Diary of a cremator during Covid times

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Sanjeev Kumar, 28, who has been working here for the past seven years starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m, says it is tough to take a break too nowadays…writes Sukant Deepak

The shades of dusk are falling — it is time to exit this space. But people continue to come in with their dead. The quiet synonymous with a cremation ground is replaced by ambulance sirens, relatives in PPE suits and crackling of burning wood.

The cremation grounds at Sector 25 in Chandigarh has never witnessed so many pyres ever since it was established decades back. Equipped to handle 50 cremations at a given time, it is running to almost full capacity ever since the second wave of Covid-19 struck.

Sanjeev Kumar, 28, who has been working here for the past seven years starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. He says it is tough to take a break too nowadays. Being inside the PPE kit for hours on end is now taking its toll. “The weather, the heat from the pyres, and this kit over clothes — so many times I feel I am having an anxiety attack. Not to mention, one gets dehydrated very soon.”

Adding that while there is a rush of Covid bodies, the situation is not as bleak as Delhi where there is a wait for hours, Kumar says here they are ensuring that the relatives get to be part of the last rites, while following all the protocols.

“We understand their fear, and also the guilt if they do not execute the rituals that have been part of our culture for hundreds of years. One has to find a middle-ground…”

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Earning Rs 15,000 a month, he assures that he has fear of contracting the virus. “Not because we take all the precautions, but the fact that fear would not really help us in any way. One has to earn, no? We are not expecting any special perks from the administration even as our workload has almost doubled,” he says.

Bodies, not just from the region but places, including Delhi are also being cremated here. “Many people from other cities have been admitted for the treatment of Covid-19 in multiple hospitals in Chandigarh. If they pass on, their last rites are done here only.

Admitting that his family members are perpetually nervous considering the fact that he is in close proximity with the infected bodies, Kumar says: “I take a long shower with hot water before going home. However, most workers here including myself have told our families to keep a distance from us — as much as possible.”

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