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At home, Kalam relives childhood

Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu), Aug. 27: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam nearly broke down on his first visit to his hometown since becoming President two years ago.

He was moved by a poem recited at the felicitation at the mosque here that captured the struggle of his life from his humble beginnings to the high office that he now holds.

The President said he was reminded of his father who was fond of a particular verse in the Quran that he would want recited whenever he visited the local mosque, young Kalam in tow. It sought “strength from God so that we stick to the path of righteousness and we all live in peace”.

“This (Rameshwaram) is the place where I was born, where I grew up and had my early education. I used to walk on this very street with my father both to my school and palli vaasal (mosque). This is a beautiful place and so are its people, my best wishes to all,” Kalam later told the media in a brief interaction.

The President landed at the Mandapam helipad in the scorching afternoon and drove straight to his ancestral, unpretentious one-storey house on Mosque Street.

His elder brother, Mohammed Muthu Meeran Labbai Maricar, received him at the door as he alighted from a bulletproof Ambassador amid tight security. Opposite the house was a shamiana full of residents who had been expecting the “son of the soil” for long.

After gifting his brother a box of fruits and tea bags, Kalam went into the house. He soon came out replacing his sherwani with a shirt and trousers and a black fur cap, ready to interact with the people. He headed for the mosque for namaz and spent an hour there, making a modest address to the huge gathering.

After the brief felicitation by the Rameshwaram Muslim Jamaat Committee, the President headed back to his house and interacted with people for over four hours with the sincerity of a “small town man”, as he had described himself in his work, Wings of Fire.

“We are very proud that he is visiting us as the President of India. Kalam’s father was a boatman ferrying pilgrims from Rameshwaram to Danushkoti,” recalled an old friend.

The old spirit of brotherhood was maintained today when the chief priest of the ancient Ramanathaswamy temple came with a tray full of prasad for the President. The priest’s grandfather and Kalam’s father were good friends.

Kalam was so flooded by visitors that he could barely spare time for the students of his old school. They were waiting to hand him two small replicas of the Taj Mahal and a flower vase. “He remembers every name and every person whom he had moved with,” Kalam’s 91-year-old English teacher S.R. Durairaj Pillai said after meeting the President.

After a frugal vegetarian meal at home, Kalam skipped his afternoon rest and inaugurated a building for the government hospital. He had donated Rs 5 lakh to it from his salary, sources said.

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