As Vilasrao Deshmukh's bier was being lowered from the flower-decked truck, so he could be taken to his last resting place before the cremation, the skies opened up. Three black umbrellas shielded the former chief minister's body from the rain, in what had been an otherwise sunny day.
"See!" exclaimed a mourner. "As if even God is crying!"
As if to confirm the person's observation, the downpour ceased abruptly after Desh-mukh's funeral pyre was lit by his eldest son Amit, an MLA.
The faces of the people who gathered at the funeral, however, glistened due to genuine tears of sorrows. In fact, Latur surprised itself as mourners – numbering lakhs, not thousands – turned up as Deshmukh's body was flown in from Chennai. The convoy made just three km in two hours, causing organisers to abandon the actual plan of taking it to Latur. Instead, the body was transported to the nearby village of Babhalgaon, where he launched his political career as a sarpanch over 40 years ago, at the age of 25.
The situation in Babhalgaon, however, was no better. The police couldn't do much.
It was through sheer luck, they say, that the day did not end in a lathi-charge.
The sight of mourners dotting mango trees on Deshmukh's farm, where he was cremated amid a 17-gun salute, was hardly surprising — considering that the people of Latur owe the progress of their town and district to the deceased leader. Besides opening up the avenues of railways, air services and education, he provided employment to local residents through his sugar factories.
The outpouring of emotion cut across all lines of caste and religion. "Saab offered equal opportunities to all," said Majid Sheikh, a young Muslim boy who was seen haunting the school grounds all day for a closer look at Deshmukh's body.
Rukmini, a middle-aged woman, seemed to have taken his death quite hard. "Ek bhala manoos gela (a good man has gone)."