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Dr Narasimhan and comrades
Democratic Youth Federation of India

We are on a wasteland -- there's no other word for this vast soulless nightmare-scape of rotting slush, debris, mud, nets and dog and cat and human carcasses -- in Akkarapettai, outside Nagapattinam.

It has taken us over an hour to negotiate through the slime and stench to where Dr Lakshmi Narasimhan -- a tall, gently-spoken Salem doctor -- greets the dusk with his team in the only way that makes sense in this post-tsunami miasma. They pick up and burn the bodies.

We are only 500 metres from Akkarapettai -- 500 hard-earned metres, yes, but a small distance really. But nobody except this team -- from the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), a CPI-M-affiliated organisation -- is out this far to do this work. From what they tell us, there are dead bodies strewn all the way to where the sun finally sets; well, 5 km in that direction, anyway. Nobody is interested in coming out even this far for this work. What will happen to those other bodies?

Just getting here, we've seen at least three bodies on smoking pyres, at least five others just lying around. One's a little form, sex, age and even humanity wiped away, lying in a carton. Sprawled in the muck nearby is another. Brother? Mother? Who?

In front of us is a collapsed hut; one body lies on it as if it was asleep. Two men lift the collapsed thatch roof; there are bodies below. They pull one out -- a boy? -- and put him on top with the other one. The others are too difficult to extract.

As we stand in the dusk and slime, Veerappan, his wife Parvati, their daughter Pasupati, their sons Ganesh, Dinesh and Abhi -- the names listed in a sodden exercise book at our feet -- go up in flames. Dr Narasimhan and his comrades are done for today. They are already planning where in the muck they will go, first thing tomorrow morning.

Text, photograph: Dilip D'Souza

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