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.
Even at 76, Pradip Burman, the zestful chairman of Mobius Foundation radiates a contagious enthusiasm when he is talking about sustainability. The environmental crusader, better known to many as the great-grandson of Dabur founder Dr S.K.Burman, has devoted substantial attention towards promoting the concept of sustainability in all aspects of life. He refuses to conform to the convenience and comfort in today’s world which ultimately adds on to the adverse effects of climate change.
Talking to The Logical Indian, Burman emphasised why sustainability as a concept is indispensable for us. “We ought to be aware of what lies ahead of us. Soon we will finish the oil, iron, tin, and coal, and our next generations will be left with nothing. Recycling, banning plastics, stop felling trees for paper… This should become a part of everyone’s lifestyle,” he urges.
Traditional wisdom and modern research
A mechanical engineer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, Burman had always nurtured a keen interest in helping the society, as evident from his graduation project of designing a sonic aid for the visually challenged, which detected obstacles in the way using ultrasonic wave signals.
As an executive for the nature-centric company Dabur, Burman has always opted for natural alternatives to solve his everyday problems like taking Ayurvedic medicine to cure his Arthritis. He later launched the veterinary wing for Dabur – Ayurvet – which provides nature-friendly solutions for animal health care.
A patron of the ancient scientific wisdom of India, Burman always hailed the confluence of “traditional knowledge and modern research”, which he advocated as the Ayurvet motto.
As part of the CSR initiative of Dabur, Pradip Burman founded SUNDESH (Sustainable Development Society) which has been tirelessly working for last 25 years in remote villages for uplifting the rural communities in an environmentally sustainable way.
An advocate of sustainability
Burman believes that sustainability is the indispensable mantra for the world at present. Due to uncontrolled utilisation of the planet’s resources by human beings, the world today stands at a juncture of destabilisation. Today the human race has reached the pinnacle of progress but the advancement is happening in a very unsustainable manner.
Through energy-efficient use of everyday essentials like transport, communication, altered habits of diet, clothing and daily living, some crusaders of sustainability try to reduce their carbon footprint. Pradip Burman’s Mobius Foundation is one of the forerunners toward sustainability goals.
Mobius Foundation aims to change the sustainability dynamics
In 2015, Burman paved the way for the start of Mobius Foundation, focused on sustainability. Named after 18th-century German mathematician August Ferdinand Mobius, the famous Mobius strip has an important philosophical significance. The extraordinary shape symbolises balance and union.
Similar is the essence of Mobius Foundation which wishes to enhance the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” principle to a widespread basis in India, helping generations to come.
Founder Pradip Burman wishes to achieve notable development in education, population stabilisation and renewable energy projects.
A dream school in the making
At Coorg, Pradip Burman’s Mobius Foundation is constructing the World Environment School, Coorg (WESc) where the curriculum will surpass the boundaries of books and classrooms, with a special focus on hands-on learning in close collaboration with the environment. Amidst the pristine natural beauty of Coorg, the school will nurture young minds to grow up into future green leaders. As of now, the school will be open to teenagers, welcoming students from standards 6 to 12.
Needless to say, World Environment School will be the first-of-its-kind not only in India but also in entire South Asia. The school is expected to start from March 2020.
The school promises to nurture the responsible behaviour of citizens of our future.
The Sustainability Conference of 2019
In 2019, the Mobius Foundation has planned an international conference, on the lines of the celebrated earth summits over the past decade. The 2019 International Conference on Sustainability Education (ICSE 2019) aims to bring together environmental activists, practitioners of sustainable development as well as climate change experts to help develop a sustainability-focused curriculum.
It is surmised that the conference will give a platform to innovative concepts of Sustainability Education including an essential change in the existing education system ensuring a wholesome personal development for a student.
The Sustainability crusader
The Mobius founder strongly believes that it is high time to sprout sustainability awareness among a society drowning in consumerism and unknowingly doing irreparable harm to the planet, every second. The best way to achieve this goal is through education which is available to all. At present, the education system is predominantly career-oriented, making the learners a victim of materialism, and thus, their dreams are also outlined in those colours.
Living beyond the limits
When asked about his wish to attain the age of hundred, he strongly asserts that more than becoming a centurion, he wishes his life and work continue to better the society even in his absence. “I have lived my life. I wish that whatever I start before I go, will continue – for the betterment of my country,” says Mr Pradip Burman.
He is also a trustee of the Climate Reality Project – India (affiliated to Mr. Al Gore of the Climate Reality Project Foundation, USA). Climate Reality Project, India, has been actively engaged igniting the spark and spreading the message of climate change amongst educators, policy makers and civil society. The India branch looks after more than 500 trained Climate Leaders, and more than 900 volunteers spread all over the country.
In his journey, Pradip Burman has been a beacon of hope for millions, motivating many to join the movement for sustainability. We wish he continues his tireless efforts for promoting sustainability awareness and inspire generations to come.