On August 20, 66-year-old Anand Devi of Bishanpur village was swept away by the rampaging Kosi while trying to board a rescue boat.
Her son Gokarn Chaudhary rushed here from New Delhi but couldn’t find his mother's body. He then hurried to the local block office to find dry wood. He found none. Determined to perform the last rites of his mother, Gokarn made an effigy of her out of kush (a kind of grass) and lit the ‘funeral pyre’.
Bechan Sada could not offer even a token tribute to his uncle Shivji Sada, who drowned while trying to save his precious buffalo. Shivji’s body was later found floating near Sonbarsa. But since he could not fish out the corpse or find dry wood to cremate it, a distraught Bechan let the body be swept away by the current.
Across the watery expanse that is now the Kosi, morbid tales are emerging of the indignities her victims must suffer in death. The Kosi has devoured not just the worldly possessions of the barely living but also the final resting place of the dead. Hindu burning ghats and Muslim burial grounds are under water or washed away. Even a rag-tag funeral is close to impossible in these watery wastes.
Vishnudeo, now lodged at the Belauri Middle school relief camp in Purnia, said his parents and five siblings were missing. He is gnawed by the fear that they may already be dead. If they are, he can’t cremate them, even if the bodies are found. Deepak, at the same camp, said there was little time to think of the dead. “In the mad scramble for survival, few have time to bother with the dead. People have just been running for their lives, leaving behind parents, children and siblings.”
Madhepura district magistrate Rajesh Kumar acknowledged dry wood to cremate the dead was a problem. “Evacuation continues to be our top priority. I’ve not received any complaint about difficulty in conducting death ritual. But if you are aware of any such case, we will be pleased to help.”