For thousands of tourists visiting this temple town of Rameshwaram, the residence of former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, officially named as House of Kalam, has become the top-spot on their itinerary.
Boards directing the visitors to House of Kalam can be seen at many places in Rameshwaram. Situated on the famous Pallivasal Street (Mosque Street), the House of Kalam bearing No 12/7, has now become the most-visited places here, probably after the Ramanathaswamy Temple.
On the first floor of the house is ‘Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Mission of Life Gallery' set up in June 2011, with the exhibits capturing the life and times of the proud son of Rameshwaram.
OneIndia visited House of Kalam on an invitation from the family and here's what we saw and heard.
Every visitor to the Mission of Kalam Gallery is greeted by Kannairam Pillai, a former CRPF man, now doing the security duties. Aged 72 years, Kannairam, sporting a thick moustache, first ensures that all visitors leave their footwear behind.
"People are so crazy about mobile phones and I tell everyone not to use them inside the gallery. I also remind that photography is strictly prohibited inside. I enjoy every moment of my work here," says Kannairam, who is virtually the one-man army controlling the crowd.
Inside the gallery, Dr Kalam's grandsons along with other staff members take turns to keep a close watch on the crowd. The gallery opens from 8 am to 7 pm and attracts over 25,000 people every day.
"The entry is free and we are touched by the devotion people have towards Dr Kalam. We have used every inch available on the first floor to set up the gallery, which is now inspiring thousands of youth every day," says A P J M J Sheik Saleem, grandson of Dr Kalam and the family spokesperson.
The number of people visiting the gallery has increased after the demise of Dr Kalam and people are seen taking photos standing outside House of Kalam even past mid-night.
"We don't discourage people from undertaking any peaceful and silent activities outside the house. It's truly inspiring to see so many people visiting the gallery," says A P J M J Sheik Dawood, another grandson of Dr Kalam.
The gallery opens from 8 am to 7 pm and attracts over 25,000 people every day.
Among the key exhibits inside the gallery are: rare photographs of Dr Kalam, his awards (including the Bharat Ratna), the g-suit he used during his famous Sukhoi flight as the President, a replica of Tipu Sultan's rocket, few mementoes among others.
"Visitors like his childhood photos and Bharat Ratna award. At times, we find it tough to control the crowd," says Mohamed Aavul Meera, gallery manager and a grandson of Dr Kalam.
There were instances in the past when some visitors damaged some of the exhibits and even a few screws were removed from the wall-fixtures.
"The biggest challenge is to ensure that the visitors do not touch the exhibits," says Kadhiravan, who is a staff at the gallery.
After visiting the gallery, most visitors head to the second floor, which houses the Kalam Arcade.
"This is the only store that is owned by the family," says Jainulabudeen, son of Dr Kalam's elder brother A P J Maraikayar. "We have a just one branch at Daiwik Hotel here," he adds.
Kalam Arcade sells handicraft items, sea-shells, pearls, gifts and toys in addition to a few memorabilia.
"We were confused initially to see so many shops with Dr Kalam's name. Thankfully, a gentleman directed us to Kalam Arcade and we are happy to buy some authentic items and contribute to the cause," says Prof Muneesh Pandey, who came from Maharashtra along with his family.
The entire House of Kalam runs on solar power and the proceeds from the sale of items at Kalam Arcade are used for the maintenance of the gallery, payment of the staff and towards other incidental expenses.
Enjoy This Exclusive Photo Feature:
Visitors outside House of Kalam wait to enter the gallery.
One-man army controlling the crowd
Security man and former CRPF man, 72-year-old Kannairam Pillai ensures that everyone follows the gallery rules.
Gallery staff poses for a photograph for OneIndia.
Dr Kalam's grandson Mohamed Harun guides the visitors.
Dr Kalam's Bharat Ratna exhibited at the gallery.
Dr Kalam's G-suit used during his Sukhoi flight.
A board outside House of Kalam.
A poster with Dr Kalam's quote inside the gallery.
The entrance of Kalam Arcade.
A view of Kalam Arcade.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)