Almost every other day, John Pinto is at a funeral — not because he has a morbid interest in death, but because he is in the business of organising funerals of people from all ‘religions, beliefs and customs’.
A funeral director, Pinto offers a range of services: Repatriation of dead bodies, embalming, burial, cremation and scattering of ashes, exhumations, among others.
His office-cum-residence near Kapeshera border in the Capital has a mortuary and what he calls a ‘funeral parlour’, where a dead body is kept for viewing and prayers by the relatives before it is taken to the cemetery or the crematorium.
Pinto’s funeral parlour is a plush place: A huge hall with high-ceiling decorated with a chandelier that has candle-shaped lights, an antique high circular table in the middle, a wooden chest, a few glossy pictorial books on Delhi and India displayed on the teak tables, classic sofas and side tables with designer ash urns on them.
Attached to the funeral parlour is Pinto’s tastefully done office, with white interiors. Next to it is a state-of-the-art mortuary and upstairs is his residence.
“There are times when the relatives of the dead want us to keep the body for days and even for weeks due to varied reasons, including ritualistic ones. At any given day, there are at least two dead bodies in our mortuary. However, there have been times when there were as many as a dozen bodies. We make sure that the body remains as fresh as when the person died,” says the suave and soft-spoken Pinto, who is also a qualified embalmer.
Pinto, who has conducted funerals of some of the most high-profile people, including top politicians and industrialists, says there is a taboo associated with death in certain sections of Indian society. “Some people put the body on the floor from the bed the moment a person dies. Besides, a person who has returned from a funeral is, at times, asked to take bath and change clothes before touching anyone in the family. In Delhi, I have observed that house-owners do not generally allow the tenants to bring a dead body inside the home if someone has died in the tenant’s family,” says Pinto.
He rues the fact that in Delhi, the same ambulance is usually used to transport a dead body and a patient. “Unlike in Mumbai, there are hardly any hearse vans in Delhi. People in Delhi are not yet used to seeing dead bodies being carried in glass vans,” says Pinto, who also has a office and home in Mumbai, where he performed funerals of the many 26/11 victims.
Pinto’s funeral services cost anything between Rs 2,000 and Rs 10,000, depending on the range of services availed and the quality of coffin. “We manufacture coffins ourselves and offer them at various prices but some people insist on imported coffins, which sharply shoot up the cost of the funeral. A lot of people bargain over the cost of the funeral; I try to convince them that I am offering them the best price,” says Pinto, sitting in his funeral parlour with his two sons and wife.
So far, Pinto says, he has organised more than 1.5 lakh funerals. While he has clients belonging to all religions and faith, a majority of them are Christians. “In Christianity, funeral is an affair conducted with a lot of fanfare. In fact, even some Hindus want Christian-like funerals and want to be cremated with coffins,” he says.
Pinto also offers an Autumn Leaves Programme, where individuals pay for their funeral in advance. Under the programme, people can choose from a list of funeral services — the transport, band, trumpets, the coffin, among others — for their funeral. So far, he says, more than 2,500 people in the age group of 40 to 90 years have registered for this programme.
“These are the people who want to bear the cost of their funeral themselves. There are many elderly who have registered with us, fearing their children may not give them a decent funeral. Then there are people who are single and have no one to organise their funeral. Most people choose the most-elaborate funeral as they want to leave the world in style,” he says, adding that the first person who registered under the programme died 12 years after registering with us. “He was unmarried and we organised the funeral according to his wishes. Recently, a woman who has registered with us wants to be buried next to her husband’s grave,” says Pinto.
So does this profession affects Pinto in his personal life in any way? “Me and my family are deeply affected when we organise the funeral of a child or a young person. But then, somebody has to do the job. I feel, I am doing a good deed by helping people in their time of distress. My job also involves providing people emotional support and counselling. There have been cases when a woman was alone with the dead body of her husband and me and my wife provided her emotional support,” says Pinto, who is also assisted in his business by his two sons, John Junior, 29, and Ainsley Pinto, 27. He says, he has learnt an important lesson from his business: ‘Life is too short, so enjoy it to the fullest, and be prepared to go anytime’.