Saturday, November 11, 2017

Monday Musings 293 - The shadow of Past Lives

Monday Musings: The Shadow of Past Lives

I must have been killed in an ethnic strife in my past life.

I have always found this whole thing about past life regressions and the desire to know what we were in our past lives downright bizarre. Every time I saw the ludicrous TV show and its brain-dead content on past life regressions, my senses got assaulted. I mean who has the time to try to find out what happened in the past life when there is absolutely no way we know what is happening in this one. For all that I know I was a lizard or a snake or a cockroach or an earthworm in my past life – none of which I could boast of in any conceivable way today.

Cut to a very different subject - There is something about ethnic strife that has always made me feel wrenched from within. I discovered this in installements. It all started during my B school when out of serendipity I chose Israel as the country to study for a class project. As I read more and more about the Jews as a people and their thousands of years of persecution, first in early civilisations and thereafter the holocaust, something broke in my heart. I experienced their pain in a way I had not experienced ever before. I could not explain to myself what happened as studied more and more about them. How could a people manage to hold their dignity, brilliance and tenacity so gracefully across thousands of years? What were they made up of? What does it take for a people to hold on to their identity on the face of so much adversity, so much persecution and so much violence? I knew I was not in my senses when to a question by my professor during the presentation on Israel, if I would invest in Israel, then a country besieged with war – I answered YES. I knew something in me had decisively shifted – that I was identifying with the story of the Jews and Israel more than what I had reasons to. Many books and many movies later, the subject of Jews and what they went through continues to move me in ways I cannot explain to myself.

My second epiphany happened on the subject of partition of India. Our family had no extreme experience of partition so this anguish does not run in the subconscious memory of my ancestors. However all literature around partition makes me go marshmallow in my soul. Movies, poetry and personal stories from families I have met over the years makes a dent in my heart. When the grandparents of a very close friend of mine expressed with longingness the desire to of the streets of their roots in Pakistan, something snapped in me. I cried when I first saw the Google TV ad around two friends across the border. I could not stop myself from finding out and writing to the marketing guy with Google. I cannot skip any article or ignore any movie that is based on Partition. I read the heart wrenching tales of human strife and the permanent debris it left in its wake for many generations, as if it was my strife. I continue to be moved by it.

The third epiphany was when a very close friend of mine shared his father’s longing for his roots in Bangladesh – and how the exodus from there to India in the wake of the ethnic violence has never left him even now. I was never able to explain why the story of his father felt as if it was mine. Recently I am told he traced his father’s school and some very old connections. I was overjoyed for no logical reason.

Last week on the margins of a conference I attended I met a few Sri Lankans. A lady amongst them shared during small conversation that she was born to a Tamilian father and a Sinhalese mother – and that they were practicising Christians. I was not surprised with myself when the next half an hour or so I was hooked into her story. The identify mix up between a Tamil, Sinhalese and Christian layers, the early violence as they were caught up in the crossfire of the strife, the reactions of erstwhile friends and the society at large – and now when things appear to be normal, how moving on has its own dynamics. Quite predictably the story lingered on long after it was told.

Coming back to where I began – for someone who watched the past life regressions with so much disdain and who continues to hold that whole process with the same disdain, I cannot explain why stories of ethnic strife, ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing makes me feel the way they do. There are many more kind of miseries around – but they do not move me this way. I am on the verge of this conclusion – I must have been killed in an ethnic strife in my past life.

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