APJ Abdul Kalam is a renowned Indian scientist who went on to become 11th President of India (2002-2007). He is very well known across India and is a recipient of India’s three highest civilian awards – Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna. Wings of Fire is an autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam written jointly by Arun Tiwari and Abdul Kalam. It covers Kalam’s life before he became president of India and in 2013 another autobiography titled "My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions" was released.
Book Review: Wings of Fire by APJ Abdul Kalam
Wings of Fire is an autography of APJ Abdul Kalam covering his early life and his work in Indian space research and missile programs. It is the story of a boy from a humble background who went on to become a key player in Indian space research/Indian missile programs and later became the president of India. The book has been very popular in India and has been translated into multiple languages. I recently picked up a copy and read it in a couple of days. It was very engaging initially, but tended to drag a bit towards the end with lot of technical details and procedural information of his space research and missile projects.
I loved the initial chapters of Wings of Fire since it gives a vivid picture of our country during 1930 – 1950s. Kalam was born in Rameswaram, a southern religious town in Tamilnadu. The initial chapters provides an interesting glimpse of religious harmony which existed before India’s partition,
The famous Shiva temple, which made Rameswaram so sacred to pilgrims , was about a ten-minute walk from our house. Our locality was predominantly Muslim, but there were quite a few Hindu families too, living amicably with their Muslim neighbours.
The high priest of Rameswaram temple, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, was a very close friend of my father’s. One of the most vivid memories of my early childhood is of the two men, each in his traditional attire, discussing spiritual matters.
One day when I was in the fifth standard at the Rameswaram Elementary School, a new teacher came to our class. I used to wear a cap which marked me as a Muslim, and I always sat in the front row next to Ramanadha Sastry, who wore a sacred thread. The new teacher could not stomach a Hindu priest’s son sitting with a Muslim boy. In accordance with our social ranking as the new teacher saw it, I was asked to go and sit on the back bench. I felt very sad, and so did Ramanadha Sastry. He looked utterly downcast as I shifted to my seat in the last row. The image of him weeping when I shifted to the last row left a lasting impression on me. After school , we went home and told our respective parents about the incident.
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. He bluntly asked the teacher to either apologize or quit the school and the island. Not only did the teacher regret his behaviour, but the strong sense of conviction Lakshmana Sastry conveyed ultimately reformed this young teacher.
Kalam in younger years wanted to be an officer in air force, however he couldn’t clear the interview. He met Swami Sivananda after this failure and I found his words to Kalam interesting and in a way prophetic,
Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to become an Air Force pilot. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but it is predetermined. Forget this failure, as it was essential to lead you to your destined path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your existence. Become one with yourself, my son! Surrender yourself to the wish of God,
In the book we learn how Kalam started his career in Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) and was involved in the design of a hovercraft. Later he moved to Indian Space Research which was the brain child of Vikram Sarabhai. In 1963, Kalam went to NASA facility in Maryland(USA) as part of a training program on sounding rocket launching techniques. There he came across a painting which depicted Tipu Sultan’s rocket warfare against the British,
Here, I saw a painting prominently displayed in the reception lobby. It depicted a battle scene with a few rockets flying in the background. A painting with this theme should be the most commonplace thing at a Flight Facility, but the painting caught my eye because the soldiers on the side launching the rockets were not white , but dark-skinned, with the racial features of people found in South Asia. One day, my curiosity got the better of me, drawing me towards the painting. It turned out to be Tipu Sultan’s army fighting the British. The painting depicted a fact forgotten in Tipu’s own country but commemorated here on the other side of the planet. I was happy to see an Indian glorified by NASA as a hero of warfare rocketry.
The book covers a lot of "behind the scene" information and technical details about India’s satellite and missile program (SLV-3, Prithvi, Agni, Thrisul, Akash and Nag). This might interest technically inclined readers but is sure to put off readers who bought the book to get to know Kalam or to know his principles/ideas. Space and missile programs are huge complex projects and managing them is extremely challenging. The book does give a glimpse of the participatory management technique adopted by Kalam, but at the same time it doesn’t go into details.
Wings of fire covers Kalam’s personal life only briefly which is strange for an autobiography. For example, we don’t know why he decided to remain single or his activities outside space research (even though we can conclude in the end that he was married to science and technology).
Kalam is a poet and is a huge fan of poems. The book contains many of his own poems and his favorite poems. Here is an example,
Do not look at Agni
as an entity directed upward
to deter the ominous
or exhibit your might.
It is fire in the heart of an Indian.
Do not even give it
the form of a missile
as it clings to the
burning pride of this nation
and thus is bright.
Through Wings of Fire, we come across some brilliant people who worked behind Indian space research such as Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Brahm Prakash. The book also contains about 24 photos and I found the ones from the early days of Indian space program very interesting. This alone is worth the price of the book!
One of the things that stands out throughout the book is Kalam’s positive thinking. He held many high ranking positions in various organizations. Yet in the book he rarely mentions anything about lethargy/corruption of bureaucracy or politicians. The secret to his success seems to be his ability to ignore negative things around him. The book also gives a clue to his popularity in India. Kalam is a simple, secular, inspiring humanitarian.
My Rating: 7/10. I liked the initial chapters, but wasn’t much impressed by later chapters. Kalam should look for a better writer to write his updated autobiography (After I wrote this review I realized that he has released a new autobiography titled "My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions").
Wings of Fire An Autobiography
- Author: APJ Abdul Kalam & Arun Tiwari
- Pages: 180
- Publisher: Universities Press (India)
- Publication Year: 2000
- Price: Rs.150 (approx.)
I own a Maruti Esteem which I bought around 6 years ago. Like any salaried guy, I bought it on a vehicle loan from a bank. This fact is marked on the registration certificate of the car and is known as hypothecation. Once I complete loan payment, I can remove this from RC card and the process is know as hypothecation termination.
Usually the bank will send a confirmation letter and 2 copies of form 35 indicating that my loan is closed and then I can take complete ownership of the car. This involves filing the form 35 with Motor Vehicles department and removing hypothecation from the RC card. This is important since this makes you the real owner of the car and you can easily sell it anytime you want.
However even after completely paying the loan, I never received any documentation from the bank. After waiting for a while I contacted my bank branch and they promptly gave loan completion certificate and form 35 and I even got an offer for a new loan! The loan completion certificates are addressed to RTO and Insurance company and form 35 is addressed to RTO for removing hypothecation from records. I used the new online application Website provided at http://www.keralamvd.gov.in/ to cancel hypothecation and change permanent address in RC card. This involved online application, online payment and submission of documents at the RTO. Within a month I got the new RC card through registered post.
This article provides a step by step guide on removing Hypothecation and changing address on your new RC card. Note that changing address is optional, however many people will have a different address now than the one they had at the time of car purchase. This guide is specific for Kerala (I had done it from Trivandrum RTO office). In places like Bangalore and Delhi the hypothecation removal process seems complex than in Kerala. Even in Kerala, the process is far from simple. However the newly introduced online system makes it somewhat easier.
Detailed Steps for Vehicle Hypothecation Removal in Kerala
The overall process for changing Vehicle hypothecation in Kerala is as follows,
- Step 1 (Only if address change is required) : Take photocopy of your address proof (I used passport copy). Get it attested from a gazetted officer by showing the original. The accepted address proof documents are Election card, Passport, Aadhar, Ration card, Govt. ID card, Govt. Payslip and Others approved RA (no idea what that is!)
- Step 2 : Ensure that you have paid all dues to the motor vehicle department. If you have bought your car before 2008, ensure that you have paid one time cess of Rs.100 (for cars). Usually you might have paid the cess and endorsed it on RC card. But in my case I had paid the cess but hadn’t endorsed it on RC card and hence had to submit copy of it. Ensure that photocopies of all your payments are attached with your application.
- Step 3 : Visit http://www.keralamvd.gov.in/ and from the right side menu, select Cancel Hypothecation. Fill out the application for Hypothecation termination by selecting RTO, Vehicle registration number and last 5 digits of chassis number (see RC card). You also need to pay the fees online. The total fee I paid is Rs. 175. After the fee is paid, you get an e-Receipt in PDF form. This contains your personal copy and the copy you need to submit to RTO. Important thing to note here is that within 3 days of submitting online application, you need to submit the documents at the RTO office.
- Step 4 (Only for address change) : Visit http://www.keralamvd.gov.in/ and from the right side menu, select Change of Address in RC. Fill out the application for RC address change application by selecting RTO, vehicle registration number and last 5 digits of chassis number (see RC book). You can change permanent address, temporary address or both. Once you enter your address, you will get filled Form 33 in PDF form which needs to be submitted to RTO along with other documents. You also need to pay the fees online. The total fee I paid for this is Rs.35. After the fee is paid, you get an e-Receipt in PDF form. This contains your personal copy and the copy you need to submit to RTO. Important thing to note here is that within 3 days of submitting online application, you need to submit the documents at the RTO office.
- Step 5 : Buy a paper file or plastic file for organizing documents and ensure that you have the originals of RC card, pollution certificate and insurance certificate in it. Note that you need originals. Ensure that you keep 2 copies of these documents for your own personal use at home/car. Add signed Form 35 received from bank, confirmation letter from bank, signed Form 33 printed after applying for address change and attested address proof document to the file. If you have paid one time cess separately, add a photocopy of the same. Use a paper clip to hold all documents together.
- Step 6 : Visit RTO office around 10AM. You need 2 envelops with stamps along with your application. The first envelop requires a stamp of Rs. 25 (for sending documents to bank from RTO) and the second envelop requires a stamp of Rs. 40 (for sending the new RC card to your home). You can get this from a nearby shop around RTO. In Trivandrum, you can get this from a nearby telephone booth. Add these envelopes to your file.
- Step 7 : Visit the reception counter at RTO office and submit your paper file with all documents attached. Ensure that your fee receipts are in front. This allows the officer to quickly scan the Transaction number and locate your online application. He will verify all the documents and then will forward you to the relevant counter. At this counter, your application will be accepted and a receipt will be issued. You can keep this receipt along with photocopies of your RC card/insurance/pollution certificate in your vehicle.
- Step 8 : You need to wait for 2 to 4 weeks to get the new RC card. In order to track your application, you can use the transaction numbers in your fee receipts at MVD website. The transaction number is of the form A/XXXXX/YYYY. If you have applied for address change and hypothecation cancellation, you have 2 transaction numbers. Visit http://www.keralamvd.gov.in/ and then select RTO File Status on the left menu. You need to enter transaction number to get the details. The possible statuses seem to be Entered, Verified and Printed. Once printed, you can expect the registered post of your RC card along with original insurance and pollution certificate any time at your new address.
Document Checklist for Hypothecation Removal in Kerala
- Photocopy of address proof (for address change) attested by a gazetted officer
- Signed form 33 (for address change, obtained from MVD Website after submission of online application)
- Signed form 35 (obtained from bank) and confirmation letter (obtained from bank)
- Original RC card, pollution certificate, insurance certificate (this is returned along with new RC card, however keep copies at car/home for your personal use)
- Copy of one time cess of Rs.100 (Usually required for vehicles bought before 2009)
- e-Payment receipts for online application of address change (if required) and hypothecation termination
- 2 envelopes with Rs.25 stamp and Rs.40 stamp. Ensure that Rs.40 stamped envelop has your new address
One thing I have noticed over the years is that it is the ignorance and lack knowledge of laws/rules which breeds corruption. As long as you have good legal understanding of the things and you follow the rules and procedures, you can get most of the government stuff done without paying bribe or getting the help of "agents". So far my interaction with Motor Vehicle department in Kerala has been hassle free. The new online application process is a huge help in this regard. To know more about MVD online application process check out the following links,
"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." – Randy Pausch
It was sometime in 2007 that I first came across Randy Pausch’s "The Last Lecture" video in which Randy talked about about "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". It has been an influential talk in my life and I have seen the video a couple of times since then. Recently I bought the "The Last Lecture" book by Randy which is based on this popular video. The book goes through the same topic as the video, but also has interesting additional material including background material on the lecture. This is my review of the book.
Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, US. His expertise was in virtual reality and he went on to create the Alice project. At the age of 46, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Carnegie Mellon had a lecture series called "the last lecture" (now known as journeys) where faculty members share their reflection on their life journeys. In the case of Randy, "the last lecture" was really like his last lecture since he had only months to live due to his terminal cancer.
On September 18, 2007, Randy Pausch gave his "last lecture" titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". The lecture outlined his childhood dreams and how he went about achieving it in his life. It is in essence a short summary of his life and he said he intended the lecture as a message to his children. The video of the lecture became viral and as of writing this article, it had over 15 millions page views!
"The Last Lecture" soon became an internet sensation and Randy went on to do appearances in ABC Network, Oprah Winfrey Show, Time Magazine and also gave a speech at commencement ceremony in Carnegie Mellon. He also wrote a book titled "The Last Lecture" which was sold over 5 million copies world wide.
Randy died from pancreatic cancer on July,2008 at the age of 47. However his book and his lecture will remain a source of inspiration for the future generations.
Book Review : The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
(I) The Last Lecture – A background on the last lecture at Carnegie Mellon.
(II) Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams – Much of the material here are also in the video.
(III) Adventures … And Lesson Learned -This is a collection of his life experiences and what he learned.
(IV) Enabling the Dreams of Others
(V) It is About How to Live Your Life – Randy lists the rules by which he tried to live his life.
(VI) Final Remarks
The first thing you notice is that the book assumes that you have seen the last lecture video. Many chapters refer to the background of the video and if you have seen it, you immediately make a connection.
When you read the book, it feels as if you are going through the entire life of Randy in a few minutes. We learn how he achieves his childhood dreams even when there are some really hard obstacles. According to him, the obstacles are there for a reason, it is to keep the "other" people out!
One of the things he mentions in his book is that when you want something, just ask. I have applied this principle even when I thought asking will lead to 100% rejection. Surprisingly, the actual rejection rate was something like 50% and even in those cases I think if I am persistent enough it would have worked. As Randy says,
"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something"
Most of his advice on life is actually ancient wisdom and clearly these are all principles valid till the end of humanity (importance of hard work, dreaming big, showing gratitude etc.). It is interesting to see them in the context of Randy’s life. If you are looking for any soft of deep philosophical discussions, this is not the book for you.
His view of "failures" is that it is what gives us experience. He even had an award for "glorious failure" in his "building virtual worlds" course. As Randy says,
"Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted"
At just over 200 pages, "The Last Lecture" is a small book. In every page you find a man’s agony in knowing that soon his children won’t have a father to protect & guide them. Randy writes in such a honest and passionate way that you will find it hard to stop once you start reading the book.
My Rating : 8/10. This is a good book. It may have a positive influence on the way you live.
Other Notable Quotes by Randy Pausch
"If I only had three words of advice, they would be, Tell the Truth. If got three more words, I’d add, all the time."
"When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you."
"It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life, If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you."