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You can become great: A P J Abdul Kalam

Address and interaction with Students from all over Kerala Colleges (4/1/2010)


“When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are”

I am indeed delighted to address and interact with the Students from different colleges of Kerala. My greetings to all of you. Dear friends, today I would like to talk to you on the subject “You can become great”. I realize how the contributions of the youth in the past have continuously contributed to the world of today in many fields. When you graduate and entering in to the career world you will have many challenges to face. You will be entering into the knowledge society where the competitiveness is the key.

Dimensions of Knowledge Society

In the knowledge economy the objective of a society changes from fulfilling the basic needs of all-round development to empowerment. The education system will be promoted by creative, interactive self learning – formal and informal education with focus on values, merit and quality. The workers instead of being skilled or semi-skilled will be knowledgeable, self-empowered and flexibly skilled. The type of work instead of being structured and hardware driven will be less structured and software driven. Management style will emphasize more on delegation rather than giving command. Impact on environment and ecology will be strikingly less compared to industrial economy. Finally, the economy will mostly be driven by knowledge and knowledge driven industry.

In order to promote national prosperity, it is essential that simultaneously a citizen-centric approach to evolution of business policy, user-driven technology generation and intensified industry-lab-academy linkages have to be established in every country. India based on its core competence need to evolve a world-class product and services using innovation, knowledge generation, knowledge sharing, and knowledge dissemination, to enhance its prosperity. For enhancing prosperity in the Global society competitiveness is the key. Competitiveness has three dimensions that are quality, cost effectiveness and just-in-time delivery to the market. The competitiveness can come if you have creativity and innovation in thinking and action.

Creativity and Innovation

In a knowledge society, we have to make innovations continuously. Innovations come through creativity. Creativity comes from beautiful minds. It can be anywhere and any part of the world. It may start from a fisherman hamlet or a farmer’s household or a dairy farm or cattle breeding center or it could emanate from classrooms or labs or industries or R&D centers. Creativity has got multi dimensions like inventions, discoveries and innovations. Creative mind has the ability to imagine or invent something new by combining, changing or reapplying existing ideas. Creative person has an attitude to accept change and newness, a willingness to play with ideas and possibilities, a flexibility of outlook, the habit of enjoying the good, while looking for ways to improve it. Creativity is a process through which, we can continuously improve ideas and find unique solutions by making gradual alterations and refinements to our works. The important aspect of creativity is: seeing the same thing as everybody else, but thinking of something different.

Today, I would like to talk about the life of four great minds that have made a difference to the society by being unique in creativity and innovation in thinking and action. First let me talk about a teacher who made difference to the life of many students.

Imparting value system

While I was in St.Joseph’s College at Tiruchirapalli, I remember the moral science lectures given by the highest authority of a Jesuit institution Rev Father Rector Kalathil. Every week on Monday, he will take a class for an hour. He used to talk about good human beings present and past and what makes a good human being. In this class, he used to give lectures on personalities such as Buddha, Confucius, St. Augustine, Califa Omar, Mahatma Gandhi, Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and moral stories linked to our civilizational heritage. In the moral science class, Father Kalathil used to highlight the best aspect of, how the great personalities have been evolved as good human beings through parental care, teaching and companionship of great books. Even though these lessons were given to me in 1950s during my college days, they inspire me even today. It is essential that in the schools and colleges, lectures are given by great teachers of the institution once in a week for one hour on civilizational heritage and derived value system. This may be called as Moral Science Class that will elevate the young minds to love the country, to love the other human beings with value system and elevate them to higher planes. Now let me talk about how a street boy became great overcoming all the challenges in life.

It does not matter who you are

Mario Capecchi had a difficult and challenging childhood. For nearly four years, Capecchi lived with his mother in a chalet in the Italian Alps. When World War II broke out, his mother, along with other Bohemians, was sent to Dachau as a political prisoner. Anticipating her arrest by the Gestapo, she had sold all her possessions and given the money to friends to help raise her son on their farm. In the farm, he had to grow own wheat, harvest; take it to miller to be ground. Then, the money which his mother left for him ran out and at the age of four and half years, he started sometimes living in the streets, sometimes joining gangs of other homeless children, sometimes living in orphanages and most of the time hungry. He spent the last year in the city of Reggio Emelia, hospitalized for malnutrition where his mother found him on his ninth birthday after a year of searching. Within weeks, the Capecchi and his mother sailed to America to join his uncle and aunt.

He started his 3rd grade schooling afresh over there and started his education, interested in sports, studied political science. But he didn’t find interesting and changed into science, became a mathematics graduate in 1961 with a double major in Physics and Chemistry. Although he really liked Physics, its elegance and simplicity, he switched to molecular biology in graduate school, on the advice of James D Watson, who advised him that he should not be bothered about small things, since such pursuits are likely to produce only small answers.

His objective was to do gene targeting. The experiments started in 1980 and by 1984, Capecchi had clear success. Three years later, he applied the technology to mice. In 1989, he developed the first mice with targeted mutations. The technology created by Doctor Capecchi allows researchers to create specific gene mutations anywhere they choose in the genetic code of a mouse. By manipulating gene sequences in this way, researchers are able to mimic human disease conditions on animal subjects. What the research of Mario Capecchi means for human health is nothing short of amazing, his work with mice could lead to cures for Alzheimer’s disease or even Cancer. The innovations in genetics that Mario Capecchi achieved won him the Nobel Prize in 2007. Noble laureate Capecchi life indeed reveals: –

“When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you”

Now let me talk about a genius well ahead of time in the world.

A genius well ahead of time: Failure did not deter him

Ramanujan, born and raised in Erode, Tamil Nadu, first encountered formal mathematics at the age of ten. He demonstrated a natural ability at mathematics, and was given books on advanced trigonometry by S. L. Loney. He mastered this book by age thirteen, and even discovered theorems of his own. He demonstrated unusual mathematical skills at school, winning many awards. By the age of seventeen, Ramanujan was conducting his own mathematical research on Bernoulli numbers and the Euler–Mascheroni constant. He received a scholarship to study at Government College in Kumbakonam. He failed his non-mathematical coursework, and lost his scholarship. Srinivasa Ramanujan lived only for 33 years and did not have formal higher education or means of living. Yet, his inexhaustible spirit and love for his subject made him contribute to the treasure houses of mathematical research – some of which are still under serious study and engaging all-available world mathematicians’ efforts to establish formal proofs. Ramanujan was a unique Indian genius who could melt the heart of the most hardened and outstanding Cambridge mathematician Prof G H Hardy. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that it was Prof. Hardy who discovered Ramanujan for the world. Professor Hardy rated various geniuses on a scale of 100. While most of the mathematicians got a rating of around 30 with rare exceptions reaching to 60, Ramanujan got a rating of 100. There cannot be any better tribute to either Ramanujan or to Indian heritage. His works cover vast areas including Prime Numbers, Hyper geometric Series, Modular Functions, Elliptic Functions, Mock Theta Functions, even magic squares, apart from serious side works on geometry of ellipses, squaring the circle etc. One of the tributes to Ramanujan says that, ‘every Integer is a personal friend of Ramanujan’. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society (F R S) in 1918.

Ramanujan used to say “An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God”. For him the understanding of numbers was a process of spiritual revelation and connection. In his investigations into pure mathematics, he drew extraordinary conclusions that mystified his colleagues, but were usually proven, eventually, to be right. He opened a universe of theory that still today is reaping applications. The landscape of the infinite was to Ramanujan a reality of both mathematics and spirit. His love for numbers led Ramanujan to number theory. Despite being affected by chronic health problems, he was breathing Mathematics throughout his short life and his genius was recognized internationally. So friends you saw, how great creative minds, gave problem to the problems to succeed through the instrument of knowledge.
Let me now discuss about how to work with integrity and succeed with integrity with live example

Work with integrity and succeed with integrity

The Delhi Metro Rail Project has given to the nation the potential of executing a fast transportation system using high technology with reliability through a time bound mission mode operation. Delhi, the Capital of the country with over 14 million population, has the distinction of having a world class metro rail with frontline technologies. The work on the metro rail commenced on 1st October 1998 and the first phase with three lines covering 66 kms has been completed by December 2005. The second phase with 121 kms of line length is in various stages of completion and they all will be functional before 2010.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has brought to the country, the most advanced rail technologies for the first time. The notable gains to the country are, light weight stainless steel, sleek, modern trains with pneumatic springs, regenerative braking, public information display, wide vestibules and automatic doors. The sophisticated coach technology which was not available in the country so far, has been transferred to M/s. Bharat Earth Movers Ltd., Bangalore, which is now assembling these trains with progressive indigenization. BEML is now in a position to supply train sets needed for Phase-II of Delhi Metro Rail Project and meet the requirement for Metros coming up in other cities of the country.

Mr. E. Sreedharan, the Managing Director of Delhi Metro has ensured that, all the scheduled sections were completed by their target date or before and within their respective budgets through his programme management skills. The dedicated and transparent leadership backed up with professional competence of Mr. Sreedharan has given to the nation, one of the best transportation systems of the world at the most economic cost. He is a recipient of many national and international awards. Also, he is in demand for undertaking the development of metro system in different countries of the world which he has politely declined due to pre-occupation with committed Indian programmes. Delhi rapid transportation system has made a great impact in public service. The nation is fortunate to have persons like Mr. Sreedharan to implement such a scheme. When we met, I asked him, “Mr Sreedharan, how a transparent and cost effective system you have brought to the nation in such record time?” His answer was – “developing and positioning the right type of leaders for the task at hand. Whenever there is a problem, the leader has to be present while executing critical missions”. Mr Sreedharan is an example for working with integrity and succeeding with integrity.

What we have seen in the above four lives establishes how one can become great, irrespective of the circumstances he or she is put into, the ability to overcome problems and achieve your mission and carving out a unique mission which others has not done so far. Dear friends, all of you should imbibe some of these unique qualities which will enable you to excel in the field of your choice.
Dear friends, what will be the type of India you will see when you grow into your prime age. I visualize India in the year 2020 to have the following distinctive competitive profile. Now, let me give my visualization of India during the year 2020.

Distinctive profile of the nation

1. A Nation where the rural and urban divide has reduced to a thin line.
2. A Nation where there is an equitable distribution and adequate access to energy and quality water.
3. A Nation where agriculture, industry and service sector work together in symphony.
4. A Nation where education with value system is not denied to any meritorious candidates because of societal or economic discrimination.
5. A Nation which is the best destination for the most talented scholars, scientists, and investors.
6. A Nation where the best of health care is available to all.
7. A Nation where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption free.
8. A Nation where poverty has been totally eradicated, illiteracy removed and crimes against women and children are absent and none in the society feels alienated.
9. A Nation that is prosperous, healthy, secure, devoid of terrorism, peaceful and happy and continues with a sustainable growth path.
10. A Nation that is one of the best places to live in and is proud of its leadership

Integrated Action for developed India

To achieve the distinctive profile of India, we have the mission of transforming India into a developed nation. We have identified five areas where India has a core competence for integrated action: (1) Agriculture and food processing (2) Education and Healthcare (3) Information and Communication Technology (4) Infrastructure: Reliable and Quality Electric power, Surface transport and Infrastructure for all parts of the country and (5) Self reliance in critical technologies.
Dear friends, each one of you should carve out one unique area among the 10 distinctive profiles, where you can make an important contribution for realizing the Distinctive profile of the nation.
Now let me talk about the present economic environment.

Economic Environment

I was asking myself what type of innovation is needed to enrich the Indian economy and other world economies which are presently in turbulence. I had discussion on this subject with the experts of many management institutions. It came to light that the Indian economy will be less affected due to the world financial crisis. This is due to (i) the Indian banking system has always been conservative which has prevented the crisis (ii) The liberalization process in India has its checks and balances consistent with the unique social requirements of the country (iii) The Indian psyche is generally savings oriented and living within means is part of the mind set. This situation has reduced the effect of global turbulence in the Indian economy. However, the resultant effect will be reduction in export and reduction in outsourcing. The drop in annual growth rate of GDP could be around two percent. This is the time we need innovation in our thinking to rejuvenate the agricultural sector particularly through value addition and the small and medium scale industries and enterprises for making higher levels of contribution to the GDP.

Simultaneously, we have to enhance the rural and urban infrastructure particularly through the establishment of 7000 PURA complexes (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) spread in different parts of the country. The mission of PURA is employment generation with value added skills through connectivities and gives a push to the growth in GDP of the nation.

PURA Mission for sustainable development: PURA envisages development of infrastructure for bringing rural prosperity through creation of three connectivities namely physical, electronic, knowledge leading to economic connectivity. The theme of PURA, apart from concentrating on reinforcing agriculture, will emphasize on agro processing, development of Rural Craftsmanship, dairy, fishing, silk production, so that the non-farm revenue for the rural sector is enhanced, based on the core competence of the region. Also the PURA complexes will be driven by renewable energy such as solar, wind, bio-fuel and conversion of municipal waste into power. In this approach, the aim is to make sustainable development using the core competence of the rural sector. Number of PURA complexes have emerged in the country with the initiative taken by educational institutions, societal reformers and healthcare institutions

Kerala PURA

On similar lines, the Engineering, science and humanities colleges of Kerala, with government and private may like to take up a rural development mission in their region using the core-competence of that region in, coconut, cashew nut, millet, grains, processed food, , rubber and craftsmen based items and many other agriculture and horticulture products and also tourism. The students of Kerala Colleges guided by their professors should form interdisciplinary teams which will enable them to participate in ground level implementation. The ground level experience can be used as a platform to create PURA courses in the colleges which will provide employment opportunities to both social and economic entrepreneurs.


When the child is empowered by the parents, at various phases of growth, the child transforms into a responsible citizen. When the teacher is empowered with knowledge and experience, good young human beings with value systems take shape. When individual or a team is empowered with technology, transformation to higher potential for achievement is assured. When the leader of any institution empowers his or her people, leaders are born who can change the nation in multiple areas. When the women are empowered, society with harmony in the home is assured. When the political leaders of the nation empower the youth through visionary policies, the prosperity of the nation is certain.

At this point, I would like to recall the inspiring advice to the youth by Swami Vivekananda, "how has all the knowledge in the world been gained but by the concentration of the power of the mind? The world is ready to give up its secret if we only know, how to knock, how to give it the necessary glow. The strength and force of the glow come through concentration. There is no limit to the power of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point that is the secret”. Dear friends, this thought has indeed influenced my conscience and I would suggest that the education system must develop this faith among our youth and the youth to practice this faith in all their actions.
My New Year greetings and best wishes to all the youth assembled here for success in their educational mission.
May God bless you.

Oath for the Youth

1 I will have a goal and work hard to achieve that goal. I realize that 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, a good member of the society, a good member of the nation and a good member of the world.
4 I will always try to save or better someone’s life, without any discrimination of caste, creed, language religion or state. Wherever I am, a thought will always come to my mind. That is “What can I give?”
5 I will always protect and enhance the dignity of every human life without any bias.
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 clean planet Earth and clean energy.
8 As a youth of my nation, I will work and 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 up then, the lamp of faith in my heart.
10 My National Flag flies in my heart and I will bring glory to my nation.


Filed under: Article of the Week,

2 Responses

  1. Jerome gnanaprabu.j says:

    Dear sir,
    Really i am inspired by your talk.surelly it igites me to do something for others


  2. To sir Dr. A.P.J. ABDUL KALAM:I m realy a very big fan of u. i just luv d way u spent ur life. d man like u is just imposible. u r my idol til, from dat day when D words of ur poem ‘MY MOTHER’entered in my ears . my dream is 2 meet u once and hope dis b posible.


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