In a short story titled ‘Globalisation’, about a family living in the city, popular Hindi writer Manu Bhandari writes: “One morning the maid was late to arrive. The lady of the house yelled at her and asked for the reason. The maid replied, ‘What to do, memsaab? A dead body had to be taken care of. You know Mr Sharma from A-wing? He passed away last night. When I went there in the morning, his wife and daughter were wailing over his corpse. They kept mourning all night long but nobody came, no relative or neighbour. Some of his colleagues did come in the morning, but they too left after some time. There was nobody to even carry the poor chap’s body to the shamshaan. How could I have left them in that state? I could come here only after arranging for his funeral.’ And then, she proceeded towards the kitchen sighing, ‘No one to even give shoulder to the dead! What has the world come to?’”
The anecdote aptly portrays urbanity as we experience it today — people with no time, even for a funeral. Consequently, several private organisations have mushroomed in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, which arrange for funerals charging anywhere between Rs 8,000- Rs 10,000. In case one wants a grand funeral, the cost can even go up to a lakh. ‘Funeral management’ companies are only a phone call away with phone lines functioning round the clock. All one needs to do is tell the agent which customs are to be followed and the rest — arranging for the concerned pandit, maulvi, florist and other service providers — will be taken care of by the professionals.
A Mumbai-based agency, Indian Funeral Service, claims to be the first of its kind in India. The company has its offices in New Delhi as well as other cities in central and south India. They claim to provide the best service in the sector with options ranging from embalming the body for preservation to ‘scattering the ashes into the sea or at Varanasi’. Other companies, such as Delhi-based PS Funeral and Ambulance Services Pvt Ltd, also make funeral arrangements — ‘for all religions, covering every destination in the world’. The director of the firm, NS Bhatt, claims that the agency, operating from Delhi and the NCR, is the best in the region.
When asked about how his firm came to undertake the management of funerals, Bhatt says, “We have been in this business of providing ambulance and hearse services since 1996-97. While extending our services, we realised that people sometimes wanted us to make arrangements for pandits and florists. Consequently, we diversified in the year 2000 to offer other services.” Bhatt further adds, “Life in the metros is hectic. In the villages, close relatives of the deceased manage everything. But in cities nobody has time. So, we offer to arrange for the funeral while the family is in mourning. All they need to do is make a phone call.” The company gets around 4-5 such phone calls everyday and Bhatt believes the business is going to expand in future. “Everyone wants to settle in the cities. Life is going to get more hectic here. More and more people are going to seek such services in future,” he says.