COIMBATORE: In 2016, when R Thilak was called to take care of the final rites of a relative, he was clueless about the expenses to be incurred for the ceremony. The cost of the funeral added up to Rs 17,000, which included setting up a shamiyana and booking the crematorium. It also covered the ambulance cost to ferry the body to the burial ground. The ambulance driver asked for Rs 4,000 to take the body to Vellalore crematorium, just four km from Singanallur, in Coimbatore.
Thilak somehow managed to raise the funds as relatives and others chipped in. As most people depend on these private ambulances to ferry bodies of their dear ones to the burial grounds, the incident made the 38-year-old think. He realised how much a person has to struggle to pay for a funeral. So, in 2019, he modified a Tata Winger into an ambulance at a cost of Rs 4.5 lakh.
The ambulance takes the deceased from the house to the burial ground free of cost, and lets five family members to travel along with the body. He formed Sri Sakthi Charitable Trust and became the managing trustee with his wife J Bharathi and his friend S Sathish as trustees.
“For the last three years, I have been taking the deceased bodies in Pattanam, Pattanampudur Nadupalayam, Naickenpalayam and Peedampalli panchayat to burial grounds at free of cost. I never ask for money from them. Though many are unaware of my service and give me Rs 200-500. But I resist. I do this quite happily as the kin of the deceased must not feel their loved one left the world without any money. So far, We have taken as many as 155 deceased to the burial ground in these villages,” says Thilak.
He runs manufacturing units of two-wheeler engine oil and soft-drinks along with his partner Sathish at Peedampalli near Coimbatore. He uses the surplus funds from these works to fund the service and pay for diesel and other running expenses.
Selvaraj, driver of the ambulance, also helps out when Thilak is unable to take the ambulance for the services. “Selvaraj is very helpful in assisting poor people and to help me in achieving my goal as many drivers fear taking the dead bodies to the burial ground. In fact, out of the 155 deceased, over 70 of the bodies were taken by Selvaraj,” he says.
Thilak has also handed over three wheelchairs for differently-abled students via a Sulur Teachers WhatsApp group by spending Rs 10,000 for each of them.