On the morning of March 24, the day the nationwide lockdown was announced, Akhil Chandok*, 40, suffered a massive heart attack and was rushed to Delhi’s Batra hospital. “Initially, no one would attend to him because they all thought he was a COVID patient, and they kept insisting that he be taken to the COVID ward,” says Chandok’s brother-in-law, Lakshman Dhingra*, who runs a grocery store in Chittaranjan Park. When the family insisted that he had no symptoms of the virus, one of the doctors finally checked him and pronounced him dead. A death certificate was denied until the family agreed to a post mortem.
Chandok’s wife, though, did not want his body to be desecrated until his parents had come. Since they lived in Rohru, Himachal Pradesh, they had no choice but to wait. Chandok’s parents, however, were stopped in Chandigarh. Dhingra then decided to take his brother-in-law’s body up to Rohru for the last rites.
“Since we couldn’t get hold of a hearse, we hired an ambulance and drove it 500 km up to Rohru. Not a single dhaba or eatery was open along the entire way,” says Dhingra. Since the lockdown did not permit large gatherings, only about 20 people came for the ceremonies. Dhingra and his wife returned to Delhi in the same ambulance with a letter from the village panchayat which would come in handy at state borders. “Death is an interminable tragedy in every circumstance, but worse is having to rush through the last rites, and not perform ceremonies that are integral not just to the mourning process but also to ensure that the final journey of a family member is in accordance with tradition,” says Dhingra. “Rituals are a big part of what defines us, especially when it bears the stamp of the finality that death summons.” As he deals with a sister’s inconsolable grief, he also waits for the death certificate to come through.
(*Names changed on request)