This is not breaking news, though! Having already hosted over 14, 000 deaths so far, Mukti Bhavan is quite popular among those staring at their imminent end.
People come to Varanasi, the ‘spiritual capital’ of India, with purpose – to take a dip in the Ganges to wash off their sins, or to perform the last rites of their loved ones. However, there is another breed that has an entirely different agenda, and this is the class that checks in at Mukti Bhavan. As the name suggests, a dying person’s soul is released here, he achieves salvation (moksha), or so it is said. These are dying men and women, in their last stages of life.
Like a normal hotel, there are rules and conditions attached: Only if you have less than two weeks to live, will you find a room to die in. If death is delayed, you could be asked to vacate to make room for the needier one, someone who could die any moment! The would-be dead pay rent, too, for accommodation and electricity. The hostel claims to put an end to the cycle of life and death, ensuring that the departed soul will not wander… But how can mortal beings claim that? How can a priest, who is not dying anytime soon, but resides at Mukti Bhavan to preside over death, say that every death at the house of death brings salvations? Because it is religious based, no one questions the decadent nature of such Hindu belief systems.
In some situations, a guest’s stay can be extended if the 61-year old hostel manager, Bhariavi Nath Shukla, feels that the person could die any moment. He also claims to be able to predict the time of death. India is not dumb, we are smart people, but when such practices are giving credence with people participation, the situation becomes hopeless. The 12-room hostel also boasts of a temple and an additional quarter for its priests.
My colleague, Arjun Rathod, visited Varanasi recently and dispatched heart-rending stories from ground zero. He met several people, including family members of the dying breed, and realized that even death has a market. People, especially priests and self-proclaimed holy men, talk about Vedas and puranas, convey its possibly distorted messages, successfully convincing innocent people that only when one dies within the confines of Mukti Bhavan, can one achieve Moksha! Many who brought their elderly to Mukti Bhavan didn’t really want to, but were forced into it because the dying man wanted so. At the ripe old age of late 80s, 90s and even early 100s, people don’t want to have an evolved outlook to life and death. These are traditionally deeply religious people, culturally conformists, and consider priests the representatives of God on earth.
How can a human being define the time of his/her death to attain salvation? It’s a natural process, and one can’t look for a place where one can go to die within 15 and achieve salvation. Our karma and God’s will decide that. If we have lived a good, righteous life, we will achieve salvation, irrespective of the place. However, if we have lived the wrong way, even Mukti Bhavan can’t deliver us from evil.
Everyone’s story is different from each other, but they were all united in their common objective – Salvation! And the priests are selling it. Nobody has a name at Mukti Bhavan, they are all known by specific numbers. Guest number 14,213 was a 100-year-old man. He was brought to Varanasi by his daughter, whose hand was forced by her dying, but staunch Hindu father. The daughter said that her father truly believed that he would achieve moksha. It was his last wish and she couldn’t say no. “I don’t like this but I have no option. I only hope Baba gets what he came looking for…” she trailed off.
Another family had a different story. The family members were convinced that anyone breathing his last should be doing it at Mukti Bhavan. The 90-year-old man was helpless. He was weak and powerless, his days as the patriarch long gone. He wanted to die on his own bed, with his grandchildren around him… The priests were very convincing as far as the family members were concerned.
No one can be blamed for any of this except the priests of this world, who spread gibberish in the name of God. But they live in a country where they are the supreme authorities. If someone believes that Lord Ram did not do good by his wife, Sita, he will be lynched!
Evidence of intolerance is everywhere. We have only become more and more tolerant to the growing intolerance!