February 13, 2006
The Fast Runners
The film Atanarjuat tracks a few important years in the life of a relatively normal Inuit family living in arctic Canada; they eat fish, hunt caribou, get married, have babies, conduct friendships and sometimes affairs, and eventually they die. But they are reborn, and quickly too. For there are only about 60 souls in their world and there is nowhere else for them to go. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth is quick for this family; souls keep incarnating again and again so that they are only without each other for a few generations at most, and nothing really changes. For me, the best storyline involved a grandmother who was convinced that her granddaughter was going to give birth to the soul of her own dead mother. When the child was born, a girl, the grandmother called her Little Mother and cried in her lap when she needed support. It was a powerful way of showing the idea, by turns liberating and confining, that souls will find a body for themselves by hook or by crook, and if the world is only the size of a few thousand miles, and the shape of around a hundred people, then it is only logical that the dead will be back sooner or later as one of the babies of the local women.
It makes sense to me that reincarnation within the family would be common … unfinished business is often with those closest to us. But I can also see why a soul would be sent far away next time, to try poverty after riches or marginalization after sovereignty. I don’t know the mechanics of rebirth; the Buddha said that karma was the most complicated of all concepts and that if the ordinary person tried to think about it too much they’d literally lose their mind. The Golden Rule may look simple enough to follow from the outside but the process of working out one’s karmic debt or surfeit is no simple arithmetic. What I do know, though, is that life in its most infant form has a soul already fully formed (and I have actually come to believe that it arrives in the third month of pregnancy and signals it with a kick) When life is born into the world of the sun and the air, it is without doubt a soul Perfect. I see it all the time. Children in strollers, waiting to be wheeled across the road, staring the stare of boredom that comes with forty years of life, not four. Or the supernatural serenity of a little girl whose mother, I’m afraid I know enough to see, is a junkie. I look into the faces of children and I see an endless parade of people who have come and gone a thousand times, who are already walking a path that may or may not please their parents, and who have seen the world many times before, even if they’ve never been to Disneyland. The best cultures know this too … they say to their kids, not “you’ll know later”, but “you know now”.
That kids and babies have souls fully formed is now, rightly, gospel. But what I have come to feel lately is the reach that each soul has into the past; of the lives it has already led, and why it is here now. I come to this through the only reliable barometer of knowledge—- personal experience. I have started reading Indian novels again and each laborious trek through several generations of one family has reminded me of the fusion of Asian and European bloodlines that delivered my own mother to me. She wound up born in India, but not before people from Persia, China, France and Wales delivered her parents to her. And the dates and the numbers of that story … they all match up and weddings and deaths and births all repeat on the same day at very close intervals—-my birthday. There are some amazing stories in the Talati family and I am going to write them. Those who know me best will not feel cynical when I say that my family is a gold mine: it is mine and it’s a story that has earned the telling. As is the way in Indian families, we had a terrible, bitter matriarch who cut off all her sisters and her husband’s brothers so that I never knew most of the Talatis in Perth and my mum was unable to love her mum the way a daughter hopes to. Only after she died did we start to mingle with one of the most vibrant, joyous families I have ever beheld. I saw an aunt and uncle I’d only met at funerals dance the tango at their sixtieth wedding anniversary last year. And I had complete strangers come up to me, pronounce me a Talati and hug me. It seems that where my nani bought the dark to our family, my grandad’s brother and his wife bought the light. Well, I have that family too now, and these guys, they’ve kept records and journals and family trees and I know at some stage, I will receive their help to start research into this. It is a story that has to be told. The popular vernacular sums it up best: I couldn’t have made this shit up.
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation - Ian Stevenson
The Seduction of Silence - Bem le Hunte