Home >Opinion >Views >Opinion | Remembering Dr Kalam: Intelligence is beyond Education
A file photo of late former president APJ Abdul Kalam. Photo: HT
A file photo of late former president APJ Abdul Kalam. Photo: HT

Opinion | Remembering Dr Kalam: Intelligence is beyond Education

  • True richness comes from innovative thinking, a sensitive heart and a smiling face—money is just a fleeting thing, Dr Kalam had said

In March 2012, Dr Kalam visited the remote district of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh.

Jaunpur is not connected by air from Delhi, and the nearest airports are located in Allahabad and Varanasi, both are quite far. So our itinerary was elaborate - we were to land in Allahabad on 13 March and spend the night there. The next day we were to reach Jaunpur. After the event we were supposed to travel to Varanasi and fly back to Delhi.

We reached the circuit house in Allahabad in the evening. Before dinner, I decided to take a walk around the circuit house. Sometime during my walk, I heard voices; two men in white clothing were talking to the security personnel at the main gate. The men looked like they were from nearby village. One of them was more than sixty years old while the other was around forty. Both of them were carrying a jute sack.

I went up to them. The men were sweating—they had probably travelled some distance on foot. ‘Baba, kya hua?’ (what happened?) I asked.

The younger man spoke Hindi, interspersed with local Bhojpuri. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘we have something special to show to Jan Rashtrapatiji. We have travelled 40 kilometres just for this.’ He lowered the sack and started pulling out a wooden block from it.

He continued, ‘Sir, this man is my father. We have an invention which can change India!’

‘What is it? What does it do?’ I asked, curious.

‘Sir, as inventors of this model, our only condition is that we will reveal it to Jan Rashtrapatiji. As he is also a scientist, he will appreciate it.’

I checked my watch; dinner was to be served in ten minutes. Yet I knew that Dr Kalam would not like to miss an opportunity to see the innovations of citizens.

‘Come with me,’ I said.

The younger man clutched the sack carefully, indicating that the invention inside was truly precious to him. I ushered them towards Dr Kalam’s room where a few policemen were waiting. As soon as we reached, Dr Kalam’s door opened. The coincidence caught the father-son duo completely off guard.

As I quickly narrated their story to Dr Kalam, he smiled. He seemed to be in no rush for dinner. Seeing their nervousness, he said in Hindi, ‘Dikhaiye! Kya hai?’ (Show us! What is it?)

The older man found courage. He pulled out two large, wooden blocks, with wedges at their ends, from the sack. The items seemed custom-made. He then fitted them back together and began to tell his story. ‘Sahib! I am not very educated. I failed class six twice, so my father forced me to take up simple jobs. Thankfully I got a job in the Indian Railways. I have travelled as an attendant in the Northern Railways, journeying thousands of miles. But I experienced one problem.

Whenever I tried to sleep, I was disturbed by the khat-khat, khat-khat sound of the carriage wheels rolling over the railway tracks. I noticed that my passengers didn’t like this. Even the ones in the AC compartments were bothered by it.’

I could see that they had got Dr Kalam’s attention. The old man’s son, who was standing nearby, took the wooden block from his father and continued playing with the two pieces, pulling them apart and assembling them back again.

The old father continued his story. ‘I did not understand why the train made this sound. So I went about asking everyone. I asked the teacher at school, the elderly people in villages, and the officers in the railways, but nobody ever gave me an answer.’

‘Crores of people travel in the railways every day, and I wanted to bring ease to them. Then one day, a young engineer, who was travelling in the train, struck up a conversation with me. He told me that the gaps which are left in the railway tracks are the reason for the sound. I stared at the railway tracks and indeed noticed the gaps, which were left there in order to accommodate the expansion and compression of metallic rivets.’

“He then took the wooden blocks from his son and displayed it proudly. ‘I went home and every night I started working on wooden planks, trying to make a better track joint so that there won’t be any more of that noise when the train runs. I am also a part-time carpenter, you see."

“Everybody laughed at me, saying that I was poor and uneducated and that I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. I should rather do manual labour than what they said." He looked at Dr Kalam, as if trying to read something on his face, before continuing.

‘Then you became the President. I was so inspired. I told all those villagers that if one poor man can make missiles fly, then another poor man can make the trains run smoother. So I tried and tried, for four or five years, and finally came up with this design.’ He pointed at the joint between the two wooden wedges. ‘This is an interlocking device and, yet, it provides room for expansion as well. I am sure this will end the khat-khat forever.’

‘Sahib, I don’t need any money for this. I just came here to ensure that this reaches the right people, so that they can actually implement it.’ Saying this, he handed the model to me.

Dr Kalam was greatly moved. He said to him, ‘Bohot achha!’ (Very good!) And then he asked me to translate the next few sentences. ‘I am very glad to see your sensitivity and your innovation. You have a very kind mind to have thought of solving the problems of so many. I will take photos of your model and send them to the railway people and share them with everyone on the Internet. You are a fellow scientist, dear friend!’

I took photos of the model on my phone, and Dr Kalam happily posed with it. It was almost 9 p.m. by then. The old innovator and his son were brimming with happiness and hope as they put the model back inside their sack.

Dr Kalam then whispered to me, ‘Get them some fruits before they leave.’

I went inside his room, where a bowl of fruits was kept on the table. I picked up a handful and returned. Dr Kalam handed them the fruits and said, ‘This is for your journey back. I know it must be tiring. Scientists should eat well.’

The men shook hands with Dr Kalam and bowed again in respect. The old man scribbled down his name and number on a piece of paper. His name was Ram Avatar.

Later, after dinner, we went for a stroll outside the main compound.‘The man whom we met a while ago. He is a true scientist at heart. He had four key things,’ Dr Kalam said. ‘He was a keen observer. He was sensitive to the problems of others. He was a persistent learner. And finally, he did not give up even in the face of poverty. He was poor in income but rich in ideas. True richness comes from innovative thinking, a sensitive heart and a smiling face—money is just a fleeting thing. I am fortunate to have met him.’

Dr. Kalam talked about this innovation to many people he met. Ram Avatar and his son were featured on his social media page, along with their model.

Authored by Srijan Pal Singh, adapted from his book What Can I Give: Life Lesson from my Teacher. Srijan was the Advisor and Officer on Special Duty to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam from 2009 to 2015 and is now the CEO of Dr. Kalam Centre, New Delhi.

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