Long before President Kalam’s mortal remains were due to arrive, a serpentine line — unmindful of the sun
beating down hard upon them —
formed outside the venue. Policemen,
posted in large numbers, promised to
let them through the bamboo barricade one at a time.
Media vans parked themselves
behind the tent. Other vehicles were
being directed to park some distance
Some people were sweeping the road
at the entrance of the venue.
That Kalam was truly a People’s
President was incontestable when one
witnessed the surge of volunteers who
gathered in Rameswaram after his demise. An accretion of
college students, lecturers and members of the local Rotary
Club, all of whom identified themselves as “volunteers” come
They helped in controlling the surging crowds at Kalam’s
home and aided in distributing water and food among the
incoming mourners. They had promised to remain till the
conclusion of the late former President’s final rites July 30.
The organizer of one such group of volunteers was Dr
Karthikeyan, who heads the computer science department at
the Syed Ammal Engineering College in the neighboring
mainland town of Ramanathapuram.
There were about 75 members in Dr Karthikeyan’s group
who like many other volunteer groups had been on the
streets of Rameswaram since July 27, the day Kalam died,
lending a helping hand to the thousands who gathered to pay
their last respects to Kalam.
“Most of us are from our college and the rest belong to
three other organizations. We have come together because
we all love Dr Kalam. That is the bond which holds us
together,” Dr Karthikeyan told India Abroad, adding that
grief-stricken people were seen lining the route from
Mandpam, where the Indian Air Force helicopter landed
with Kalam’s mortal remains, to Rameswaram. “Can you
imagine the people doing this for anyone? No man has been
loved by so many. The reason for this affection was Dr
Kalam’s simplicity and his message of transforming India
that so inspired the youth of the country.”
Karthikeyan recalled his first meeting with Kalam, when
the latter had come to his college in 2008, and how hearing
Kalam’s speech impacted him. After that, Karthikeyan read
many of Kalam’s books. Manifesto for Change, he said, was a
life-changer, and was incorporated into a program and
implemented in their college.
Karthikeyan felt the reason for President Kalam being
such an inspiration to so many people was that he appealed
to students directly: “That was his charm. He was not inter-
ested all that much in speaking to the 30-somethings. He
was very focused on the young, school children and college
students who he believed were the future who had the poten-
tial to transform India. That is why he visited schools and
colleges so much. And since his message was simple and
direct, they responded to his words.”
The tremendous turnout for Kalam’s funeral, including
many school children in their uniforms, led Karthikeyan to
believe that today’s youth will follow in Kalam’s footsteps: “In
my grandfather’s time there was Mahatma Gandhi. For our
generation President Abdul Kalam is the Mahatma.”
The occasion was sad, the mood sombre. But as
Rameswaram waited — with tears and flowers — to bid
farewell to its most famous son it was evident that Kalam
had lived on in his home town in the form of hope and pride
in the eyes of it residents’.
Technically, less than a mile separates the two shrines, but July 30, even this brief physical distance was bridged by
the two acting differently yet, in a way, so much in concert.
The Rameshwar/Siva temple in Rameswaram held a special Moksha Deepam (a prayer for the departed), to pray for
A young Kalam, growing up in the
town that sprang up under the shadow
of the towering, sprawling temple,
shared a special bond with it. His close
friends in school were Brahmin boys,
whose fathers were priests in the temple.
His playing the Veena, and interest
in Carnatic music, he had attributed to
the early influences of growing up
within earshot of the music emanating
from the various temples in the town.
Earlier in the day, the town’s
Muslims gathered at the Mohideen
Aandavar Masjid, a stone’s throw from
the House of Kalam, the family home
in the town’s Mosque Street, for the
Alvida Namaaz (final prayers). The
mosque had anticipated a crowd for it.
Rameswaram has downed shutters
that day to enable the public to pay
their respect. Still, it could not have
expected the thousands of people,
Muslim and Hindu, who thronged the
narrow mohallas around the mosque.
Clearly, the security agencies did.
With the three service chiefs expected at the mosque to receive the mortal remains of the former
Supreme Commander of the armed forces for a ceremonial
burial at the Peikarumbu Maidan near the bus-stand — and
where a memorial for the town’s illustrious son had been
sanctioned — they had put up barricades to regulate the
crowds that had started gathering from early as 8 am.
At one point the situation looked uncontrollable, with the
muezzin repeatedly appealing for silence and order. The
sight of so many Muslims in their skull caps, and Hindus
with their head covered, offering prayer side by side on the
streets best summed up President Kalam’s syncretic life and
All the noise, the melee, quietened down when the
muezzin gave his cry to prayer: ‘Allah hu Akbar, God is Great,’
and the crowd roared back in acknowledgement.
It was a brief prayer, not longer than five minutes at best.
The crowd peacefully repeating ‘Ameen’ after every verse.
Once the namaaz was over came the real problem. How to
take Kalam’s cortege outside, with crowds filling out the
Once again the muezzin exhorted the crowds to give way,
reminding them it was the house of God and to please dis-
perse peacefully. As the defence forces stepped out with the
cortege, phones were whipped out for photos, the crowds
roared ‘Allah hu Akbar, ‘Dr Kalam ki Jai.’
Finally, the funeral procession moved outside, where thou-
sands of people lined up the road leading up to President
Kalam’s final resting place to catch a final glimpse of the mil-
itary truck as it rolled out.
Kalam was buried in the middle of a 1.5 acre piece of land
earmarked for the purpose at Peikarumbu. As a large number of mourners watched from
the sidelines and their perch on
rooftops and trees, he was
accorded full military honours,
including gun salute and playing of the Last Post as members
of his family and local Jamath
lowered his mortal remains
into the ground as slogans of
‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ rent the air.
This will be one final farewell
India will not see again in a
long, long time.
at his school in rameswaram, Kalam still continues to inspire. Pho ToGraPhS: DanISh SIDDIqUI/reU TerS
The crowds that gathered to bid adieu to Kalam, July 30. People even perched on trees for a last look at their beloved president.
hope lives on