Her day began at 6 a.m. at the Muthukalipatti Crematorium in Rasipuram.

She had kept everything ready – firewood, dried cow dung, kerosene, water. The body arrived and she waited there till the it is reduced to ashes.

R. Chinnamma (65), after spending nearly 40 years as an undertaker, is yet to call it a day.

Because the Rs. 150 or so she gets for the job keeps her going.

“When my husband died leaving behind two children aged 4 and 1, I did not know what to do. I tried to find a job. What job an illiterate will get? I even tried my hand at unloading stones, and sand from trucks for a meagre 75 paise a load. It was then my own relatives who were working at a crematorium asked me to join them. I immediately agreed to it,” says Chinnamma.

Thus began the new life of an young widow – among the dead.

“The wage was slightly better at Rs. 2 or Rs. 3 a body,” she says.

It was not an easy job. “The fear of spirits, the stigma attached to undertakers, harassment from drunkards… I survived all,” she says with pride.

She has inspired more women to take up the job. In the last ten years at least five more women have taken up the job of undertaker – Vellaiamma (70), Ramamma (58), Rachumi (64), Mariamma (53) and Chellamma (60).

Chinnamma says the money was not sufficient enough to provide education to her children but was enough to provide food for them.

Why not try MGNREGS?

“No, it’s not possible,” she says. “Who will give a job to an undertaker? I am not eligible to work under the scheme,” she says.

“I have now got used to see corpses – those who have died in accidents, those who have consumed poison, those who have hanged themselves to death, and those who had had a natural death. Sometimes I too cry along with the relatives of the deceased. Especially when it is an young widow. Because I know how difficult life is for a young widow.”

And of course, Chinnamma is not aware of the importance of the day.