Each month, many a time, Deepak Nagpal's phone rings and he gets up to leave his dental clinic. He knows the task is important, too close to his heart, but unusual.
The 42-year-old Nagpal strives to give the unknown dead a decent cremation. For the last eight years, the dentist has been cremating unidentified bodies, often found dead someplace by the police or residents, and even taking their ashes to Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh be flown in the Ganga river.
He believes that those who miss proper rituals don't attain 'moksha', which according to Hindu mythology is the transcendent state of being released from the cycle of rebirth.
"A person should be properly cremated and his ashes washed away in the holy water of Ganga… else the spirit keeps on wandering," Nagpal says, sounding inspired to keep the task going on.
It all started eight years ago when Nagpal saw a few bodies of unidentified people being burnt using kerosene and tyres instead of wood. The appalling scene left him a changed man.
Appointements at his clinic began to be rescheduled more often as he answered to the urge to tend to the dead.
And soon, joined by his friends, Nagpal started Aasra Welfare Society, a non-governmental organisation. The NGO that was started with only six people has swelled over the years and presently comprises more than 60 members. The society, with Napal as its president, has since cremated hundreds of unidentified bodies. After every month or two, the ashes are collectively taken to Haridwar.
"On an average, we receive around eight to nine bodies a month. And the cremation of each body costs the NGO around RS 3,000 to Rs 3,500," Nagpal says.
For the bodies found within the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation, Nagpal says, the administration provides Aasra wood for cremation.
For the ones found outside the corporation's jurisdiction, the costs are borne by the organisation; on an average, Aasra receives around three to four bodies, but Nagpal has never applied for funds from the government.
"It demeans the whole purpose," he says. "I have nothing against government grant, but we do it for our personal satisfaction… my friends and I don't mind to chip in to manage the expenses on our own."
Of course, the authorities feel indebted. "What the police and the administration should be doing, the Aasra is doing. This was actually the administration's job… Our department is indebted to them…," says Harish Bhardwaj, the public relations officer of the Inspector General of Police, Hisar Range.
For Nagpal, though, it's only about inner peace. "This work gives me satisfaction," he says, "That cannot be quantified."