Tinpahar
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The Gravediggers of Kashmir

My job is neither rewarding nor thrilling. I, in fact inherited it. I am Kabir. I dig graves for a living. My job doesn’t rank among the most coveted ones. After all, a ‘good day’ at work for me is heart-breaking for other people whose near and dear ones die.

In my town, I am not looked upon with much respect or reverence. Meeting me is considered very obnoxious and inauspicious by most of my town’s residents. If I am in the way, they always think that I have some dreadfully tragic news to tell. For my townspeople, I am a necessary evil – one who prepares the ground for their last journey towards heaven.

When my father took over this job of digging graves from his father, I started out as his assistant. Ten years later, I was working full-time, after the tough manual labor took its toll on my father’s health, since in addition, he also juggled many odd-jobs to feed my large family.

My field of work is in the dusty, deserted and forlorn graveyard on the north-end road off Regiment Market where this profession of grave digging has kept my kinsmen employed and busy for generations. We neither had any land to till nor any other job to support ourselves. My father used to boast, “grave-digging is a perennially monopolistic job . . . it is a profession that is not going to ‘die’ anytime soon!”

When someone in or around my town dies, I am informed immediately. If I am out of town, a man is sent to fetch me without delay. I must be present there as soon as possible since grave-digging is my sole area of expertise in the small and messy graveyard, where a right place is always hard to come by. No one else is qualified enough to do this job. Even if I am ill, I must be present in the graveyard guiding the laborer.

As the news of death reaches me, I set out on my job be it rain, hail or storm. After retrieving my spade and shovel, which remain resting in the shed next to the graveyard’s entrance on all other normal days, I hunt around the graveyard to locate the oldest grave, owing to its deficiency of space.

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