They see him everyday on the banks of the Burhi Gandak river. For as long as the people of Samastipur can remember, Asit Kumar Dutta — Asitda to them — has been performing the last rites of those who have no one in the world or who no longer matter to their loved ones.
Performing the last rites of unclaimed and abandoned bodies has been a habit — a rather strange one, surely — of Asitda’s since he was a teenager. Now an old man, he has lost count of the number of funeral pyres he has lit. “Burning bodies has become second nature to me,” he chuckles.
Everyday, at the break of dawn, Asitda heads for the river bank in search of abandoned bodies. If he comes across one, he volunteers to complete the necessary formalities.
It isn’t only the dead he helps. The retired class IV railway employee is also known to generously donate to the poor from his pension so they can give their loved ones a befitting farewell.
Asitda’s thoughtfulness has not gone unnoticed. Impressed by his social concern, the Railways sent him to Japan in 1957 to participate in a discussion on the importance of last rites among Indians.
While his family is now settled in Kolkata, Asitda chose to stay back — he has no one to call family here except a former neighbour — to carry on with his good work. He just goes to show that true social service does not really need an organisation.