Murali Mohan Sastry is peacefully awaiting his death on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, a northern city in India that is revered by millions of Hindus. The 82-year-old former college teacher and his wife left behind their comfortable lives in Hyderabad over a decade ago. They hope that by dying in Varanasi, they can break the cycle of death and rebirth, which is an article of faith for many Hindus, and attain salvation.
Sastry believes that death is a guest, and they are proud to invite it. He and his wife live in one of the spartan community homes across the sacred city meant for those seeking to live out their twilight years there. They were inspired by the example of Sastry’s mother, who had lived in the same place.
Although Western-style retirement homes are growing popular, Sastry has no interest in worldly comforts. He prefers to spend his final days immersed in study and prayer. According to Sastry, Indian philosophy dictates that those who seek worldly comforts can never reach God. Therefore, he shuns all these things and only goes for God.
Varanasi is an ancient city with more than a million people, famed for its temples and bathing spots beside Hinduism’s holiest river. Devout Hindus flock from all over the country for rituals marking events from birth to death. Ram Pyari, another resident of the home, said that she no longer feels like living in this world anymore. She prepares a meal for her husband, who is mostly confined to bed in what he is certain are his final days. Ram Pyari is in her 80s and believes that one has to face so much suffering that one gets fed up. Therefore, if one attains salvation, they won’t have to suffer anymore.
The manager of the home, Mumukshu Bhavan, which dates from the 1920s, says it has reached full capacity, with more than 80 residents, although demand for places remains high. According to the official, Manish Kumar Pandey, more and more old people want to come and stay in Varanasi, but they can accommodate only a limited number.
The devout who are unable to breathe their last in the holy city can take solace from the Hindu belief that they will come a step closer to salvation if their remains are cremated there.