Saturday, 14 March 2009


As simple as writing a name plate. But he generally does it on stony surfaces. Thats what he told me when I happened to visit him in his canvas shanty.

Victor the Epitaph writer was unkempt, fully stubbled, with a half torn shirt pocket that held a few beedis, spectacles with one of its legs broken and latched to the rest with a string, shrivelled skin, dried twig like legs ending in slippers that again were repaired and operated upon using strings, plasters, stitches etc. Just like many of them, run down old men, you would have found on the streets.

"I dont know if they are true, but I write them all the same. After all writing good things is good isnt it? and it pays too" - he said about the epitaphs he writes.

"How did you happen to be in this proffession"? (I kick start my interview since Iam covering the epitaph writer during the lunch break and I work for a bank and not for a magazine)

"My father was a grave digger. I left that to my cousin. I took up the more literary side of it" - he says, as he finishes engraving- ' John who was the best of 'em all - 1925- 2009' (Obviously on of the best, after all he lasted for quite a while- I thought about John)

Chip chip chip....A few chiselled stone pieces found their way inside my shoes, much to my irritation and stopped me from contemplating further on John's longevity.

"How much do you get paid"? I enquire
"Its like a telegram, lengthier the message, the more expensive it is". He replied.

"But on an average?" - I bring my banking skills in to it.

"Around Rs.500/-" he said. (Not bad.....not bad at all....for chipping away on a stone) (and again for the oversees reader, Rs. 500/- is around 10 US $ )

"See its all about their attachment to the deceased and ofcourse the depth of their pockets. The latter atleast is in sufficient measure in this area" - he clarifies as if in answer to my thoughts.

"How many epitaphs do you do per day". Me again.

"3-4 per week not more. What with many discontinuing the practice , or getting it done from some other engraver cheaply. I Should be starting that ' ek pe ek free' I guess" (again for my countless overseas followers 'ek pe ek free' means 'one free on buying one'- a special scheme going on in India now a days on almost every imaginable item) He rues the recession the epitaph business has come in to.

"The expenses are mounting on one side...." he continued.

"That reminds me , what do your children do?"

"Got a son. He married a Goan and is running a joint there on the beach.
No epitaph, shipitaph...for him.....and he left home long back".
"Others in the family..wife....?"
"She lies there...".He points his finger. "Again no epitaphs for her either....I couldnt bring myself to write something. Iam near her always atleast". He had stopped chiseling and looked forlornly at a corner of the cemetry.
"The mounting expenses that you were mentioning...?" I asked , not quite getting it.
"What other vices for an old man , other than liquor" - he laughs at me, through the two missing incisors.
I should have guessed so much from his red, bulgy veined, eyes.
"As a writer I make lots of cock and bull stories about nothing" - I explained, "Do you feel the same applies to the epitaphs"?- I point to 'John who was the best of 'em all'.
"With the exception of a very few, mostly all are a facade I guess, atleast it would seem so from the way people vanish forever from the grave after the epitaphs and the final prayers are over. They too are busy people afterall". His face sort of oozed the futility, false hood and repetitiveness of life.

"Which was the funniest of 'em all - of all the epitaphs I mean"?

"Cant say which is the best but there is a good one out there"

He takes me to far side of the grave yard , a few meters away from the creek. There it was engraved "Jacob who did nothing good till he died- 1935-2003"

In danger of over shooting my lunch break I say a quick good bye , handing him a full pack of cigarettes, and whilst he grins I shuffle off to my work. I made him promise to call me if he comes across even funnier one liners.

I move on to other subject for my blog - a frog which croaks outside my window, the mad lady with the crocodile teeth, the three men who dissappeared while they went for a stroll (mystery blog) and like wise...

I dropped down to visit him on my way to the block buster film - "Pyar kiya toh karna kya" (English men may read this as "what to do when you are in love") . By the way there are lots of good hindi films being made now a days. A real learning experience for you all.

Victor was not there. A young fellow was chiselling away. I enquired about victor. He kept silent and took me to that far end near the creek and pointed at a grave stone.

"Buried under the weight of my profession, Victor 1940- 2009".

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