AT ABOUT 7.15 PM ON 17 NOVEMBER 2013, a small airplane practising night-time takeoffs and landings crashed outside Spring, a town just north of Houston, USA. Both the plane’s occupants—a flight instructor and a student pilot—were fatally injured. Shortly afterward, Revanth Kumar Angadi, who lives about 250 kilometres away in Austin, got a call from his family in India. They told him his twenty-three-year-old cousin, who had recently joined flight school, had died in the crash. “I was their only contact,” Angadi recalled.
Angadi began calling funeral homes in Houston to arrange for the body to be sent back to his family, but none were able to help. “They hadn’t sent a body to India before,” he said over the phone in December. Angadi contacted the Telugu Association of North America, which suggested he get in touch with the Hindu Funeral Home in New Brunswick, almost 3,000 kilometres away.
The Hindu Funeral Home, which caters exclusively to the Indian-American Hindu community, is one of an increasing number of US funeral homes serving Hindu needs. There is no shortage of demand for their services—Indian-Americans in the US, most of them Hindu, total 2.8 million, and are one of the country’s fastest growing immigrant populations. Barbara Kemmis, the executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, which represents more than 1,500 members of the funeral industry, told me that such homes exist mostly in areas with large Indian communities. “Most are not owned or operated by Hindus, but [Hindu] traditions are still honoured,” Kemmis said.