Years ago, I had seen a notice on the obituary page of a mainstream paper. It carried a small photograph of a gentleman and announced that the person had “left for his heavenly abode aboard an ill-fated plane” that had crashed a few days earlier. After maintaining a few seconds of respectful (if sceptical) silence, I couldn’t help bursting into laughter. I understood the desire to soften the harsh blow of death for one’s loved ones, but this twist on a one-way ticket to heaven was taking things too far, I thought.
Turns out I was wrong. If media reports are to be believed, man can go much farther to try and ease the pain of his surviving brothers and provide a turbulence-free last journey for departed souls. Come October, in a place called Bardoli, some 300 km from Ahmedabad, the deceased will be flying to their heavenly abode from Antim Udan Moksha Airport.
A plain-vanilla crematorium has been standing in the location for the past three decades, catering to the 50-plus villages in the vicinity. No cremation charges have been levied here for years, with a trust looking after the place. A few years ago, however, the chairman of the trust had a brainwave, and decided to redesign the crematorium as an airport from where all flights would head only to the afterlife.
The money for the rejigging (which has cost `3.5 crore so far) was raised through donations, and two 40-ft planes already stand tall outside the terminal, bearing the names of Moksha Airlines and Swarg Airlines. Trust chairman Somabhai Patel says he’s just trying to help the bereaved by making them feel that they are seeing off their loved ones at an airport, instead of a crematorium.
He’s creating the ambience for that, all right. When funeral processions enter the rejigged building later this year, they will hear airport-like announcements guiding them to the appropriate terminal gate (which leads to the pyre). The funeral pyres will be lit to the sound of a jet taking off, and the end of the cremation will be heralded by the noisy touchdown of a plane.
Bizarre as this sounds, there’s more. Fortunately, away from our shores—at least for now. In Japan, people have begun checking their dead relatives into “Corpse Hotels” till a crematorium or cemetery becomes available. The “hotel package” includes flowers, a room for the family to spend the night in, a white gown for the deceased, a coffin, transport for the body, and an urn to hold the ashes.
The “corpse” rooms are fitted with small altars and narrow platforms for temperature-controlled coffins. Across the hall are rooms with flat screen TVs for the relatives to stay in; the bathrooms have toothbrushes and other essentials. In one such hotel, the walls are painted in pastel colours and the sofas upholstered in green. The entrance holds plants and books because the proprietor doesn’t want the place to look “too sad or lonely.”
The sensitivity being shown both in Gujarat and Japan is commendable. But I guess, in both cases, people won’t mind if they miss the flight or their room reservation. Not when they know they can check out any time they like but they can never leave.