The one who taught the ‘People’s President’

July 27 marks the death anniversary of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam – the People’s President. To honour his memory, ParentCircle presents an interview with his teacher, Fr Chinnadurai.

By K Shobana

The one who taught the ‘People’s President’

Of all professions, teaching is the one that is highly respected and most honoured. One great teacher who left his mark in this noble profession was Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India. He was known as the ‘Philosopher President’. He started off his career as a teacher and reached the esteemed position of the president of our nation. He proved to be an icon for the entire teaching community. India has been fortunate to have yet another great teacher, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who rose to the heights of becoming India’s president. He was also a researcher, scientist and scholar. Fondly known as the ‘People’s President’, Dr Kalam had a lot of respect for his teachers, and always attributed his success to them. One of his teachers whom Dr Kalam revered the most was Fr Ladislaus Chinnadurai. Just ten days before he passed away, Dr Kalam met his teacher and offered him his respects. Fr Chinnadurai was inconsolable on hearing the news of Dr Kalam’s demise, as his relationship with his beloved student was quite intimate. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Fr Chinnadurai, where he talks to ParentCircle about his days as a teacher, the ideal teacher-student relationship, and of course, his much-admired student.

PC: Tell us about your younger days…

Fr LC: Not just for me, but for all of us, our younger days are full of unforgettable memories, especially the days we spent in school and college. I joined MA Honours (Physics) at St Joseph’s College, Trichy, in the year 1942. After finishing my course in 1945, I worked as a professor till 1962, in the same institution. Meanwhile, I joined the seminary.

PC: What about your family?

Fr LC: I grew up with six siblings. Having decided to join the seminary, I did not marry. My younger sister Cicilia also joined the seminary in Kanyakumari.

PC: How old are you?

Fr LC: (With a smile) I’m 96.

PC: Please tell us about your teachers.

Fr LC: We were blessed with really great teachers. We still try to live by their teachings and advice.

PC: We understand that you taught Dr Kalam when he was a student at St Joseph’s College. Can you tell us something about him?

Fr LC: He studied in St Joseph’s college from 1951 to 1953. He was exceptional in academics. He always had the habit of waking up very early in the morning to study.

PC: Apart from him being studious, what were the other qualities of Dr Kalam that impressed you?

Fr LC: His simplicity - he was so down-to-earth, even when he was occupying the coveted post of the President of India. He used to visit me to seek my blessings on special occasions like his birthdays and Ramzan festival days, even when he was holding office and also after the end of his term.

PC: Today’s students are able to learn through the Internet, apart from their regular studies in schools and colleges. What’s your opinion on this?

Fr LC: Today, we are in an era of computers, with major advancements in science and technology. I feel that our students should make use of these opportunities properly.

PC: Do you consider any of your teachers as your role model?

Fr LC: Not just one. I can mention many of my teachers. None of them are alive now. I myself am 96!

PC: How should an ideal student be?

Fr LC: A student should always have the curiosity to learn new things. At the same time, he should also be well-mannered. He should be attentive in the class and concentrate on his studies. Even after he completes the course, he should always be in touch with his teachers.

PC: What would you like to say to the future generation?

Fr LC: Students should always be disciplined and dignified. They should respect their teachers with the same devotion they show towards their parents. We should never forget those individuals who helped us grow up. My old students still keep in touch with me. It is really sad that most of today’s students aren’t doing it.

A tribute from one noble teacher to another

Fr Ladislaus Chinnadurai was one of the key inspirations behind Dr Abdul Kalam’s great interest in space research. Dr Kalam was his student when he was the professor of Physics at St Joseph’s College, Trichy. His teaching methodology and in-depth explanation of space fuelled Dr Kalam’s love for the subject.

Dr Kalam had great affection for his teacher and had visited Fr Chinnadurai on 18 July at around 2:00 p.m. to enquire about his health. Dr Kalam’s death, a few days later, shattered Fr Chinnadurai. He said with teary eyes, “Kalam’s death is shocking – I feel really sad. He met me just ten days ago. I never thought he would leave us so soon. He’s younger than me. He could have lived longer. He was a person who would never hurt anyone by his words or actions. He would also never discriminate between anyone. I’m extremely proud that a student of mine who was born into a simple family had reached great heights.’’

A special prayer was organised at the seminary, in memory of Dr Kalam. Candles were lit and incense sticks were burnt in front of the two books that Dr Kalam had gifted to his teacher. Students sang songs of tribute to the departed leader, who will remain an inspiration for generations of students to come.