Among the most agonising experiences after the Covid-19 outbreak has been that of families who could not take one last look at their departed loved ones, taken away by the virus. With social distancing norms in place since March and sometimes, family members in quarantine at the time of a person’s death, many departed on their last journey without family and friends nearby.
Learning from these heartbreaking stories, the Worli crematorium, spread over 80,000 sq ft carpet area, undergoing redevelopment, will also have facilities like webcasting of last rites for family members in India and abroad.
“We earlier had the webcasting in mind for NRIs. In many cases only the elderly father or mother are alive and the children are abroad. They have come to us and offered to pay in advance and asked us to do their last rites when they pass away in case their children are unable to come. But we have done the Antim Sanskar Seva for over 14,000 people so far and for us is not about the money. But these are very moving experiences,” said Dr Bharat Parekh, trustee of the Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust that is redeveloping the Mata Ramabai Ambedkar Smashan Bhumi near the Nehru Science Centre in Worli.
Parekh said, “The Covid-19 pandemic brought the fragility of life into focus, and has further challenged our ability to perform these (last) rites as we learn to live in a new, socially distanced world.”
Parekh, who also could not attend the last rites of his cousin who succumbed to Covid-19, said that in the light of pandemic, while many family members in quarantine could not attend last rites of their loved ones, others feared crowding at the crematorium. In such cases, webcasting of the last rites can be helpful for those forced to stay away. “Even anytime in the future, if an infectious disease engulfs us like this, this service can be useful,” he said.
The ground-breaking ceremony of the Antim Prasthan located at Dr E Moses Road in Worli was performed on July 27. The project, launched by the Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust, will be undertaken at a cost of Rs 40 crore, half of which the trust has already generated through CSR donations from the Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Kotak Group, NOCIL and others.
Parekh said, “In 2008, the Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust started ‘Antim Samskar Seva’ to provide dignified cremation services to Mumbaikars from all sections of society. The ‘Antim Prasthan Project’ is the next logical step of our community efforts, to transform the Worli crematorium into a world-class facility. One that is open and free of cost to all communities and beliefs.”
The facility, designed by RMA architects led by Rahul Mehrotra, will have eight cremation pavilions, four of which are expected to be completed in the first phase of the project by September, 2021. The entire project, Parekh said, should take 18 months to be completed. The crematorium – set to be India’s largest and most modernised – will have an entry court leading to a 10,000 sq ft open central plaza that will feature water bodies, skylights and trees. Apart from eight pyres – three gas, two muktidha (wood saver) and three traditional wood – the crematorium will also have private spaces with a preparation lounge for performing last rites and four air-conditioned prayer halls. The new facility will also have a disabled-friendly access and electric cart services to ferry senior citizens. Keeping safety protocols in mind, the entry and exit for the pavilions inside the facility have been designed such that groups coming in will not meet the groups going out.
Parekh said that for the webcasting facility to be set up and manned, the office and the administration centre at the crematorim will also have to be set up in the first phase to make the facility available to all. He said the facility, which will allow family and friends to pay their respects, even if from a distance, can be replicated at all crematoria in the city. The construction of the first phase of the project is currently underway.
Besides the 49 BMC-run crematoria, Mumbai also has 20 others run by private organisations.
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