As India bid farewell to its ‘Missile Man’, a sea of humanity gathered at the residence of deceased former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as people of all ages lined up for their last meeting with the “people’s president”.
Neither the July humidity nor the long lines deterred citizens, who lined up for hours to pay their last respects to the former president.
Slogans like “Abdul Kalam amar rahe” (May Abdul Kalam be immortal) rent the air.
Rajaji Marg, an otherwise quiet lane in Lutyens’ Delhi, a few hundred metres from Rashtrapati Bhavan, was crowded as visitors kept pouring in.
Barricades that were in place when VIPs visited the residence were lifted around 4 p.m. for the public.
As police allowed people in batches, it was a stampede-like situation briefly as the crowd tried to push its way in. Order was restored soon, and queues were formed, with elaborate security in place.
Many eyes were moist, as men, women and children passed by the mortal remains of their favourite president that was wrapped in the Tricolour.
Some brought flowers and others just had a heartfelt namaste (folded hands). Faces displayed grief as if they had lost a family member.
However, there was a sense of pride and inspiration as well that could not be overlooked.
“He is a person everyone admires… No one recognised him as a Tamil, or a Muslim… He was an Indian and that is the message to the nation,” said Meenakshi, a physiotherapist who took leave from work to pay homage to the ‘Missile Man’.
Paramita, a government school teacher, said she has been quoting examples from Kalam’s life to her students for years.
“I had to come, he is an inspiration for everyone…,” she said.
Some travelled great distances to bid their final adieu.
Ali Khadri, who runs NGO Seeratunabi Academy in Hyderabad, travelled all the way for a last look at the former president.
“What he has done for the country, the new generation needs to learn from it. Indians will always be thankful to him,” said Khadri, whose NGO runs madrassas in Hyderabad.
In the crowd were also 12-year-old twins Parkriti and Pranika Malhar, carrying their photo with Kalam taken three years ago.
“They met him in 2012, and today they were adamant that they had to come here,” said their uncle Hemant Sayal, who accompanied them.
The imprint of that meeting is still strong in the minds of the twins.
“I want to be a scientist like him,” said Prakriti.
Khurshid Rajaka, chief coordinator of the Maulana Azad National Academy for Skills, who travelled down from Mewat in Haryana, summed up what was the sentiment of many people present there.
“He was not a great man because he held a big post. He was a great man because he did great deeds. We must learn from that,” said Rajaka.
As police managed the crowd, an officer taking care of security observed that the number of people pouring in was unprecedented for a person who was not a political or religious leader.
“The crowd shows how popular he is,” the officer said.