How would you react if you came across an individual who left a well-paid job in the time of financial nose-dive for a work of cremating unclaimed dead bodies? Get Goosebumps! Irrespective of any religion, performing last rites is like opening the passage to salvation. Parallel with the same concept, here is the story of a 37-year-old Madhusmita Prusty. A resident of Bhimtangi, Bhubaneswar Madhusmita quits her nursing job from a well-known hospital for a round the clock work of transporting unclaimed dead bodies to the crematorium to complete its last rites. But switching over the profession from taking care of neonates to cremating unknown bodies is intriguing.
According to Hindu Dharma, antimsanskar must get completed within 24 hours of death. Unfortunately, there are numerous instances when unidentified/ unclaimed dead bodies died by suicide, road accidents or found dead on railway tracks are subjected to unethical practices or kept in the mortuary for days or burnt to ashes without proper rituals. Particularly, during the recent years, when the world witnessed the worst form of fear and death due to the covid-19 crisis fueling reluctance to cremate Covid-19 dead bodies by families and morticians, Madhusmita Prusty with her husband Pradeep Kumar Prusty becomes the bliss of hope.
However, behind all this, there is a tragic incident of Pradeep wherein he lost his mother in an accident. He recalls when her mother’s body recovered from the railway tracks and nobody came forward to perform the last rites. On that day, he promised to never let anybody face such a fate and leave the world without the last rites. Further, his wife who knew of this tragedy supported his promise overlooking the rudimentary religious customs that restrict women presence in such unclean rituals and castigating comments from the near and dears. She never refuses from helping her husband to cremate the dead with proper rituals, whenever she used to come home in her holidays.
“I was working as a senior nurse in the pediatric department at Fortis Hospital in Kolkata. I served patients for nine years in the hospital from 2011-19. Then, I decided to return to Odisha and help my husband to continue his effort in serving the poor.”
Following the leg injury of Pradeep when no one came forward to help him, further it’s difficult for Pradeep to cremate bodies all alone, his wife Madhusmita Prusty decided to join him. Since mid-2019 she paid full-time assistance to him. Meanwhile, Pradeep also sold his Auto to overcome the financial crisis during the Pandemic. But the obstacles never degraded their courage and spirit and made them step back. For the past ten years, she has cremated more than 1500 bodies in total and over 500 bodies post the first wave of Corona entirely free of cost in different crematorium sites of Bhubaneswar under The Pradeep Seva Trust that is run in the name of her husband. The cremation cost has been managed with the donations of trust comprised of retired government officials.
To nourish the livelihood for the family, Pradeep sells fruits and vegetables in the nearby vending zone, while Madhusmita mainly looks after the cremation work. They have been blessed with caring children – Jajnaseni and Gurmeet who helps them to complete the indoor chores like cooking and cleaning the house to support them in their endeavour.
Recently, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and Police officials recognized their trust for their selfless service and dedication. They have signed an agreement to pick covid patients from the hospital for the cremation work to the newly developed Bharatpur Cremation ground in Bhubaneswar. Police seek the help of this couple too for collecting the unknown bodies from railway tracks, hospitals, water bodies and suicide cases. Madhusmita cremates the bodies of both Covid patients and suspects.
“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.”
Madhusmita loves her job immensely and is always on her toes to serve people. As soon as getting a call, be it midnight or dawn, she with her husband gets ready with PPE kits on. Keeping all necessary safety stuff with them, they reach the location immediately in their ambulance. She is now so proficient that, sometimes she alone completes the rites from lifting the body to the pyre to arrange woods and other ingredients and pandit.
In Hindu Dharma, antimsanskar helps a body to decimate into five components or Panchtatva i.e., earth, water, air, fire, and space. Thus, it is a way to pay reverence to the dead. The sacrifices Madhusmita have made in her life to follow her instincts; we can say to help her husband and opt for a field that is hardly get chosen by any woman is prodigious. This work can only be selected by the one who doesn’t think of cremation as polluted but rather sacrosanct.