My Funeral Directors

I thought I would be killed anyway, so why would I bother to plan for my funeral

Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 16 2018 10:14PM | Updated Date: Dec 16 2018 10:14PM
My Funeral Directors

Like corner shops to estate agencies to grocery stores, they have “funeral directors” in almost every street, road or shopping mall. And, it is considered a part of living to plan for death, that shouldn’t become burden on relatives or friends or neighbours. I am talking about West European countries where arrangements for death are planned well in advance before you divide your inheritance, shares or fortunes to dear ones. Funeral industry in UK is worth £1000 million a year engaging more than four thousand families from generations.

It was always on the back of my mind to know the nitty gritty of these “death plans” and find how these “funeral directors” talk about death with a living person, the culture which has yet to reach my region where we often avoid talking about death because we were being killed every day.

The moment I stepped into the office of one of the funeral directors, they seemed surprised to see me as my identity is more visible by my hair style, dress and features. More surprising because they hardly see anybody from my “clan” to plan for death.

I could say that it was an extraordinary scene. An open office with a few directors in black suits sitting few yards away from each other, smiling at customers who were either looking at costs or the photo gallery of few funerals already done in the past. There were bunches of fake flowers and different types of stone slabs on the back of the wall, deliberately put there to entice customers to choose from them.  

An old man, perhaps in his late 80s was sitting with a manager of the office, explaining to him why he can only pay five thousand pounds which should cover his funeral, horse-drawn coffin, bouquet and stone masonry with his name engraved on the slab. Manager was finding it hard to make him understand the cost of every item which was coming near to seven thousand pounds. He was pressing for more money as if he knew that the old man had further savings to pay for his funeral. 

"Well, I had paid my savings worth 25 thousand to old home that will be looking after me until my death. The rest five thousand are meant for my funeral costs, which you have to accommodate everything within this amount” he said in pauses but with firmness...

The manager was looking frustrated, he gave a stern look to old man and said. “Mr John, I am giving you the costs of your funeral on fixed rate for two years. In case you die after two years, who will be paying for further costs of inflation? I am sure your children will be happy to pay for additional costs that could make us to give you the best funeral like we arrange for royals” ....

The old man named Mr John was looking little bit disturbed, perhaps, making mental calculations of further costs in case he lived beyond two years. He whispered, “I have paid inheritance to all my four sons, I kept 30 thousand for myself, paid twenty-five thousand to old home. I thought five thousand would be enough for my last rites. Who do you think will lend me few bucks to pay for my funeral? My children? No, my dear they might think it is not worth it”…

Manager was getting worked up by his whispers and asked his colleague to write the breakup of the funeral arrangements that could only come up to five thousand pounds. Mr John wants to spend only five thousand yet has a desire to have horse drawn carriage from his old home where his friends would wish him last goodbye. His face was expressionless…

Another director sitting in the corner near window came close to me and asked my intention of visiting them......

I felt short of words. Soon I realized that he was waiting for my reply. I asked, “do you also arrange for Muslim funeral”?

“Yes, we do but it takes time to find place for burial before any arrangements. May I ask, who is dying”? His face was featureless like motorway of England….

My mind was rumbling with his question, who was dying? I asked myself. Soon my journalistic instinct rescued me in falling down. 

“I am dying. How much my funeral costs would be”? I asked like I was demanding my trophy after winning the game.

“Dear Lady, first you need to choose the area where you want to be buried. The cost depends upon the area”. He replied like robot…

“Well, I don't need Chelsea to overlook river Thames. Give me any place that is cheaper and I can afford”. 

His cheap look made me uncomfortable. “There is a place where most of the immigrants prefer to be buried, that will only cost you two thousand bucks for grave. How about that”? He was making lines on the paper which had red signs for graveyards. It reminded me of the “unidentified graves” in Kashmir.

“That is great. At least I will get buried with my own people. And, what about funeral costs”. He did not like the smirk on my face.

“Oh. Muslim funeral cost much less, no flowers or no carriage drawn....and, your community comes in droves to attend the funerals. We cover coffin in green flag if that is what you desire”. 

“Muslims live cheap and die cheap” …I was thinking and lost in historical graveyard of Malakhah which has buried many invaders from Afghans to Sultans and we never demanded costs of burial.

“So, you will have to pay four thousand inclusive of all costs. If you are happy, I can get contract which you need to sign and pay in advance. That is our company’s policy I am afraid”. He was ready to grab contract from the drawer. Soon, he remembered something and said, “Our rates are fixed for two years but If you do not die in two years the rates will go up by five percent every year, depending upon the rise in interest rates”. 

“Don't you worry, I will make sure to die in two years”.  My stomach was rumbling with hunger.

He gave me bundle of papers to sign and was asking for upfront payment. Few yards away, the old man had already made a cheque to the manager......In the core of his heart he was feeling relieved to have settled his funeral for only the amount he could afford.

Before the director had made me sign the contract, I came out with the excuse. “I haven’t got money with me. Before I pay, I would certainly wish to visit the burial place because I want to make sure the place is worthy as the location of my grave. Can we do that first”? 

I don’t know what he was thinking but he agreed to show me the place.  

I grabbed my bag but my mind was racing back to home where we are forced to arrange instantaneous funerals of our loved ones who are being killed by trigger happy forces every day.

I thought I would be killed anyway, so why would I bother to plan for my funeral.

(The writer is Ex-editor of BBC and Penguin author.)

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