Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu): The mortal remains of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were on Wednesday taken by helicopter from Madurai to Mandapam, around 22 km from here, where state ministers and others paid their last respects to the departed soul.
Members of the armed forces too paid their respects to Kalam, following which the casket containing the former president’s body was put an army truck to be transported by road to Rameswaram.
At Rameswaram, around 600 km from Chennai, Kalam’s body would be kept at a location near the bus stand for the people to pay their last respects.
A large number of people have been waiting at the location to pay their homage to the the distinguished scientist and teacher popularly known as ‘People’s President’ and ‘Missile Man’.
Speaking to reporters at Mandapam, union minister Venkaiah Naidu said there was no leader like Kalam in recent times who had endeared himself to the people, particularly to the youth.
“People in large numbers have assembled to pay their last respects,” A.P.J.M.K. Sheik Saleem, the former president’s brother’s grandson, said. “All our relatives have also arrived to attend the last rites,” he added.
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 sufficiently 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 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 the Mosque Street,” he said.
According to Saleem, the last rites will be performed around 10.30 a.m. on Thursday.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa said the government had allotted land for burying Kalam’s mortal remains at the request of his family.
Meanwhile, public emotions were running high that a boy with humble origins from this coastal town who rose to great heights had passed away.
Many locals were unable to believe the passing away of one of India’s most popular presidents, who was born and raised in this Hindu pilgrim centre.
Rameshwaram resident A. Johnson told IANS: “Kalam was Rameswaram’s gift to the world. It is sad that this gift has left us.”
Another resident Inoja said: “There are no words to express my feelings. I am still not able to believe that Kalam is no more. I feel like crying.”
Muthunambu 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.”
Security has been tightened at Rameswaram in view of the large number of people, including ministers and others, expected to attend Kalam’s last rites.
Hoteliers said that all the rooms in major hotels had been booked for two days.