The coronavirus is upending life, and death, in India. Haridwar, an abode of 400,000 living souls on the banks of the Ganga River in Uttarakhand, has been a popular destination funeral location for thousands of years. More than 3,000 pilgrims visit the city daily for post-death rituals, and if we extrapolate and reverse inflate this number over 2,000 years, one can safely assume that Haridwar is home to more than 100 million dead.
The preferred point of final departure is at Har ki Pauri, a ghat on the western bank of the diverted Ganga waters. With priests absent and virus abundant, pilgrims stay away (or are kept away). Sheo Jaiswal of the Times of India reports “a family had come to Har-ki-Pauri on March 27 to immerse their mother’s ashes but the police stopped them at Shankaracharya Chowk and they had to return.”
Today, the ghats are devoid of life and death……..with one (or maybe three) exception(s).
On the night of 2 April 2020, an elephant, in defiance of Central and State Government orders, aimlessly roamed the streets of Haridwar. Reports suggest that the disobedient beast did not have a shopping bag, and did not appear to be buying essential goods. To make matters worse, it is rumoured to have been traveling in a party of three, and did not follow social distancing orders.
Republic TV, in a segment sickly subtitled “What’s Viral,” added spicy details: “One of the three elephants even injured a priest near the Hanuman Ghat.” Perhaps the elephant had beef with monkeys, and decided to take it out on the next-of-kin. To add insult to injury, it is believed the pachyderm did not wash his hands before the man-handling.
In an act of attempted redemption, the mandatory 20 second cleansing appears to have happened after the misdemeanour, for the elephant “was also seen taking a dip in Ganga River before returning to the forests.” It is unclear if the pachyderm’s sins were purged, or if it was just a superficial face-wash.