Dr APJ Abdul Kalam still ignites young minds

Updated: 15 October, 2016 10:48 IST | Maegan Dobson Sippy |

On his 85th birth anniversary, a new generation is accessing Dr APJ Kalam’s legacy through innovative children's books


"I strongly believe that teachers need to tell children about great lives… it is only through this that a love for the country is born that is based on knowledge and understanding," wrote Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in My Life, his simply-narrated autobiography. How fitting, then, that his own life has become one such example for India's children — narrated by means of a new clutch of books for young people; each approaching his legacy differently.

Shamim Padamsee, the Mumbai-based author of a unique biography of the former president, agrees with her subject. "Reading biographies of great lives is beneficial to kids. They inspire, educate and motivate. Sadly, most biographies are not presented in an interesting manner," she says.

This could not be further from the case in Padamsee's own book, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: The People's President, which mixes textual pages with those laid out in comic-book format, accompanied by illustrations by Lavanya Karthik. Padamsee's tone and language is light and engaging, perfect for encouraging young readers to venture into the realm of non-fiction. "My focus was on keeping the incidents anecdotal. I also consciously avoided putting in dates, for I remembered how much they put me off when I was a student," she elaborates.

This is not Kalam's only autobiographical text that has found its way into the hands of young people. Wings of Fire, originally written for an adult audience, is published as an audio book (read by actor and playwright Girish Karnad), by children's imprint Karadi Tales.

Meanwhile, Learning How To Fly, a forthcoming title, compiles some of his best lectures aimed at children. It's hard to think of another political figure who had the ability to so effortlessly captivate young minds, which perhaps explains why children's publishers have recently brought out books, written by or about the man, whose message for young people was to find "the courage to think differently."

The fact that Kalam's message, and persona, continues to resonate with today's children is nowhere more evident than in the Dear Kalam Sir project. Launched this time last year by not-for-profit organisation LetterFarms, the initiative invited people from across India to send a postcard with a handwritten/drawn tribute to Dr Kalam. "Upon the sad demise of Kalam sir, the entire country plunged into mourning. We wanted to create a platform where every Indian could offer a personal tribute," says Jubie John, executive director and co-founder of LetterFarms.

Such was the response — over 800,000 tributes poured in — that Bloomsbury India took on the task of working with LetterFarms to curate some of the most interesting responses into a large-format, full-colour book. The result is a stunning volume, incorporating poetry, quotes, and all manner of artistic responses. The postcards are arranged chronologically (by the part of Dr Kalam's life they reference) allowing it to act as an unusual introduction to his life — a fittingly offbeat tribute to a man who urged out-of-the-box thinking.

Dr Kalam writes of his childhood that through the library of a freedom fighter he was introduced to "the wonderful world of books" in which he could lose himself "in a world of words and knowledge and imagination". It's not hard to imagine, then, that he would have greatly approved of these books, which promise a world of possibilities to children.

Shamim Padamsee'Reading biographies of great lives is beneficial to kids. Sadly, most biographies are not presented in an interesting manner' - Shamim Padamsee, author of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam: The People's President

Jubie John'The entire country mourned the demise of Kalam sir. We wanted to create a platform where every Indian could pay a personal tribute' - Jubie John, executive director and co-founder of LetterFarms

First Published: 15 October, 2016 10:05 IST

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