Father, son give dignified last journey to unclaimed bodies (Feature)

November 17th, 2008 - 11:51 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 17 (IANS) It is a difficult, low paying job that most would shy away from, but Bangalore-based Mahadeva has made giving a decent burial to unclaimed bodies his life’s work. And now the legacy has been passed on to his son, Praveen Kumar.Between the two, they have ensured a dignified last journey to tens of thousands of bodies. Mahadeva’s social work has been recognised by the state government with a Rajyotsava award, given every year on Nov 1 to mark the formation of Karnataka in 1956. He has also been given cash awards by city Rotarians.

Mahadeva’s journey to the burial ground accompanying unclaimed bodies in Bangalore began pretty early in his life. In 1970 when he was about eight years old, Mahadeva lost his mother at the government-run Victoria Hospital in Bangalore due to illness. She had walked out on her husband four years earlier following a quarrel and taken Mahadeva with her.

An elderly man named Krishnappa who stayed at the Victoria Hospital premises making a living by burying unclaimed bodies took Mahadeva under his charge. The boy began helping Krishnappa and took over the task after Krishnappa died a few years later.

Mahadeva began taking the bodies in push carts and later with the help of some well- wishers bought a horse carriage, then a three-wheeler auto rickshaw.

Though he was paid Rs.200 per body buried, Mahadeva claims he would in the end make only Rs.25 as he had to pay the attendants at hospital mortuaries to get the body released. He would also spend some money to buy wreaths for the bodies.

Mahadeva says he must have buried more than 50,000 bodies before leaving the task to his son. Besides the state award, Mahadeva has been given cash awards by city Rotarians.

When his eldest son, Praveen Kumar, was around nine years old, Mahadeva roped him in for help. Mahadeva ‘retired’ from his job a few years ago and the son now carries on the legacy.

Kumar, who has three younger siblings, is now pursuing a post-graduate degree in social work from Bangalore University. After college hours Kumar heads to various hospitals in the city such as Victoria Hospital and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) to collect the bodies for burial.

“Police entrust me with the responsibility of burying unclaimed bodies. For my work they give me Rs.350 for each body. After paying bills at the mortuaries of the hospitals and at the cemetery, I am left with Rs.25. Although I come from a poor background and have been financing my education for the last couple of years on my own, this work gives me a great sense of satisfaction and I intend to continue with it,” Kumar told IANS.

Kumar’s routine has been captured on camera by Bangalore based freelance news photographer K. Venkatesh. The 55 black and white photographs of Kumar’s work titled “Grateful Dead” will go on display at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath here for three days from Nov 17.

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