A Noble Undertaking
Grave diggers and crematorium operators bring dignity to funerals diminished by Covid-19
At Nigambodh Ghat, Delhi’s oldest crematorium, a man in his late 30s, garbed in protective gear, is overseeing some unusual farewells. The bodies come sealed in bags. There are no solemn spectacles or rituals. The families don’t uncoil in grief as sympathisers stand by. The face of death is shrouded entirely in plastic, cold, unfamiliar, certainly not a mirror of the life led. Mohanlal switches on the incinerator and switches off his emotions. “We do what we can to protect ourselves, especially emotionally,” he says. In his decade-and-a-half of service at the Ghat, he has seen nothing like this.
They are coughed out of ambulance vans and wheeled in on a crude push-cart through a side gate. With congregations banned during the lockdown, no more than 20 people are allowed to be present at funerals. When someone dies of Covid-19, however, not even that many are brave enough to confront the disease and what it is capable of. Funerals at the crematorium are attended by just four or five members of the family, Mohanlal says. “Families don’t even get to see the faces of their loved ones. Some will video call their relatives, but mostly, even in the midst of grief, there is terror. Everyone wants to maintain distance,” says Mohanlal. After every funeral, he straps on a government issue.sanitiser tank and sprays the contents liberally, including on his colleagues at the crematorium. Though the World Health Organisation has clarified that cadavers are not infectious—except perhaps in case of death by haemorrhagic fever—fears persist, given that we know very little about Covid-19.