Go-to man in time of death

Mr Ramesh Jethwani knows the roads, streets and back lanes of Little India like the back of his hand.

He has been a frequent visitor for the past two decades.

It is not to sell the Japanese-made saris that he designs, but to source for funeral items that are cheaper.

The Sindhi businessman does something unusual. He is the first responder when someone in the Sindhi community dies.

Eight years ago, when Mr Satish Shamdasni's mother died, he received an unexpected phone call.

Mr Jethwani, a casual acquaintance, was on the line. "I am sorry for your loss," Mr Shamdasni remembers Mr Jethwani saying. "You don't have to worry about the rituals and other arrangements. I will help you with that."

Mr Jethwani soon arrived at Mr Shamdasni's house and assisted with the funeral arrangements. He remained with the bereaved family until the cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

Mr Shamdasni received the same support from Mr Jethwani when his father and father-in-law died.

Mr Jethwani has been providing "funeral service" voluntarily to members of the Sindhi community in Singapore for more than two decades.

The businessman has dedicated his life to giving the dead a decent cremation. It all started when he joined the Sindhi Merchants' Association (now called the Singapore Sindhi Association) in the late 1990s.

While serving as its treasurer, vice-president and committee member, he developed an interest in helping Sindhi families in their time of grief.

Usually, when he receives information that a member of the community has died, he goes to the hospital and makes arrangements for the body to be taken to the family home.

He will then take a family member along to Little India and show him the shops which sell the necessary items for the last rites. He will also arrange for a casket and a priest.

Mr Jethwani makes sure that the rites are properly done. After the cremation, he makes it a point to accompany the family members on a boat to scatter the ashes in the sea off Changi Beach.

He also assists Sindhi families in packing the ashes to be scattered in the holy rivers in India and helps organise the commemorative prayers.

Mr Jethwani said his motive is not financial but to receive blessings from the people and God.

Said Mr Arun Sabnani, a real estate agent: "I have known Ramesh for nearly 30 years and we often play football together, but I did not know that he did such a noble community service until my dad passed away seven years ago. A friend asked me to call Ramesh for help.

"I was not sure of what to do and was stressed. I am not good at these things," added Mr Sabnani, who married outside the Sindhi community and does not know most of the funeral rituals.

"Ramesh made all the arrangements, including placing advertisements in the newspaper. He is renowned in the community for his good work."

Mr Sunder Ramchand, who sells cameras, praised Mr Jethwani for his selfless service.

"He is a man who leads by example. He is a kind gentleman who takes time off from his business matters to help families during their time of grief," said Mr Ramchand, who approached Mr Jethwani when his father died five years ago and after other relatives passed on later.

"He's the go-to person when we are in need. His knowledge of rituals and what needs be done is remarkable.

"He is the best guide for the younger generation of Sindhis. Ramesh meticulously explains how the rituals are done and their significance."

Mr Jethwani is modest about his contribution. "By god's grace, I have the time to dedicate myself to the service of people," said the 65-year-old, a naturalised Singaporean who runs Sapna Trading, a textile wholesale house which deals mainly in saris imported from Japan.

"There was a time when the Sindhi Merchants' Association did not have volunteers who were familiar with Sindhi funeral customs. I started learning about the customs from the elders and slowly started stepping in and helping people in the community."

The energetic man, who hails from a town called Mhow in Madya Pradesh, added: "I also realised that funerals in Singapore are very expensive - it can cost a few thousand dollars. So, I went to Sungei Kadut and Geylang Bahru and found the cheapest coffin dealer.

"I also located shops in Little India which sell the funeral items at reasonable prices. Now, families have to spend only a couple of hundreds of dollars for the last rites.

"Low cost is something that the rich and the poor like. So I feel I'm doing a good service."

Mr Deepak Gurnani, a former president of the Singapore Sindhi Association, said: "No one in their time of grief will go out to buy funeral items and compare prices. Ramesh does it for them. He takes them to places which give the best quality and price."

"He knows where to get the flowers, ghee, camphor, sandalwood, clothing, agarbathis and so on. He can get everything at the cheapest price and shortest time."

Mr Jethwani's service is now popular among Sindhis in Jakarta and Dubai too.

"Some people come to Singapore for a holiday and die here," he said. "I help in the repatriation of their bodies.

"Recently, an elderly man from Jakarta died here following a heart attack. A friend called from Jakarta and asked me if I could assist the family. I went to the hospital and ensured all procedures were done properly. I sent the body and the family members back to Jakarta safely."

Mr Jethwani has been approached by people from other Indian communities in Singapore too. The father of two said he has never shied away from helping anyone.

"I sometimes spend my entire day assisting families," he said. "I also wash the bodies when some cannot afford to do so. I take pride in the service I do."

When Mr Jethwani is unable to help because of his overseas trips, two like-minded volunteers step in. Even then, he makes sure that he is available for consultation by phone.

 irshathm@sph.com.sg

"He's the go-to person when we are in need. His knowledge of rituals and what needs to be done is remarkable."

- Mr Sunder Ramchand on Mr Ramesh Jethwani's selfless service

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