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Lester D'souza Jr. was three years old when his parents set up Lester D'souza Undertakers in Vasai in 2002. Today, they happen to be one of the go-to people for the service in the Vasai-Virar region. The Naigaon resident, who took over the business in 2019, has been surrounded by coffins, cemeteries, crosses and gravestones for as long as he can remember. While he started out at the age of 12 by making announcements at the funeral, today, the 24-year-old has done every part of the business, except making the coffins.
While the Covid-19 pandemic was understandably hectic, D'souza handled it with his team - as they conducted over 200 funerals in the first two months of the second wave. Over the years, people have had many unique requests like keeping cigarette packets and alcohol in coffin, along with hair dyeing and other cosmetics. The recent rise in shroud burials in different parts of Mumbai, says D'souza, is due to misinformation, as a body generally takes anywhere between 18-24 months to decompose along with the coffin.
Vile Parle-based Sunil Colaco who took over his family business of Lonica Undertakers in 2003, after it was first started by his parents in 1984, has also seen many changes. In fact, Colaco says shroud burials are not particularly eco-friendly burials because what many people don't know is that the body is wrapped in plastic after a post-mortem to stop it from oozing blood. Apart from having a pallbearer service, where professionals carry the coffin, he has also started cosmetology, as many people want the person to look like when they were alive.
It is also why Colaco says conducting a funeral has become more like event management because it is also a very important event. Conducting a funeral servie is not only about the coffin but every other element, and one of them is music, which has also changed. While the Mumbaikar used to earlier play 'Precious Lord' by Jim Reeves, he now not only sees which community the family is from but also plays tunes according to how old the person is to make it even more special for the final goodbye.
Elsewhere, Dashrath Jadhav, who started Sacred Heart Undertakers in Borivali's IC Colony two years ago, with the help of another Mumbaikar, has seen the other side of life. After working with several undertakers in Mumbai for over 15 years, he started it with a purpose. In his experience, poor people, especially those who live in chawls, never had any help when their family member passed away after midnight and they often didn't know who to reach out too. Ever since he started out, Jadhav aims to help more people. As the churches around him in Borivali have adopted shroud burials, it has affected his business, and that is why he has opened a branch in Mira Road.