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When Kalam hawked newspapers to battle poverty
Friday September 6, 2013 11:08 AM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

At age 82, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen (A.P.J.) Abdul Kalam has come out with a slim, moving book on the lesser-known happenings in his illustrious life. He was only eight years old when he hawked newspapers to supplement his family income in the pilgrim town of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. There were times when food was scarce in Kalam's large family, when his hard-pressed mother stretched every resource to the utmost to keep her five sons and daughters as well as her husband and his brothers' families fed, clothed and in good health.

Life was not easy for Kalam's humble boat-owner father, what with periodic coastal storms washing away the vessels that ferried pilgrims between Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi. With World War II creating food shortages, Kalam would wake up much before dawn to distribute newspapers in the town after collecting bundles of them at the Rameswaram railway station. The tough routine lasted a year during which the young boy "grew taller and browner".

His sister pawned jewellery with a moneylender so that the studious Kalam could have Rs.600 to join the Madras Institute of Technology. One man who influenced Kalam early on and remained a key player in his life was his brother-in-law Ahmed Jalalluddin, who made him the "man I would become one day".

Kalam experienced setbacks too, including his heart-breaking failure to join the Indian Air Force, an event that however ultimately made him the country's "missile man". It was from his father and other elders from Rameswaram's Hindu and Christian communities that Kalam learnt to respect all cultures and India's secular ethos. "My Journey" is a story of how Kalam married hard work, piety, learning, compassion and forgiveness -- qualities that made him one of India's most popular presidents.

Title: My Journey;
Author: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam;
Publisher: Rupa;
Pages 147;
Price: Rs.195

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