Meet the Kerala Man Who Helped Bring Back Sridevi’s Body to India

Sridevi’s body made its way to a simple mortuary in Dubai, where one man helped sign out her remains.

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Away from the flashing camera shutters and millions of eyes watching with baited breath, one man helped release the mortal remains of actress Sridevi, paving the way for them to reach Mumbai.

Listed only as "Ashraf" in the official paperwork in Dubai is Ashraf "Sherry" Thamarassery, a 44-year-old Indian from Kerala who has become a ferryman of sorts for expats who die in the United Arab Emirates.

From indebted labourers to the moneyed elite, Thamarassery has helped repatriate 4,700 bodies to 38 countries across the world.

He views it as a noble responsibility in this desert sheikhdom that draws so many far from their homes.

“For them (UAE authorities), you or me, it’s all the same and everyone is equal. If someone dies in their room, they will take them to the hospital and then to be checked at the police mortuary,” Thamarassery told Associated Press in an interview late Tuesday night.

"It's the same process, whether Dubai or Sharjah or any emirate... Whether you're poor or rich, it doesn't matter," he said.

Sherry offered shrugs when talking about Sridevi, saying he helped repatriate five other bodies on Tuesday, including the famed Bollywood star.

Fifty four-year-old Sridevi, known only by one name, died on 24 February in Dubai, where she had travelled to attend a wedding.

While Indian officials quickly canceled her passport and prepared the other documents, Thamarassery said a needed police clearance slowed Sridevi’s repatriation. He received hundreds of calls from journalists, officials and others in the interim.

When the clearance came, he travelled to a simple government-run mortuary in a dusty neighborhood of squat, square buildings that house some of Dubai’s immense population of foreign workers, many of whom come from South Asia.

There, officials embalmed her corpse as Thamarassery handled paperwork for her and three others. Curious Indian laborers spoke softly among themselves about the actress while standing outside of the mortuary. An ambulance then carried her body to a private jet reportedly sent by an Indian billionaire to take her home to Mumbai to be cremated.

By Tuesday night, Thamarassery returned home to the apartment he shares with his wife and daughter in Ajman, a small, dusty emirate in the UAE that serves as a bedroom community to skyscraper-studded Dubai some 35 kilometers (20 miles) to the southwest. There, Thamarassery runs a mechanics shop but focuses largely on his philanthropic efforts.

Shelf upon shelf in his home bears honors and awards. A framed picture hangs on the wall showing him meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I do this “to earn blessings, but also when someone dies here, people don’t know how to manage the repatriation procedures,” he said. “That’s why I do it.”

All the while, his phone never stopped ringing, some of them undoubtedly new calls for his help.

(With inputs from AP)

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