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.
APJ 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 have gathered at the two-acre ground opposite the new bus stand in Rameshwaram town to pay final respects.
There are people from all across the State and also from other parts of India, commoners who found a connect with the President of the country - not so common in this country, at least in the recent years.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. The leader who grew from the small coastal town to the topmost position of the country. Ramachandran saw Kalam for the first time at his engineering college in his home town. But that was only a glimpse.
After completing his BE in electronics and communcation, 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 youngters 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 working 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 10.
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 is employed in the Gulf countries, and has been in his native on a three-month leave when he heard the news about Kalam's demise. He took the next train to reach Rameshwaram at the earliest."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 leader of the country," said Veeran, a TV mechanic from Salem. He confessed not having read any books penned by the former president, but have seen many programmes and speeches on television. In a few hours, Kalam will be buried, but that story does not end. It would live through many like P Balamurugan, a young engineering student from Trichy.
Hailing from an agricultural family, Balamurugan helps run the household by taking tuition for Class 12 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 Rameshwaram and its neighbourhood were seen quietly moving around, first visiting Kalam's home before landing at the ground.
"He was a person from here, like us. So we can also be scientists and leaders, like him," they said in unison.If the sign of a true leader is to create more leaders, here is a man who not just touched the lives of many, but inspired them to believe. That story will live on.