‘I had to conduct the post-mortem of my aunt’

Prathmesh Patil
Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Who are the people who clear up the mess we create? What do they have to see and handle as part of the occupation they have been shoved into, either by conditions or caste? Sakal Times tries to find out.

People who work at morgue narrate their experiences

Pune: ‘The language of the dead is spoken here,’ reads a painted slogan above the door of the Forensic Department morgue of the Sassoon Hospital. A peek from the ajar door, even from farther in the verandah, shows a few human bodies lying on inspection platforms. The queasy shudder, the squeamish return, but to the employees of the morgue, it is just another day in their routine.

Sitting in a small restroom right next to the morgue, Ramdas Solanki, 51, narrates his life. He has been working in the morgue for last 18 years. 

When asked whether conducting post-mortems, which involve cutting up and opening a dead body to understand the exact cause of death, affect or bother him, he says with a faint smile, “It is my job. It has been my job. Nothing else.” 

Solanki is part of a team of employees, all from the Mehtar community, who conduct post-mortems at the Sassoon Hospital under the supervision of assigned doctors. Solanki says that he inherited this job.

“Both my father, and then my elder brothers were both employed here at the morgue. When I got the offer, I accepted the job as no other job was available in the field I studied.”

When asked what he felt when he saw his first dead body, Solanki grimaces and says, “When I was 7 or 8-years-old, I was delivering a tiffin to my father on duty at the morgue. That is when a burn victim was brought there,” He says, adding, “I did not eat anything for three days after that.”

That, however, was also the last time Solanki felt uncomfortable seeing a body. He says he has handled thousands of dead bodies over the eighteen years of his job. “I lost my fear then. I handle around 3-4 bodies each day. I have handled thousands of bodies by now.” 

“Almost 25 bodies come to Sassoon morgue each day. There are many times when a single person could be alone at a point of time in the middle of the night surrounded by bodies,” he says, adding, “We eat our tiffins here, right after we have handled a body, it may be decomposed or burnt. Now, we don’t feel anything about it.”

Shivraj Athwal, 60, retired after 35 years of service in the same morgue, 39 in forensics. “I have conducted examinations of just born babies as well as 80-year-olds over the period of my job,”

Athwal says, adding, “With the 22 number blade with 4 number handle, we cut open the body and with a hammer and chisel the skull.”

Athwal says that he was on duty when the bodies of the children who died in the school bus and train accident that took place in Phursungi. “There were almost 40 children. It was a horrible sight for me. I had to conduct the post-mortem of the mangled bodies of those children,” He narrates, adding “The sound of the crying mothers and the images of those bodies haunt me when I am alone even today.”  

While narrating the gruesome experience, Athwal also talks about the expertise he has acquired over the years regarding forensics and anatomy. “I have come to understand the sentence written above the morgue door over the years. A body tells you exactly how it died,” he said. “The body talks to the investigator whether it drowned or was pushed, whether it committed suicide or was murdered. Nothing remains hidden,” he added. 

He says that at the end of it all, regardless of nature, it was a job that he had inherited and carried out faithfully. “Once I was on duty alone and the body of my own aunt came before me. No one else was available, I had to carry out the post-mortem of my own aunt,” He says and adding, “A job is a job though, my father did it, I did it and now my son is doing it.”   

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