L.Madeira – 200 year old mortuary of Kolkata
The sleepy cluster of red brick apartments tucked away on Chittaranjan Avenue is home to the last group of Anglo Indians living in Kolkata. The forlorn buildings look dilapidated without maintenance but are decked up in utmost yuletide spirit without cosmetic ado. Just adjacent to the garrison neighbourhood, you will find a two-storied building in one corner of the dimly lit lane of Bow Street of Kolkata. Even during Christmas, the celebratory essence does not seem to affect this decrepit building. The grilled entrance leads to the mysterious interiors which invoke a sense of ambiguity as if there are countless stories waiting to be unfolded in every corner of the world. It seems that it has been years that this place has seen a coat of paint. The passers-by behave as if the place is non-existent but if you observe closely, you will find their pace accelerating as they pass by the building. It seems that they are running away from the clutches of the inevitable reality of life ----- Death. And this building reads as 13, Bow Street, L. Madeira & Co, Undertakers.
Lord resides in the world of the dead too
Undertakers are the ones whose profession revolves around the business of funeral rites including cremation, embalming, burial and make arrangements for the funeral. Madeira & Co started as a mortuary in the heart of Kolkata 200 years ago and was called J. Madeira & Co then. Eight generations have been running this business. The present name is L. Madeira & Co perhaps after the last owner of the business - Leon Madeira. The present owner of the business is Florence, the widowed wife of Leon Madeira who is in mid-thirties fit and however, does not fit into the archetype of a person dealing with death.
As you enter the premises, an eerie cold sensation engulfs you and makes you feel numb. The azure blue doors take you to an unknown land of the dead, far away from the hullabaloo of life. On one door, lies a faded portrait of Jesus, that raises his hand and gives hope. The very image permits you to summon up courage to go inside. The dimly lit ramshackle hall features pale blue walls and a solitary cross. There is a handcart with an empty coffin on one side of the hall. The room on the left resembles an office. There is a distinctive smell of chemicals which reaches your nose as you approach the room. Amidst all this, we found a black street dog sleeping midway in the hall with an air of indifference, almost like a silent gatekeeper of the Valley of Death.
The solitary cross on the pale blue walls
The ground floor is the storehouse of corpses while the first floor is where the family lives. The other places like Peace Haven and Peace World are basic mortuaries. But in Madeira, the owners share their homes with the dead! Apart from digging grave, preserving and embalming corpses, they are also coffin-makers. L. Madeira has the history of sending corpses to Israel, Ukraine and other places. They have preserved Jyoti Basu’s sister’s corpse, sent Mr. Nahoum’s body to Israel. They have also made the coffin for Mother Teresa. Florence’s son Leonardo, has been cleaning and dressing bodies from the age of six. L. Madeira also serves poor people for free.