Nashik: "Living persons can cheat, the dead will never...This is why I love and care for the dead and help them in their last journey," says 35-year-old Sunita Patil who has chosen to serve the deceased before their mortal remains are consigned to flames.
Sunita has been doing this service voluntarily for over a decade and she considers it as a sacrosanct duty.
An average five bodies are brought to the crematorium in Amardham of Panchvati in Nashik where she helps the bereaved families.
She also runs a small shop close to the crematorium selling pamphlets with information on the last rites.
She also tries to console the bereaved families and helps them in clean the faces of the dead by balming them with oil or ghee and sandal paste.
It is from her father, a supplier of pyre wood, that Sunita learnt about caring for the deceased.
"My father used to sell the wood for pyre and I have been watching relatives of the dead performing last rites since I was a 10-year-old. Even I don't know when I developed a bonding with dead and started to serve them before mortal remains are reduced to ashes," Sunita told PTI, narrating her experience.
"Many a times when a decomposed body is brought, relatives cover their nose with handkerchief, but it has never deterred me from doing my work," said Sunita, adding, "when they offer me money, I gently deny saying better give away that to people in greater need."
The youngest sibling of five brothers and as many sisters, Sunita has two sons who help her in running the shop.
She has been bestowed with many honours for the self-less service she renders, including the Maharashtra government's Hirkani Award.
Pointing at mementos, awards and citations stacked in her shop, the 8th standard pass out says "Honestly, I find contentment in taking care of the dead, not in these awards."
Asked how many deceased she must have served so far, Sunita checked a register and said, "From January 1 this year, 871 bodies have been brought here and I have attended to almost all of them, be it day or night."
Asked when it hurts her the most or what makes her depressed, she said it is really painful seeing the inconsolable grief of parents who have lost their children.
"When young children commit suicide or die in accident, I find it really painful and break down," she added.