Opinion | At India’s Covid Mass Cremations

The Four Percent


The fires blazing, I thought of everyone my family and friends had lost over the past year, all the funerals we could not attend, all the grief this city carries.

Ms. Parakh stood before her father’s pyre, talking into what looked like a WhatsApp group call on her phone.

Nearby, a middle-aged man in a striped T-shirt told me, pointing at a pyramid of flames, “That’s my mother.”

“Non-Covid case. It is a pity that she had to be cremated in the middle of all of this.”

He had another complaint: “Don’t mind, but the media is making it seem like bodies are being burned everywhere all the time to show the government in a bad light.”

Are we not in a parking lot among 50 burning pyres? I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, “but the media should say, ‘These pyres are lit all at once, only once a day,’ so people get the correct impression.”

“Death is the only truth,” I said.

“Death is the only truth,” he said.

The blaze continued for several hours. Small groups of mourners began to leave, their eyes glistening with tears held back through the fear, the frustration, the heartbreak, the exhaustion, the heat, the horror and the sorrow. Ms. Parakh and her caretaker walked out, hailed down an auto-rickshaw and went home to the house she had once shared with her father.

“Remember to come by 8 tomorrow morning to collect the ashes,” Mr. Mishra told everyone. “We need to clear up in preparation for tomorrow’s cremations.”

Aman Sethi (@Amannama) is a journalist based in New Delhi and the author of “A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi.”


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