I volunteered to work at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying in Kolkata to help care for elderly women in their final years.
In the mornings we, the volunteers, helped hand-wash all the laundry in vats of water, massaged the ladies’ arms and legs and joined them in a colouring-in session, each with their own colouring book. We then served them lunch from vats of Dahl and rice and helped them eat. The women would then take their afternoon nap in the large dormitory. They seemed to enjoy their days with us, intrigued and entertained by the stream of foreign faces from the four corners of the earth.
I took advantage of my time there to properly explore colourful Kolkata, steeped in culture and history. In the Northern part of the city I found white sheets sewn together covering the walls of a house. I was told that this ritual is carried out when someone dies in the home as a mark of respect. I found the simplicity of the stark white, dramatic, like something you’d find in a modern art exhibition. Poignant, poetic and bold, a statement.
The main Kolkata crematorium was situated on the holy River Ganges, a real hive of activity.
It is believed that if the ashes of the deceased are placed in the Ganges then the body will go straight to heaven and escape the cycle of rebirth and so proved a popular place for funerals with people visiting from far and wide. Men queued to register and book their loved one’s cremation slot, prayed and made offerings as a stream of hearses passed.
This coffin seller proudly displayed his coffin collection on a roadside in Jaipur. The coffins were made from planks of wood and bamboo canes which were quickly assembled and lined with a plastic gold sheet. The coffins need to be light, affordable and highly flammable as they are carried long distances by the deceased’s family and then placed directly onto the funeral pyre.
I visited Jerry who has the largest funeral home in Goa. Due to the large catholic population Jerry is busy making coffins and arranging funerals, keeping the bodies on ice at the local hospital.
On my way back from visiting manufacturers in Northern India, I passed a brightly coloured Muslim cemetery in the middle of a highway. They built the road right around the burial ground which looked like a Magic Roundabout for the dead. Only in India!
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