She’s been arranging for the pyres for the last 22 years

She is in an unusual occupation of being a crematorium keeper for the last 22 years. Down to earth and simple, Vanaja Poojarti (62) has been single-handedly taking care of the Beedinagudde crematorium in Udupi.

Poojarti stumbled on this occupation. She and her husband used to sell tender mangoes 35 years ago. One day the crematorium keeper threw away the keys and went away.

The then head of the Committee in-charge of the crematorium requested Vanaja’s husband Poova Poojary to take care of the crematorium for a couple of days.

But because the crematorium keeper never returned, Poojary and Poojarti took charge of the crematorium. Poojary died after 12 years, and since then his wife has been tough task of arranging for the funeral pyres.

“I have been doing this work for the last 34 years. There are days when no body arrives. There have been some occasions when all six trays at the crematorium were used,” she said.

Asked if she was ever frightened, she smiles and says, “I have never been frightened. I am not afraid of ghosts or anything.” Asked who did the work when she fell ill? Pat came the reply, “I have never fallen ill.”

A typical day for Poojarti begins early in the morning. After her house work, she comes to the crematorium at 7.30 a.m. and is there till 5.30 pm. “On rare occasions, I am here till 9 p.m.,” she said.

She has deep compassion for the bereaved. “It is painful for those who come to cremate their loved ones here. I try my best to console them. As long as I am working here, I want to do good work. I don’t feel embarrassed of my work. I feel I have been blessed by God.”

Though the committee pays her, Poojarti does not want to reveal the details of the payments. “Those who use the crematorium also pay me. The committee looks after me well. They trust me completely,” she said.

Many organisations in Udupi have recognized Poojarti’s service and have felicitated her and given her awards. She has two daughters, who are married, and her son works as an autorickshaw driver. “I have four grandchildren, what more could I have asked for,” she said.

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