Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

The day that the COVID testing team (I have no idea where they came from. There are so many astronaut like creatures floating about from so many different departments, governments, hospitals, testing centres, that I stopped wondering a long time ago and now just meekly submit to sticks being poked into my nose and throat, and blood taken) declared I had the virus, my thoughts went immediately to death. So many people I know have died. Two died when I was on the phone trying to get oxygen for them. Another was admitted by me into hospital after begging the owner. Every morning a person I know turns into a memory.

So, the next step was, what would I like to do with my body? If I have COVID there is not much that can be done: they will probably come and take it, wrap it up in plastic and throw it in the heap to be burnt.

But I don’t want to be burnt. I want to go like the actor Luke Perry.

For years I have been demanding from my family that I be buried in my garden, that part of the earth that I have turned into a forest of calm and wonder. When I wake up every day, I throw the door open to see its beauty. I hear the sounds of hundreds of busy birds day and night. I watch the seasons change as the berries of the trees change. My granddaughter found two four-leaved clovers hidden in the undergrowth. I want to be buried in this wild place. This Eden created by me, where all the trees are alive and the old Pipal tree looks after us all.

I don’t want to be embalmed. I don’t want to be cremated in that ugly emotionless, soot filled government crematorium, and I would just die of shame if I learnt that I was burnt with wood.

But how do I want to be buried? Not wrapped in an old white sheet and smothered with salt. I want to be interred like the actor Luke Perry.

Luke Perry died at the age of 52. I had never heard of him before he died, but his burial interested me.

He was buried in his farm in a suit made of mushrooms, a mycelium based coffin designed to accelerate natural decomposition, and help remediate contaminated soils. It neutralizes toxins and boosts plant growth.

There is a company called that makes them in America. “The self-recycling organic cotton suit/shroud is infused with a biomix of mushroom mycelium and other microörganisms that aid in decomposition, work to neutralize toxins found in the body, and transfer nutrients to plant life, so that the remains of the person lost end up helping create new life.”

“My dad discovered it, and was more excited by this than I have ever seen him,” his daughter wrote on Instagram. “He was buried in this suit, one of his final wishes. They are truly a beautiful thing for this beautiful planet, and I want to share it with all of you.”

The idea came from the Dutch researcher Bob Hendrikx. The Living Cocoon, as he calls it in his company Loop, is made from mycelium -- the thread-like, vegetative part of a fungus. The idea is to accelerate the natural processes of decomposition, while also improving the surrounding soil as the body and its container gradually break down within a couple of years.

The Living Cocoon is made from fungal mycelium mixed with an organic substrate and placed into a mould. The mycelium gradually consumes the substrate, slowly growing to fill the mould to form the shape of the coffin, a process that takes about a week. The process is natural : it doesn’t require any heat, light or energy. As it breaks down in the soil it removes contaminants like heavy metals, petroleum-based fuels, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides and more.

As Hendrikx explains, the aim is to to use the transformative powers of mycelium to close the loop of life. "Our behaviour is not only parasitic, it's also short-sighted. The Living Cocoon enables people to become one with nature again, and to enrich the soil instead of polluting it."

Hendrikx add “This will help us to convince local municipalities in the future to transform polluted areas into healthy woodland, using our bodies as nutrients."

Even in death humans kill the planet.

Some religions embalm bodies so that the dead look as if they are sleeping. In just one country – the U.S.A- burials entail the use of approximately 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid a year, according to Cornell University research, and 827,060 gallons of that is formaldehyde, methanol, benzene, glutaraldehyde and phenol They put the bodies into caskets which are increasing more expensive and bizarre. Caskets and vaults use 20 million board-feet of hardwoods, including rainforest woods, as well as 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, 64,500 tons of steel leaches iron, copper, lead, zinc and cobalt into the environment. And thousands of tonnes of toxic plastic. The funeral industry itself earns over 20 billion dollars. And it takes more than 10 years for the body to decompose and leach all these toxic substances into the soil.

Other religions cremate. Lakhs of trees are cut down , especially mango trees. There will come a time in the next twenty year when there will be no mangoes left in mango country. Cremation in an electric crematorium is not much better. The process uses fossil fuels to reach, and maintain, 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, releasing dioxins and mercury into the air and water, and creating byproducts like nitrogen oxide, dioxins and particulates that are found in acid rain.

I cannot bear the idea of being environmentally vicious to other living beings when I die. So an eco friendly way will have to be found. It may seem bizarre now, but people will move towards "green funerals." Starting with urns that biodegrade and grow into trees as the seeds within mix with the ashes of the cremated human.

The concept of transforming our dead bodies into something that will nurture the earth again is something that appeals to me. All these years all the animals that have shared my life and gone to that great Heaven, where my husband lives, have been buried in the garden and we have grown trees on their bodies. They have simply changed form – as I will, if you allow me this luxury after I die.

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