Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lecture by H. E. Dr. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, at BMICH (January 21, 2012)

His Excellency Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, former president of India, is on a visit to Sri Lanka. On Saturday, 21st of January 2012, he was the chief guest at an event to launch a ten year National Action Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka, at Temple Trees (H.E. President Mahinda Rajapakss’s official residence). In the afternoon, he delivered a lecture at the auditorium of Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Centre (SBMEC-Auditorium), on the topic, “Ignited Minds of the Youth is the Greatest Resource for the Nation”.

Organized by the Bandaranaike Centre of International Studies (BCIS), which is the academic wing of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike National Memorial Foundation, the event was graced by the participation of many other distinguished guests including Ashok Kantha, High Commissioner of India, Senior Minister Thissa Vitharana and Minister of External Affairs, Professor G. L. Peiris. The gathering of more than 2,500 people included diplomats, politicians and a large contingent of youth and children.

In his welcome speech, Mr. Sunimal Fernando, advisor to H. E. the President of Sri Lanka and member of the Board of Studies in BCIS, highlighted the importance of Dr. Abdul Kalam’s visit. The Cabinet of Ministers in Sri Lanka has already declared the year 2012 as the “Year for a Trilingual Society” and Dr. Kalam was the chief guest at the event to launch the above mentioned event at Temple Trees. Mr. Fernando further stated that despite being a leading scientist, Dr. Kalam’s concerns and interests are of a varied spectrum including, aspirations of the youth, empowering villagers and women, mobilizing rural population, the mission of education etc.

The High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka, Mr. Ashok Kantha spoke of Dr. Kalam and his importance to the people of India. In his illustrious career as a scientist, Dr. Abdul Kalam oversaw India’s space program, missile system and her nuclear program. For his work, the eminent scientist was bestowed with many awards including the highest award an Indian can hope for from his or her own land, the Bharat Ratna. However, as Mr. Kantha further emphasized, the people revere Dr. Kalam as the “quintessential people’s president”. A man with “passion and compassion” and “humility and humanity”, he is an “icon to look up to” stated Mr Kantha.

Speaking on this occasion, Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris built up from Mr Kantha’s last point, stating that as “we live in an age of cynicism” where “values and traditions are being questioned”, we are in need of a role model to look up to. Prof. Peiris was in the view that Dr. Kalam was the best suited role model. He stated that “I know no other academic with 43 honorary doctorates”. Furthermore, Prof. Peiris emphasized two main characteristics he sees in Dr. Kalam: his sheer range of interests and his pragmatism. The example he put forward to elaborate these qualities is the “PURA Movement”, a brainchild of Dr. Kalam, designed to empower the village poor.

Turning the attention of the audience to the education field, Prof. Peiris stated that compared to Western children, the children from countries like India and Sri Lanka have far better talents and power of perception. What they lack is the access to opportunity. Sadly, the university system in Sri Lanka, which is compartmentalized and stratified, does not allow much opportunity to think out of the box. He shared one of his own experiences when he was invited within just three hours to two similar functions by Sinhalese and Tamil students. They could not organize one function as they could not communicate due to the language barrier.

Then it was time for the keynote address by Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. He, as expected, addressed mainly the youth whom he called his 'young friends'. He stated that the youth should have the “faith of confidence” which can do wonders. Education should be geared towards inculcating this attitude among the younger generation. He recalled unique personalities from the field of sciences, such as Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers and asked the young people who had gathered whether they wanted to be unique personalities. Naturally they replied in the affirmative. Then Dr. Kalam advised that to become unique is the hardest battle one will face.
Dr. Kalam further stated that there are four tools to become a unique person. They are: A great aim, continuous acquiring of knowledge, hard work and persistence. Stressing that “small aim is a crime” he also stated that acquiring knowledge can be done through books, humans and good teachers. Dr. Kalam also emphasized that working with integrity and succeeding with integrity is an essential challenge to the youth.

However, according to the former Indian president, “no youth today has to fear about the future as the ignited mind of the youth is the greatest resource for a nation”. He also stated that the society has changed from good old days of his youth. As such, knowledge and ability rather than social hierarchy determines the future of today’s youth.

Dr. Kalam emphasized the need for national ethics for sustained development. This, he said, moved down the social units. Thus, there was the need for ethics in the societies for ethics in the nation, ethics in the families for ethics in the societies and ethics of parenthood for ethics in the families. According to Dr. Kalam, creating a morally upright and compassionate society with a cleaner environment and a caring society is the challenges of our times. He stated that this can arise from the youth movements. He asked the young people to think of what you can give to the society to make it a better place. Imparting knowledge and literacy to the illiterate, growing trees to cleanse the environment and caring for the lonely are examples he illustrated.

Dr. Kalam managed to conduct an interactive session despite the large audience, highlighting the fact that he is a good communicator. Undoubtedly, he made a lasting impression on those who heard him on that beautiful afternoon.

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