'At Work' is a weekly column that takes a peak at people with unique professions, their living patterns and the changes the calling has seen in the years.

Driving slowly in “half clutch” position, as they call it, with grieving relatives and the body of someone dear to those persons inside the vehicle, could be an intense experience. But they do it day in and day out.

Drivers of funeral vans endure a lot of pain, disillusionment and stress doing what they do. However, it's task that not many would prefer to take up, the drivers observe.

As someone who has been in the profession for over 25 years, K. Ravi finds the entire process simply clinical now. Besides driving funeral vehicles, he is also trained to embalm bodies and make coffins.

“I feel there is nothing scary, unpleasant or unholy about a dead body. The person was, after all, alive earlier like you and me. Just because they stop breathing, it doesn't mean we have to be scared of the bodies,” says the 47 year old, employed with J Fenn & Co., one of the oldest undertakers in the city.

Admitting that his job is not easy, Mr. Ravi points to the challenges – from having to lift very heavy bodies to handling some relatives who might be drunk and demand that the vehicle be driven very fast or very slow, not worrying about the traffic on the road.

L. Deenadayalan, one of the partners of the firm, says this is one of those professions where the owners also have to get on to the field if need be.

“I have myself driven funeral vehicles many times. So I understand the difficulties,” he says, recalling instances of drivers suffering from severe pain in the left leg as they had to drive a long distance at a really slow speed, with the vehicle's clutch half-released.

Ravi still remembers the day former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran passed away. “I made the coffin for him, before another special coffin in sandalwood arrived.”

Round the clock

Such drivers are also on call round the clock. There is no concept of a lunch break, tea break or duty hours, observes R.K. Ramesh of A to Z Funeral Services.

“I feel only those with a strong heart can be here,” he says. There have been instances where these drivers have transported persons who were murdered, or members of the same family who were killed in an accident. “It can take an emotional toll on you. On some days, I can't eat after seeing a shattered spouse or a little child crying so much,” Ramesh adds.

All the same, they recognise it as their “duty” and carry on with their professional life. Ravi also emphasises the need to be sensitive to various religious sentiments.

“I believe people who die are like God,” he says, noting that he always has a sense of respect. “But the day my father passed away, for one moment, I was just shaken.”

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