The Rite Pathhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/the-rite-path/

The Rite Path

Whenever Rafique Abdul Rehman Mulla comes across a family that cannot bear the expenses of performing its deceased member's last rites,he pitches from his pocket

When Rafique Abdul Rehman Mulla bought his first ambulance about 35 years ago,his motive was just to earn a living and support his family. The ambulance,usually parked near the Sassoon Hospital Dead House,earned Mulla his bread and butter for years as he ferried injured people or dead bodies to and from various parts of the city. However,around two decades ago something changed his perspective to money,life and death. “I was standing with three of my friends and we saw an eight-year-old boy get hit by a two-wheeler. The accident was so grave that the boy lost his life on the spot. Since he was the son of a beggar,the father couldn’t afford to perform the last rites. My friends and I offered to do it for him and collectively contributed for the cause,” recalls 62-year-old Mulla.

Since that date,whenever Mulla comes across a bereaved family that cannot afford the expenses of performing the last rites or cremation of the deceased person,Mulla not only pitches from his pocket but also makes sure the rites are performed as per the person’s religious traditions. Till date,over 100 families have benefited from Mulla’s generous gesture.

But the man himself doesn’t regard his act as anything extraordinary and gives a modest explanation,“I feel fortunate that God has chosen me to do this. Whenever there is a death in any family — rich or poor – the members are engulfed in sorrow. But in the case of poor families,they don’t even get time to mourn as they helplessly wonder about how to go about things due to their financial situation. I am just a medium to helping them find a solution,” he says.

Mulla mentions that in the past two decades,he has been joined by his friends too. And now the friends – Ganesh Arne,Balasaheb Hingne,Abbas Inamdar and Jayaram Shelke – share whatever the expenses are. While the deceased children are cremated at Kailash Crematorium,the adults are cremated at other city crematoriums like Vaikunth Smashanbhoomi. “Most of the families do not insist on traditional firewood pyres,unless they are bound by some religious custom. But if a family does insist on such a pyre,we arrange for it even though it is more expensive as compared to the electric or diesel cremation,” he explains.

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Given his occupation,Mulla has seen several deaths in his life. Some of them were devastating enough to make his soul quiver and carve out their impression in his mind forever. Recalling some of those distressful moments,he says,“In 1993,a school bus carrying 38 children was hit by a train on an unmanned railway crossing near Phursungi. It was heartbreaking to carry the dead bodies of the little children in my ambulance.” Mulla adds that having seen death from such close quarters in many such incidents,he stopped giving too much importance to money.

He also parks his ambulance every year during Ganpati Visarjan at a spot specified by the police officials in order to help in case of some untoward incident and offer free ambulance service. “I stand at the spot from 7 am to 11 am the next day,” he shares.

Now his sons and daughters are well-educated and are earning well but Mulla has no plans of stopping his ambulance service. “I will not stop because it helped me educate my kids. However,now it is no more a source of income; it is a medium to reach out to people,” concludes Mulla.