Hecalls himself a ‘handyman’, but in Panchgani town he is known as the man who is rebuilding a rundown crematorium that the local municipal council didn’t bother to, so that the unclaimed dead can be given a decent funeral.
|Mukund Magar at work at the crematorium he is renovating
In the past 14 years, Mukund Bhimrao Magar (42) claims to have performed last rites for 335 bodies — destitutes, beggars, accident victims, lost trekkers, AIDS patients — that the administration wouldn’t pick up the tab for.
He says his work, including the renovation of the Vaikunth crematorium, has cost him upwards of Rs 4.5 lakh till date. “I would come across people dying of illnesses or accidents, who did not have any family by them.
The police would just dump such bodies here and there. I decided to take charge. Everybody has the right to proper last rites. I get satisfaction when I immerse their ashes in the Krishna river at Wai.
|A wedding caterer’s truck doubles up a hearse when
it comes to Magar’s work
Even close relatives like wives and children refuse to touch bodies of AIDS victims. I have seen bodies of people from wealthy families who don’t get a proper funeral due to lack of identification in cases of sudden or accidental death in the Panchgani area,” Magar said.
In cases where the body is of a person of a religion other than Hinduism, he peforms rituals as per their religion or hands over the body to representatives of the concerned community at his own expense. “I am making an effort to renovate the crematorium but there’s little support from society and the municipal council.
They do not feel this is a priority. So far, I have spent Rs 4.5 lakh.” Magar has been renovating the crematorium on his own over six years, working on it alone, right from erecting the sheds to painting the walls as well as sweeping and washing the area everyday.
His phone number can be found at public places like State Transport bus stands and the walls of the district hospital. At all times, he carries with him a small multi-purpose bag that contains details of last rites depending on religion and caste. “I need the crematorium to carry out my work efficiently.
The municipal council has allowed me to do this, but made it clear that I wouldn’t be compensated for it. They also said they didn’t want any complaints against me,” he said.
His tryst with helping the dead find salvation started 14 years ago, when he saw a waiter, who had lost his job at a local hotel he worked at for many years, lying dead in a school’s verandah for four days. It was the first unclaimed body that Magar performed last rites for.
Back then, he was a Class IV employee with IDBI Bank’s local branch, but today he says he is available to anyone who needs him and can help out as a mason, painter, photographer, labourer, stage decorator, welder, fitter, plumber, banjo player, sweeper, caterer, cook, rescue man, guide, transporter — you name it.
He claims he is now proficient in 28 trades. The money he earns from all this funds the funerals. Kiran Jankar, a local councillor and former chairman of the Panchgani municipal council, said, “In case there is a death, everybody remembers Mukund.
But he isn’t getting the co-operation he deserves. People don’t understand him. We are trying to create awareness about his work, but there is little response from the administration,” he said.
Manohar Kadam, a local labourer, said, “Last Saturday, my younger brother died due to an illness. I didn’t have money for the funeral, but Mukund helped us. He not only helped out with the funeral but also gave us money to travel to Wai to immerse the ashes in the Krishna river.”
Municipal council chairperson Laxmitai Karadkar told Mirror that while Magar does “good work”, the dead he tends to are all non-locals. “We recognise his work, but this man deals with dead bodies of outsiders — accident victims and hospital patients.
Why should the municipal council pick up the tab? We’ve asked him to work with the administration on a contract basis but he declined saying it would hamper his work.”
► We recognise his work, but he deals with bodies of outsiders. Why should the municipal council pick up the tab?
- Laxmitai Karadkar, Chairperson, Panchgani Municipal Council