Every religion in India says performing the last rites of a dead body is the most important activity family members should do. The last rites if performed rightly will liberate the soul from the body, and the departed will be free from the clutches of the earth. But how many of us get freaked out when we look at a corpse? If we get freaked out looking at the dead body of our family member then will we ever dare to even go near the dead body of a stranger? Yes, many of us change our direction as soon as we see the dead body of a stranger.
But there’s a man in Ahmadabad who has given up on every materialistic thing in life to do the noble cause of performing the final rites of unclaimed dead bodies. Mithalal Sindhi, an 80-year-old resident of Ahmadabad who stays on the footpath, has performed the final rites of over 550 unclaimed dead bodies over the past 58 years. This selfless act of Mithalal has made him famous among the people of Gujarat, and whenever there’s an unclaimed dead body lying anywhere near Ahmadabad, people remember Mithalal Sindhi.
During partition, Mithalal and his family came to Bombay from Pakistan to start a new life and had done odd jobs to fight poverty. Mithalal who was just 15 years old during partition then moved on to Gujarat in search for a better life. In 1957 Mithalal set up a small business of selling fruits on the street side. While in this business Mithalal met Nyaldas Sindhi who was a vegetable vendor. Their friendship grew over time and then they used to have lunch and dinner together. They also used to sleep together on the footpath. One morning when Mithalal went to wake Nyaldas up, he did not respond, and after a while, it dawned on Mithalal that his vegetable vendor friend was no more. He reported this to the main vegetable vendor and asked him to perform the final rites of Nyalas, but the mukhya (leader of the vegetable market) out rightly refused to perform the funeral rites and also told Mithalal that it was none of his business to deal with a dead body.
As Mithalal knew that Nyaldas had no family or friends except him to count on, Mithalal took the responsibility on himself to perform the final rites of his friend. While performing his final rites, it dawned upon Mithalal that there are countless people in the state who die every day and they have no one to perform their final rites. So on that particular day, Mithalal decided that he will perform the final rites of every unclaimed dead body that he comes to know of. It’s been 58 years since, and Mithalal is still performing final rites of dead bodies and that too spending money from his pocket.
Mithalal has till now given farewell to over 550 dead bodies, and the most important thing is, he performs the final rites as per the religious customs of the dead person. “…for me there is only one religion, and that is humanity. I don’t believe in any other religion,” says Mithalal according to Humans of Amdavad.
Before performing the final rites, Mithalal always looks for a symbol or sign which indicates the religion of the person. If the dead is a Hindu, he takes the body to VS Crematorium. If the dead person is a Muslim, he takes the body to Jamalpur, and if the dead person is a Christian, he takes the body to the graveyard. Mithalal carries the dead body on his pedal rickshaw and duly performs the funeral rites of the dead person. “Today it costs around Rs. 1500 to perform the last rites of any person. I incur all the expenses from my earnings by selling Bajra on a footpath near Ellis Bridge” says Mithalal as per Humans of Amdavad.
This man is one among many humans who are serving for the betterment of humanity. In an era where many times the family members of the dead act as if they do not know the person and refuse to perform the final rites, Mithalal is performing their final rites thinking that the dead is like a relative. He says, if the dead is a middle-aged woman, she is like my younger sister, if it’s a young boy, he is like my son, and if it’s an aged man or woman, they are like my parents. This man says the dead body might be just another person for the society but for me they are like my family.
One might think Mithalal is an orphan and has no one to fall back upon and so he does this great social work to keep himself going. But that is not true. Mithalal has a family of one son and three daughters who runs a fast food restaurant on the roadside and stays at a house nearby. Yes, even though Mithalal can stay at home along with his children he chooses to live on the footpath because he feels this is where people will find him easily whenever they need him. Mithalal also refused to accept his share of ancestral property as he has never been interested in achieving materialistic things.
People of Ahmadabad feel that this man has been sent to Earth by God to perform this beautiful social work of performing the final rites of unclaimed dead bodies and he has proven by his action that their belief is not false. The city of Ahmadabad remembers Mithalal whenever an unclaimed dead body is found, and this makes Mithalal happy as he feels that final rites should be performed to all the dead bodies without any discrimination.