She goes about her work with a certain calm, be it digging a grave or ensuring that a corpse has been burnt to ashes. Now 34, she has been at it for 15 years ever since she stepped into her father’s shoes after his death.From age 10, Vairamani saw her father bury or cremate hundreds of people who had passed on. So when he died and there was no one else to take over the job, it seemed natural for her to take it up herself.
Of course she needed it as a livelihood. By then, she was a mother of three children. She had been married off young, having been pulled out of school. Her husband is an autorickshaw driver and his income is not steady. So taking up her father’s position made sense.
Vairamani is not bothered about how the world sees her. She is aware that people do look at her with a sense of curiosity: what’s it like to be in a graveyard all one’s life?
It’s not just a job, though. Vairamani voluntarily undertakes the final rites of unclaimed or abandoned corpses. She makes `500 for every body she buries or cremates.It usually takes her six hours to tend to the fire as it consumes a corpse. But her’s is a fast disappearing living, thanks to the rising number of electric crematoriums, which reduce a body to ashes in a matter of minutes.
The grim surroundings in which she spends her day have not changed Vairamani. But in contrast with the death she deals with everyday, her home is filled with life, with pet dogs and cats running about.
Long years of association with death have made her stoic. “I feel sad only when I see small children in the graveyard. Otherwise I have had enough encounters with the dead,” she says.