NEW DELHI: It was natural for political activists to mill around and later at the headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday to pay to a . But testifying to the ordinary lives that Atal Bihari touched as a and a humanist were thousands of , there simply to honour a great Indian or to thank him for having made a positive impression on their lives.

Among the crowd queued up since dawn at the bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi, perhaps inattentive in their grief to Jagjit Singh and Anup Jalota’s soulful rendition of Hey Ram, was Bhupinder Singh Mehra. The environmentalist cycles around India spreading the green message. He was in Lucknow when he heard of Vajpayee’s death.

“I left all my belongings in Lucknow and hurried to Delhi. I reached here at 1am. I did not want to miss the chance of paying my tribute to him,” said Mehra. Crediting Vajpayee for creating Uttarakhand and so “helping save the environment”, Mehra declared, “Such a man will never walk this land again.

As Mehra awaited his turn to enter the bungalow, a near-sighted elder limped out. Subhash Annaji Kulkarni, a folk singer from Maharashtra and a health activist, had an anecdote all his own. “When I was getting married, I sent an invitation card to Vajpayeeji, who was then the leader of the Opposition in Parliament,” the physically impaired Kulkarni narrated. “I was astounded to receive a letter and his blessings in reply.” And as he viewed from behind thick spectacles the trucks filled with armed personnel in ceremonial livery, Kulkarni added, “Vajpayeeji was a poet and I too am one. So we are related in a way.”

Around 8.45am, the final batch was allowed past the gate bearing the departed leader’s name, leaving many who had waited for a long time disappointed. Among them was Badrinath, who had come from Bengaluru with a special handmade silk garland. He sat dejected that all his effort had been in vain.

Even relatives, like Rajendra Mishra Bapu, father-in-law of Vajpayee’s granddaughter, had a difficult time gaining entry. It was unimaginably tougher for others, including Ajay Dixit, who called himself the “muhbola” nephew of the leader. A former DDA employee, the blind Dixit had come in gratitude. “I lived in Vajpayeeji’s home throughout my education in the Blind Relief Association. I am what I am due to him,” Dixit claimed. Sadly, he was too late to be let in at Krishna Menon Marg, and as he stood there, the flower bedecked gun carriage bearing Vajpayee’s coffin proceeded towards the BJP headquarters.

At the smart red and white building on DDU Marg, the atmosphere was sombre, if extremely sultry. The queues took up to 50 minutes to reach the coffin placed amid white flowers. But the enervating wait did not deter Vajpayee’s ordinary fans. From a contingent of Syrian Christians to sadhus led by Mahamandleswar Kanchangiri Maharaj, people of all faiths grieved together. Ikramuddin Saifi from Sangam Vihar said that Vajpayee never discriminated on the grounds of religion. “His death reemphasises the need to follow his values and his path,” Saifi declared.

Behind Saifi was Tripurari Sharma, a sadhu from Arrah in Bihar who dashed to Delhi after hearing the news. “Bhuto na bhavishyati. Such a man will not be born again,” he said in Sanskrit. Explaining his presence there, Sharma recalled, “Before taking sanyas, I was active in student politics and participated in rallies led by Vajpayeeji. I no longer retain other human bonds, but I felt it a must to come here for a last goodbye.”

Another group too had a lifelong bond with him. Forty villagers from Prini in Himachal arrived to reciprocate the affection the three-time prime minister had for their village. “He made Prini his second home and even expressed the hope of retiring in our village,” recalled Narender Thakur, his Himachali cap looking out of place in Delhi’s stifling weather. “He considered us his own and we want to express our gratitude to him.” Like them, the thousands of others there all probably had their own special image of in their hearts.

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