Bhola Mahto has stopped eating ever since he heard that former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had passed away and vowed that he would fast till Thursday when the departed leader would be laid to rest.
This, says the resident of Pilkhi village under Rajgir police station in Nalanda district, is his way of atoning for his "sin" of hurling stones and mud balls at the distinguished scientist and teacher as well as at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2008 when they came calling in connection with the revival of the ancient Nalanda university.
The former president, popularly known as 'Missile Man' and 'People's President, died of a cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture at the Indian Institute of Management in Shillong in Meghalaya on Monday evening.
"I was shocked to learn of his death and decided to skip food till he was buried (on Thursday morning in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu). It is a small gesture from me to pay my respect to him for what happened in 2008 when he and Nitish Kumar visited the proposed university site," Mahto said in a choked voice.
Mahto said he was part of a group of villagers who hurled stones at Kalam and Nitish Kumar to protest against inadequate compensation for 446 acres of land acquired in Rajgir for Nalanda university.
He recalled that after their protest, Kalam invited him along with three other villagers and carefully listened to their grievances over the inadequate compensation.
"Kalam gifted us such a big thing (university) that generations will benefit from it. But I and other villagers still feel guilty about the protest against him then," Mahto said.
The proposed university was a brainchild of Kalam and a dream project of Nitish Kumar.
Nalanda, about 100 km from here, is the home district of Nitish Kumar.
The newly revived Nalanda International University has since floated a global tender for constructing its new campus.
The proposed campus is 12 km from the site where the original Nalanda University once stood till the 12th century before it was razed by an invading Turkish army led by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Qutubuddin Aibak.
The university was established in the 5th century during the reign of the Gupta dynasty.