BHUBANESWAR: At 37, Madhusmita Prusty did not just break a glass ceiling, she decided to do something that many of her ilk would not even dare to think. This mother of two left her nursing job at Fortis Hospital in Kolkata to cremate bodies in her native state Odisha.
Defying the age-old Hindu tradition that even resists the presence of women at funerals, she has cremated more than 1,500 bodies in the last 10 years. And amid the challenging Covid times, she has cremated around 500 bodies since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year without charging a penny. Madhusmita is cremating bodies of both Covid patients and suspects at Jagamara, Bharatpur, Sundarpada, Khandagiri and Satya Nagar cremation grounds in Bhubaneswar.
A resident of Bhimtangi in the city, Madhusmita ignored the hurtful comments from friends and relatives for donning the role of a cremator when she decided to sacrifice the Rs 30,000 per month job and joined her husband Pradeep who was finding it difficult to cremate bodies all alone.
“After my marriage, I completed BSc Nursing and joined Fortis in 2010. Whenever I was at home, I used to accompany my husband who has been cremating bodies for the last over two decades. I resigned from my job in mid-2019 to support him as some of his teammates got engaged elsewhere. Now I am cremating four to five bodies a day,” she said.
Be it midnight or early morning, the gritty woman never says no to any caller. Once she gets a call, she readies herself in minutes and drives their ambulance to the spot. Sometimes, she does everything on her own without the help of Pradeep.
“Starting from lifting the body to pyre, arranging wood, ingredients for rituals and Brahmin, I do it alone. They say a person who arranges funerals earns merit for the afterlife, but I believe this is a lifetime opportunity to serve the society. I consider this as one of the noblest works one can do,” she maintained.
Sometimes unable to buy PPE kits, she never forgets to use double masks while dealing with Covid patients or Covid suspects.
Police officials also seek the couple’s help for collecting abandoned bodies from railway tracks and hospitals. The couple has now got a registered body - Pradeep Seva Trust - through which they are committed to continue the noble work. While Madhusmita is now looking after the cremations, Pradeep is vending vegetables and fruits to run their family of four.
The cremation expenses are met from the donations of trust members comprising a few retired government employees.
“I had to sell my auto after finding it difficult to manage the family during last year’s lockdown. Since then she has been cremating bodies and I help her retrieve the bodies that are found floating in water bodies,” said Pradeep.
Madhusmita said her two children - one daughter and a son - have been very supportive. As she works over eight to 10 hours a day, her daughter Jajnaseni and son Gurmeet cook for the family.
The dedication of the couple has been recognised by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), which has now tied up with the Trust for cremation of bodies at the newly developed Bharatpur cremation ground.