November 21, 2016
A graveyard caretaker for the past 25 years, Vairaa has been performing last rites for the departed souls. Unable to bear the hardship of the already grief stricken people, she has decided to accept old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes and deposit them into her bank account later.
Hearing about a woman who performs funeral rites in Coimbatore, I took my bike and reached Chokkampudur with my fellow reporter. Passing the burial ground I could smell the fumes from the burnt bodies. We asked two elderly persons passing by for directions to the house of the woman. They directed me to a house just 500 meters away. As I approached the entrance, Vairaa came out, fresh after a bath. Her hands looked firm and strong, that of a hard-working person.
With a kind, smiling face she welcomed us into her world of an unusual life.
In her small, quaint, one-room house, with a Tamil serial title song running on the television and awards for her work arranged neatly on a table, Vairaa turns to us and brimming with pride starts talking.
For the past 25 years, Vairamani (35) known as Vairaa (meaning diamond in Tamil) in her neighbourhood, has been performing the final rituals for the dead in the Chokkampudur Crematorium here. She entered the family profession when she was only 10 years old after her father passed away. Discontinuing school she started helping her mother with cremation works such as digging graves and burning dead bodies.
“I accept 500 and 1000 rupees. I cannot say no to people coming to me for help,” Vairaa says. She has been accepting the illegal denominations from the bereaved and converting the notes through her personal bank account. Though demonetisation was a problem to her work, she says, “I consider it a great opportunity for me to send a soul happy from this earth.”
When asked about her work hours, Vairaa says, “I don’t have any fixed timings. Whenever people call me for rituals I hurry up and do it for them. It could be early in the morning or middle of the night.”
Vairaa gets all the support she needs from her family. “My husband is very proud of the work I do. He helps me in doing the household chores.” While she continues talking to Covai Post, her son who studies in 10th standard walks happily into the house, returning from school.
Sharing the toughest experiences in her line of work, she says, “It breaks my heart whenever I cremate a baby. It is very hard to see the parents crying with the dead body of their small child. Seeing their tears and pain is the most cruel thing for me.”
Vairaa doesn’t charge for orphaned dead bodies. But she doesn’t want to do this as charity either. “I want the government to fix us on a permanent pay.”
When asked about fear and ghosts and the supernatural, she says that there is no room for fear in her work. “It is a work of purity and I have not witnessed any such incidents,” she adds.
Having spoken to us she briskly starts cooking dinner. With the same kind, smiling face she asks us to stay back for dinner. But we regretfully decline as we had to get back to work.