The third kind: Death and his friends

“I used to accompany my father to work since I was a child. It was natural for me to follow in his footsteps.”

Shahzeb Ahmed August 16, 2014

Karachi. Most people fear death. Others run towards it screaming. And then there is a third kind: the ilk of Muhammad Arafat. 

This third kind walks hand in hand with death every day. So long has Arafat been associated with death that he has now embraced it as a close acquaintance. “It’s quite normal for me now: picking up the dead, bathing them and lowering them into the grave,” he says with a straight face. “It feels almost as normal as breathing and eating on most days.”

Muhammad Arafat has been working at the Edhi morgue for the past 25 years. Before him, his father used to work alongside Abdul Sattar Edhi at the same morgue. “I used to accompany my father to work since I was a child. It was natural for me to follow in his footsteps.”

Sometimes, however, Arafat feels the gravity of his work. “In our line of work, some experiences are bound to get to you,” he explains casually. “But if I don’t cater to these bodies, who will?” he asks, echoing the philosophy of the founder of the charity.

There have been times when Arafat has thought he has had enough. “There have been a couple of incidents when I said to myself: I need to get out of here.” These were the times when the city was especially violent.

“The people of Karachi are really strange,” he says with a quizzical look. “They don’t see who is at the receiving end of their gunfire. They don’t differentiate between the children, the aged or the ailing.”

For Arafat, however, each body must be shown due reverence and care. “This is God’s work that we do here,” he says. “It’s best we do it with all our heart.” He is paid Rs8,000 per month to wash the bodies and wrap them in a shroud.

For this amount, Arafat handles the dead, the decaying, the rotten and sometimes infested bodies. “I am grateful to Edhi Sahib for the job,” he says, his face finally arching into a smile.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2014.


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