As Thursday dawned on the small temple town of Rameswaram, residents woke up to a 2 km-long queue of mourners waiting patiently to catch a last glimpse of A P J Abdul Kalam.
At 10 am, after a prayer session was conducted at the ‘House of Kalam’, the mortal remains of the former President of India was taken to the Juma Masjid nearby.
Fifteen minutes later, it was mounted on a flower-laden gun carriage and moved to the burial ground, a 1.32-acre patch of land around 4 km away in Pei Karumbu.
According to the district administration, over 1 lakh people had poured into Rameswaram since Tuesday morning to pay homage to the “People’s President”.
And over 10,000 people, who could not pay their final tributes at Kalam’s house, walked all the way to the burial ground after the police stopped vehicle movement ahead of the visit of PM Narendra Modi, who arrived from Delhi on Thursday morning, and other VVIPs.
Before laying the former President to rest with full state honours, Modi paid homage and offered condolences to Kalam’s eldest brother, 99-year-old Mohammed Muthu Meeran Lebbai Maraicker.
The other VVIPs who made their presence felt included Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who reached Madurai late on Wednesday night, and central ministers Manohar Parrikar and M Venkaiah Naidu, who accompanied Kalam’s body from Delhi on Wednesday.
Also present were Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah, State Finance Minister O Panneerselvam and his Cabinet colleagues, Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad, and the CMs of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – Oommen Chandy, Siddaramaiah and N Chandrababu Naidu.
At around noon, Kalam’s body was lowered into the grave by his family members amid a 21-gun salute and strains of the ‘Last Post’ played by the military band. At the same time, cries of “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” rose from the thousands gathered at the venue.
Among them was Raja Simhan, a government employee who travelled 400 km from Salem on his bike to bid farewell to Kalam. “I could have watched all of this on TV. Still I chose to come as we don’t have many people like him in the country,” he said.
G Sankaran, an old friend of Kalam, said a majority of those who arrived in Rameswaram for the burial were “ordinary people”. “I stood for more than four hours in the queue early on Thursday to see my friend for the last time at his home,” said Sankaran, who was accompanied by his wife and 12-year-old grandson.
The Tamil Nadu government, meanwhile, declared a public holiday and ordered liquor shops and bars to be shut across the state. At least 30,000 jewellery shops, too, remained closed in the state while petrol bunks downed shutters from 10 am-11 am as a mark of respect for Kalam.
In the evening, film-theatre owners followed suit while all major political parties cancelled their scheduled programmes.