On Wednesday, when a team of police officials broke into the house of 50-year-old Syed in Kerala's Malappuram district, they never imagined they would discover something so macabre.
The stench was unbearable and they wondered how anyone could be living in the house.
"We went to one of the bedrooms to find four members of the family - the mother, and her three children - sitting on the floor, around a bed. On the bed, was something covered in a bed sheet. The stench only grew thicker as we went closer to the bed. When we removed the bed sheet, we found the dead body of a man. There was barely any flesh on the body...it had already decomposed and all that was left was the skeleton."
The body the police found was that of Syed, the head of the family.
Syed, the police believe, had died sometime in February this year, but his 4-member family had hidden the news of his death from the outside world.
Instead of cremating the body, they had prayed ardently in the fierce hope that he would come back alive.
The incident came to light after a few of Syed's relatives grew suspicious over the family's behaviour. Since February this year, Syed's 21-year-old son had rarely stepped out of the house. The neighbours hadn't seen the women members of the family for the past two years, but the men used to venture out. This made relatives suspicious and they approached the police for help.
Syed used to be a teacher at a nearby madrassa. He lived in the house in Kolathur with his wife Ushara and three children. While their elder son, who is 21 years old, is a Madrassa teacher like his father, the other two are minor girls.
On the day the police broke into the house, they found that the family had been following their regular routine. They had finished breakfast, and lunch had been prepared. They spent most of the time sitting around Syed's dead body. When his body began to decay, they covered him with the bed sheet.
A secluded life
According to the police, the family that was like any other in the neighbourhood, suddenly began to lead a secluded life some two years ago.
The change in behaviour was noted by neighbours after Ushara went on a pilgrimage two years ago.
"The children told us that their mother had gone to Ajmer and other places as part of a pilgrimage. After she got back, she gradually became some sort of a religious preacher for the rest of the family. The women members of the house, including the girl children, would not step out of their house. One of the girl children used to be in Class 10 then, but the family stopped sending the children to school," the police say.
The family also began to ignore their relatives and neighbours, and dissuaded them from visiting.
"A few neighbours claim that the family would not open the door despite frequent calls and would not let them in the house. Gradually, the neighbours too turned hostile to the family, and did not bother," police say.
According to the police, the children confessed that their father had been suffering from diabetes. But ever since their mother returned from the pilgrimage, they stopped Syed's medicines and gave him water as medicine.
The Kolathur police have registered a case of unnatural death. The post mortem procedures were conducted and they are awaiting the results to ascertain the cause of death.
After recording their statements, the family has been shifted to a relative's house. Police believe that superstitious beliefs had forced the family to cover up the death and have said that the investigation is on.
Forensic experts will visit the house on Friday.