Mumbai: 'Kallu Ambulance' dives into Mithi river to fish out dead bodies

Updated: Jan 23, 2018, 16:56 IST | Santosh Wagh

A 40-yr-old painter, fondly named Kallu Ambulance by cops, has been diving into the horrifically polluted Mithi to fish out unidentified bodies

Shahnawaz Ansari fishes out a body from the Mithi river yesterday. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Shahnawaz Ansari fishes out a body from the Mithi river yesterday. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

They call him Kallu Ambulance, but he's like no rescue service you have seen. Shahnawaz Ansari, 40, runs a one-man mission to give dignity to the dead. No matter what hour his phone rings, his wife and children know that he will instantly leave to assist the police to retrieve a body they have found somewhere in the Mithi river.

Shahnawaz Ansari

Ansari, a painter by profession, has pulled out as many as 78 bodies from the river in the last 10 years. All this, without knowing how to swim. On January 22, his phone rang at 10 am – there was another body that needed to be fished out. This work is not for the faint-hearted; even highly trained officers from the fire brigade have a tough time doing this. But, Ansari dives right into the murky river's waters without a thought, wading in the sludge of the river basin, while locals and rescue workers watch awestruck. By noon, he emerges with the body in his arms.

Shahnawaz Ansari

Can't even swim
"I don't know swimming, but that has never impeded my work," says the good samaritan. Ansari wasn't always a corpse rescuer. The painter has spent most of his adult life living by the river, and knows the neighbourhood like the back of his hand. He doesn't remember the date when he fished out the first body, but he does remember the day like it was yesterday. "It was in 2007; There was a lot of chaos at the riverside after someone spotted a body in the water. I watched the rescue workers struggle for hours, but nobody wanted to get into the filthy water. I removed my clothes and jumped in," he recalls.

Shahnawaz Ansari

Locals who were present at the time marvelled at the ease with which Ansari pulled out the corpse. The story about his initiative spread and, soon, even the police began calling him for help.

A service to the dead
"People call me a daredevil because I am needlessly risking my life for dead people. I don't agree," said Ansari, adding, "I feel like I am doing a service to the departed souls. In all these years, I have not faced a mishap or infection. Allah has been kind."

Shahnawaz Ansari

His family, too, knows better than to stop him. His wife, Salma Bi, says, "Though I fear for his life, I do not stop him. He was helping the police even before we got married. Still, whenever he leaves home on call, I keep my fingers crossed and pray that I see him walk through the door in the evening."

After his marriage to Salma, Ansari moved to Govandi, where he now lives with her and his two children, but he never refuses a call for help from the police, neither does he demand a remuneration. He supports his family with what he earns from painting jobs.

After hearing about Ansari and his work around the Mithi, the Vashi police also contacted him. Ansari has retrieved eight bodies from Vashi Creek. Inspector Sadanand Rane of Kurla police station says, "He never expects anything from us, but we try to help him in some way or the other."

The police now intend to reward him for his work, said ACP Uttam Kolekar (Kurla division), adding, "Kallu helps us without expecting anything in return. But, we have decided to write to our seniors about him, so we can honour his work.

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