Lost in lockdown, Chennai woman, 69, dies all alone in Madurai lodge

Updated: 14 November, 2020 07:18 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Lakshmi Iyer, who had told mid-day in August that she had a home in Vashi, and relatives in Chembur and Kandivli, was found dead in a Madurai lodge; a good Samaritan and Tamil Nadu cops have been trying desperately to reach any person who knows her

Lakshmi Iyer
Lakshmi Iyer

For the past 48 hours, the Madurai police, local media and good Samaritans across Tamil Nadu have been on a single-minded mission — to trace the relatives of Lakshmi Iyer. The 69-year-old Chennai resident, who had in August this year told mid-day that she had relatives across Navi Mumbai, was found dead at a lodge in Madurai. Her body now lies in the mortuary of the Government Rajaji hospital, with a tag that says 'unclaimed', while people are trying to trace her relatives for the last rites. 

Iyer was found dead on the morning of November 12 in room no. 1 of Selection Lodge in Madurai, where she had been staying since November 10. Speaking to mid-day in August, Iyer had said she owns a flat in Navi Mumbai, and has relatives across the city, including in Kandivli and Chembur. However, none of them have been traced yet.

People had tried to get in touch with her family when she was in Palakkad, Kerala, but couldn't find any.

Was in Madurai for work

Iyer, who claimed to have a doctorate, had gone to Madurai for some work, but then the nation went under lockdown due to the pandemic and train services were suspended. She then decided to visit her relatives in Kerala before she could fly to Chennai and travelled via road to the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. From there, she was sent to a COVID-19 quarantine centre. Later, the Palakkad district collector helped Iyer get a place at Snehajwala, an old age home in Kottekad. The Snehajwala caretaker tried to trace her relatives but did not succeed.

After the lockdown was lifted, she left Snehajwala, but no one knows where she was until the evening of November 10 when she went to Selection Lodge at Town Hall road, Madurai.

She was a frequent at Madurai lodge

Selection Lodge manager A Guruswamy said, "For the past few years, she used to come to our lodge alone once in every three-four months. She would stay for about two to three days. She last came here in December 2019."

"When she came on November 10, she said she will be returning after submitting her papers at Madurai Kamaraj University. We allotted her Room no. 1 on the ground floor. She then requested us to book her a train ticket to Chennai for November 12. She was supposed to take Pandian Express from Madurai junction at 8 pm. Unfortunately, she passed away the very morning," recalled Guruswamy.

'She seemed okay day before'

He added, "On November 11, Iyer seemed normal and chatted with the lodge staff and had her meals. Around 8 pm, she went back to her room to sleep. The next morning when the bellboy visited her with coffee, she did not respond. We then informed the police who broke open the door, and she was lying dead on her bed."

"Police have not been able to trace her relatives, but they are trying their best. They have collected all her belongings, including her diary that has several contact numbers. People say they knew Iyer, but none of them have any information about her family or her relatives, who can come forward to claim her body and perform the last rites," Guruswamy said. "She was a decent lady. It is unfortunate that she died like this."

Harikrishnan to perform her last rites

Good Samaritan A Harikrishnan and Madurai cops with the unclaimed body of another person. Iyer will be buried because unidentified/unclaimed bodies or outstation residents are not cremated as the claimants or relatives can be traced even till three months after police close the file
Good Samaritan A Harikrishnan and Madurai cops with the unclaimed body of another person. Iyer will be buried because unidentified/unclaimed bodies or outstation residents are not cremated as the claimants or relatives can be traced even till three months after police close the file

A good Samaritan has joined the police in search of her relatives after he and his staff searched about Iyer on google and found mid-day's August 30 article, following which they reached out to us.

Harikrishnan, 48, founder of Nethaji Medi Trust, helps the Tamil Nadu police lay to rest unclaimed and unidentified bodies. He again got a call from a police station on Thursday morning about Iyer, Harikrishnan told mid-day, adding that they then shifted her body to the mortuary and started tracing her relatives/claimants.

"We have circulated her photographs, mid-day article link [dated August 30], Kerala health department's COVID-19 certificate to all our contacts and media houses, hoping to get some clue about her relatives. But unfortunately, we have not made any progress. Prima facie it seems to be a case of natural death. The autopsy is awaited," Harikrsihnan said.

Last rites on Monday

"There were 100 contact numbers in her diary, but no relatives to perform her last rites. It is saddening. We will keep her body in the mortuary until Monday, and if we still don't find a relative, we would bury her. Police preserve DNA and other details of the deceased for future reference," he added.

Satish Kumar, who works with Harikrishnan, said, "We have sent the details [ID barcode] found in her possession to Madurai Kamaraj University. We are even trying to reach Chennai University, but it's a Diwali holiday. Moreover, we have learnt that without proper identification numbers, it would be difficult to trace the person from the photograph."

Who is Harikrishnan?

Good Samaritan A Harikrishanan
Good Samaritan A Harikrishanan

Harikrishnan has cremated thousands of bodies nearly two decades ago. He originally belongs to Trichy and came to Madurai after his marriage in 1998. A year later, he started a tea stall outside Government Rajaji Hospital, where he learnt about the sufferings of grieving people who would not have the money for the last rites of their family members. He then took up the initiative of giving last respect to the dead. On an average, he spends around R5,000 in each cremation/burial, which includes all the rituals.

Iyer's family background

Iyer had told mid-day that her husband worked at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and passed away eight years ago and she moved to Chennai. Then the loss of her daughter, Indumati, 25, sent her into depression for a while. She had said she also has a son, Vignesh Iyer, a Merchant Navy officer, currently sailing. "I want to go back to Chennai; my son is expected to come in September and has promised to never go back," Iyer had told mid-day in August, when she was in Kerala.

She had told Snehajwala caretaker Shimmy M that she talked to her son on Skype. But her phone got damaged, said Shimmy, adding that they tried to get her phone fixed, but could not succeed.

She had even claimed to be related to a former Supreme Court judge, and that few of her relatives live in the US too. This paper had tried to verify her claims, but unfortunately could not get any leads. Those at Snehajwala are surprised that no one has come in search of her yet.

Can you help?

Readers with any knowledge of Iyer and her family or relatives are requested to contact Harikrishnan on 09894185323 or 09344131491, or Satish on 07540049766. They can also contact Guruswamy, the Madurai lodge manager, on 04524377087.

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First Published: 14 November, 2020 06:56 IST

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