Kashmir's only government autopsy expert has handled more than 11,000 bodies during 13 years of separatist conflict, but says the distress of dealing with the dead does not diminish over time.
Mohammed Maqbool, 45, used to deal with a few cases of suicide or murder until the outbreak of a violent Muslim insurgency in the Himalayan state in 1989 which has claimed more than 35,000 lives according to government figures.
Maqbool is the only autopsy expert available to the government in Kashmir as more qualified people do not want to be associated with what they see as such a depressing job.
His job is to open up bodies, discover the cause of death and even join up dismembered body parts blown-up during explosions.
"I have separated mingled bodies and dressed them in a manner that it does not scare their relatives," he said.
Eight to 10 people are killed in Kashmir each day and Maqbool, who lives in a small two-room house, is constantly on call to go to the state-run mortuary in the state summer capital Srinagar.
He says he has worked on all kinds of bodies -- militants, members of the security forces and civilians -- men, women and children.
He once found a living man under a pile of dead corpses.
"It was by chance, I felt his pulse and to my shock he was breathing. We pulled him from under the pile of seven bodies and took him to a neighbouring hospital," he said, adding the man survived.
Maqbool, who has no medical qualifications other than a course in nursing, began working in the mortuary nearly 25 years ago.
He vividly remembers his first autopsy on the body of a militant, Aijaz Dar, who died early in the insurgency during a police encounter in 1989.
"Since then I have handled nearly 11,000 bodies," he said.
Maqbool, who is married and has three grown-up children, two sons and a daughter, says he is sick of his job.
"I would readily quit my job, if there was some alternative available," he said.
"My job is a curse but I can't do anything as no one else is willing to take up the assignment.
"I am stone-hearted while working on a body. It seems I lose all emotion."
He often takes tranquilisers to get to sleep after working on bodies.
He remembers how he had to separate the mingled bodies of three young children who had died in a mine-explosion in the early years of trouble.
"My hands started trembling. My scalpel didn't work. Their open eyes were staring at me, as if trying to tell me something.
"Anyhow I managed to separate them with the help of my assistant, who was himself in tears."
Everytime he has to work on the body of a child, he says cannot eat and has to take a double dose of tranquilisers in order to get to sleep.
Maqbool said the flow of bodies into the mortuary had dropped "considerably" since the January 12 landmark speech of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf during which he vowed to crack down against extremist groups, including those active in Kashmir.
India says that Pakistan arms, funds and trains Islamic militant groups battling New Delhi's rule in Indian-Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.
"Since January 12 I have worked on very few bodies," Maqbool said.
"It is good. I pray for the time when there will be no bodies coming to this mortuary."
Maqbook is paid a monthly salary of 5,000 rupees (106 dollars) by the government and receives nothing for working overtime.
"The tragedy is that the government has not provided me any telephone," he says.
"So whenever I have to be called for a night assignment the cops knock at my door disturbing my family and neighbours.
"My family is sick of me now but what can I do? This is my only source of income."
Published in HidustanTimes