RAMESWARAM:The order was strict: No visitors after the body was handed over to the family late on Wednesday night. However, for hundreds who were streaming into the coastal town from around the country, these held no meaning. They were here to bid farewell to their leader, former president APJ Abdul Kalam, who died after a cardiac arrest at IIM-Shillong on Monday.
Relatives at his home here in Rameswaram said visitors were pouring in right through the night, till 7 am on Thursday despite instructions from the Army. One after the other, they stood in line quietly and circumambulated the body to pay respect and returned, as if it were a pilgrimage.
The funeral procession first visited the mosque nearby before slowly proceeding towards the designated ground at Peikarumbu near the Pamban bridge. It was a substantial crowd on the streets of the town right from the morning, much more than the ground at Peikarumbu could accommodate. As the procession inched toward the ground, people stood waiting behind temporary barricades on both sides of the road, on terraces and balconies, and on treetops to catch one last glimpse of their icon.
As it went by, the air was filled with chants and slogans, all repeating the same words — Jai Hind and Vande Mataram. Scores of women and children broke down as the casket carrying the ‘People’s President’ went past, indicating their love for Kalam.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who landed at Mandapam, arrived at 11.15 am, accompanied by Governor K Rosaiah. Modi first placed a floral wreath, and along with personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force, saluted for two minutes to pay respect on behalf of the nation. After taking a ritual circle around the body, Modi went to where the late president’s brother, Mohammed Muthu Meera Lebbai Maraicker (99), was sitting, and touched his feet to seek his blessing.
He then went to the north side of the temporary stage where his seating was arranged.
After the leaders and others finished paying respect and the Gun Salute, the Army personnel removed and neatly folded the National Flag that was draped on the coffin as is custom, before handing over the body to the family members for the final rites.
The body was then taken to the burial pit that was a short distance from the stage, where prayers were offered as per custom. BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain and Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad joined the family in prayers, before the body was finally lowered into the pit.
As the family members stood in a circle around the pit, Modi came by again and spoke to Kalam’s brother Maraicker. The Prime Minister stood there, silently, as the pit was covered, before making a quiet exit. Scores of personnel also came to pay respect to the late Commander, one who saw them as fellow humans and was concerned about their welfare.
Though none but the dignitaries and family members were to come inside the ground, the crowd came in after the VIPs left. All they wanted was to place a handful of flowers at the burial spot.
While the leaders started returning by early evening, people from around the State and country were not done. Their pilgrimage was not complete. Hundreds went to Maraicker’s house, where on the first floor is a library aptly named ‘Mission of Life Gallery’ that has all of Kalam’s works. It seemed as if many among these common people were taking a silent pledge, a promise to their icon to take his mission forward.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was followed by a team of ministers from Tamil Nadu headed by O Panneerselvam, who were deputed by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi accompanied by Ghulam Nabi Azad and TNCC president EVKS Elangovan, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who incidentally played a key role in Kalam becoming the President, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Opposition and senior Communist leader V S Achuthanandan and Kerala Governor retired justice P Sathasivam, central ministers Manohar Parrikar, Venkaiah Naidu and Pon Radhakrishnan, Meghalaya Governor V Shanmuganathan, DMDK leader Vijayakant, PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss, VCK leader Thirumavalavan among others.