RAMESWARAM: They have been sitting there on the ground right from early morning, braving the scorching sun and the milling crowd, just to see their icon for one last time. A P J Abdul Kalam, the engineer-turned-technocrat-turned-People’s President had inspired them to dream, and dream big, and this was their homage to them.
By afternoon, thousands gathered at the two-acre ground opposite the new bus stand in Rameswaram town to pay their final respects. There are people from all across the State and also from other parts of India, commoners who found a connect with the former president — not so common in this country, at least in the recent years.
Among the sea of humanity, mostly youngsters, who had gathered in large numbers to see Kalam for the last time was Mohammed Muthu Meera Lebbai Maraicker, the 99-year-old elder brother of the late president. He had come there with his kin Nazeema, Roja and Syed Saleem to pay floral tribute to his famous brother for one last time.
G Ramachandran, a 20s-something youth from Coimbatore was one among them sitting on the ground, waiting sombrely even as the queue grew in length. It was his mother, Savitri, who introduced him to Kalam — the man who grew from this small coastal town to the topmost position of the country.
Ramachandran saw Kalam for the first time at his engineering college in his hometown. But that was only a glimpse. After completing his BE in electronics and communication, Ramachandran went on to study at IIM-Ahmedabad, where Kalam came for a lecture.
“One day, I was told that his secretary, V Ponraj, needed assistance with a paper. While I was helping him, Kalam walked in and invited me for dinner. Imagine getting to spend about 30 minutes with your one idol, role model,” he recalled.
When Kalam asked about his future plans, the youngster quickly replied: politics. To this, Kalam advised him to first focus on his career, be successful and then move to politics. The country needed youngsters in politics, but after gaining experience and proving themselves in varied fields, the elder man said. “He asked me to be an entrepreneur first. I am close to setting up my own firm as he advised. I need to touch his feet and get his blessing for that,” Ramachandran said.
Nimmi Jam, a 60-year-old retired anganwadi staff from Thiruvannamalai was attracted to Kalam’s focus on children and how they were the future of the nation. Having been worked among children for all her life, Nimmi cannot agree more with the former president. “No leader has encapsulated the importance of children in the recent times as he did. Kalam was also the perfect role model for children, for rising above all the narrower identities into a true national leader,” she said.
Ramya, a 15-year-old, is here with her mother Poongothai, a music teacher, and grandmother Seethalakshmi. The family in Coimbatore admits having serious discussions of making this trip as Ramya is now in Class X. However, in the end, they realised this was not a day they would want miss, the last time the young girl can see her greatest inspiration.
For Mohammed Ashraff from Kasargode in Kerala, it is Kalam’s ability to see beyond religious and other distinctions that made a mark. Ashraff, who is employed in the Gulf, has been in India on a three-month vacation when he heard the news about Kalam’s demise. He took the next train to reach Rameswaram.
“Apparently, he used to ask everybody who visited him whether they had their meal. That, for me, shows the quality he had as a human, even when he was among the most important leaders of the country,” said Veeran, a TV mechanic from Salem.
On Thursday, Kalam will be buried, but the story of his life will not end. It will live through many like P Balamurugan, a young engineering student from Tiruchy. Hailing from an agricultural family, Balamurugan helps run the household by taking tuition for Class XII students. Every day, before he begins classes, he writes a quote by Kalam, from his books or speech, on the blackboard. That is the first lesson for the day.
As the crowd grew in size and leaders began flocking, a group of young boys and girls from Rameswaram and its neighbourhood were seen quietly moving around, first visiting Kalam’s home before reaching the ground. “He was a person from here, like us. So we can also be scientists and leaders, like him,” they said in unison.