Dying in Mumbai – Grace and Support

A death sets into motion a whirlpool that sucks everyone around into it. It helps postpone grieving for those who take up the immediate post-death responsibilities, and this often helps the others grieve in peace.

It starts immediately. And while last week I wrote about how it might be better to die at home, post-death formalities are perhaps simpler in a hospital. The death certificate comes immediately, there are no police formalities and the dead person (I refuse to use the term “body”) can even be kept in the morgue for a day or two especially if we have people coming from afar. Having said that, hospitals can also leave scars. There are many hospitals where unless money exchanges hands, the attendants, ward-boys, drivers and cleaners will not move…even in death, they find a way to make money.

I still remember when a friend’s brother committed suicide and was taken to Cooper Hospital for a post-mortem. The *@#ard casualty medical officer refused to give orders for his release until we paid him money. I still remember his face and if I ever see him again, I will hit him, irrespective of where I am.

A little grace during death goes a long way!

But dying at home also comes with its own set of overwhelming issues!

And that is where friends and family come in. The first decision we had to take was whether to bring my mother-in-law home that night or keep her in the hospital till morning. It was my Mom who gave us sage advice and told us to wait till morning. Then two elders came up with the idea to call the NGO Antim Sanskar to take care of the pre-funeral preparations. My brother-in-law arranged for chairs and other furniture. My wife’s friend’s husband brought bottled water. My sister brought food and other cousins brought the paraphernalia required for the “pooja”.

NGOs like Antim Sanskar, started by Dr. Ramnik Parekh are amazing. For Rs. 4000, they come home at the appointed time in an ambulance, prepare everything, take the stretcher to the ambulance, drive to the crematorium and wait till the end. In this day and age, when we barely remember any of the rituals that need to be done and those who do remember are the ones dying daily, they are a boon.

My brother-in-law’s friend went early to the Sion Crematorium to take care of the formalities and by the time we reached, had already sorted everything out and then went to the BMC office to take care of the death certificate paperwork.

Then came the preparations for the “prarthana”. Booking the hall, arranging the singers, getting a large photograph done and framed (which my mother-in-law had already selected in advance 5 years ago), placing advertisements in various newspapers, selecting the songs to be sung, arranging the dinner, the valet, the eulogies to be spoken…it is almost like a mini-wedding that has to be prepared for in less than a day. Some do it simply, some a little more elaborate…but it is still a lot of effort. And in a city like Mumbai, where people live far and wide, it is not always easy to get that help and support.

It can’t be easy for nuclear families, and those who live alone. NGOs and social workers help with the last rites, but they don’t provide shoulders to lean on.

It is at these times that we learn the value of family, friends and local social and community support systems!

And in the end, all of this goes a long way to help with the grieving!

21 Comments

  • P.Venkatraman wrote:

    What is often happening today in Mumbai is very sad. Folks who know the deceased well also do not turn up for the funeral. Everyone finds an excuse to keep themselves away.

    In the end even essential rituals and work is getting outsourced. To NGOs in this case.

    How long it will take to get privatised like the west is only anyone’s guess

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Not sure that is such a bad idea.

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Welcome back Bhavin. Antim Sanskar is a boon- thanks for the info. And learning Malayalam in your last blog was hilarious!

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Welcome

  • Welcome back Bhavin. It is always so refreshing to read your articles, be it on love or on death. News about ANTIM SANSKAR is a BOON. Thanks a lot.I think one ANTIM SANSKAR++ will be welcome(no disrespect intended) whereby all the post-death rituals can also be taken care off.It will be useful in Mumbai. Venkatraman’s point on why even near relatives avoid death is quite clear. We should read Mahabharata, Yudhisthir had told Dharma that everybody thinks that Death happens in somebody else’s home. The fact that it strikes all home, people try to forget. Kindly mark me the earlier blog, I missed it, it is always a pleasure to read you, so realistic yet so easy reading. Let your key-board enlighten us on many points, and do keep me in your loop. I am delighted to hear from you. Regards: Sugata

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    The earlier post is here. ttp://manfrommatunga.com/?p=656

  • Aarti Mehta wrote:

    Nicely written; touching upon a sensitive subject with a sensitive yet matter of fact style! Beautiful!

  • Dr Kusum Doshi wrote:

    Very true what you mentioned. A big thank you to Dr Ramnik & Jyoti Parekh for this service . 2 tings I would like to add–eye/organ donations & keeping the person’s body in a glass casket with refrigerating facilities rather than keeping a morgue as the have to wait for relations to come from abroad–Dr Kusum Doshi

  • Yes Bhavin it is a stressful time specially for the surviving spouse. You need a family member for money to clear hospital dues, ambulance. For me that was done by my nephew till my eldest came in the next day.
    The funeral things were taken care of by our family priest and the temple downstairs had made all arrangements for chairs, food for the next two days etc. Friends, i.e. you, picked my children up from the airport.Relatives stayed over to man the phone which was ringing incessantly. Neighbours, god bless them sent huge thermos of tea and snacks.The Shanmukhananda had taken over the ads, prayer meeting . I had the luxury of such support. It is good that someone like Mr Pareekh is available for those without

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    Communists could crib that Globalisation has taken its toll on Families and their attendance on funeral of relatives. Increasing dependence on friends and neighbors is inevitable,especially for hospitalisation,and the NGO’s for last rites.Financial security and independence,seem to override all bonds. There could be rare examples of exceptions, but the trend is clear. Another clear trend that is emerging as a result of widely dispersed family members is the eroding belief in the rituals after death.The excessive greed and the rationale offered by the Pandits involved, have also contributed to this erosion of faith.

  • Armaity Suresh Patel wrote:

    Hi bhavin, so good to hear from you again!
    I did not receive your last blog. Do send it.
    I had received an email in which it was mentioned that after a person dies he/she is referred to as ‘BODY”.Put the body down, bring the body home, etc. Our name is wiped out in a jiffy!! So I read you referring to the dead person as that person and not ‘body’~
    You are right that in times of stress others take up the responsibility so that you can grieve in silence. When my mom passed away in USA my nieces, nephew and all my sister’s friends took up this horandous job and did not allow us to do anything!! I was touched, amazed with their sensitive approach! My Mom a Zarthustrian had opted for electric cremation and not burial or funeral pyre i.e. the use of fire. Our nieces et all took great care to the extent that after the funeral prayers, speeches, etc, when we followed our Mom to be taken to the crematorium which was almost an hour and a half distance, they had taken care to supply in all cars coffee, sandwiches etc. as no body had eaten anything since that morning! Simply worth praising. Finally they gave vent to their own feelings as my Mom was their grandma!!
    Such are the people in the world. Some do stay away but they have their own thinking.

    Once again, Bhavin, I am glad to hear from you and continue to add me on your mailing list.
    Wishing you Happy Diwali!
    Armaity

  • Given the shabby state of our crematoria, the cremation process can be messy and quite traumatic. Personally speaking, I favour whole body donation to teaching hospitals.

    Incidentally, there are other community based social organizations like Antim Sanskar and some informal citizen groups that help out with rituals for cremation and after. They do provide excellent social service.

  • Indira Laul wrote:

    Hi B, Good to hear from you, albeit in somber mode. Quite blown away by the fact that your m-in-law had selected a photograph five years ago…

  • Sujata Morab wrote:

    Hello Bhavinji,

    Nice to hear from you after so long!

    Does “Antim Sanskar” take care of organ donation part, if the person has wised to donate organs?

  • Sorry to know about your loss. May her soul rest in peace. Had never heard of Antim Sanskar. But will find out. Yes I agree fully that the hospital post mortem formalities are a nightmare. Have experienced that and fully agree with your contention of knocking someone out completely. Also I have always noticed that these singers, they make it a point to use such songs and words that the immediate family is bound to be moved to tears. I have never like that practice. Why not let them grieve in private?

  • M R Sundaram wrote:

    NGOs that help at such times are laudable. Fortunately there are a few around! Good hearts still exist, unlike that Hospital Doc who wanted to ‘encash’ even death!

  • Vimmi Subramanian wrote:

    Thanks Mr Bhavin for the useful information on Antim Sanskaar- it is a wonderful gesture on your part to touch upon the sensitive yet realistic topic of death which most of us will shy away from discussing so candidly . You have dwelt upon the same in a dignified manner.
    Thank you so much. Ms Vimmi Subramanian.Matunga

  • Kedarnath Rao Ghorpade wrote:

    I was responsible for depositing a friend post his unfortunate car crushing death and identifying, recovering him from a morgue. I was told that we were waiting for ‘settlement’ of Gandhi to complete the formalities. Ek tho @#$* dil toot gaya aaur upar se Gandhi laane ka intezar!! Without Gandhi issued in various colors through Reserve Bank of India, sans his ideals, is the backbone of all kinds of logistics and support. NGO’s and contacts do help smoother the formalities. Welcome back!!

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    Nice to hear from you after so long, although the subject is something that no one wants to talk about and forget as fast as possible. It takes all kinds to make up this world and it is because of such unsung heroes that people still have faith in humanity!

  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    In Nairobi, Kenya, The Oshwal Community has in place a number of people who will visit the family upon hearing the death of a person.
    They take over the necessary rituals and procedures and also advise the family on what to do.
    The nanami is donated by several different people who are in the wood industry.

    There is no fee involved, as it is run by volunteers.

    The only payment that may be required, is the cremation charges – which tend to be nominal. And perhaps for the hearse if it needs to be hired.

    At the crematorium also, there are volunteers ready to receive the body, and guide the family on what the procedures are.

    All in all, a great service is provided to the bereaved family.

  • Shweta Thapar wrote:

    Its good to read your article after a long time. Thanks for sharing this info.

    Shweta

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