Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam:
(Dr.Abdul Kalam, the most Popular People’s President of India, passed away an year ago on 27 July 2015 )
“Defeating the Defeat”
“I want to tell you about an important incident that happened in my life in 1958. Some of you will have read about it in Wings of Fire. But for the young people here who have not come across the book, I thought I would repeat it.
When I was a young boy, I dreamt that I would fly. I had a fantastic teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, who gave me the idea that I must take to science and do something connected with flight. So I went into aeronautical engineering and graduated in 1957, a long time ago.
I wanted to become a pilot. That was my dream. I applied to the Air Force and was asked to attend an interview with the Air Force Selection Board at Dehra Dhun. So I travelled all the way from my home in the island town of Rameshwaram, in the south of India, across the sea, from Mandabam to Chennai, from Chennai to Delhi, from Delhi to Dehra Dhun. It was the first time I had seen the whole of India, this beautiful land of different cultures.
The grown-ups and the swamis know what happened in the interview, but I’ll describe it for the young people present. In four days you had to do all sorts of things: run,do gymnastics, attend interviews and group discussions. Out of twenty-five applicants, eight were to be selected. After four days of difficult tasks, nine were selected. I was the ninth, but they wanted only eight. I was told I had a good chance because normally one fellow would not pass the medical exam. However, for some reason, by God’s grace, all the eight got through the medical, and so I was not selected.
I was very dejected, so I decided to take a bus to Delhi via Rishikesh and Haridwar. That was the route I selected. I started from Dehra Dhun in the early morning. When I arrived in Rishikesh, suddenly the beautiful vista of the Ganges appeared in front of me, that crystal clear water coming from the Himalayas. I felt like taking a bath, even though it was November. After bathing in the Ganges, I was putting on my dhoti, when I looked over at the opposite riverbank. There I saw the most beautiful, happy building.
Automatically I was attracted to that building, which was Swami Sivananda’s ashram. Swami Sivananda was sitting on a pedestal giving satsang to hundreds of people. I was sitting in the very last row.
After his discourse on the Bhagavad Gita, normally he would randomly select two people from the crowd for an interview. I was one of the two selected. I don’t know what made him select me. He called me to his chamber, then he looked at me and said in Tamil, “What’s your name?” “Abdul Kalam,” I replied. “Why are you sad,“ he asked. This great one, this chosen one, this godly person, knew of my sorrow! I replied, “Swamiji, I will tell you the facts. I had come from an interview with the Air Force Selection Board and I was not selected to be a pilot.”
Swami Sivananda looked at me. I was such a small fellow in front of him. Then he opened the Bhagavad Gita at the eleventh chapter, Vishwaroopa darshan, in which Lord Krishna appears in front of Arjuna in all His forms. When Arjuna tells Krishna he is afraid of fighting in the Kurukshetra war, Krishna tells him,
“Defeat the defeatist tendency.” That is a great message. Swami Sivananda asked me to repeat the statement “Defeat the defeatist tendency” three times. I repeated it three times and I was cheered up. He then gave me twenty of his books published in Tamil and English. It was such a great experience.
So, friends, I will never forget this incident in my life. I am now in the seventy-second orbit of the sun, which means my age is seventy-one. One orbit around the sun takes one year, so I have completed seventy-one orbits.
Swami Sivananda’s mantra: “Defeat the defeatist tendency” is always with me and that great philosophy and advice which Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna always comes to me whenever I’m in trouble.”