Shruti Reddy: From dealing with Code to dealing with Death

My guest in this episode is a woman who deals with death on a daily basis. What do you think her profession is? A policewoman? A cancer surgeon? A forensic investigator? Or perhaps a writer of crime fiction?  

Let me give you another hint. She is someone who moved from what’s probably the most common profession chosen by engineering graduates in India, to the most uncommon one. You probably guessed the first part — yes, she started in IT. What she did later is a lot harder to guess.

Shruti Reddy started working as a developer in the IT industry in 2006. But after about a decade in what she describes as “hard-core techie” roles, she quit and started a funeral services company. That’s right, a company that offers services “assisting you in your loved ones last journey”. 

I must confess I was a bit nervous about how this episode would turn out. That’s because while the subject matter was fascinating, I wondered if the conversation would live upto the expectations this topic generated. I needn’t have worried. Shruti, as you will soon hear, animates the conversation with her unbounded energy and enthusiasm, traits that have kept her going in this very difficult field. She opens up about the challenges she faced starting this venture, and she shares her ambitions for the future — not just of her company but of the industry in general. She talks about her previous life in the IT industry, the attitudes she saw there, and how she dealt with them. She reveals her deep interest in spirituality and her thoughts on a good death. She ruminates on how the five years in this field have changed her personally. 

Death may be a morbid subject, but this conversation is anything but morbid. I hope you have as much fun listening to Shruti as I did talking to her.

This podcast is hosted on Buzzsprout and is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and other podcast players.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In the last week or so whenever I have told any friend of my mine that my next podcast guest is a woman who left IT and started a funeral services company, they have become immediately super curious. Their eyes widen, their ears perk up, and they want to know more. That was my reaction too when I first heard about you from Malini who was in this podcast in January.

So perhaps that is a good place to begin — with an overview of your current venture Anthyesti. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the services you offer in this company and your current role there.

Anthyesti as the name suggests is actually one of the sixteen sanskaras of the Hindu life. The last sanskara is the Anthyesti samskara, which means last rites. That’s where I picked up my company’s name from.

I would like to introduce Anthyesti as a professional funeral planning solution, more of a one stop solution when it comes to arranging of your dead body carriers. hearse vans, freezer boxes, preservation of the dead, embalming and also ending with the cremation day. Sometimes going into the event management, wherein we do the twelve day or thirteenth day Shrardh pooja services. And in very rare cases, something we just started off just a couple of months back, the “asthi visarjan” (immersion of the ashes) in the holy places across India, like Varanasi.

Further, when someone loses a relative or a friend in a different country or a different city, we also have the transportation available in terms of train, air and road. When I mean transportation it is not just a logistics job but it has more to do with coordination with the funeral undertakers over there and coordination with the family over here. So the documentation, the clearances, the customs, the police — there are lot of people that come into play if we have to transport a coffin from a different country to your hometown.

The last case that I remember — during covid time — is one where we helped one of our clients fulfil the last wishes of his dead mom by doing the dispersal of ashes in the holy Ganges in Rameswaram and also in Kasi.

Well firstly kudos to the child who ensured that their mom’s last wishes were fulfilled. And my team was actually there with the client and their family all through their stay in Varanasi, giving a very personal touch to them while the complete processes and rituals were going on. We even accompanied them to Rameswaram and that is how we gave a very beautiful end to their mother’s last wishes. 

Now this is what gives me my kick in this service Manohar.  See how do you really feel when you know that you are fulfilling someone’s last wishes who isn’t even related to you? This is what makes me really happy to the core. This was the main reason why I have come up with Anthyesti.

I wanted to do something so that when I die at least fifty million people think about me.

Another example that I could share of is of a case again during Covid. There was a sailor’s body that was stuck at Glasgow, okay. And his brother-in-law was coordinating with us all the way from Glasgow and the body needed to go to Bhardaman in West Bengal. I started Anthyesti in Calcutta about four years back so I would say that we are headquartered at Calcutta and my initial first team members are present there in Calcutta. And with the help of them we ensured them that the body was transported safely all the way from Glasgow to the deceased’s wife in Bhardhaman.

And now during Covid time even the trains were not working, it so happened that the family couldn’t come down from Bhardhaman to Calcutta airport. But then we had taken the complete responsibility — or rather my team present in Calcutta they had taken the complete responsibility — from Kolkata airport and then they ensured that the body reached safely in Bardhaman.

These team members when they had delivered the coffin, the family members were literally holding my team member’s hands while weeping over the coffin. This is really for me a goosebumps kind of experience whenever we go through these cases day in and day out.

I would say that this is more of a ‘blessing over bucks’ kind of business that we are in to. So, this is the main reason I quit my IT job bad got into a profession where it’s really a nice experience at the end of the day when you feel that you are impacting so many people’s lives.

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