Corpses wait in 20-hour queues for last rites at crematoriums in Delhi

Corpses wait in 20-hour queues for last rites at crematoriums
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Corpses wait in 20-hour queues for last rites at crematoriums

Highlights

Under the high tin roof, 50 funeral pyres burned fiercely on Tuesday, the hot air filled with smoke, fine ash and muted sobs of shell-shocked famlies

New Delhi: Under the high tin roof, 50 funeral pyres burned fiercely on Tuesday, the hot air filled with smoke, fine ash and muted sobs of shell-shocked famlies. Nearby, lying unattended on the floor, and in scores of parked vehicles, more corpses awaited their turn, which relatives were told would come 16 to 20 hours later. Shaking Delhi's spirit and soul, an unimaginable tragedy is unfolding at New Delhi's crematoriums struggling to cope with the deluge of the dead arriving at frightening pace.

"I have not seen such a bad situation ever before in my life. People are moving with the dead bodies of their loved ones from pillar to post ... almost all Delhi crematoriums are flooded with dead bodies," Vineeta Massey, the owner of Massey Funerals, told PTI. By official count, 3,601 people have died this month, of them 2,267 in the last seven days alone in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which is terrorising and tormenting the city. In all of February, the death toll was 57, and in March 117. As if the trauma of losing a loved one to the virus so suddenly is not enough, there is more grief in store for relatives who are not even able to give them a proper send-off. They arrive at crematoriums with bodies, only to be turned away. They drive to another facility, and yet another, traversing the city with the mortal remains in personal cars or ambulances, desperately seeking a graceful exit for their father, mother, son or daughter from the material world.

The trauma is no less for the relatives of those who died of non-Covid causes but are being swept up in the collective national tragedy driven by the pandemic. Aman Arora, a young entrepreneur from West Delhi's Ashok Nagar, lost his father M.L. Arora to a heart attack on Monday afternoon. "We rushed him to many private hospitals when he started feeling discomfort in his chest but he was not even checked by the medical staff there. They demanded that we produce a Covid-negative report. He eventually passed away," said Aman. On Monday afternoon, Aman was told by the staff in west Delhi's Subhash Nagar crematorium to wait until Tuesday morning to perform the last rites.

When Aman realised there was no point in pleading, he arranged for a refrigerator to prevent his father's dead body from decaying. "What could I have done when there was no space? We kept the body in a rented fridge and have come early today (Tuesday)," said Aman, waiting for his turn as many other people milled around silently with dead bodies lying on the floor. Outside, ambulances and cars honked and competed for parking space but inside all one could hear was the crackling of dry wood from the burning pyres -- all 50 of them roaring simultaneously.

A few sobs arose over the sound of the fires, and one could hear the unemotional intonations of instructions being given by the crematorium staff. "Apna dead body uthao aur udhar line mein ja ke khade ho jao (Pick up your dead body and go stand in line)," said a young staffer. A woman in her 40s was so stunned she couldn't make out what was 'nabhi' (navel) or 'chhati' (chest) when a staff member asked her to place sandalwood sticks on the body of her father who had died of Covid. The body was still packed in a white sack, which was placed on the pyre without opening.

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