Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu), July 29:
Thousands of people gathered here on Wednesday awaiting the body of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, emotions running high that a humble boy from this coastal town who rose to great heights had passed away.
Crowds massed at Kalam’s family house to pay their last respects, some unable to hold back their tears. Officials said Kalam’s body would land in Madurai and then be flown by helicopter to Rameswaram.
Many locals were unable to accept the passing away of one of India’s most popular presidents, who was born and raised in this Hindu pilgrim centre.
“People in large numbers have assembled at Kalam’s house to pay their last respects,” A.P.J.M.K. Sheik Saleem, the former president’s brother’s grandson, told IANS. “All our relatives have also come to attend the last rites,” he added.
Rameswaram is located around 600 km from Chennai.
Kalam was born in Rameswaram on October 15, 1931 and died in Shillong on Monday after suffering a cardiac arrest during a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management.
It was in this town that Kalam hawked newspapers to supplement his family income in his younger years. His father owned a boat, and his mother constantly struggled to keep the family fed and clothed.
His sister pawned jewellery with a moneylender so that the studious Kalam could have Rs.600 when he decided to leave Rameswaram to join the Madras Institute of Technology.
Saleem said Kalam’s body would be kept at a location near the town’s main bus stand to enable people to pay their last respects.
“Public can pay their homage till 8 p.m. after which the body will be taken to his house on Mosque Street,” he said.
According to Saleem, the last rites will be performed around 10.30 a.m. on Thursday.
Rameshwaram resident A. Johnson told IANS: “Kalam was Rameswaram’s gift to the world. It is sad that the gift has left us.”
Added Inoja, another resident: “There are no words to express my feelings. I am still not able to believe that Kalam is no more. I feel like crying.”
S. Muthunambu, yet another resident, said in a choking voice: “I am unable to accept his death. Kalam had come to our school. He stressed that we all should study hard.”
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said the government had allotted land for burying Kalam’s mortal remains at the request of his family.
Security has been tightened at Rameswaram in view of the large number of people, including ministers and others, who are expected to attend Kalam’s last rites.
Hoteliers told IANS that all the rooms in major hotels had been booked for two days. (IANS)