Sirens blaring, 11 Omni vans left the mortuary of Maulana Azad Medical College with a body in each, and headed towards Nigambodh Ghat at 4:45 pm on Monday. Within minutes, the last journey of 11 members of the Bhatia family — found dead at their Burari residence on Sunday morning — was over.
At the ghat, amid heavy police presence, every time a van stopped and relatives brought out a body, Sujata wailed. On Sunday, she received the news of the death of her mother Narayani Devi (77), brothers Bhavnesh (50) and Lalit (45), sisters-in-law Savita (48) and Teena (42), sister Pratibha (57), nephews Dhruv (15) and Shivam (15) and nieces Priyanka (33), Nidhi (25) and Maneka (23).
Relatives from Haryana and Rajasthan, neighbours, friends and business associates from Delhi turned up at the cremation. Each body was laid out on an arthi (jute bed). Teena’s younger sister Mamta from Rawatbhata in Chhittorgarh cried and trembled as she draped a red sari and bangles on her sister’s body, wrapped in a white cloth.
“I spoke to didi and Lalit jija ji on Saturday night at 8:30 pm… they didn’t say a word. They were happy and everything was fine. He was my go-to person for any kind of advice. I have lost my sister and a father figure… sab kuch khatam ho gaya,” said Mamta.
As the bodies were unwrapped so relatives could look at the faces one last time, cries resonated through the ghat, with Savita’s mother delirious, holding on to her daughter’s face. In a row, bodies of the victims were laid out — with the shrouds on women covered with colourful saris, and Narayani Devi’s shroud wrapped in a white shawl.
“I haven’t been able to sleep since Sunday; the image of their bodies hanging in one room keeps flashing in front of my face,” said a neighbour. In another corner, with his hands folded, stood Priyanka’s fiance. The two got engaged on June 17 at Royal Pepper banquet hall in Wazirpur.
A pandit at Nigambodh Ghat said, “We have never cremated 11 people from one family before… even in an accident case, it’s rarely ever more than four. Four quintal mango wood had to be used cremate each body.”
Narayani Devi’s son Dinesh, who reached Delhi from Rawatbhata in the morning, walked around shell-shocked. His young son Anshu wept as he finished the last rites of the 11 members of the family, and when it was time for the funeral pyres to begin, neighbours lifted the 11 bodies. Narayani Devi’s pyre was laid out in one corner, her sons in one row, the children in another and the women of the house formed the third row.
“Let me die with you… my mother is calling me,” wailed Sujata as her son Ketan, who spent the night and morning at the Maulana Azad Medical College as the post-mortem went on, stared at the lit pyres. In another corner, neighbour Gurcharan Singh (79), who discovered the bodies Sunday, wiped his tears as he lifted wood. His grandson, who was close to the Bhatia family, wept in his mother’s arms. “That house is empty now, it will haunt us forever,” said his mother.