The mortician & I

“No one should ever ask themselves that: why am I unhappy? The question carries within it the virus that will destroy everything. If we ask that question, it means we want to find out what makes us happy. If what makes us happy is different from what we have now, then we must either change once and for all or stay as we are, feeling even more unhappy.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Zahir

I have an ex-colleague whom I used to bother a lot whenever I needed to conduct photography sessions for my then-company’s annual report production. Let’s call this ex-colleague, Bala.

I used to work for a government board which regulates medicine, medical devices, the blood bank, forensic science testings and the mortuary. Every now and then, I would need fresh stock images for my annual reports production.

Bala worked as a laboratory technician to the resident forensic pathologists. Bala, in my brief conversation with him, would assist the forensic pathologists in the dissection of cadavers, weigh the organs and after all necessary procedures were completed, cleaned the mortuary. The smell of the disinfectant and its mixture of many other liquids chemical (and of course, the smell of death) would forever remain in my mind.

One thing that Bala shared with me would also remain with me for a very long time. He said, “If I weren’t born in India or to my parents, I would be a (sic) even better doctor than Dr XXX.”

That was in 2004. I was a year into my first job. I was angry with my parents because I could not continue with my higher education (they couldn’t afford it because I wanted to study in Australia then and I have two younger brothers who were still in school.) There I was – all too sure that it was a lost opportunity for me because damn, I was too good to not continue studying. Bala, in his mortician scrub, knocked me into my senses.

I may not be able to continue with my overseas degree but I had a great diploma from a reputable polytechnic which made me highly employable. I was able to support my family when I was in my teens and doing holiday jobs. I really have nothing to whine about. NOTHING.

Simply put, I am stupidly fortunate to be where I am. I may not have the best but I always have enough.

Bala was too, denied of opportunities in his home country of an education and a livelihood to support his family. He did not stay angry – instead, he moved to a new country so that he could sustain his family. He learnt a new skill. He excelled at what he did for a living. He moved on because there was no time nor luxury to be angry. It was just life.


There was no one to be angry with...

There was no one to be angry with…

I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2011 as a mature student. It made me realise how much I have enjoyed learning. So, I am pursuing my master of science now.   I shouldn’t need to justify why I am pursuing a postgraduate programme; but I am not doing this for the paper-chase as some have expressed.

It was really to challenge myself and keep the gray matter active. It is also to remind myself that only I have the ability and capability to make things happen for myself. No one owes me a living.


Bala has taught me so much despite our short-lived interaction in a rather morbid setting. Bala’s shunned by the people around him because of his job. It still hurts me to know how callous humans can be.

Bala is doing his adopted country a great service and was awarded a national award for his work during the period when the deadly SARS virus hit Singapore.  Despite the risk and many unknowns during that period, Bala and his team still continued with their jobs dealing with the many deceased who may or may not have the SARS virus.

Thank you, Bala.


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