The cost of death in South India

Silenced by death, Immanuel Zachariah couldn’t say why his family had to take a loan from a friend to bury him in the Kilpauk cemetery.

All of 29, James was Immanuel’s only son who had to solely afford to continue the family’s traditional burial at Kilpauk.

“My father had already reserved a plot of land; nowadays there is no space to bury the dead,” the young salesman said.

“I couldn’t afford lavish burying rituals; the coffin and the priest’s charges are too high and at such short notice I borrowed money from my boss to pay for the burial,” he said staring blankly towards the cemetery gate.

The expense he spoke about (which only the dead are unaware of) is the cost of death.

Janardhan, a straw owner of Jeff. And Sons, which has been providing funeral services since 1892 in the city explains.

“Like James, there are others who struggle to keep up with high prices of traditional Christian burial. A traditional Christian burial entirely depends on what the deceased’s family can afford.”

“The most affordable being the Rs.10, 000 packages which includes teak plywood finishing on the coffin made entirely out of mango wood. The coffin can be accessorised with upholstered satin interiors, ornamental breast plate, brass mountings and three pairs of brass handles,” he renders.

“The other packages range from 12 to 25, 000. Apart from the basic accessories that the affordable coffins come with, the expensive caskets are decorated with fancier ornaments and also masonry.”

Masonry in funeral services, he describes, is the art of carving and sculpting designs usually using cuddapah stones.

Such embellishments along with the smooth finished coffins gives a timeless appeal to the usual rites of sepulture, he justifies.

Live together, die together

Customers usually ask for expensive coffins in-case of a vault burial where two people, usually married couples, are buried together in the same grave in different coffins.

The coffins are placed one on top of the other separated by a Cuddapah slab.

However, the vault burial is not as popular as the cold storage facility, he said.

Nowadays, families want to keep the bodies for a longer time and may sometimes want to bring the body to the deceased’s native place.

The cold storage facility and the mobile mortuary facility are vehemently demanded by our clients during such occasions, he claims.

Unlike other coffins, where the prices depend on the cost of the wood only, the prices of special orders like those of the refrigerated caskets or cold storage facilities varies as it depends on the cost of electricity, he said.

Other prices like embalming will also be higher in these types of funeral procedures as the body has to be preserved for a longer time, forestalling decomposition.

Embalmer differs from funeral arranger

“Funeral arrangers in the city undertake embalming as well but don’t do it themselves,” interrupted Lokesh, Janardhan’s associate.

The body is embalmed in the anatomy department of government hospitals with chemicals like formaldehyde and ethanol, he explained.

The price is included in the package and clients don’t have to pay anything extra to the hospital, he added.

Prices are high, no doubt, and according to the Jeff And Sons funeral services, people are willing to spend more in memory of their dear departed.

But it doesn’t end here; the cost of death is unfortunately not only the cost of the funeral arrangements but nowadays it is also the problem of availability of space to bury the dead said Janardhan, looking at an inconspicuous three feet long coffin.

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