The undertaker of Tribhuban (short story)* part II.

(continued from part I)…Then he returned to his hut and waited for a
funeral party to come for cremation. But he was for ill luck on that day! On the first day and also on
the second, during all those forty eight hours, no cremation occurred. On the third day, instead of
waiting for parties, he went out early morning to bring his first axe for which he had made ready a
good, stout bamboo handle. He arrived home after two hours. Then taking a light meal, he fitted the
handle to the axe and was lazing on the street when he eyed a procession carrying a bier from afar.
He felt he could scent the incense from that far. He slowly retracted his steps towards his hut and
stood on the doorway. In less than five minutes, the procession was at his court yard. The bier was
brought into the open space. One of the party inquired of Bhusan, “Is there any undertaker here?”
Bhusan felt a tightness clump his throat. He was at a loss for words. All he could answer was “I’m
doing the undertaking!” His reply brought another question from the men; “Is there any pyre wood
nearby? I fear we may have a shortage of Pyre wood”! Bhusan asked the men to enter the ground,
and then went to the other side of the road to the Bania who sells wood for all purposes. This was
the first time he was buying pyre wood for anyone. He did not know how much to buy. The bania
told him to buy three quintals. They will all be used up, he added. Then he asked for Rs. 100/- as
their price. It was a whopping sum in those days. Bhusan brought the logs on his shoulders. But they
were massive and will not burn easily. So he split and billeted them with his new axe. But he was in
for a surprise! Only about a quintal of wood was used. He had two quintals remaining. Now he could
not charge Rs. 100/- as cost of pyre wood from the party. It would be too much. He asked for Rs.
50/- but a person from the party who was an experienced one on these matters, told Bhusan that
Rs. 20/- of pyre wood is required and Rs. 5/- may be taken as fees. Bhusan accepted it. No other
funeral party came on that day. In the afternoon he talked of returning the remaining pyre wood to
the Bania. “But how can I receive them after you stocked them inside the crematorium? You could
have deposited them outside”, retorted the Bania. “But what difference does it make, inside the
crematorium or outside the crematorium?” asked Bhusan. “It makes a whole lot of difference”, the
Bania said. “Doesn’t one have to bathe after returning from a crematorium? It is the same with pyre
wood! Once the public see it, no one will buy even a billet of wood from me”, the Bania said. Bhusan
felt sore! He had not known the Bania to be so miserly and hard-hearted. But he got a lesson! This
time he must keep all the pyre wood outside the cremation ground. True the remaining pyre wood
will be used up in another cremation, but how can one know when a dead-body will be arriving? Of
course a dead body did arrive in a day’s time which used up those pyre wood and released Bhusan’s
invested money. But that body brought much burden to Bhusan while at the same time provided
him an Idea. That particular corpse had arrived in the late evening and by the time preparations
were made, it was night. But the pyre wood at the disposal of Bhusan could not, a cause unknown to
anyone, incinerate that body. And when Bhusan went to the Bania for wood he found the Bania’s
shop closed. He searched ‘heaven and hell’ for pyre wood, but could not find any. One the other
hand, the flames were about to die out and murmurs could be heard among the attendants. Then
Bhusan found some old, dried up logs in a house of one of his neighbours. He at once billeted them
and brought the cremation to an end. But this same incident also brought a reciprocal thought to his
mind; why not buy trees, cut them into logs and billets and sell them as pyre wood? This will help all
in such customary occasions and will also give him a business. So the next day without waiting for
any dead body, he went out in search of dead and unwanted trees. He marked out several on the
bank of the river and also cut one down (to be brought later). As time passed, he did a good business
of selling pyre wood and also of the job of an undertaker in the crematorium. When he found that
he can eke out a living as an undertaker, he married a local Assamese girl who was born of a Muslim
mother and was therefore despised and ostracized in the society. They were presented with three
sons. Bhusan sent them to school and did not engage them as his assistants as most poor people in India are wont to do. This is because being formally uneducated himself, he realized that without
education, his three sons will have to work as manual laborers in their mature years to earn a living.
So he got them admitted to a Local English School. His sons of course, in due course of time, did not
betray his belief. The first one completed his matriculation while the second and the third both
became engineers and were engaged in jobs outside the town. As Bhusan caught up with age and
could not fell the big trees as fast as he could earlier, his eldest son Jagot had to join him and did the
log-cutting and billeting while Bhusan helped the funeral party in conducting the cremation.

Now,
many changes were done at the crematorium from the time when Bhusan started the job. The land
was acquired by the municipality and taxed according to commercial lands. Bhusan’s thatched hut
was permitted to remain as a quarter of the undertaker. An NGO of the town built five new sheds
including the earliest one to undertake five cremations at a time and, a shed for the attendants and
lavatory facilities also. Lately, seeing Bhusan’s failing health due to old age, his eldest son Jagot
decided to act fully as the undertaker of the crematorium. He had married and is raising a family by
carrying out the profession of an undertaker. And although despised and criticized by his neighbors
once for his job, Bhusan is now acknowledged for his rationale thinking and hard work while bringing
up his family. Now, his sons are not despised as he was once despised as an undertaker. And people
who had at least once visited a crematorium also realized that like any other business, an
undertaker’s work is also a business whose services are greatly needed in the final ‘farewell
ceremony’ of the dead! Amen!!

The end.

*fiction. #first published as a short story in the book, ‘the grandee of gorokhiah gaon (and other stories)’.

Published by indrajyoti dutt

Hi folks, I'm an ordinary guy who sells both life and general insurance to earn a living. I also have interest in writing and reading and so have opened this blog at WordPress. I hope my writings and other posts will be noticed by you and will also be commented upon to make them better and entertaining in the near future. Wishing the best to you all out there. Have a great time.

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