Discuss these questions in class with your teacher and then write down your answers in two or three paragraphs each.

1. “On the whole, the small society of Rameswaram was very rigid in terms of the segregation of different social groups,” says the author.

(i) Which social groups does he mention? Were these groups easily identifiable (for example, by the way they dressed)?

(ii) Were they aware only of their differences or did they also naturally share friendships and experiences? (Think of the bedtime stories in Kalam’s house; of who his friends were; and of what used to take place in the pond near his house.)

(iii) The author speaks both of people who were very aware of the differences among them and those who tried to bridge these differences. Can you identify such people in the text?

(iv) Narrate two incidents that show how differences can be created, and also how they can be resolved. How can people change their attitudes?

2. (i) Why did Abdul Kalam want to leave Rameswaram?

(ii) What did his father say to this?

(iii) What do you think his words mean? Why do you think he spoke those words?

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1. (i) The author mentions the two major religious groups of India—Hindus and Muslims—as the social groups predominant in Rameswaram.

Yes, these groups were easily identifiable. The factors that demarcated these groups from one another were their dressing sense and the place they lived in. Abdul Kalam wore a cap, which marked him as a Muslim. Besides, he lived on the Mosque Street. On the other hand, his friend, Ramanandha Sastry, wore the sacred thread as he belonged to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family.

(ii) They naturally shared friendships and experiences. Abdul Kalam was a Muslim while his friends were from orthodox Hindu Brahmin families. However, they were tied with a strong bond of friendship. Besides this friendship, during the annual Shri Sita Rama Kalyanam ceremony, Kalam’s family arranged boats with a special platform for carrying idols of the Lord from the temple to the marriage site. Moreover, events from the Ramayana and from the life of the Prophet were the bedtime stories his mother and grandmother would tell the children of their family. All these incidents show that different social groups co-inhabited in Rameswaram.

(iii) Kalam mentions two people who were very aware of the differences among the two religious groups. One of them was the new teacher of Abdul Kalam’s school, who did not let Abdul Kalam and his friend, Ramanadha Sastry, sit together.

The second person was the wife of Sivasubramania Iyer (Abdul Kalam’s science teacher). She was very conservative and did not want Kalam to eat in her pure Hindu kitchen.

The people who tried to bridge these differences were Lakshmana Sastry (Ramanadha’s father) and Sivasubramania Iyer (his science teacher).

(iv) When Kalam was in the fifth standard, a new teacher came to his class. The teacher was a bigot and could not tolerate Kalam, who was a Muslim, to sit with Ramanandha Sastry, who was a Hindu priest’s son. Thus, he changed Kalam's seat. This broke the heart of the two boys. When Ramanandha Sastry’s father came to know about it, he rebuked the teacher for spreading communal intolerance in the minds of innocent children. The teacher apologized and regretted his behaviour.

In another incident, Kalam’s science teacher, Sivasubramania Iyer, invited Kalam for a meal to his house. But his conservative wife refused to serve a Muslim in her pure Hindu kitchen.

The unperturbed teacher, served Kalam himself and even invited him for another meal the next weekend. Iyer believed that once a person has decided to change the system, such problems have to be confronted. However, by Kalam's next visit, Iyer’s wife’s views had changed. She took Kalam inside her kitchen and served him food with her own hands.

Hence, attitudes can change if we take initiative to resolve the differences and be the change we want to see.

2. (i) Kalam wanted to leave Rameswaram for further studies. He wanted to study at the district headquarters in Ramanathapuram.

(ii) After giving his consent to Kalam for pursuing his higher studies in Ramanathapuram, Kalam’s father said that he knew Kalam had to go away to “grow” and follow his dreams.

He gave the analogy of a seagull that flies across the sun alone, without a nest. He then quoted Khalil Gibran to Kalam’s mother, saying that their children were not their own. They were the “sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself”. They “come through” their parents, “but not from” them. Parents may give love to their children, but not their “thoughts”, as children have “their own thoughts”.

(iii) The words he spoke reveal his viewpoint. He believed that at some point of time, children will leave their home and parents, to follow their dreams and to grow as an individual. Just like a seagull flies away alone and finds its own food and nest, children will leave their parents to make their own life and family. Parents can merely nurture their children with love. They cannot give them their thoughts. The children have their own opinions and beliefs.

He spoke these words to comfort Kalam’s mother, who was probably hesitant to let Kalam leave Rameswaram. Besides, he could also be consoling his own self for the same.

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