A chilling account in words, and photos, of a young photojournalist

A woman rests her head on the seat of a scooter as she weeps outside a Delhi mortuary while waiting for the body of her sister, who died of Covid-19 Thursday | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Text Size:

New Delhi: Grief, loss and anguish could be seen aplenty outside the Maulana Azad College mortuary in Delhi Thursday. Grieving families were gathered outside the mortuary to receive the bodies of their loved ones, some in full PPE kits, under the sweltering afternoon sun.

The devastating second wave of the pandemic has overwhelmed the health infrastructure across the country. Almost all states are facing a critical shortage of hospital beds, medicines and even oxygen. Delhi is among the hardest hit, registering a record number of cases and deaths for the past few weeks.

As a result, every day, families gather around mortuaries, waiting for their loved ones to offer a final farewell.

A kid, who lost his mother mother to covid -19, walks inside the mortuary holding his aunt's hand | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
A child who lost his mother to Covid holds his aunt’s hand tight | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

As I stood on the road outside the mortuary, I heard a commotion in an otherwise silent area. A family of four had come to collect the body of a woman, and the pained screams of her children resonated through the air.

Kalamunisha, 41, had spoken to her son Momin earlier in the afternoon. She had told him she was feeling better and was going to be back home soon.

But just a few hours later, after iftar, the family was informed about her death.

Kalamunisha's family members outside mortuary | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Kalamunisha’s family members grieve outside the mortuary after receiving her body | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

The grieving family soon began to be documented by several photojournalists, before the authorities stopped us from taking photos. Civil defence guards appointed for the building barred our entry.

Bodies of the covid patient are put in the ambulance | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Mortuary workers in PPE kits load bodies into vans to be sent for their funeral | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
The authorities of the mortuary does not allow media to document outside the mortuary | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
The authorities told photojournalists to not click photographs of the families or dead bodies | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Grieving family members while they receive the body of their loved ones | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Kalamunisha’s husband holds his head in pain, while his son seeks to comfort him | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Family members comfort each other outside mortuary | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Kalamunisha’s brother Amjad Khan spoke to me on the phone later. He said he managed to save critical Covid patients at home with oxygen support but could not save his own sister. The family had been hopeful about her recovery, as Kalamunisha told them regularly that her condition was improving | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Soon enough, Kalamunisha’s family left the mortuary with her body to perform the last rites. But many such families kept arriving at the mortuary.

One such family comprised a child who had lost his mother to Covid, and was held tightly by his aunt.

And this was a common scene. Relatives were holding each other tight, trying to help each other navigate the pain of losing family.

Relatives wait outside holding each other | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Outside the mortuary, relatives could be seen holding each other, offering comfort and solace | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

There were several stories at the mortuary but not all of them could be narrated.

One family could not travel back to their village in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, with their sister’s body, and had to cremate her in Delhi. In another case, a nephew had to take care of his aunt’s last rites as her own children could not make it.

Bodies kept on being loaded in the ambulance | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Family members help healthcare workers load a body into an ambulance. The woman who lost her life could not meet her children in her final moments. Her relatives were looking for a bed for her, and they found one, but it was too late | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Several families blamed the government and the health infrastructure for the deaths, not just Covid.

In the two hours that I spent outside the mortuary, 10-12 bodies had been transported to crematoria and graveyards. Within this time, several more bodies were brought from hospitals like G.B. Pant and LNJP. According to one of the ambulance drivers, they have been ferrying at least 40-50 bodies every day.

In the past year, as a photojournalist, I have covered several mortuaries while reporting on the pandemic. But never has there been such a crowd of people just waiting for bodies. Family after family entered the building and it kept going on.

Family members wait outside the mortuary | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Two women wait outside the mortuary to get a last glimpse at their sister who succumbed to Covid | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism