Fire and smokesAfter electric crematoriums were installed at Pashupati Ghat, the income of cremators like Jiban was gravely affected.
Jiban got up early in the morning and reached Pashupati Ghat. He took a bath there, performed a puja, and was ready for his job as a cremator. The morning was quite inauspicious. It was already 7 am, and the entire Pashupati area was engulfed by thick fog. And there was no possibility of sunshine anytime soon.
To ward off the cold, Jiban went to a tea stall and asked for a cup of tea. “Didi, please give me a cup of tea”. “Which size?” the woman at the tea stall asked Jiban because most of the time, he would not have enough money to afford a full cup of tea. She was right. Jiban checked his pocket and found only a ten-rupee note. “Give me a half cup of tea,” said Jiban disappointingly. Jiban took out a half-broken cigarette from his front pocket and began smoking.
It was already 10 am, and still, there no dead body was brought to cremate. Normally, this would never happen. Until now, I should have cremated at least one body, said Jiban to himself. In the meantime, his cell phone rang loudly. His daughter was on the other end.
“Baba, I just phoned to remind you that don’t forget to bring rice and mutton when coming home in the evening. And most importantly, don’t forget to give me my exam fee; otherwise, I will not be allowed to take the exams,” warned his daughter.
Jiban nodded in assertion, but he knew the chances of making enough money to buy provisions and pay the school fee seemed impossible. After the installation of electric cremation systems, more people preferred to cremate dead bodies with machines. This directly affected the income of people like Jiban. People would bring bodies to Jiban only when there was a crowd at the electric crematoriums. The news of adding a few more cremation machines only made Jiban sadder.
Over the last three years, Jiban has been working at Pashupati Ghat as a cremator. “Until now, I pulled the cart of my family successfully. By the grace of Lord Pashupatinath, I will be able to take care of my family in the future as well,” said Jiban to himself, and he began to prepare a single dose of tobacco.
Jiban saw a crowd of about 100 people enter the Pashupati Ghat premises. There was loud music, and they seemed to be chanting hymns. They brought a dead body with them. From their conversation, Jiban surmised that the body was that of a religious guru and the mourners were his followers. The disciples of the deceased Guru danced and sang hymns all the time until the body was consumed by fire and turned into ashes.
This was the first experience for Jiban when the mourners celebrated the death. Normally, he saw people crying profusely and the sad faces of the mourners. Out of curiosity, Jiban approached a woman who happened to be the wife of the deceased.
“Excuse me, madam, if you don’t mind, may I know what religion you follow?” asked Jiban politely.
“We believe in all religions because the essence of all religions is the same. But for the sake of answering, we follow Osho,” the woman replied. Jiban nodded and remained silent, not wanting to ask more questions at such a time of grievance.
It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Jiban felt extremely hungry but decided not to go home for lunch. He knew there was only one kilogram of rice left, which was not enough for his family. If he goes home for lunch, his wife will not have enough food to eat. He decided to stay at Pashupati Ghat instead. To release the tension, Jiban prepared a single dose of tobacco.
Jiban frantically looked around the temples for leftovers but found nothing to eat. Hungry monkeys had already eaten all the leftovers. When Jiban got no food at the temples, he went to Pashupati’s old age home.
Jiban saw a rich man distributing food for the poor people who lived in the old age home. Jiban was not allowed to go inside the old age home, so he waited outside. After about an hour of waiting, he received a little food and a fifty-rupee note. That fifty-rupee note, at that moment in time, was as valuable as a diamond.
Jiban had a college-level education, but he realised that the vicissitudes of life taught him more than his college education. His college certificates turned out to be nothing more than pieces of paper. Even after several attempts, he got no job, so he dumped his certificates in a suitcase and prepared to take up any job that came his way. This mantra of life he always followed as a survival tool, and he was very successful.
When Jiban returned to Pashupati Ghat, he saw the guru’s wife still there. Jiban consoled her and asked her to go home. “You should not worry about the death of your husband because death is the ultimate truth. Those who are born on this earth must die one day. We all stand in a long queue, but we don’t know when our turn will come,” said Jiban convincingly.
“I agree with you. You seem to be a very understanding man,” she said. The woman asked him how long he had been working at Pashupati Ghat as a cremator.
“Before I came here to work as a cremator, I worked at a Biscuit factory. I was doing marketing for a company. Everything was going well until Covid happened. Due to the pandemic, the biscuit company closed, and I became jobless,” revealed Jiban. “When I found no job to support my family, in desperation, I became a cremator.”
The woman recalled her memory and said, “I remember now. You used to come to my department store in Kalimati to sell biscuits. Am I right, brother?” she asked. “Yes, Didi. Now I remember you. Kalimati was my area,” he said.
After a bit of talk, the woman gave Rs2000 to Jiban and left the ghat. Jiban greeted her with tons of thanks and watched her go. Jiban kept the money in his pocket safely and began waiting for more dead bodies for cremation. By then, it was already 3 pm, and still, no dead bodies were brought to Pashupati Ghat. The sky was overcast, and dark clouds began swirling. The ghat was dead silent.
A group of a few people suddenly arrived at the ghat. They brought a body carefully wrapped in plastic. Jiban was not sure it was his turn to cremate the body. He just looked at the body and waited for the signal from the Pashupati Ghat cremation office.
The mourners had gloves on their hands. One of the mourners, the mother of the deceased, suddenly became unconscious. In the meantime, Jiban was informed that it was his turn to cremate the body.
The deceased was a young girl whose father told Jiban she had died of pneumonia. After following the official process, the body was ready to be cremated. The mother could not bear the loss of her only daughter. Occasionally, she would turn unconscious with grief. “My daughter had just taken the SEE examination and was waiting for the result. I wanted to see my daughter become a medical doctor, but now my dream will never be fulfilled,” cried the father.
In three years’ time, Jiban had cremated several bodies. But whenever he cremated the body of a young child, his heart would always wrench in pain. Jiban prepared everything and lit the pyre. The pyre caught fire immediately, and the body was consumed by the flames. One by one, all the mourners left, and in the end, only a few people were left.
The father of the deceased came up to Jiban and asked him how much money he owed him. Jiban could not ask him directly because his deceased daughter was Jiban’s daughter’s age. He felt rather sad asking for money. But what could he do? It was his job. With a heavy heart, Jiban said, “You can give me any amount you think is suitable for my service.” The man gave Jiban Rs5000 and left.
It was now 7 pm in the evening. The rain was pouring. Jiban opened his umbrella and went to purchase rice and mutton. When Jiban’s daughter saw her father coming home, she asked enthusiastically, “Baba, have you brought my tuition fee?”
“Yes, my dear. I have brought your tuition fee,” said Jiban confidently. Jiban’s daughter ran up to her father’s arm and kissed him. “How sweet is my Baba,” she said as a flicker of a smile went across her face.