When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Kashmir valley in March, 48-year-old Jameel Ahmad had no idea what was in store for him. An ambulance driver at a government hospital in Srinagar, Ahmad was assigned an unenviable duty – of ferrying victims' remains to their last rites. He never complained.
Preparing For The Dead (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Ambulance driver Jameel Ahmad responds to an emergency call at night to ferry the remains of a COVID-19 victim from the hospital.
In this picture, Ahmad is outside the mortuary of Srinagar's premier government hospital in Soura and putting on a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit.
Arriving To Collect The Dead (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Clad in a Personal Protective Equipment suit outside Srinagar's Soura hospital, Jameel Ahmad calls the security guard of the mortuary to open its gate.
Once inside the premises, Ahmad will load the body onto the ambulance for its last journey.
His Connecting Link With The World (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Jameel Ahmad clasps his cell phone while waiting outside a mortuary in Srinagar.
Ever since the onset of COVID-19 in Kashmir, Ahmad's phone has never remained switched off - it's his only way to know about his next assignment.
On The Wheels With His Companion (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Clad in Personal Protective Equipment outside Srinagar's Soura hospital, Jameel Ahmad waits in his vehicle until the security guards open the gates of the mortuary.
As winter has set in Kashmir, the temperature has often slipped below zero, the nights particularly colder than days.
A Lone Walk To Meet The Dead (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Ahmad walks in the aisle of the mortuary of a government hospital in Srinagar to collect a COVID-19 victim's body.
With hospital staff wary of getting infected by the virus, Ahmad is mostly alone when it comes to loading the remains of victims into his ambulance.
The Only One To Touch The Dead (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Relatives of a COVID-19 victim look on while Ahmad pushes the body-laden stretcher towards the ambulance outside a hospital in Srinagar.
Once the body is loaded in the ambulance, Ahmad begins a lone journey towards the victim's graveyard for final rites.
Into The Heart of Darkness (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
After loading a COVID-19 victim's remains in his ambulance, Ahmad does a final check-up of the vehicle's doors.
Ahmad's job doesn't have the luxury of a schedule - he often ferries corpses in the dead of night.
A Moment Of Sunshine (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
After finishing an overnight assignment, Jameel Ahmad poses for a picture on the road along with his ambulance. Ahmad's job entails no breaks, and an emergency call can send him back to work in a flash.
When He's With The Living (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Jameel Ahmad sits in the hospital's drivers' room while chatting with his colleagues.
The discussion inside the room brings much-needed respite to Ahmad from his stressful and dreary job.
A Signpost Of Bravery (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
A picture of Jameel Ahmad being rewarded with a 'COVID-19 Warrior Award' by the government is fixed atop the roof of the hospital's drivers' room in Srinagar. Ahmad's son also joined his father at the award ceremony.
His Quest to Find Colour in Darkness (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Jameel Ahmad watches television at the hospital's canteen while waiting for his tea.
This photo was taken after he had completed an overnight assignment and had needed to rush back to the hospital.
A Glimpse of Normal Life (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
According to him, ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has hardly had lunch at home.
A Friendship Under The Masks (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
After his breakfast at the hospital canteen, Jameel Ahmad is joined by his colleagues for a chat. His colleagues ensure that they are masked in front of Ahmad.
His Attempt to Console The Bereaved (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
After ferrying a COVID-19 patient's dead body to the graveyard on Srinagar's outskirts, Ahmad catches up with the relatives of the victim for a chat.
Scenes at the funerals of COVID-19 patients, often leave him distraught and helpless, Ahmad says.
His Other Worry, A Break For Family (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Anxious calls from home often punctuate Ahmad's work at night. In this picture, Ahmad is talking to his wife and checking about his children, while he waits for the remains of a COVID-19 victim outside a Srinagar hospital.
When The Going Gets Tough (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Jameel Ahmad takes a break from his work on a busy road in Srinagar city. Ahmad had just returned from ferrying a 17-year-old female COVID-19 victim to the graveyard.
It was the first time he broke into tears since he began dealing with the remains of COVID-19 victims.
He Shall Return For The Dead (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Hoping it's the last assignment of the day, Ahmad leaves for home in his ambulance. His companion throughout his pandemic journey, Ahmad takes care of his vehicle like his mother, he says.
When They Listen to His Stories (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
An overview of Srinagar, where Ahmad works day and night during this pandemic.
A Home Soaked in Sorrow And Snow (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
After ferrying a COVID-19 victim's remains to the graveyard on Srinagar's outskirts, Ahmad catches up with his colleagues for a chat.
Scenes at the funerals of COVID-19 patient’s often left him distraught and helpless, Ahmad says.
A Slice Of a Normal Life (2020) by Masrat Zahra#COVIDHeroes
Ahmad sitting with his colleagues in their office room where they have spent most of their time together during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Artist: Masrat Zahra
Masrat Zahra is an internationally acclaimed independent photojournalist from Kashmir. Her work has appeared in several media organizations including Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Sun, TRT World, The New Humanitarian, Caravan and others. Through her pictures she brings out glimpses of everyday life in Kashmir. She is the recipient of the 2020 Peter Mackler award for ethical and courageous journalism and the 2020 Anja Neidringhaus award by the International Women’s Media Foundation.
Project location: Srinagar, Kashmir
#my2020hero is an initiative by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chennai Photo Biennale Foundation (CPB) to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of real-life heroes by sharing their stories.