Noble effort in unlikely place
Sekandar Ali, a morgue attendant, who worked on more than 80,000 bodies in his 35 years in the profession at Dhaka Medical College, also nurtured a rather wholesome hobby.
He spent a lot of time planting trees around the morgue, transforming the atmosphere from a dismal one to a garden of tranquility.
Sekandar, through his own effort, planted around 25 floral and fruit-bearing trees of different species in the premise in the last 16 years. Where there was once an overpowering stench, now people can breathe easy.
Morbid and foreboding, a morgue is not a happy place to visit. Most visitors come to take the physical remains of their dearly departed.
Sekandar, who had been destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, uncles and grandfather, undertook the grisly task of dissecting bodies at the morgue for autopsy since 1982.
He was always a shoo-in for the job as a successor to his forefathers, starting at only 17 out of a pressing need for a means of livelihood.
But Sekandar never let his profession get in the way of his passion. He was always pro-environment and likes to keep his surroundings neat and clean.
During his childhood, Sekandar used to live with his family in a house beside the morgue. He had observed the pall of gloom in and around the morgue for years.
Heart-broken relatives mill around the morgue for their relative's bodies for six to seven hours, but they could not even stand there due to foul odour, Sekandar observed, adding that though there is a separate waiting room, people anxiously wait near the morgue.
In 2001, Sekandar began making the changes. He first planted a Kamini (Murraya paniculata) tree at the entrance of the morgue. Over the years, he planted around 25 trees, thinking that soon the place would be bestowed with shadow and the many fragrances of nature, he told The Daily Star.
After a new building of the morgue situated at the premise began in 2008-09, Sekandar dove into his gardening with a fervour.
Now the small garden includes a palm tree, four patabahar trees, three neem trees, one kadam tree, three mango trees, one jackfruit tree, one boroi tree, one custard apple tree, one pomegranate tree, one china-rose and three rose plants.
Sekandar said he bought the plants from High Court and Bakshi Bazar. When the flowers bloom, their many fragrances momentarily help people forget where they are. The trees have beautified the environment of the morgue.
Sekandar, with his other assistants, take care of the trees regularly. Earlier, they used to water the plants twice a day, but now they do it in the evening every day, adding that they also cut branches if they grow bigger.
Sohel Mahmud, head of forensic medicine department at the DMC, said people with heavy hearts gather in the morgue premise while these trees give them a little relief even after their grave loss.
“We are trying to expand the gardening,” Sohel added.
While Sekandar used to dissect many bodies before, now he only coordinates the procedure while his younger brother Ramu Das dissects bodies. Sekandar, with his film star looks can focus on his gardening, one tree at a time.