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After The End

The phone call from Bombay Hospital was brief: “Bullet injury marks and possibility of many more bodies”.

Written by Smita Nair | Published: February 16, 2009 4:12 am

For the firm that prepared many 26 /11 bodies for transportation to various cities,death is a daily companion at work

The phone call from Bombay Hospital was brief: “Bullet injury marks and possibility of many more bodies”. This was how November 27,2008 began for Mahim-based David Undertakers.

The next six days saw partners David D’Souza (32) and Neville Sequeira (61) waiting outside terrorist targets and hospitals,sifting through mutilated and bloated bodies,coordinating with embassies whose nationals had been killed and helping families ferry injured relatives to hospitals using their network of 10 ambulances. “There was not a morsel to eat for six consecutive days,and all we had around us were bodies,and more bodies,” recalls Sequeira who joined D’Souza after quitting his job as a marine engineer.

Among the many casualties they handled include bodies of a Japanese,an Australian,a British and two Americans and another 10 Indians whose bodies had to be sent to their hometowns across the country. “We lost count of the bodies after a point. Our priority always was to pick the injured and ensure that they could be reached to hospitals soon,” says D’Souza who has in his lifetime seen more bodies than an average policeman.

Through the next few days,Sequira was busy collecting the multiple permissions and clearances needed — from the BMC,the police,health officials,consular offices,immigration officials and getting the last detail right,the clipping of the deceased person’s passport by immigration.

The team at David Undertakers has seen tragedy often,having worked through the serial blasts in 1993 and also in 2006. “We had to walk over limbs,and bodies in heaps inside the gates of J J Hospital,” D’Souza recalls 1993. “Those days,there was only one coroner office in the whole of Mumbai and that day of March will be never forgotten.” In 2006,they took bedsheets to pick up the injured and send them to hospitals.

In the last five years,the duo — among the oldest in the business with over 20 years of experience — agrees that the number of casualties has called for a proportional increase in the number of undertakers in the city. D’Souza says the figures of road and rail casualties last year in the western suburbs alone comes to over 300,with most of them listed as unidentified bodies. The job can be very “emotionally draining” stresses the duo.

Last year,in a road accident at Mira Road,three call centre executives riding one bike met with a fatal accident. Their head injuries were so bad that they could not be identified. “The doctors called us frantically and I had to spend an entire night redoing the face so that the three families could at least have a decent burial,” says D’Souza. Sequeira will never forget a house in Bandra where the skeleton of a senior citizen was found a few years ago with the skeleton of his dog beside the dead man’s bed. “His relatives had failed to call him in over a year and the body had decomposed to a skeleton. His dog,which died much later,never left him. We gave both of them a decent burial,” he says. Vouching for their repute is the fact that the state government’s first call after the postmortem of Pramod Mahajan was to David. “We had to ensure that his body was kept in the mobile freezer at his living room as many political and state dignitaries flew down for the funeral.” Among other high profile cases,the Mumbai Police also sought David after the recent controversial death of Rahul Raj. “The controversy was yet to die down when we got a call to clean his body and send it home with all due respect. He died young.” In their profession,D’souza says,they see life from close quarters just as they see death,when they get to see the final respects paid to a man or woman. “Sometimes,it moves you to tears,and sometimes you wish you were not human,” says D’Souza.

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