Meet the Indian expat who prepared Sridevi for her final journey home from the UAE

'Everyone is equal, whether you're poor or rich, it doesn't matter', says Ashraf 'Sherry' Thamarassery

In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photograph, Ashraf "Sherry" Thamarassery, who volunteers his time helping repatriate the dead from the United Arab Emirates, speaks to The Associated Press in his home in Ajman, United Arab Emirates. Thamarassery has helped repatriate 4,700 bodies from the UAE and recently helped send the remains of famed Indian actress Sridevi back home to Mumbai. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Away from the camera flashes and the eyes of her millions of fans in India, the actress Sridevi's body made its way to a simple mortuary in Ajman, where one man helped sign out her remains to return home.

Listed only as "ASHRAF" on the official paperwork in Dubai, Ashraf 'Sherry' Thamarassery is a 44-year-old Indian from Kerala who has become a ferryman of sorts for those who die here in the 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.

"For them, 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," Mr Thamarassery said.

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

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

Starting out as a four-year-old child star in south Indian regional movies, she later became known for her impeccable comic timing as well as her dancing skills.

She appeared in hundreds of films, perhaps most known for her song-and-dance Hawa Hawai routine in the 1987 film Mr India, in which she joyfully prances around in an almost-elastic set of whirls, twirls and silly faces.

She smashed into the male-dominated movie industry to become her own star.

The 54-year-old Sridevi, only known by one name, which means "Goddess" in Hindi, died in Dubai while in the UAE for a wedding. Police and prosecutors say she drowned in a hotel bathtub after losing consciousness, calling her death accidental. Police officials also have said the actress had alcohol in her system at the time of her drowning.


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News of her death dominated India's newspapers and many television networks, with coverage ranging from the restrained to the lurid. One TV station aired a segment showing a reporter talking about her death while laying in a bathtub, while others had computer-generated graphics imagine the scene. Many newspapers chose not to mention she had alcohol in her system, while a hashtag #LetHerRestInPeace emerged on social media.

While Indian officials quickly cancelled her passport and prepared the other documents, Mr Thamarassery said the necessary police clearance slowed Sridevi's repatriation. He said he has received hundreds of calls from journalists, officials and others in the interim.

When the clearance came, Mr Thamarassery travelled to a government-run mortuary in Dubai and there officials embalmed her corpse as he handled paperwork for her and three others.

On Tuesday night, Mr Thamarassery returned home to the apartment he shares with his wife and daughter in Ajman. There, he runs a mechanics shop but focuses largely on his philanthropic efforts.

Shelf upon shelf in his home bears honours 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.