Rameswaram: Large number of people from different walks of life paid their last respects to former president A.P.J.Abdul Kalam as his body was brought to his hometown on Wednesday evening ahead of his state funeral where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be present.
The body of Kalam, also a distinguished scientist and a teacher and popularly known as "People's President' and "Missile Man", reached this Hindu pilgrim town, around 600 km from Chennai, in the evening.
The casket containing Kalam's body was carried in an army vehicle from Mandapam, around 22 km from here, and a large number of people lined up on both sides of the road to have a final glimpse of their beloved former president.
The mortal remains of Kalam were brought to Mandapam from Madurai in a helicopter after being flown there from Delhi in a special Indian Air Force aircraft. Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar accompanied the casket.
At Madurai, the body was received by Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah.
From Madurai, Kalam's body was brought in a helicopter to Mandapam where state ministers, members of the armed forces and others paid their last respects to the departed leader.
Speaking to reporters, Venkaiah Naidu said there was no leader like Kalam in recent times who had endeared himself to the people, particularly to the youth. He also said Modi will be here on Thursday to pay his last respects to Kalam at his funeral.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and several other leaders would also attend Kalam's last rites on Thursday.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, however, announced her inability to travel to Rameswaram owing to her health condition. She also announced that the government had allotted land for burying Kalam's mortal remains at the request of his family.
A large number of people who had been waiting near the bus stand here since morning paid their last respects to the youth icon in a peaceful manner.
Political leaders like DMK's M.K. Stalin, MDMK's Vaiko and others also paid their homage to Kalam here.
Meanwhile, his family members have also reached here.
"All our relatives have also arrived to attend the last rites," A.P.J.M.K. Sheik Saleem, the former president's brother's grandson, told IANS.
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 Mosque Street," he said.
According to Saleem, the last rites will be performed around 10.30 a.m. on Thursday.
Born in Rameswaram on October 15, 1931, Kalam, as a boy, hawked newspapers to supplement his family income. 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.
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 he was no more.
"Kalam was Rameswaram's gift to the world. It is sad that this gift has left us," Rameshwaram resident A. Johnson told IANS.
Another resident Inoja said: "There are no words to express my feelings. I am still not able to believe that Kalam is no more."
Young S. Muthunambu said in a choked 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, who are expected to attend Kalam's last rites.
Hoteliers told IANS that all rooms in major hotels had been booked for two days.