Digging graves to stay alive
By Saher Baloch
One of the oldest graveyards in Karachi, Mewashah has started resembling the metropolis itself. The crowded alleys lined with crammed graves instantly reminds one of the many such localities in the city. In the silence of Mewashah Qabristan, which is broken once in a while by the rumble of a passing motorcycle, lives Abdul Samad Baloch who has been living in the graveyard for the past 15 years.

Anonymous in death
By Rabia Ali
What is handwritten on a wooden placard and placed in the middle of a ground is the number 70943. The number does not lead to an address of a house or a shop. Instead, it is the sole identity of an unrecognised person buried under the huge debris of mud.

Rest in comfort
By Meena Ahmed
During a recent visit to the Tariq Road Graveyard, Haider, a middle-aged car dealer, was taken aback at the ostentatious nature of a grave.
The room was ornately decorated, with lights, fans and other comforts. Some fruits had also been laid out for the deceased on the grave. When Haider inquired from a man sitting in the room about why he was reciting prayers with such dedication, the man calmly replied, "The deceased did a lot for us, and there was no way we could pay him back except providing him comfort after his death."

Misdeeds in the neighbourhood of the dead
By Naimat Haider
When the sun sets and people stop visiting their dead relatives, Mewashah, the largest graveyard in the city, becomes a safe haven for the thieves, drug addicts and criminals of the metropolis.
Although scary at night, the 10km vicinity of sombreness and Neem trees in the neighbourhood of the dead provides a perfect shelter to those who wish to do everything that is illegal.

 

By Zeeshan Azmat

Almost 28 major graveyards in Karachi have "officially" been shut, but burials continue to take place in these cemeteries despite little or no space available. The city and its population have swelled exponentially in recent times, but the only "spots" that are "available" in many of the city's cemeteries are plots where someone else was buried, or the low-lying areas that are inundated every time it pours.

"There are 169 graveyards in Karachi which fall under the jurisdictions of the City District Government Karachi (CDGK), with the Mehwashah Graveyard being the oldest one in the city . Around 19 cemeteries belong to different minority communities," Graveyards Assistant District Officer (ADO) Mehmood Alam Siddiqui told Kolachi.

"During the tenure of Mustafa Kamal, the CDGK had to officially close down a few graveyards in the city as these were filled beyond their full capacity. Alternate cemeteries were identified, and a notification was also issued. The administrator or union council Nazim of the area where a graveyard is located acts as the chairperson of that particular graveyard's affairs, and he should take serious measures to act in accordance with CDGK's directives," Siddiqui said.

In the absence of effective implementation of law, undertakers and gravediggers utilise bury new corpses in old graves, allege many visitors to different cemeteries. As the tale goes, this usually happens in a case when the family of a deceased stop visiting. Undertakers maintain a record of visitors to the cemetery, and the frequency with which they visit. When they find that relatives' visits have stopped, they remove any remains of a body before marking a grave as vacant space.

Gridlocked graves

A survey carried out by Kolachi of various graveyards in the city revealed that in most cemeteries, there is no adequate spacing between graves, nor is there any particular arrangement or order of how these graves are place. Proper space to walk around is also almost non-existent.

The resultant congestion can be disrespectful for many. "The most sensitive issue is crossing a grave without putting a foot on it," said Abdullah, a visitor to the Sakhi Hasan Graveyard. "It is next to impossible, as many graves are on ground level, and at first glance, do not appear to be proper graves," he explained.

Monsoon woes

During the survey, Kolachi learnt that none of the graveyards in the city are paved or have any green or concrete covering. This leads to water logging in many graveyards during the monsoon season, and most graves become inaccessible.

"I visited my grandparents' graves in Yassenabad Graveyard soon after the Phet rains, and witnessed that rainwater had created big holes on the top of the grave, and mud was seeping from the top and sides inside the grave. My father then ordered the gravedigger to put sand and cover the grave properly," said Hamza, who was standing besides his grandmother's grave.

Hamza also narrated walking into the cemetery was quite cumbersome, as accumulated rainwater had covered most of the pathway. "Even though there is no proper walkway in the graveyard, people used to follow the trails left by others' footsteps. Even they were washed away," he said.

During the rain season, and especially at night, visit to the cemetery are never easy, Hamza continued, complaining that there was no standard size for graves, and different sized ones were placed next to each other. Abdullah also added that wild bushes, untrimmed trees and plants also create problems for passers-by in the graveyards.

Fareed Masih, a regular visitor to the Christian Cemetery, told Kolachi that after the recent rains, the level of stagnant water was greater than one-foot-high. This situation made it impossible to enter the cemetery, while funerals were also affected a great deal. He also said that overflow of the nearby sewerage system also mixed with stagnant water at the cemetery.

The stagnant water also creates a host of problems for gravediggers, who argue that during the rains, water raises above ground-level, which creates difficulties in digging a new grave. "There is always a chance that rainwater would seep into the newly-dug grave," an experienced gravedigger at the Tariq Road Graveyard said.

'Safai Nisf Iman Hai'

The pathetic condition of graveyards in the city is made worse by the absence of any measures to maintain and keep cemeteries clean. Plastic bags used for carrying rose petals, garlands and even perfume are mostly dumped in graveyard premises by visitors, while solid waste material dumped by people of adjoining neighbourhoods compound the situation. Due to the accumulated garbage, the open drainage system or running nullahs also fail to clear stagnant water.

While ADO Siddiqui told Kolachi that town administrations are responsible for carrying cleanliness drives in graveyards, and the chairman of a particular cemetery should play his due role in this regard, such talk may only be academic. The authorities concerned do conduct cleanliness drives in graveyards, but such exercises are not carried out on a regular basis. Water logging due to recent rainfalls has already damaged hundreds of graves in the Paposh Nagar, Sakhi Hasan, Milk Plant or Essa Nagri, Liaquatabad, Shanti Nagar and other cemeteries, and the absence of regular maintenance provides a part of the explanation for this.

A recently-held general body meeting of the Bazaar Area residents of Malir Cantonment expressed serious complaints about the maintenance and cleanliness of the decades-old civilian graveyards in the cantonment. Residents were of the view that their representative committee and the cantonment board have been ignoring their obligations regarding proper upkeep and protection of the historic cemeteries.

Meanwhile, a visit to the Gizri Graveyard showed that the cemetery was in better shape when compared with others in the city. The graveyard is not only clean, but there was also adequate spacing between graves.

House Full

ADO Siddiqui told Kolachi that no one is allowed to purchase a plot(s) in advance in any graveyard of the city unless their applications go through a proper "process."

"If anyone is interested in buying grave space or a piece of land for their family, he should write an application to the executive district officer of municipal services or the Graveyards ADO for permission," Siddiqui added.

"If the authority concerned approves any application, then the interested person would have to submit a challan to complete the legal procedure. However, it is not necessary that authority concerned entertains such requests, but no prior allocation can be authorised without this process," he added.

Where to bury?

In the past, there was no database of graveyards and the number of graves in the city, ADO Siddiqui told Kolachi. "It took almost six to seven months to conduct a survey of the city, and our teams visited all graveyards to build a record of cemeteries. Mewashah Graveyard is the oldest cemetery of the city, while graveyards in Gulshan-e-Maymar and Surjani are the newest ones," he said.

Siddiqui said that citizens are advised to use Muhammad Shah Graveyard instead of the Paposh Nagar and Sakhi Hasan cemeteries. Similarly, the graveyard in Sher Pao Colony, Landhi should be used as the alternate for the Korangi No. 6 graveyard, while Mansera Graveyard, situated near Steel Mills, should be used rather than the National Highway Graveyard.

Similarly, both the old and new cemeteries in Model Colony are filled to capacity, and citizens should use the Jamia Millia Cemetery. The Tariq Road Cemetery is also fully occupied, and citizens should make use of Azam Basti Graveyard, Siddiqui said. Furthermore, the Shah Faisal Cemetery located at the Colony Gate on main Shahrea Faisal, as well as the Mewashah, Saudabad, and Malir graveyards are officially closed.

According to the local staff at the Milk Plant or Essa Nagri Cemetery, located on main Sir Shah Suleman Road, is also said to be closed for further burials. However, the Graveyard ADO denied the closure of this cemetery, and said that its name was not placed in the CDGK notification. "This means that bodies can be buried with ease at the Milk Plant Graveyard," he said.

Yaseenabad Graveyard is also closed for further burials, while a portion referred to as the "Martyrs' Graveyard" has also been shut as many slain activists of Muttahida Qaumi Movement have been laid to rest in this section of the cemetery.

Meanwhile, family graveyards present in various cemeteries are mostly operated under the supervision of different communities. Ramzani, a visitor to the Muhammad Shah Graveyard in North Karachi, told Kolachi. "The Godhra Muslim Anjuman (community) purchased a huge tract of land at the graveyard, for which our community members donated huge sums of money," he explained.

On its part, the CDGK has applied for allocation of land for the development of new graveyards in the city. As per recommendations of the local government, the authorities concerned are interested in procuring lands in Deh Maan Lyari of Keamari Town, Altaf Nagar of Orangi Town, Gadap and Bin Qasim Town. However, the Graveyards ADO did not have comprehensive information on the matter.

 

Digging graves to stay alive

By Saher Baloch

One of the oldest graveyards in Karachi, Mewashah has started resembling the metropolis itself. The crowded alleys lined with crammed graves instantly reminds one of the many such localities in the city. In the silence of Mewashah Qabristan, which is broken once in a while by the rumble of a passing motorcycle, lives Abdul Samad Baloch who has been living in the graveyard for the past 15 years.

Abdul Samad, who looks a bit tough on first appearance, is a surprisingly humorous fellow. Talking about how he came to live among the dead, he says that he once dug a grave just as a favour to his old neighbours. "They were really poor and I thought I would help them out. I did not know then that this would ultimately become my profession," he said sadly, while the gatekeeper, who was standing nearby laughed openly at him. From that time on, Abdul Samad was made responsible for the job of digging graves at one of Mewashah's sprawling sections.

Sharing his first experience of getting deep down in a grave, he said that it was the most overwhelming experience of his life and he was out before he got nauseous. "It is all silent inside and once out, I said a prayer for forgiveness." Eventually, the job became a routine for him, and he got the responsibility of working from early in the morning till the wee hours of the night. As he had to change buses to reach to the graveyard, he soon began thinking of moving to the graveyard.

His only worry was how he would persuade his wife-to-be to shift to the graveyard with him once he got married. "Thankfully, her family agreed because otherwise we had no place to go," he said. When asked if she ever complained of hearing voices at night, he said unlike him she is quite tough and prays a lot, "so maybe that saved her too," he adds smiling. To make the place look lively, Abdul Samad said he has kept a goat and a few chickens for his family so that they did not lock themselves indoors and came out more often from their small hut.

Not interested in digging graves initially, the 40-year-old took heart from the fact that he would be paid Rs 3,000 a month. But after a month, he had to go after people to collect his salary. The rich and wealthy have their family members buried at Mewashah as well, and as they cannot visit the graveyard every other day, some of the men in the graveyard are made responsible to take care of the graves. This way many of the gravediggers earn extra money but Abdul Samad said it is not worth the effort. "Even if I do earn something, it is invested in getting basic things for my home in a period of rising costs."

When asked what he actually wanted to be, he replied instantly and said he wanted to be a truck driver. "At least you get a chance to visit new places and at the same time get paid every month, unlike here where you have to wait for months before you get paid," said Abdul Samad, pouring out his woes.

He said before he was hired, three gravediggers had died after reaching the ripe old ages ages of 85 to 90. "So far I am the youngest gravedigger around here and that is why I want to try my luck somewhere else while I still have time."

Before he could proceed with his story, a few men entered the cemetery looking for their loved one's grave with one of them complaining loudly they could not find it. The matter was solved in a few minutes as the family realised they had come to the wrong section of the graveyard.

Laughing, Abdul Samad said that he always comes across people who do not know where their loved ones are buried. "The cemetery is getting larger every day and we do not have enough space for new burials," he said, adding that in such cases it takes a day to find old graves unless someone remembers a landmark or something.

"Otherwise, they should try shouting and maybe a hand will shoot up from a grave telling them where their loved one is located," he suggests, laughing out loud at his macabre sense of humour.

 

 

Anonymous in death

By Rabia Ali

What is handwritten on a wooden placard and placed in the middle of a ground is the number 70943. The number does not lead to an address of a house or a shop. Instead, it is the sole identity of an unrecognised person buried under the huge debris of mud.

At the Edhi Graveyard for 'Lawaris' people, the numbers allotted to unidentified bodies are the only mark to distinguish one grave from another. Their identity remains unknown and they lay buried without any visitors and without any tombstones.

Qamar Pervez, Information In-charge of the Edhi Foundation told Kolachi that the graveyard was built in 1985 by Abdul Sattar Edhi, a prominent social worker of the country. The graveyard has been built to accommodate the bodies which remain unidentified. "There was no resting place for unidentified bodies before this graveyard was built. No one owned such bodies," he said.

Away from the hustle-bustle of the metropolis, the Edhi graveyard spreading over a land of 10 acres is located in the Moach Goth area. Wild and untrimmed grass, thorny trees and dusty ground surround the graveyard. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene as only the sound of whirling wind can be heard.

A family of five men and a woman looks after the graveyard, which is home to over 70,000 unknown bodies. "The graveyard is my home. We have been digging graves and tending to the graves since its establishment. My sons have spent all their childhood here, playing amongst the dirt and I have grown older looking after the graves. I will keep working here till my last breath," said the elderly Jan Bibi while sprinkling water on a grave.

After a dead body is received at the Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth, it is kept there for three to four days with the hope that the family members might show up. If this does not happen, a photograph of the body is taken and it is allotted a number which remains its only identity. The body is then wrapped in a white shroud and packed in a plastic covering before being brought to the graveyard.

"I feel extremely sad burying the bodies which are unrecognised. No one comes to visit the graveyard except once a year at the night of Shab-e-Barat when people visit the graveyard, burn incense sticks, pour water on the graves, lay floral wreaths and pray," said Nadeem, a gravedigger.

He said that digging of graves is a difficult task as it takes up to two days to dig a single grave. The hardened land is first softened by water. People from all sects, genders and from different religions are buried at the graveyard. "Hindus, Christians and others are also resting here."

Jan Bibi, who previously worked in the Mewashah graveyard, told Kolachi that a majority of the bodies are entirely damaged. "We have received coffins with just bones. Some bodies were slaughtered into pieces."

Jan Bibi makes this observation while holding the white shroud. "I never look at the body inside the coffin. Once I opened the plastic covering and saw two bodies of dacoits. One had a bullet in his mouth; the other's skull was damaged. I was so terrified that I promised not to look at bodies again," she said.

Meanwhile, in the graveyard, there is a separate area where children are buried. Showing the graves, another gravedigger, Nazeer, said that "the graves belong to the newborn children who are found in garbage bins or other places dumped by their parents."

The caretakers stay there from seven in the morning till seven in the evening. "We leave the graveyard at night and go to our house which is located nearby."

According to Jan Bibi, they do not visit the graveyard at noon or midnight. "It is said that voices are heard from the graves; therefore, we do not visit them during these hours. Once I did not take notice of the time, and went to sprinkle water at noon when I heard a voice coming from inside a grave, screaming for help. Hearing the screams, I rushed back home."

The caretakers are the only ones who perform the burial rituals, offering the Namaz-e-Janaza and other formalities. "By working here, we are reminded that one day, we all have to face death and go in to the mud, taking nothing with us except our deeds. The materialistic things become insignificant while being here and we keep on thinking about our afterlife," Jan Bibi said with a smile.

 

 

Rest in comfort

By Meena Ahmed

During a recent visit to the Tariq Road Graveyard, Haider, a middle-aged car dealer, was taken aback at the ostentatious nature of a grave.

The room was ornately decorated, with lights, fans and other comforts. Some fruits had also been laid out for the deceased on the grave. When Haider inquired from a man sitting in the room about why he was reciting prayers with such dedication, the man calmly replied, "The deceased did a lot for us, and there was no way we could pay him back except providing him comfort after his death."

Many believe that providing comfort to a dear departed can be achieved by building an extravagant, marbled grave with fancy gravestones and roof sheltering. Fixing fancy lights and fans, as well as decorating the grave with artificial flowers and some other decorations is also a regular feature. Every local cemetery holds at least a few graves with extraordinary decoration.

One such case is the grave of Tehmina Taji or Taji Appa, in the Society Graveyard. The grave is covered with sheets while a four-pillared canopy covers the grave.

The caretaker of the cemetery, Khaleel, told Kolachi that no one comes to visit Taji Appa's grave any more, but the fancy lights, fans and marbled tombs are still well-maintained.

When asked if fans and lights are fixed for the comfort of visitors or for the benefit of the deceased, Khaleel said that Taji Appa's son has created the comfortable environment for his mother, but his last visit to the grave was some time ago.

Another ornate grave at Essa Nagri necropolis, also known as Mano Goth cemetery, stands out the most. A huge box with a white gaudily decorated pyramid on top is a grave which belongs to Shujat Ali Hashim, one of the followers of Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti.

One of the followers of Hashim, Mujahid Hussain Siddiqui, who left his contact number written on a piece of paper glued to the back of the grave, told Kolachi that they make regular visits to decorate the resting place.

"Just a few days ago, we came to wash the grave and also put sprayed some perfume on it and covered it with a new fancy cloth piece."

When asked what influence this would have on the deceased's life, Siddiqui replied, "Such good people never die. They live forever. This is what we do for them in return to what they have done for us in their lives". He adds that "decorating the grave is just one way of paying homage to his memory. In addition, we arrange Qawwalis and Quran Khawanis. And our belief that he is alive is borne out by the fact that a lot of people feel his presence during these events."

Similar decorations exist at the mausoleum of Khawaja Qambar Ali Shah and his relatives, who were followers of Khawaja Ghareeb Nawaz.

One of the most important aspects of new graves is the gravestone. The common practice is that a stonecutter shows a range of samples to his customers, who then settle on the writing style and font size for the text to be inscribed on the gravestone.

The size of gravestone also varies, while some customers ask for some design to be drawn on a tombstone. "It differs from customer to customer insofar as their requirement of quality of marble, text etc. These factors affect the cost of the product," Manzoor Hussain, a stonecutter, told Kolachi.

Hussain, who has been in the gravestone business for the past 12 years at Essa Nagri (Mannoo Goth) Graveyard, explained that on average, it takes 10 to 15 days for a marble grave to be finished. The time period for completing the task also depends on the number of slates added to each grave, with the idea being to add height to it.

"Many people want a marbled grave, but most ask for one to be constructed after Chehlum proceedings are over," Hussain said.

The cost of each marbled grave varies on

the type of the material that is being used, but the cost varies between Rs8, 000 and Rs10, 000. The cost of a gravestone starts at Rs200, but it can go up to Rs700.

 

Misdeeds in the neighbourhood of the dead

By Naimat Haider

When the sun sets and people stop visiting their dead relatives, Mewashah, the largest graveyard in the city, becomes a safe haven for the thieves, drug addicts and criminals of the metropolis.

Although scary at night, the 10km vicinity of sombreness and Neem trees in the neighbourhood of the dead provides a perfect shelter to those who wish to do everything that is illegal.

"Thieves take away any worthy thing they find on the graves," 60-year-old Maryam, who has been selling flowers, incense and rosewater at the cemetery since her childhood, told Kolachi. "The iron gates of tombs are usually stolen. Even the tombstones are not spared." She added that some of the rich families have deputed chokidars at the tombs of their loved ones so that the iron gates and other valuables on the graves are not stolen.

The elderly woman, despite living near the graveyard, says she has never spent time at the cemetery at night except on Shab-e-Barat, an occasion when there is rush at the burial ground throughout the night. She adds that the dead silence and darkness at the graveyard is enough to scare a person to death.

"I don't know it's the greed or poverty that forces people (thieves and criminals) to come here to rob the dead of their possessions," Maryam said. "Some people even come at Mewashah in the middle of night just to smoke charas," she laughed.

However, those who cannot live without smoking charas in the silence of the graveyard or the ones who find it amusing to rob the dead are not the only visitors of the city's biggest burial place. One Yaqoob Baloch, a MBA student, used to go to the place at night just to talk to his girlfriend on phone. "I used to go there (Mewashah) at night because it was silent and no one would disturb us," he told Kolachi.

Sadly, Baloch's peace was snatched one night when four armed men interrupted him while he was sitting under a tree at Mewashah and talking on the phone. "When I saw the armed men, I thought that they would snatch my cell phone. But they were not interested in the little gadget. Instead, they warned me not to visit the cemetery again, not at night at least."

Illegal and unusual activities are not only limited to the Mewashah graveyard. There are cemeteries even in the posh areas of the city where such incidents occur.

"I saw two men carrying two voodoo dolls, two photographs, one of which was of an Arab's, and a partially burnt clay pot," said one teenaged boy, who is one of the caretakers at a graveyard in DHA Phase-1. "Then the men dug a grave, put the dolls, photos and the clay pot in it, and buried them."

The caretaker, who has been hired by a rich family to look after the graves of their dear ones, said he witnesses unusual happenings, such as the one mentioned above, at the graveyard on a routine basis. Pointing towards a tree, he said he finds a new piece of cloth tied with its

branches every morning he arrives at the cemetery. "What happens here during the night is vague, but I'm dead sure about one thing that a lot of unusual things

happen here," he added, as he showed Kolachi a bundle of long pieces of human hair on a grave.

 

 

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