Only those who lived with an animal long enough for it to be more family than just a pet will know that ineffable, gut-wrenching pain one feels when they pass on. The funeral service following the death of a human being is as much about giving everyone else closure as it is, realistically speaking, a means of dealing with that body itself. With Mumbai bursting at its seams with the living, there is hardly place to have a funeral and send these souls off in a suitable manner - apartment gardens are almost omnipresent, let alone be an actual option. We thought about it for a second, and knew there had to be another way- and sure enough, we found it.
Established in January 1997, Mumbai’s electric pet crematorium, located inside The Bai Sakarbai Dinshaw Petit Hospital for Animals, is a hidden sanctuary of greenery and peace. The hospital itself is 130 years old, and is a story for another time. We spoke to Sanjay Kamal who has been working at the cremation center since the day it opened, to take us through the entire process from start to finish, and his eagerness to help was almost counterintuitive - we weren’t sure how to feel about entering this space to begin with.
At first, he shows us the table that is set up for the pet to be brought in. You are more than welcome to adorn them with flowers, their favourite clothes and toys as a part of your final goodbye. They had a plate with kumkum and haldi kept ready from a previous funeral. Sanjay mentioned that the one thing which doesn’t have a real role to play here is religion - “each person just does as their heart desires,” he told us. Wooden planks are placed on the steel stand, which acts as a base for the body. The body is then placed on top, and in one swift movement, a pedal lever is released, and with one push the body is gently lowered into the cremation pit.
Since it is an electric crematorium, Sanjay explained that the temperature has to be above 550 degrees. At this temperature, the electric coils on either side heat up alongside bricks, and the heat travels evenly through the gaps of the bricks to ensure even burning.
The entire cremation takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the animal. Once it’s over, the smoke is released into a chamber that mixes it with water to help separate the carbon from the smoke that is ultimately let out of the chimney. This process also allows them to collect the ashes for anyone who may wish to carry them back.
Sanjay told us that there are anywhere from 10 to 15 cremations every day, and in his career he has cremated two lions, pigeons, dogs, cows and cats. Goats are not cremated in this manner as something in their digestive system does not allow for them to burn like the other animals. Today, it is mostly dogs and cats. The price for the cremation depends on the size of the animal, but ranges anywhere from INR 2500 to INR 4500. The cremation centre is open from 8 AM until 4 PM every day. In case your pet passes away at night, they have an ice morgue in which to preserve the body until the next morning.
“We don’t take it to heart anymore, but we know how painful it is,” Raju, another employee told us, and we could see that they conduct every funeral with this thought. It’s eerie the calmness with which they explain the systematic functioning of the place - a constant reminder of the circle of life. In a city where thousands of animals die on the side of the road, it’s nice to know that there exists this space that provides dignity in death for these few beings.
Photographs by Sacha Estelles