With you, for you
SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
Ramesh Nagar resident Kuldeep Singh Channa has made the Punjabi Bagh crematorium a better stopover for the last journey, reports SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
MAKING PASSAGE EASIER Sewadar Kuldeep Singh Channa in front of a fresco of Yamaraj at the Punjabi Bagh Shamshan Bhoomi
A Good Shepherd, a sewadar. In the age of rising appetite for personal gains, such expressions are fast getting outmoded, particularly in a giant city like Delhi. There is so much to amass here, so many opportunities to dupe and gain. That is why, perhaps, the story of Delhi's Ramesh Nagar resident, Kuldeep Singh Channa, needs to be told. His is a long story, an old story, but barely heard.
Let's begin by stepping back to the late '80s.Those who remember the flash strike of DTC workers in 1988 that had paralysed public transport for days together in Delhi might recall taking a free ride in a ramshackle Ambassador of a young, sprightly sardarji.
Still spry at around 60 and a grandfather of two young boys now, Channa recalls why he did what he did then, “It was my inner call, I was in Connaught Place when I heard about the strike. On seeing so many people stranded on the road, many quite old, I thought of giving a lift to as many as possible on my way home. After dropping the first lot, I just couldn't sit back at home, and I went out again. The next day I organised two jeeps from Tilak Nagar besides using my car but not before pasting a board on them that announced ‘free sewa'.”
For someone who earns his living by running a water pump shop, footing the petrol bill was not easy for Channa but his philosophy is clear, “How could it be a sewa of people if I don't give anything of mine?” Interestingly, a clutch of reporters from All India Radio made use of his sewa and he found his name mentioned in Yuva Vani the next day.
The son of a freedom fighter, Channa says he joined Congress as a youth “to serve people”. Many from his group sprung to fame but Channa remained at the grassroots. “I joined it for social work, not to touch leaders' feet every morning,” he states.
Chosen an honorary Special Police Officer of the area by Delhi Police — a rare feat — Channa has also been a part of religious and social institutions and institutions like Bangla Sahib gurudwara, International Ramgharia Organisation and All Ramesh Nagar Resident Welfare Society, besides being a shoulder to cry on for his neighbours.
His formidable work, however, has been in giving a much-needed facelift to the cremation ground at Punjabi Bagh. Channa gives the credit of getting to know the state of the crematorium to an old neighbour good 10 12 years ago.
“She wanted to sponsor a van to transport bodies to the crematorium and asked for help. I designed a van and got it fabricated to suit the needs and that became the starting point.” On seeing the decrepit state of the crematorium, he “couldn't help getting involved. After all, we will all have to come to this place one day.”
A long line of work with a team of office bearers began, and today it has 64 platforms to cremate bodies, two refrigerated boxes to keep bodies, three vans, a visitors' shed and a carpeted hall with easy chairs for prayer meetings, catering to people even from areas like Rohini, Model Town, Nangloi and South Delhi. Next in line is “the renovation of the parking lot which can take 200 cars at a go, plus turning a part of the crematorium into an old age home.” Employees say every morning at six, “come sun or storm”, Channa is at the crematorium. “This helps me tame my ego,” he says.
During a walk through the spick-and-span ground with soulful bhajans playing at the backdrop, Channa stops many times to elaborate on the humbling stories behind the life-size frescos that adorn its walls. All to drive home the point that “life finally is a pot of ashes”. Opening the asthi room lined with clay pots draped in snow-white cloth, he says, “We keep asthi for the family for 15 days, otherwise we immerse them in the river.” No priest or helper is to accept money. “The employees are paid. There is a nominal charge for the vans, wood and flowers but free for those who can't afford them. The samshaan runs on donations, so those who want to donate can use the daan paatra.”
In case you have any complaints or queries to make, don't miss the boards at the crematorium that says; Contact Kuldeep Singh Channa, general secretary, No: 9313773546. Channa himself says, “Call any time, day or night.”
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