Death rites get the professional touch

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 06 November 2014 | 22.23

When Neeta Bhalchandra Tavade, 72, died at her Andheri home recently , her son Shailesh made some ur gent calls. There were the friends and relatives who had to be informed of her demise. The last call went to a funeral service company -Shailesh needed help with the last rites and the cremation. A team from Antim Samskar Seva arrived with a bamboo bier, garlands and the small earthen pot for Hindu death rituals, arranged for a priest, took the body to the crematorium and helped the family perform the last rites. This was a first death in the family in 30 years and Tavade needed the extra hands. "I was not in a position to take quick decisions and didn't want to get stressed out by relatives bossing me around," he says.

A growing number of people like Tavade in cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai prefer saying a hasslefree and dignified goodbye to their loved ones. The services are arranged by specialist companies or funeral undertakers who keep their phone lines open to people of all communities who are hard-pressed for time and reliable support.

"We started with one air-conditioned hearse and a team of four men headed by a social worker in 2008. We now assist over 100 bereaved families every month from Colaba up to Borivali and Vashi in north Mumbai," says Dr Ramnik Parekh, a general physician and the founder of the Mumbai-based Antim Samskar Seva. In New Delhi, Indian Funeral Service handles two-three funerals a day while Chennai-based Vincent Parker deals with up to six ceremonies. The Delhi and Chennai companies are family-run and started by arranging burials for Christians and expats, and have now expanded to organizing cremations.

"We started doing cremations because many don't want to deal with the headache of making the arrangements, especially in a big city or a new neighbourhood," says Elroy Noronha of Indian Funeral Service. He says the transition was gradual: "Earlier, Hindus would not delay a cremation to wait for a family member." But once they got used to the idea of renting freezer boxes to keep the remains intact for relatives to fly in from other parts of the country and abroad, they also started outsourc ing other arrangements, says Noronha.

Vishal Doshi from Mumbai was alone when his father-in-law died and had to make a quick call about making the arrangements.

"What if my friends couldn't reach on time? Also, how can I hassle people to leave work and help me?" say Doshi, who got Antim San skar Seva to help him with the arrangements.

Awareness of these services is spreading mostly by word of mouth.

Mumbaiker Deviyanka Bedi says she opted for Indian Funeral Service because she finds people "cold-hearted" about death. "Eve ryone is insensitive -from morgues, ambu lances, government officials to crematoriums.

It makes the process so disrespectful to the dead," says Bedi, who used professionals to arrange the funeral of her housekeeper. "She was like a grandmother to us but being Hindus we had no idea about Catholic funeral rites."

The beginnings of Dr Parekh's enterprise go back to a personal tragedy .

He had watched his father's body being transferred from one tattered ambulance to another am (the first one had broke down in the middle of the road). "He was an accident vic tim. I realized that we exhibit scant dignity and respect to the dead in our funeral ceremonies as we run helter-skelter to make the arrange ments for the last journey and I wanted to change that," says Dr Parekh. Also, with youngsters moving out of family homes, many have no idea about the last rites. "We have a manual of 24 permutations and combinations of rituals suitable for various communities and religions," he says.

To get the nuances right, most organiza tions tie up with local vendors and furnish their vehicles with community-specific kits.

They also arrange for death certificates from the local authorities. The basic cremation packages range between Rs 3,000 and Rs 8,000.

Elaborate floral decorations cost more. And priests have to be paid separately . Burials can cost upto Rs 1 lakh for embalming, flowers, refreshments, and videography . Many Chris tians, especially from Kerala with NRI links, spend around Rs 20,000 on webcasting the serv ice live to relatives abroad. "Fifteen years ago, people said `you tell me the rituals, I will do it'," says NS Bhat, founder of PS Ambulance Services in New Delhi. "Now, it has more or less changed to `you do it, I will pay'." Bhalchandra Tavade,Indian Funeral Service,Dr Ramnik Parekh,Death rites,Antim Samskar Seva

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