Sridhar rushes to the side of the abandoned, alive or dead
Reading the third volume of ‘Deivathin Kural,’ S. Sridhar (9840744400) was moved by Paramacharya’s appeal to people to provide a decent burial for unclaimed bodies. “Don’t dump them in burial grounds like garbage. Arrange funerals with basic rituals. Set aside caste, religion, etc.,” he exhorts in the chapter. Sridhar decided on making it his mission and joined hands with Vishranthi, run by Savitri Vaithi. He worked with them for 15 years before starting his own unit, Anatha Pretha Kaingarya Trust, with the blessings of Mahaperiyava. That was in 1985.
The organisations that have tied up with the Trust include Vishranthi, Sai Charan, Aanandam and Kakkum Karangal. Nimmadhi and Premalaya, homes for war widows and the mentally challenged respectively, also approach the Trust.
Unclaimed dead bodies are buried after obtaining police clearance. In the case of orphanages, last rites are performed depending upon the religion of the dead. Sridhar himself lights the funeral pyre, chanting Ram’s name, singing `Raghupathi Ragava Raja Ram’ and remembering Mahaswamigal.
About Rs 1,500 is spent on each cremation and he manages the expenses from the Trust’s funds and personal money. The ash is dissolved in the sea. Some relatives of the departed turn up after the cremation. Sridhar revisits the cremation ground along with the relatives and helps them perform the rites to their satisfaction. He and his wife perform the rites in memory of the dead when they go to places such as Varanasi and Rameswaram. It is worth mentioning that the elderly, living in old age homes, volunteer to donate their eyes after their death.
Sridhar’s ancestors belonged to Nallamoor, about 10 km from Tindivanam. His grandfather was close to Subramania Sastrigal, poorvasrama father of Mahaswamigal. He started an elementary school on the advice of Sastrigal for the village children. Doing social service thus runs in the family. Sridhar’s sons and wife take over the responsibility when he is not around or busy otherwise.
Has he ever regretted? “Certainly not. But I feel a pang when estranged relatives refuse to visit the dying or the dead. With the support of the entire family, I am lucky to be doing this service. Nobody is turned away and no call is ignored.”
It would be appropriate to mention some others, who are engaged in the same mission. Neila, aged 50, has been burying unclaimed bodies from government hospitals for about eight years now, with assistance from her two children. She gets no support from her husband. She even organises programmes on suicide prevention.
Trivikrama Mahadeva, Bangalore, has been doing this for more than four decades now. The Government of Karnataka feted him and the state financial corporation helped him with a van. A flower vendor in Coimbatore, Shanta Kumar, is reportedly doing the same thing – giving a decent funeral to the unclaimed bodies that he picks up from government mortuaries. The efforts of Umar Ali and his friends at Udamalpet, have been appreciated by Dr. Abdul Kalam.
The Chennai-based advocate Venkatasubramaniam’s Jeevatma Kainkaryam Trust, in the name of Mahaswamigal’s poorvashrama mother, is also well known. As regards last rites, Ragavan, a retired Chennai Telephones employee, is offering his Chromepet Gayathri Trust’s services free or at a subsidised rate depending upon the need.
Sridhar has a dream. “I work with Sri Matha Trust in attending to poor cancer patients. The Trust is doing wonderful work but under the present circumstances, it has to send back the terminally ill to their homes. If the Government of Tamil Nadu can allot an acre of land in Tambaram or somewhere close-by, they can be given shelter. The Sri Matha Trust management has already written to the State Government in this regard. I hope there is a positive response.”