RAMESWARAM: Hundreds of mourners fought back tears as they stood in serpentine queues for the final glimpse of this island’s most famous son–former President A P J Abdul Kalam–as he lay in state, back in his hometown one last time.
There was spontaneous outpouring of grief in the temple town as the mortal remains of the hugely popular former President arrived in Rameswaram from New Delhi.
Grieving locals lined either side of the 10-km road from Mandapam to Rameshwaram as the mortal remains of the ‘People’s President’ were brought to a place near the New Bus Stand here for people to pay their homage.
The young and the old shut their eyes and folded their hands in reverence as the gun carriage carrying the ‘Missile Man’ of India passed them by.
Crowds gathered on the road in many places, as the vehicle inched its way to Rameswaram, pleading with the driver to go slow so they could have a clearer view of the man, whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a “jewel” the nation lost.
There was some commotion when Kalam’s remains arrived at the helipad from Madurai with mourners making a dash for the helicopter. The situation was, however, soon brought under control.
Braving sweltering heat, thousands waited patiently for his body to arrive in Rameswaram, with their numbers swelling by the hour.
The last rites after ‘Namaz-e-Janaza’ of the 83-year-old former Head of State, who passed away suddenly in Shillong on Monday, will be performed here around 11 am tomorrow and would be attended by Prime Minister Modi and a host of political leaders, including some Chief Ministers.
Kalam’s remains would be handed over to his family for ceremonies after public homage at 8 pm this evening.
The governments in Tamil Nadu and neighbouring Puducherry have declared a public holiday tomorrow as a mark of respect to Kalam.
Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar accompanied the body from the national capital. Union MoS Pon Radhakrishnan, who is from Tamil Nadu, joined them here.
Kalam’s family had wished for his last rites to be performed in Rameswaram, where as a boy from a family with humble means, he learnt to dream big, a message he always gave to the new generation.
The former President’s famed simplicity and grand achievements were topics of discussion in the street corners and the marketplace.
Locals recalled how Kalam wanted to turn Rameswaram into a green island, the way it was in his childhood.
With his efforts, more than 17 wells and water bodies on the island, home to the famous Lord Ramanathaswamy temple, were renovated after years of disuse, they said.
He made arrangements for putting up solar lamps in remote places like Dhanushkodi at a cost of Rs 75 lakh.
“Kalam did a lot of development work for his native island and we have gathered to show our gratitude,” said a resident.
Teary-eyed Gopinath, a student, said “I wanted to see him from close but could not due to heavy crowd. I am happy I could at least see this great man, it gives me immense satisfaction. I got his blessings.”
Jayakandan of a Consumer forum said but for Kalam’s intervention, the broad gauge train track would not have come to the temple town so early.
“We had at that time met him and briefed him about the Railway’s plan to lay the track only up to Mandapam and urged his intervention to extend it till Rameswaram,” he said.
Besides the commoners of his home town, with which Kalam never lost touch, notwithstanding his numerous engagements and fame, several political bigwigs including DMK Treasurer M K Stalin, BJP’s Tamilisai Soundararajan, Ramakrishnan (CPI-M), TMC’s G K Vasan and MDMK leader Vaiko paid homage to the former President.
Earlier, Kalams body was received at Madurai airport on its arrival from New Delhi by a special IAF aircraft. Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosiah laid a wreath on the casket as a mark of respect to the departed soul.
Tamil Nadu Finance Minister O Panneerselvam and some of his cabinet colleagues, who were deputed by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, were also president.
Jayalalithaa will not be present for Kalam’s funeral tomorrow due to health reasons.
A 1.5 acre plot at Paikarumbu will be the final resting place for the ‘People’s President’.
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