People are scared of me now. I can tell from the way they all look at me. It makes me happy, like I’ve finally achieved something. Respect. A promotion – I never thought I’d get one of those. In my job, there’s nothing like it; no higher or lower, everyday it’s the same thing. I cremate people. Usually sons or brothers, even fathers cremate people. But this is Bombay – lots of families get lost here; some miss the train, some lose their way, some say they want nothing to do with you, and that’s it. Who cremates you then? I do. I take care of the unclaimed. And there are many. The police bring them to me. Sometimes they tell me about the body. Sometimes they don’t. Me, I never ask. It’s something I learned from Sukhi. Sukhi used to do this before me. He was here for almost 50 years. But after his wife died, he packed his bags and left for his village; I used to clean the compound back then. Plain good luck, it was. Such jobs are hard to come by in the city. Complete job security. You can’t be fired, there is always work. And once the police warm up to you, it even gets interesting. They tell you about the body, and even about the person who belonged to it. Died in custody. Found on the tracks. Just another beggar. At times it’s all hush-hush, especially when they bring in a big criminal. At others it’s just another poor prostitute.
It’s been 31 years now, and I thought I’d seen it all. I was wrong. It started early this year. There were four of them that day, piled next to each other, just a white sheet covering them. They must have got bored or scared or something, I don’t know why, but one of them started talking to me. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. At first I didn’t say anything, kept quiet. But when I didn’t answer, they started screaming, all of them. Together. Loudly. I had to reply, sit and chit-chat. It wasn’t for long anyway, just till I cremated them. First it was just small talk. They told me their names; last wishes – stuff like that. But after a while the dark stuff came out – how they really died; murders; conspiracies; and government money; where it was hidden and who was involved – the police, politicians, right to the top. It was terrifying. I was scared; panicking. It unnerved me so much I ended up telling my wife everything. Big mistake. The useless woman thinks I’m possessed; prays the whole day and wastes money on priests and temples. The witch even told the neighbours I’m going mad. I told my son as well. But he is no good either; wants to lock me up, probably kill me for the money. I’d go to the police, but I know about them. What if they kill me? I’ll land up here, next to this pile, telling my secrets to a stranger.