Death certificates and other 'last rights'—even beyond the last rites

Setting one's affairs in order before the one's demise has become rather a hassle, at least for entirely biological human beings, finds Avay Shukla

Even emulating PM Modi's meditation and extending it unto samadhi isn't enough for a DC (photo: IANS)
Even emulating PM Modi's meditation and extending it unto samadhi isn't enough for a DC (photo: IANS)

Avay Shukla

Notwithstanding the hundreds of babies who die every year in hospitals of the Delhi, Gorakhpur and Farrukhabad variety, rates of both infant and maternal mortality have been consistently declining.

One of the main reasons for this happy development is the government's push for institutional deliveries, as against the age-old practice of home deliveries, presided over by midwives. The former, by ensuring better hygiene and medical care, has led to improved survival rates for both, mother and child.

Strangely, however, the opposite appears to be happening for older people!

More people are nowadays dying in hospitals than at home, at least in urban areas. 'Institutional deaths' anecdotally outnumber 'home deaths'. (Try to recollect how many people you know who have died at home in the last few years — I can think of only one.) There are many reasons for this, but we will not go into them as that is not the subject of this piece. But what it has done is left me with an insurmountable problem and much to worry about (apart from the fact that I have to file my income tax return soon!)

At a sprightly 73, I am uncomfortably conscious of the fact that I have crossed the average life expectancy age in India by a margin better than the NDA's majority, and may not live to see either Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal become Prime Minister of India.

As things stand today, that may require the said average to go up to about 90 or perhaps require even a second rebirth.

But you can't fight with averages, and since I am about as average a Joe as any you'll come across in a week of Sundays, it's time for me to start thinking about the grand exit and the family pension for the long-suffering wife.

And that's where the problem arises.

You see, I don't want to be told 'Bon voyage' or 'Happy landing' — or whatever they say in Sanskrit these days — in a hospital, attached to more pipes and tubes than a vat in a distillery, with a ventilator pumping air into me as if I was an old, retreaded tyre with a dozen punctures.

It is my fervent wish to board Yamdoot's busy shuttle service (the last-mile connectivity) from my home, surrounded by the few family and friends whom I have not yet managed to annoy, gazing wistfully at the Aam Aadmi cap I had promised to wear when Mr Kejriwal became Prime Minister.

Since that doesn't appear likely anytime soon, I may as well not hold my breath, if you see what I mean.

I have written all this in my living will for my sons to read and carry out. However, since they are products of Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, I can't depend on their ability to decipher words with more than two syllables, hence this public statement.

But I digress, as usual, from the main point, which is this: Who will issue my death certificate if I cop it at home?

I am told that only a government doctor or a hospital can issue a death. Now, I can hardly hope that a sarkari doctor will deign to come to my house in Puranikoti village when given the good news of my departure, considering that they rarely go to even their places of posting! Please press the 'Save' button on this problem, dear reader, while I move on to the next one.

The second, even bigger problem for me is this: I am a non-practising Hindu (i.e., not a gau rakshak or a bhakt), and do not wish to be cremated at Benaras or Haridwar, for the simple reason that I do not want half of my torso floating around in polka-dot Jockeys till I land up at the Ganga barrage in Kanpur — though, I must confess, since I belong to Kanpur, this will be my final ghar wapasi of sorts.

There is also that little problem of getting caught in a 10-kilometre traffic jam on the way to Haridwar, or of bumping into a sulking Mr Modi in Benaras and being mistaken for a potential NDA ally.

There are other reasons too for avoiding the barbeque and being toasted by my colleagues and neighbours.

I don't wish to be converted to CO2 or methane or whatever toxic gas ex-bureaucrats are composed of, and burn another hole in the ozone layer. I'd much rather become topsoil and end up as a begonia or a daisy and, if my luck holds out, perhaps be plucked by a pretty young girl some day! My desire, therefore, is to be buried — and that too on my own land in Puranikoti village, and not in a cemetery that is probably an encroachment on forest land. (Having served for almost four years in the forest department, I certainly cannot become a party to this, you will agree).

It took me two years of bending and genuflecting to obtain permission from the government to buy this land, and another three years of scraping and begging to build the house on it, so I don't intend to give it up so easily. I fully intend to hang around there — as a daisy, if you will, but more likely as a cactus shrub — to further ensure that the deputy commissioner of Shimla does not resume the land on the grounds that, since I don't have an Aadhar number, I never existed officially.

But the problem of that damn death certificate remains, now worse confounded.

You see, one also needs a certificate from a crematorium or burial ground authority that the body has been properly disposed of! Without this, the police are likely to dig me out again, register an FIR against me and then I'll become case property. And we all know what happens to case property in police stations — it gets buggered... sorry, burgled!

Maybe I should just convert to Jainism or Buddhism, climb into that hole in the ground I had dug up for a rainwater harvesting tank and take samadhi.

Or, better still, I can claim that my birth was not biological and that therefore no death certificate is needed. After all, we do have a precedent for this at 7, Jan Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, and we all know that obsession is nine-tenths of the law, don't we? That should solve all my problems.

Or maybe I should just listen to the Beatles and 'Let It Be'.

But there's reason to worry here too: What if my sons decide to be like the chap who, having just lost his wife and being asked whether they should bury, cremate or embalm her, shouted: "Don't take any chances — do all three!"

That would be too much of a good thing.

Views expressed are personal

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog and Other Colleagues. He blogs at and more of his writing may be read here

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