How Kalam’s Hindu teacher took on prejudice

APJ Abdul Kalam, like the members of his community and other disadvantaged groups, had faced social discrimination when he was young. The small society in his native place Rameswaram was highly stratified and it never appreciated anyone violating the established social norms. But there were a few who fought against the discriminations in their own way. Sivasubramania Iyer, his science teacher, though an orthodox Brahmin with a very conservative wife, was one such person. He used to spend hours with Abdul Kalam and had high hopes on him.
Iyer once invited Kalam to his house for a meal. The science teacher’s wife was horrified at the idea of a Muslim being invited to partake lunch in “her ritually pure kitchen”. She didn’t turn up to serve the food. But the teacher did not lose his cool: he served the food with his own hands and sat beside him. “His wife watched us from behind the kitchen door. I wondered whether she had observed any difference in the way I ate rice, drank water or cleaned the floor after the meal,” Kalam states in Wings of Fire.
After the meal, when Kalam was about to leave, the teacher invited him again for a dinner the following week. Observing his hesitation, Iyer told him not to get upset, saying, ‘Once you decide to change the system, such problems have to be confronted.’ But next time when he visited, Iyer’s wife took him inside the kitchen and served him food with her own hands.
In the primary school, Kalam had three close friends – Ramanadha Sastry, Aravindan and Sivaprakasan. Ramanadha Sastry was the son of Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, the chief of Rameswaram temple.
One day a new teacher came to his class. The teacher could not withstand the sight of a Muslim boy sitting beside the priest’s son. Kalam was asked to move to the back bench. Both children were very sad. “The image of him (Ramanadha) weeping when I shifted to the last row left a lasting impression on me,” states Kalam.
Hearing about the incident, Lakshmana Sastry summoned the teacher and asked him apologize to the children or leave the locality. Sastry asked the teacher not to spread communal hatred among children. The teacher realized his mistake and apologized.

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