Research for CBC Cremation Documentary

Nandlal called me to ask about Doams (people who work at cremation place) in Varanasi. He told me that his friend is in Varanasi nowadays and wants to make a documentary about Doam’s life. Since I live near the Ghats and I have lots of friends who live along the ghats, it was easy for me get information about Doams. He met me at Assi Ghat and we went to all the hotels nearby because he didn’t know at which hotel his friend was staying. We went to over 10 hotels near Assi but couldn’t find him. Finally I took him to a hotel which was near the Assi ghat and fortunately found his friend there. I asked him about his job and he said that he was as a freelance journalist. He used to work for BBC but left the job few years ago. At present he was working for a CBC’s documentary called Myths and Might.

His job was to look for the right characters, schedule appointment for interviews and get legal permission. Since he didn’t know anyone in Varanasi he wanted my help to find him the right characters. He was looking for a young doam character whose father still works at funeral place and the character goes for computer classes or have some computer related job. They wanted to show how Indian was changing. I took him to Manikarnika ghat (funeral ghat) because I knew few people there. I got him meet over 10 people. Everybody wanted to be involved with us. We met few people who had wood shop at funeral place. They told us to come next day. Then I met my few other friends who live near the Manikarnika ghat and asked them about doams. I was shocked to hear that doams still have a king. They said that we cant do anything without his permission. It was getting darker now, so, we decided to get back to home and do some more research.

Next day we left home early morning and went to Manikarnika ghat again. We met met a lot of new people who work at funeral place and asked if their son go to school. It was again a shocking thing for me when I didnt hear anyone saying that their son go to school. We talked to over 15 people but couldn’t find anyone whose son or daughter was going to school. Then we went to Harishchandra Ghat, another funeral ghat, and talked to a lot of people. We met a 55 years old person who works at Electric Burner at Harishchandra Ghat and his son was having a job in Reliance Money. We went to his home, met his family, talked them and told them about CBC’s project. They got agree to be part of this documentary.

They said that their son Raja Babu, our character, has a LLB degree from Banaras Hindu University. And now he works for Reliance Money as Area Manager. This is the kind of character we were looking for. They said that after he had completed his 5th class no school was agree to take him because Doams are still considered as untouchables in society. His father used to be a rickshaw driver and would make about Rs. 50-75 a day and it was so hard for him to take care of his family with that much money but he still wanted to send his children to schools. Since no school was agree to take Raja Babu in he stopped going to school but never stopped his studies, he continued his studies by his own.

After few months Raja Babu started working at Doctor’s clinic as a helper. This doctor helped Raja Babu a lot. He used to teach Raja Babu, train him about medicines and give some money also. Once a dead body of a very rich and respected person from Varanasi came to Harishchandra Ghat to get cremated and fortunately it was Raja Babu uncle’s turn to work there. When a body is cremated, family can not burn the body by their own source of fire, they have to ask a Doam to bring them fire from cremation place God, Shiva, temple and doams ask for money to do that. But this time Raja Babu’s uncle asked for admissions of Raja Babu in a school instead of money and that family had to promise them to get Raja Babu in a school.

So this is how Raja Babu got opportunity to go to school again. He got admission in Bengali Tola Inter College, Varanasi and passed 12th class from there.Raja Babu had hard time in school with other kids because nobody would treat him well. After completing 12th class Raja Babu applied for B.A. degree from BHU and got admission. So finally he completed B.A. , M.A. and LLB from BHU. After completing LLB he worked for a American NGO called Cash for India in Gazipur district as accountant. After two years he left the job and joined Reliance Money. This was amazing character for us, so, we decided to choose him.

Next day we went to Doam Raja (king of Doam society) home. He was so fat that he couldn’t walk properly. We went to meet him inside his home and it was not a normal home. They cook the food by burning the woods that are left after cremating a body. His house had strange smell. He had cows, goats, dogs and a huge family with more than 10 kids and two brothers and everybody was living in the same house. It was 8’o clock morning time when we reached his home and Doam Raja was completely drunk, all time all alcohol. He was sitting at his bed and told us to sit on a bed in front of him. I saw few pieces of meat and blood under his bed. It seems that he eats raw meat and drink alcohol early morning.

We described him about CBC’s project and he gave us consent to shoot at Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghat. Then we went to his roof and saw statues of two tigers. It was funny to see those at someone’s roof. There was a story related to those tigers also. People say that Doam Raja and King of Benares were never ever friends. Doam Raja got a Tiger’s statue built at his roof. The statue was facing towards Maharaja’s palace which Maharaja didn’t like at all so sued Doam Raja in court of Benares. Finally this case was ended with the judgment of court saying Doam Raja to either knock down that statue or built another one that has its face at opposite direction of first one. So he got another statue built that a its face at opposite direction of the first one.

Now CBC guy had got everything he wanted, like he had all the characters, permission from Doam Raja, permission from city government etc…………….

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