June 18, 2021

The Times of Bengal

Manusher Sathe,Manusher Pashe

It’s like participating in a procession of the dead, says Kolkata crematorium official

3 min read


Non-COVID patients die because they are not able to get timely medical attention in the pandemic

Pradipta Chattopadhyay is accustomed to watching the dead being brought in, but even he is shaken by the news of the deaths being caused by COVID-19, so much so that he chokes momentarily when he thinks of those he has lost in the recent weeks.

“If someone goes to the hospital after a heart attack or because of any other disease, you have a fair idea how things are going to turn out. But with COVID-19, you never know. These days, when you hear of a relative or a friend contracting COVID-19, the first thing you ask yourself is: will they be able to make it?” he said.

Mr. Chattopadhyay, 56, is a Sub-Registrar at one of the seven crematoriums run by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation — he signs the all-important piece of paper certifying that one is dead and has been cremated. He is posted at the crematorium in south Kolkata’s Garia — a facility easily a few hundred years old — where, during pre-COVID days, hardly 10-12 bodies were brought in on a daily basis. During the first wave of the pandemic last year, this number rose to about 20 and now, during the second wave, this figure oscillates between 35 and 45.

“There is almost a four times rise in the number of dead being brought to the Garia crematorium alone. These are not COVID-19 victims; I am not even counting them at the moment. These are mostly non-COVID patients who have died because they have been unable to get timely medical attention due to the pandemic. For example, a stroke patient who is first asked to test for COVID-19 instead of being given emergency care,” Mr. Chattopadhyay.

“As for COVID-19 victims, they are brought in for cremation only after 10 p.m. The corporation assigns each crematorium a certain number of bodies every evening. My crematorium sometimes gets 20-plus bodies, sometimes just six. These cremations go on till about 6.30 in the morning, after which the crematorium is sanitised,” he said.

Mr. Chattopadhyay, who joined the service in 1998 and has served at five of the crematoriums, said that even as a boy, he was only too keen to visit ailing relatives and friends in hospital or taking the dead to the crematorium, so he was never really disturbed by the sight of the ill or of corpses, “but the pandemic has shaken my very faith in existence”.

“The whole thing is getting onto my nerves,” he said. “Each day is like participating in a procession of the dead.”



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