My Previous Life

I was born in a small village called Lakhanpur on the banks of a river, about a hundred years back; I cannot remember the exact year. We lived in a large, rambling house close to the riverbank. The house was very cold and damp in the winter with its high ceilings and its huge windows that never closed completely.

I used to wake up at sunrise to the sound of tinkling bells from a nearby temple, and also, to the sound of the azaan from a distant mosque.

My mother was a petite, well-educated lady from a princely family living not too far from Lakhanpur. My father was tall and handsome. He worked for the Nizam of the city.  I am not sure what he did, but it involved books and writing. He was well-known in the neighborhood and highly respected by all. He passed away when I was still very small, from some unknown disease. The details are very hazy, now, but I do remember that he coughed a lot.

My brother was a little older than me; we grew up together, going to the same school. We would explore the forests near our house together and pick mangoes from the orchards.

I was a shy, retiring boy, always the youngest in class. Being small, I didn’t take part in games, preferring to spend my time in books and studies. There were boys from diverse backgrounds in our class: one called Raj, another called Jamil and a boy called Bryan, who used a lot of swear words.

My elder brother left the house when I was still very young. It seems he was called, or rather forced, to join the army to fight some war. He never came back.

Being alone now, I spent a lot of time on my bicycle, moving towards the sound of the temple bells. I would sit inside the temple, listen to the kirtan, and meditate or read some of the holy books there. There was a line of beggars outside the temple, and I always gave them whatever money I had in my pocket. I also got some blessings from holy men in the temple. 

Sometimes, I would take the bicycle and go towards the mosque. I never went inside but listened to the qawwalis being sung inside. I acquired a taste for this kind of music.

It was also a time of turmoil, I remember. There was violence on the streets and the Nizam was deposed and replaced by a Britisher. The name of our school changed accordingly, and all our lessons were now given in  English.

Being the only son now, I had to take care of the family, while going through university. Later, I got a job in the university; I am not sure what I did, but there was access to a lot of books. Life was easy but I felt bound by family property and family circumstances as long as I lived in Lakhanpur.

I also developed a fatal weakness in those days – smoking the hookah. Most people around me were doing this, it was a part of Lakhanpur culture. However, I took it to extremes and smoked all evening.

I got married to girl from a distant village called Delhi. This was apparently a much larger village, and the center of civilized life in those days. She came equipped with three sisters and two brothers, a good complement to my own small family. We had two delightful children from this marriage.

Travel was getting a little easier with the arrival the railways. I went to Delhi twice with my wife and spent glorious months there in my in-laws’ town. Delhi was quite an eye opener, with tall palaces all around and a very different, modern lifestyle. I decided right then and there that if I ever had a choice in a future life, I would settle far away from home, free from all restrictions.

Now, back to the hookah. My wife tried to control my smoking habit, but she didn’t quite succeed. Smoking worked like a tranquilizer, and I got used to this drug.  The hookah was maintained by an old family retainer, Ramu Kaka who keep it in good working order. One day, he brought his two children to keep him company.

Something went wrong that day. After his visit, the two children fell sick, and the older son passed away. The younger daughter was sick for a few days, but she recovered. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but it is likely that the children drank some of the poisonous hookah water. No one ever blamed me for this accident, but I felt very, very guilty. Surely, I could have done something to prevent this.

Consumed by guilt, I didn’t last too long either. My memory gets very hazy at this point, but there was some kind of lung disease involved.

My present life

I have written about my present life before, hence I will only touch on some of the highlights here.

I had a wonderful childhood, but it changed completely when my father died when I was only a teen-ager. One year later my elder brother passed away and life turned upside down for me and my mother. Somehow, we survived this very difficult phase and I went on to become an engineer, working in India for many years.

During this period, I got married to a wonderful girl and had two children. She comes from a large family of three sisters and two brothers. When my oldest child reached his teens, our family migrated to North America, finally settling down in Ottawa, Canada.

Overall, life has been good to me, barring the tragic incidents of my teen years. I have much to be thankful for right now. I have a good job, my children have done well, barring some serious hiccups in their personal life. We have three grandchildren, now.

My wife and I travel the same spiritual path, a rare occurrence these days. We have met the same spiritual teachers; we have visited the same ashrams and holy places together. We share the same interest in spiritual music, including bhajans and Sufi music. Above all, we have discovered Om Swami ji together on you tube and through his spiritual blogs.

Connecting the dots

Looking back, I see that my past two lifetimes are closely interlinked. My father had a fatal flaw, he smoked too much, and this led to his demise from lung cancer at an early age, leaving a wife and two young children behind.

I had the same flaw in my previous life, smoking too much hookah, causing inevitable health problems and leading to an early demise. Hence, in my present lifetime, I had to face the loss of my father at an early age. This is only poetic justice.

Even worse, my smoking habit in my previous lifetime led to a terrible accident, and I blame myself for it. Perhaps, this guilt carried over to the next lifetime and led to the early demise of my brother.

I also did some good deeds in my previous life, visiting temples and giving to the poor and the needy. I listened to bhajans, read spiritual books and perhaps, got blessings from a saint or two at the temple. I was also close to the Sufi world, just by living in a multi-cultural city like Lakhanpur, now called Lucknow.

These blessings helped me find a good wife, to have a happy family and lead a fairly comfortable life.

In my previous life, I had strong desire to be free from family property and dependence on family. They say we should be careful what we wish for. In this life, I did not own any family property in India and at the appropriate time I could emigrate to North America very easily. In Canada, life became easier, and I acquired some assets. Even better, my children could do the same, there was no need for ancestral property at all.

Crossing the t’s

To figure out my past life, I used the most powerful tool known to humans: imagination.

As the popular song goes:

“Nothing comes from nothing.

Nothing ever could”.

Imagination does not come out from nowhere; it springs from the deepest core of our being, and it expresses our deepest feelings. It also creates great works of fiction.

Is my story a work of fiction or is it reality? It might even be a bit of both.

You be the judge.