The smell of death hangs over the mortuary at the government-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai. "What do you want?" asks the clerk at the inquiry window. "A dead body." "From where?". "Bhandup". "Yes! It's in that corner, ask the doctor for a certificate and collect it" is the matter of fact answer.
The staff at the mortuary are not impressed or saddened by dead bodies. They deal with death every moment at work. "When I decided to do this I knew what I was getting into," says Dr S M Patil, above, left, the police surgeon and medico-legal advisor to the government of Maharashtra. "I have been dealing with dead bodies since I studied pathology in college."
"The bodies of the nine Pakistani terrorists (killed in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks) lying here does not add any expense to the government or to us. We do not have a separate cell for them. They are there with the rest of the bodies," he adds.
There are three sections in the mortuary. One is for pathological bodies, one for forensic cadavers and the third for people who die before admission to the hospital. The respective capacities are 44, 44 and 34 bodies.
The three cabinets are maintained at a temperature of four degrees centigrade at all times. The bodies are embalmed before being placed in the cabinets. That is a one-time process; thereafter, the body can be preserved indefinitely.
Any unclaimed body is legally under the custody of the police. The police can dispose the bodies when they wish.
In the case of the nine slain terrorists, Islamic groups in Mumbai refused to permit the bodies to be buried in the city's cemetries on the ground that the terrorists had committed crimes against Islam. Pakistan too refuses to claim the bodies.
The bodies of people, who are brought dead to the hospital, are taken straight to the police, whose surgeons conduct an autopsy and issue a certificate stating the cause of death.
When a person dies after being admitted 24 hours in the hospital, the body is given to the pathology department for an autopsy.
When a patient dies of natural causes, the body is handed over to the pathology department. When he dies of unnatural causes, the forensic department takes over.
The autopsies of the nine terrorists's bodies were conducted by police surgeons as they were brought dead to the hospital. Recalling those horrific days last November Dr Patil told rediff.com, "We worked non-stop for five days. In all, 174 bodies came here".
It was not the JJ doctors alone that worked long hours during and in the days after the attacks. The men who carried, bathed, stored the dead bodies all worked continously.
The government honoured the doctors with certificates of appreciation and the mortuary staff with cash awards of Rs 5,000 each.
For the staff at the JJ mortuary the horrors of those 60 hours last November continues. Then, they worked non stop for 120 hours. Now they preserve the nine bodies that the nation hates.
Image: Dr S M Patil. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar