Updated: June 23, 2020 8:52:46 pm
For a Mumbai-based content writer, her biggest regret of this year has been that she could not attend the funeral of her paternal uncle, who passed away in Kolkata in May, due to health complications. “We knew he was not keeping well for over a year, and we were mentally prepared, as well. But to receive the news one day, and not be able to do anything about it, was crippling. My husband and I wanted to attend the funeral, but because of the lockdown, it was all done swiftly, and with his immediate family in attendance. Just like that, my uncle was gone, he was no more, and we mourned for him sitting in another city,” she shares with indianexpress.com on the condition of anonymity.
A complete lockdown was announced earlier this year, in the wake of the pandemic which continues till date. While some restrictions have been lifted, the government is still closely monitoring the situation. The hardest part of the lockdown, undoubtedly, has been staying away from family. The announcement in March gave many people little time to gather themselves and head home. And in the tragic event of a death in the family, they have had to stay put, with no means to travel anywhere. Now, domestic travel has been permitted, albeit with many restrictions, but international travel continues to be off-limits.
Different people react to their loved one’s death differently, but everyone seeks closure. But how does the emotional catharsis happen when people do not even get to say their goodbyes physically?
An online platform is making sure people get to say their goodbyes. By collating messages, videos and pictures of and for the deceased, ‘Tributes’ is ensuring the bereaved family, and friends and relatives of the deceased get their closure and solace, from any corner of the world, even if they have not been able to attend the funeral.
In Assam’s Sivasagar, for instance, Nidhi Agarwal created an obituary-cum-tributes page for her husband on May 9, 2020, two days after he had passed away due to a heart condition. “The tributes that poured in, some of them belonged to my late husband’s friends. Some of them studied with him in the same school. They shared their memories with him, and now when we see the tributes, we learn about something new about his life which was previously not known to us,” she says.
Agarwal — a homemaker — says some of the messages were from people whom she had never met in her life. “Reading those messages warmed my heart. Some of his friends reached out to us from other countries, too. Sometimes, we hesitate to call people when we learn that their family member has passed away. We worry about their emotional state, and decide to let them be. But when we have a platform to share our thoughts, we can do that without any hassle and awkwardness. And when the bereaved person has grieved, and they sit down after completing all the rituals, they can read the messages and feel good, and connected. While social media platforms and messaging apps work the same way, sometimes messages get lost, or a person can decide to delete their account. But, a tributes page will continue to exist,” she shares.
The website was launched in 2015, but it did not get accepted then.
“Probably because it was ahead of its times,” Rajkumar Jalan, CEO and co-founder of Tributes tells indianexpress.com. “It is a sentimental issue, and I don’t think people were in the mind space to accept it at that point of time. When the pandemic was announced, we realised it was time to leverage the advantages of this product.”
How it works
While the instructions are mentioned on the site — should you opt for a virtual obituary — essentially, you will have to create a page for the person who has passed away, and then design it using themes, pictures, photos, pictures, and other such built-in tools, and then use the same tools to send an invite to all your friends and family through Facebook, WhatsApp, SMS notification, email, etc., to come and share their condolence messages, and pay their homage.
“We have tried to keep it absolutely simple. Once a page is created, it comes to us for approval, and once that is done, it goes live. It then becomes a lifetime legacy for the family. They can share as many photographs and messages as they like. Unlike newspaper advertisements, these have no space or time limitations,” explains Jalan.
The pages are free for martyrs of our armed forces and celebrities. As such, a visitor can light a diya, place a garland, light an incense stick and shower flowers in front of the picture of the deceased.
“Once the page is created, before and after five days of the person’s birth and death anniversary, the profile is visible on the home page. You can create a page for free, for the first 30 days, and it continues to stay live even after that, minus some features of sharing messages and such. But, premium packages start from a one-time fee of Rs 1,000, and it goes up to Rs 51,000, depending on the features. Add-on features include video messages, infinite number of SMS messages being sent, etc.,” Jalan adds.
The page can be created for people belonging to any religion, and in any language, he says, adding that just like job advertisements and matrimonial ads, tributes can become entirely virtual, too.
While the concept memorial websites and online tributes is still fairly new in India, in some western countries, it is not so. In fact, a 2017 article published in HuffPost mentions that while the online memorials started popping up on the internet in the late 1990s, they were reserved for people who were well-known. But with time, these sites became accessible to people who wanted to pay their tributes to a departed family member.
A Guardian article names some of the common memorial sites in the UK — MuchLoved, GoneTooSoon, and Legacy, among others. Jonathan Davies, who founded MuchLoved, told The Guardian in 2009: “I think there were two things that happened. The death of (Princess of Wales) Diana brought about a change in how we grieve publicly, and then the internet connected people and provided a place for it.”
In India, besides Tributes (and Shraddhanjali, which is the Hindi version of the website), there is a site that exclusively honours soldiers, called ‘Honourpoint’.
Guwahati-based businessman Abhishek Khaitan first found out about Tributes through an acquaintance, when his father — a cancer patient — passed away on April 15, 2020. “Our relatives are scattered, and in lockdown, they can’t come to us. It happened beautifully for us, because our relatives poured in their emotions on the page. Even now, I sometimes open it and go through it, to find out who wrote what. It helps that all the messages are collected and shared on one platform,” he tells indianexpress.com.
“The thing is, for me, it has become a treasure. Yes, people come and meet and exchange emotions and offer condolences. But, through this page, the feelings stay on, indefinitely. But, mostly, it depends on the family — if they want to do it, they can create a page and then apprise other family members about it. I could feel the family’s bonding from the words that were expressed when my father passed away. It does not happen every day, only on occasions. And to have that on record, is special; I can say it is an emotional asset,” says Khaitan.
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