Source: Ahmedabad Heroes | Image Courtesy: Mirror Heroes
This story is a part of the ongoing Ahmadabad Heroes , an initiative by Mirror Heroes.
Eighty-one-year-old Mithalal Sindhi does not discuss Dharma but follows it without claiming to be a saint. Living on a footpath in poverty by choice, Mithalal is a saint in his own right. He gives a dignified farewell to the unclaimed bodies in the city.
Mithalal is remembered every time a body is found and remains unclaimed in the city. Believing in only one religion – humanity – Mithalal has performed the last rites of more than 500 people in the last 45 years. The dead bodies could be from any religion – Hinduism, Islam or Christianity.
Mithalal is one of the rare persons who is performing the work, which anyone would hate to do – performing the rituals for even a decomposed body as per his or her religion. “I look for some sign, symbol or clue on the body that indicate the dead person’s religion and, accordingly, perform the last rituals. Hindus are cremated at VS crematorium, Muslims are buried at Shahpur and Christians at graveyards suggested by the priests,” he says.
He took to this unenviable job when he faced the problem in performing the last rites of his father who died after a long illness in a government hospital in Bhavnagar in 1958. Mithalal’s family had shifted to the city during the Partition in 1947. His family stayed in Maninagar while he went to Bhavnagar and later to Mumbai before coming back to Ahmedabad in 1960. He did not take his share in his ancestral property, which includes a house in Mumbai.
He saw the sudden death of his friend, Nyaldas Sindhi, when he came back to Ahmedabad in 1960. “I and many others united to perform his last rites, and since then people started calling me to perform the last rites of any unclaimed body,” Mithalal recalls.
In the last phase of life, Mithalal believes that God sent him to the earth to perform this act. His three daughters and a son, who are doing well selling fast food in the area, have given up requesting him live with them. “People would not be able to find me when I am needed for the pious act,” he reasons out.
He was married to an orphaned woman, Vishniben, 20 years younger to him, in 1961. She lives with her sons in Vasna. In 1964, Mithalal came in contact with Jivanlal Gor – a retired cop – who gave Mithalal a house to live in and started working with him. Mithalal left the house when Gor died. Mithalal claims that Gor was so impressed with him that he transferred all his property to his name. However, Mithalal, then transferred all property to Gor’s family.
The only thing close to him – his pedal rickshaw – in which he carries the bodies was stolen about four months ago. He now hires a pedal rickshaw every time he has to take the dead on his or her last journey.
The people living on footpath, especially near Ellis Bridge, remember only one person when they are in trouble – Mithalal. All his earnings, by selling Bajra for the birds near M J Library on Ashram Road, is spent on the footpath dwellers.