Island News

Ashok Kumar takes on deadly challenge

Written By : WAME BAUTOLU. For Hindus, it’s considered a bad karma when you are driving and a black cat crosses your path. Amongst other things it is also considered
02 Aug 2008 12:00

image Written By : WAME BAUTOLU. For Hindus, it’s considered a bad karma when you are driving and a black cat crosses your path.
Amongst other things it is also considered to be a bad karma to bring children to the cremation area where loved ones are usually burned.
Children are most venerable to evil spirits and due to this belief they are being kept away from such place.
But what many consider to be a bad karma has brought about joy to Ashok Kumar and his family.
Mr Kumar is a crematorium caretaker at Wailoaloa, Nadi and for seven years he has lived with wife and two children in the same compound where many bodies are being burned.
The 40-year-old said being a caretaker was the biggest break for him and his family after he was approached for job seven years back.
“I use to cut sugar cane and was doing that for 22 long years. I never owned any sugar cane farm and I use to go around from farm to farm asking if I could cut sugar cane for them. So 22 years I have been going around from Nadi to Lautoka looking for work in sugar cane farms,” Mr Kumar said.
Cutting sugar cane was never an easy task as the western weather can take a whole lot of energy out of you.
“Back then I use get paid in every three weeks and in three weeks I could get a minimum of $60.00 and could go as high as $100.00. Its hard work but I couldn’t complain because the money I earned was putting food on the table.”
One day his luck turned after he was approached by the Wailoaloa community members to look after the community cremation site as no one else dared to take up the offer.
He hesitated at first but after being told that he would occupy a house inside the compound, the 40-year-old cane farmer accepted the offer.
“I use to go around looking around for work and all those time I use to take my family here to there living with our relatives. When this opportunity came up, all my belief in bad karma had disappeared because I knew I had to be strong for my family’s sake,” Mr Kumar said.
The first week was quite hard for his family and Mr Kumar had to remind them of the struggle they had to go through and as time passed they became used to living near a cremation site.
When Island Life caught up with the 40-year-old at his Wailoaloa home, he was getting ready for a cremation ceremony and he didn’t hesitate to tell his side of the story while waiting for the body to arrive.
Just 20 meters from the cremation area is Mr Kumar’s home and just below the windows he carefully plants artificial colorful flowers.
Mr Kumar said he got his flowers from the coffins left behind by the deceased relatives and throwing them away would be a waste.
The colorful artificial flowers brings about life to the cremation compound and beside the flowers lie two of Mr Kumar’s dogs who don’t have a care in the world of people who pass them by.
According to Mr Kumar, his two pet dogs lie around sleeping whole day and in the night they wonder around guarding the entire compound.
“My children play outside when they like and at night they are not afraid to go out. When we first moved in here there was hardly any movement at night and our relatives visiting us would leave before dark.”
Now Mr Kumar said his family and their relatives are used to the fact of them living within the cremation area and some of them visiting could now sleep over for a night or two.
“Many people claim they believe evil spirits live within the compound and considered living here as bad luck. So far I have never seen any spirit or devil or whatever, only my two dogs roaming around at night.”
Not only has the father of two’s luck turned with his current job, he is now his own boss and does his everyday work at his own pace.
He wakes up at 5.00am every morning, has a hot cup of tea before raking the entire compound which takes him almost two hours.
Before the sun rises, the entire compound would be clean and Mr Kumar would be helping his two children get ready for school.
“When my children leave for school, I usually look for things to do to make the compound look more beautiful like trimming the trees or trying to plant flowers,” Mr Kumar said.
At times Mr Kumar can attend to three or four funerals in a day and sometimes it can be only four funerals in a week.
He usually sees that there are enough firewood for cremation and places his orders at the beginning of every month.
“I usually order more but it all depends on the number of funerals I have each month and at times I usually help families cremate their loved ones,” Mr Kumar said.
Ten years back, Mr Kumar would usually go around from farm to farm asking for cheap labor but now he has a roof over his head and today he is still thankful for everything he has.
“When I got this job I felt a bit hesitated because of supernatural beliefs but I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime and I had to go face my fears for the sake of my family. At times when I wake up I still can’t believe that I have a house to myself and a job which is taking care of me and my family.”
He admits that life is hard and everyone has to struggle to make ends met.
He recalls having to earn $50.00 a week but now he is earning more with a house to his name.
“Be satisfied with what you have and never lose hope. I was going around begging for work for 22 years trying to earn money for my family. Hard work surely pays off so don’t lose hope in struggling,” Mr Kumar said.
For now, the 40 year-old caretaker’s main aim is to see his two children get quality education so they could become something in life and Mr Kumar hopes to see this come true before his day comes.

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