x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Final act plays out at hospital mortuary

Bodies discharged into hands of families or governments.

MUMBAI // The sombre mood in the Victorian stone courtyard of JJ Hospital's mortuary was broken only once, when an ambulance ran over the leg of dog. No one moved to help it. Somehow the intensity of the human tragedy made it inappropriate. So the piercing yelps lingered for several minutes. Everyone inside was involved in the unpleasant but necessary business of disposing of the dead. Volunteers handed out bottled water, packs of Parle-G biscuits and scented facemasks to guard against the intensifying smell.

John Pinto and Michael Pinto, two funeral directors, were there to negotiate the details of embalming and repatriating bodies. "Do you want a good coffin or an ordinary coffin?" John Pinto asked friends of C Ganesh, whose body was to be repatriated to Mauritius. "We will take care of everything. He will look the best he can do. Tonight you can come and see him at about 8 o'clock." Later he was talking to the Thai consulate about repatriating one of their nationals.

He was also helping a large family of Punjabis to arrange for the daughter of the family - a young journalist - to be flown home. After several hours of waiting and paper work, one of Mr John Pinto's hearses arrived. The body, wrapped head-to-toe in white cloth, was shunted into the back, the family climbed into the passenger seats and the hearse drove away. There was an employee of Hindustan Petroleum, one of many volunteers from the company scouring the city's hospitals looking for the body of their colleague Rajeev Saraswat, who had been in the Taj hotel.

There was a large group of Europeans, waiting grim-faced outside the mortuary, who seemed to be preparing to pick up a body. They preferred to keep to themselves. There were also representatives of different embassies passing through looking for their nationals and people from the International Red Cross's victim identification service and the private International SOS, who were both there looking for missing people,

"We have an Indian family looking for their relative. All they know is that he was on the fourth floor of the Taj hotel," said a worker with the International Red Cross. There were several staff from Israel's Disaster Victim Identification squad who had flown in from Israel yesterday. The bodies of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who ran Chabad House, were delivered to JJ's mortuary in the morning.

When approached, the ZAKA staff said that as it was Shabat, the Jewish day of rest, they could only do essential work, which was limited to the grim task they had in hand. In the early afternoon, a succession of ambulances came in groups of two or three. They were there to collect "no objection certificates" for bodies stored at other hospitals so they could be taken to their funerals. JJ had been designated the place where all bodies were finally discharged back into the hands of their families or governments.

The bodies were put onto dented tin trolleys and rushed into the cool room. Then they were rushed out back into the hearses or ambulances and the vehicles drove away. Then, at 4.30pm, the hospital took one of its final deliveries, among them three bodies that Pawar at the control room later classified as "unknown males in their early twenties, all dead by gunshot". "The terrorists," added one of the volunteer helpers behind him.

After one of the last hearses backed into the compound, a policeman glanced over the side of the van and looked in. "Decomposed," he said with a grimace. * The National