Earthen pots decorated with flowers, and inexpensive caskets can be seen outside most homes in the by-lanes of Malwani, a slum pocket in the northern suburb of Mumbai. Since Thursday, the toll of people who consumed spurious alcohol has been rising.
Within half a kilometre lies the crematorium, where four pyres were lit on Saturday evening. Those working at the crematorium said they were expecting more, as ambulances buzzed in every 30 minutes.
Many families in the Malwani area have lost their sole breadwinners. Inside the lanes of Inaswadi, a small pocket of the Kharodi village in Malwani, some boys are collecting money for the affected families, so they can perform the last rites of the dead. The group Sidhivinayak Mitra Mandal, with members as young as 12, is urging locals to help the victims.
A member of the group said they started collecting donations around Saturday afternoon. Within a few hours, they had collected almost Rs1,500. “With this money, at least some will get a proper burial or cremation,” said Shailesh Jadhav, 30.
A few houses away from where the group is seated, a woman is crying. In this house lived 50-year-old Chandrakant Jadhav, who died on Friday. His sister is distraught as she waits for her brother’s body. The autopsy will take some time, they are told.“One ambulance is coming in here [at the Malwani graveyard] every half-an-hour, while one pyre takes three hours to burn. On Friday, we performed the last rites of 24 people. The last person was cremated at 3.30am,” said Vijay Kamble, a labourer at the graveyard, which also houses the crematorium.
Even as Kamble is speaking, he is told it is time for another service. The body of 50-year-old Rajamani Chaiyyam is in a coffin on the table facing the crucifix.
After the burial, his inconsolable wife Samandi walks out along with three women. As she collapses on the ground, still wailing, a man drapes a red saree around her. This is the last time Chaiyyam’s wife will wear the red saree. She has red bangles on her arms, which she will have to break as a Tamil custom. “Last year, we took him to our village for rehab,” Chaiyyam’s relative says. “The family used to have daily fights over his drinking habit. It was the alcohol that finally killed him.”