“Covid is here… but this is the last chance we get to show that we care as a family. Take it,” said Yuti Amonkar a day after she lit the pyre of her father, former health minister Dr Suresh Amonkar, who succumbed to Covid-19 on Monday. He was 68.
“I have been reading of people not even getting to do this… there are cases where many refused out of fear of infection,” Yuti (28) said.
Photographs of Yuti lighting the pyre at Amona in Bicholim taluka struck a chord, as visuals in the local press showed her performing the rites in a white PPE and with an earthen pot on her shoulder.
Amonkar, who was ill for a few years, tested positive for Covid-19 on June 22 and succumbed to the infection on July 6.
He entered the Assembly from Pale in 1999, and held the portfolio of Health, Social Welfare and Labour and Employment in the Francisco Sardinha cabinet. He continued as minister in Manohar Parrikar’s cabinet. He also served as president of the Goa wing of BJP.
Yuti, who works as a software engineer, said that on July 6 evening, she saw a call from the hospital on her mother’s phone. “It was the one,” she said. “It was painful, very painful. We always hoped he will come back”.
After her father tested positive, Yuti was shifted to a quarantine centre as she and some others tested positive too. “He used to talk to us on phone, make video calls, and ask if we had any symptoms,” she recalled, “Being a doctor himself, his questions were always straight. As a father, he was always concerned.” On June 25, the family looked cheerful on the phone as he insisted he wanted to wish his elder daughter, Sneha, on her birthday.
The calls stopped after he was put on a ventilator.
Soon after the phone call on July 6, the family had to decide who would light the pyre. “My sister asked me if I wanted to do it. I felt I had to do it, for my heart, for my father,” Yuti said, explaining that it is not common in their families for a girl child to conduct last rites. “I knew I had to be strong to give him a good farewell.”
In the morning, a team from ESI Hospital, Goa’s Covid hospital, arrived with the PPE as they brought the body in an ambulance to Amona village. “We couldn’t see him. They had got him fully packed,” she says of the last few hours.
Yuti performed the rituals in the PPE set as Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Ayush Minister Shripad Naik, officials from Sakhali Panchayat and Municipal Council and locals looked on. “At that moment when I had to give flames… I could only mutter a sorry silently….and seconds later, I repeated a thank you to him for being a good father. That is all I could tell him,” she says, adding, “everything around soon got blurred”.
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