possessed wisdom and generosity despite his limited formal education, while his mother, Ashiamma, was known for her kindness and hospitality. 

Their ancestral home provided a secure and nurturing environment, emphasising essential needs over luxuries. Through their actions and teachings, Kalam learned the importance of integrity, hard work, and compassion. Their influence laid the foundation for his strong moral compass and guided his character throughout his life’s journey.

Q3: How did Kalam contribute to his family’s income during childhood?

A3: During his childhood, APJ Abdul Kalam contributed to his family’s income by collecting tamarind seeds, which he sold to a provision shop on Mosque Street in Rameswaram. Despite the meagre earnings of one anna daily, this endeavour marked his first experience of earning money independently. 

He assisted his cousin Samsuddin in catching bundles of newspapers thrown from moving trains, earning wages for his efforts. These early experiences instilled in Kalam a sense of responsibility and self-reliance, shaping his work ethic and resourcefulness from a young age.

Q4: Describe the relationship between APJ Abdul Kalam and his childhood friends, considering their diverse religious backgrounds.

A4: APJ Abdul Kalam shared a close bond with his childhood friends despite their diverse religious backgrounds. His friends, including Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan, and Sivaprakasan, hailed from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. Despite religious differences, their friendship remained unaffected. For instance, Ramanadha Sastry, the son of the high priest of the Rameswaram temple, maintained a strong friendship with Kalam. 

Their camaraderie transcended societal norms and religious barriers. This harmony within their diverse group showcased mutual respect and understanding, emphasising shared values and experiences over religious differences. Their friendship exemplifies Kalam’s belief in unity and inclusivity, regardless of cultural or religious affiliations.

Q5: What significant event from his childhood does Kalam recall during the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony?

A5: During the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony, a significant event from APJ Abdul Kalam’s childhood took place. His family arranged boats with a unique platform to carry the Lord’s idols from the temple to the marriage site in the middle of the Rama Tirtha pond near their house. 

This event, steeped in religious tradition, was a cherished part of Kalam’s childhood memories. The ceremony, coupled with bedtime stories about events from the Ramayana and the life of the Prophet, provided Kalam with spiritual nourishment and cultural appreciation from a young age. It reflects the rich tapestry of his upbringing, intertwining faith, tradition, and familial bonds.

Q6: How did Kalam’s experience with a new teacher at school affect him and his friend Ramanadha Sastry?

A6: Kalam’s experience with a new teacher at school profoundly affected him and his friend Ramanadha Sastry. The teacher, unable to tolerate Kalam, a Muslim, sitting beside Sastry, a Hindu priest’s son, enforced segregation by moving Kalam to the back bench. This discriminatory action saddened Kalam and left Sastry distraught, as they shared a deep friendship unaffected by religious differences. 

The incident highlighted the injustice of social prejudice and segregation, impacting both boys emotionally. However, it also strengthened their bond and reinforced their shared values of tolerance and unity as they sought support from their families to address the discriminatory behaviour of the teacher.

Q7: How did Lakshmana Sastry handle the situation involving the discriminatory behaviour of the new teacher?

A7: Ramanadha Sastry’s father, Lakshmana Sastry, responded decisively to the new teacher’s discriminatory behaviour. Upon learning about the incident from his son and APJ Abdul Kalam, he summoned the teacher and firmly confronted him. 

In Kalam’s and his son’s presence, Lakshmana Sastry admonished the teacher, emphasising the detrimental impact of spreading social inequality and communal intolerance among innocent children. He gave the teacher an ultimatum: to apologise for his actions or leave the school and the island. This display of conviction and moral courage ultimately compelled the teacher to regret his behaviour, highlighting Lakshmana Sastry’s commitment to justice and equality.

Q8: What was significant about Kalam’s relationship with his science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer?

A8: APJ Abdul Kalam shared a significant bond with his science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer. Despite societal norms and prejudices, Iyer recognised Kalam’s potential and actively encouraged his academic and personal development. Despite being an orthodox Brahmin with a conservative wife, Iyer challenged social barriers by spending time mentoring Kalam. 

He saw Kalam’s talent and ambition, pushing him to strive for excellence and envisioning a future where Kalam could compete with educated individuals from urban areas. Moreover, Iyer’s actions, such as inviting Kalam to his home for meals despite objections from his wife, demonstrated his belief in equality and his commitment to nurturing Kalam’s potential, impacting Kalam’s life and career trajectory.

Q9: Describe the incident involving Kalam’s visit to Sivasubramania Iyer’s home for a meal.

A9: The incident involving Kalam’s visit to Sivasubramania Iyer’s home for a meal was significant. Initially, Iyer’s wife objected to serving Kalam, a Muslim, in her ritually pure kitchen due to religious and societal norms. However, Iyer remained undeterred and personally served Kalam, seated beside him during the meal. 

Despite his wife’s reluctance, Iyer demonstrated his commitment to breaking down social barriers and treating Kalam equally. This act of defiance against ingrained prejudices highlighted Iyer’s belief in inclusivity and his recognition of Kalam’s worth beyond religious affiliations. Subsequently, Kalam was invited to dine at Iyer’s home again, with his wife eventually serving him food with her own hands, signifying a gradual shift in attitudes towards acceptance and tolerance.

Q10: How did Kalam’s father respond to his desire to leave Rameswaram and study elsewhere?

A10: When APJ Abdul Kalam expressed his desire to leave Rameswaram and study elsewhere, his father responded with understanding and wisdom. Acknowledging Kalam’s need for growth and exploration, he quoted Khalil Gibran, stating, “Your children are not your children…They come through you but not from you.” 

This quote emphasises the importance of allowing children to pursue their paths and fulfil their potential. Despite the emotional challenge of seeing his son leave, Kalam’s father recognised the inevitability of change. He encouraged Kalam to spread his wings, likening him to a seagull flying across the sun, alone and without a nest. This response reflected his father’s profound support for Kalam’s aspirations and independence.

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