New Delhi : He is rushing towards the policemen surrounding the barricades put up to regulate the surging crowd. As he nears one policeman, he requests to be allowed in. This priest in the customary white alb has just landed from Kochi and is visibly worried that it may be too late for him to pay his last respects to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the former president, the ‘Missile Man’, the Bharat Ratna.
Well, the priest may have found a slot in the front of the long winding queue outside 10, Rajaji Marg, but there were thousands still waiting, tying themselves into knots. In fact, the crowd is swelling and even adjoining roads are now being closed for traffic.
While the army or, rather, Ministry of Defence has taken charge of the arrangements, the number of people thronging to this high security zone in Lutyens’ Delhi is something even they could not foresee.
‘‘Now you know why he will always be the peoples’ president,’’ comments an officer in MoD who is not keen to be named.
And how right he seems to be: There are Sadhus with their bare bodies and wooden slippers (khadaun), there are old women who cannot walk without help, there are soldiers in hundreds, there are IT professionals, CEOs of companies, shopkeepers, businessmen, scientists. And there are students, youngsters in thousands, crowding every lane and street that leads to Rajaji Marg. Rahul is a 10th class student. He has come here after reading Dr Kalam’s inspiring books in his library. ‘‘I wanted to come and see one last time the man who made India so proud after rising from such a humble beginning,’’ says his companion Vikas who just finished his studies and started work.
Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar points at his two sons aged 10 and 7 years. He has come all the way from Nangloi just for the sake of his sons. ‘‘For me Dr Kalam will always remain an epitome of patriotism. He has taught all of us that one can serve the country even without an affluent background. I always tell my sons about this great man. Today I want them to pay their respects in person.’’
Everywhere, from the long winding queues to the soldiers on duty, people are sharing their thoughts and past experiences about Dr. Kalam. Those who have had an occasion to meet him earlier are narrating their experience with pride. A few teachers scold school children, asking them not to rush past the queue but to have patience. ‘‘Please don’t push…everybody will get a chance to go inside,’’ assures a young soldier on duty.
As the children turn down their volume, the guy in a big straw hat strums his guitar and starts singing an old Raj Kapoor number…‘Jeena isi ka naam hai’. This is no mourning crowd…it’s the celebration of a great life.