Karan Arjun (1995) is a Bollywood action thriller about two brothers who are killed by their evil relatives and their mother who swears her sons will come back to exact revenge. The two brothers are then reborn, reunited with their mother, meet two attractive women in the process, and carry out the deed. As a biracial child in Australia with mum of Indian descent and dad of English descent, the first time I came across the concept of reincarnation was in the Bollywood action thriller Karan Arjun. At first it started as an adopted notion but as life went on it would become much more.
I was born into a Western, English-speaking household and my only exposure to my mum’s heritage was through Bollywood and celebrating Diwali, which she called Indian Christmas. Unlike its English-speaking counterpart, Hollywood, Bollywood from the beginning of black and white film freely explored reincarnation in their stories. I’d watched Om Shanti Om, Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Karan Arjun was no exception.
‘Mum, didn’t Shah Rukh Khan die, why is he back?’ said my pre-teen self, camped in front of the TV. Sure, I was happy to see my favourite Indian actor get more screen time, but I was pretty sure his character and the brother died only moments ago in Karan Arjun.
‘Indians believe that when you die you come back and are born again to live another life. It’s called reincarnation,’ my mum answered.
Huh. While it sounded like a pleasant sentiment, it seemed bizarre compared to what I heard in Religion, a once-weekly class for primary school students. Not that I was supposed to be in religious classes. I was seated at the back of the classroom to do my homework because my parents from different religious backgrounds, Hinduism and Anglicanism, decided I wouldn’t belong to either. My dad didn’t really believe in God. And as a baby boomer raised on colonial ideologies he wasn’t going to have his child become an uncivilised Hindu instead.
So I couldn’t help eavesdropping when one of my classmates asked a visitor about heaven.
‘It’s where you go when you die. You go to heaven and serve God,’ said the visitor, an old greying woman.
‘But what if you don’t want to serve God?’ said the classmate.
A fair question I thought.
‘Oh, but you will because serving God will make you happy,’ the woman answered.
I snorted. Why would spending your days serving some old man in the sky make you happy? I must have told my parents about this because, come next religion class, I was moved to the library.
I knew my grandparents were Anglican but I didn’t know whether they went to church. The only time religion was mentioned was when I overheard my mum exaggerating our Christian values to the pastor to secure me a spot at St Mark’s College in Townsville. The two residence wings have since been split off into Saints Catholic College and a secular University Hall wing. Mum only did this because it was a catered place. It was my first time away from home and she was afraid I’d starve.
I had to fend for myself, however, when I went on a student exchange to Dundee, Scotland. There I stayed in a self-catered share apartment and dated my housemate’s identical twin brother who lived in the apartment building next door. A year older than me, he and his twin would have been the same age as my Mum’s twin sons had she not miscarried before they were born. Mum thought I was the same spirit as one of her unborn sons. She would tell me that her other son would visit as a spirit during times of adversity, perhaps to let her know everything would be OK. I was a little on the fence about her beliefs until I had a similar experience in Scotland.
I was studying with this boyfriend at the time, me at his desk and him on his bed behind me. In my peripheral vision, I saw my boyfriend stand to the side of me and place his hands down on the desk as he leaned in. But I became confused when I looked over properly and saw he wasn’t standing next to me and was, in fact, fast asleep in his bed. I mentioned this to Mum when I got back. She smiled smugly.
‘I told Cameron to go with his sister to Scotland and watch over her.’
After that I no longer doubted Mum’s beliefs.
Unlike Mum, I had never experienced losing someone I loved dearly to death. By the time I moved to Melbourne I had lost two grandfathers and an uncle, but my family lived far away from our relatives so I hadn’t taken their deaths to heart. It was one month after living in Melbourne, however, when I saw a Facebook post of an old high school classmate who had gone missing. Three days later it was announced that her body had been found and that she had committed suicide. I felt cold with shock. We had shared art classes and she was kind, sensitive, combative and because of that, prone to being picked on. But we got along and I remember running into her a few years back before we both had turned eighteen. She was on her lunch break from Shanti Shanti, an Indian clothing and accessory shop. ‘Shanti’ means ‘peace’ in Indian. Apart from the sketchy fake ID card she showed me, she seemed well. But just the fact that she was twenty-one, and would forever remain that age while I lived and grew older, stayed with me.
Once I moved into my own apartment with my cat, I had gained the peace and privacy that house sharing had not permitted. I took up painting again. For a piece to decorate my living room I used an acrylic pouring technique. As different coloured paints would pour onto the wood panel they would swirl and bump against each other as the canvas was tilted. There was no controlling how the painting would turn out, but the process was meditative and the outcome also meditative to look at.
After a few months or so of staring at the painting, the parts I spotted within the image from time-to-time were merging together into a much bigger depiction. An eye, a snout and jagged teeth became part of a fire-breathing dragon or serpent eating its tail known as the ouroboros. The ouroboros is a singular loop of a serpent eating its own tail. The serpent is continually dying and being reborn as moves in a cycle and because of this the serpent is immortal. As a fan of young adult vampire fiction, the symbol’s association with immortality piqued my interest. Instead of living one continual existence forever, the ouroboro signifies an immortality where we are continually dying and being reborn. Like the serpent moving in a continual circle there is no true end for each of us. The painting became a herald for how I would grow to see the world.
After a couple of years living in my apartment, I found myself laying in bed one day and not wanting to get out. I had been sleeping 12-hour days for a couple of weeks. I had a good job and a comfortable lifestyle, but I had lost my will to paint and my enthusiasm for life.
‘There has to be more to living than just this,’ I thought.
To be honest, I can’t remember how I arrived upon my next inspiration, perhaps it was divinely guided, but I remember a sudden curiosity in reading about past lives.
Before this, I had been open to the possibility of spirits, reincarnation and unexplained phenomena, but I never courted spirituality or had that Western urge to find myself in India. Nonetheless, I found myself poring over books by best-selling author, Brian Weiss, who was an ordinary hypnotist that accidentally initiated a past life regression with one of his clients when trying to discover the source of her symptoms. A skeptic at first, he conducted many sessions and documented these case studies with the thorough adeptness of a private investigator. It was his research on the concept of reincarnation in Western cultures and religion, plus his case studies, that I devoured eagerly.
While lying in bed one morning I decided I would try a past life regression. I curled up under the covers and logged into my laptop. On YouTube was a Brian Weiss guided past life regression, so I turned off the lights, pressed start, and closed my eyes. As I followed the instructions to visualise myself being surrounded in a loving, white, protective light it was a little woo but not too off-putting so I continued. After reaching a meditative state, the visuals became hypnogogic and spontaneous in nature.
‘If you find yourself in a body look down at your feet and observe the kind of footwear, if any, that you have on,’ said Weiss.
‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘I’m wearing boots!’
I could also see the bottom of a long, flowing dress made of silk or satin. Examining my arms, I saw gloves clutching my hands up to the elbow. I knew, without understanding how, that these were Edwardian clothes. I looked around and saw that I was at a social gathering in the living room of a London apartment. In the corner I saw two moustached men chatting, one of them was my husband. I jumped to a scene where my husband had died and I stood by his open casket at a church funeral. I was distraught to be left alone and that he died and left me behind. When the scene fast-forwarded to my death I was clutching my chest in the living room and dying of a broken heart.
When I opened my eyes the first thing I did was load up Google images. And, sure enough, I stared wide-eyed at the styles of Edwardian clothing, both of men and women, that matched what I had seen just minutes before. A day ago, I had never seen these images in my life. You could say I drew these past life regression visions from memory, but I had never watched a period drama that wasn’t set in the country, let alone the Edwardian period! This could also explain why I had visited Scotland but avoided London, contrary to what any sane Australian would have done when visiting the UK. Too many bad past life memories I guess.
A week or so passed and I wasn’t back to painting and I still slept for 12 hours a day. At this point it would have been wise to see a psychologist. However, having one in the family and enduring their student years of diagnosing everyone – including me – with a personality disorder, I was somewhat ambivalent. With my growing past life insatiability, I decided I would see a professional past life regressionist to see what may come up. I found one nearby who had a non-judgemental and maternal vibe. One of the best things about seeing her was we launched straight into it. No questions were asked so I didn’t feel like I had to explain why I was there. Nonetheless, my body broke out into a non-stop shiver of nerves.
I laid upon a freshly made bed while the regressionist guided me into a past life. I saw myself, in what appeared to be the 1940-50s, as a housewife wearing a blouse, corduroy skirt and boots, and I also saw my husband and two children, a son and daughter. At first, I loved my husband well enough but soon found the life I lived to be dreary. All I did was clean, run errands and other house-wifey stuff. I felt neutral or, as my regressionist called it, humdrum. My husband was an electrician and we lived in a cottage-y house, in a small town somewhere in England. The scene jumped to me mourning my husband at his funeral, but by then I didn’t seem to overly feel for him at all, I was more at a loss. Soon after, I saw myself lying in bed dying with a young woman, a relation, standing over me holding my hand.
Afterwards, as I sipped a tall glass of water, my regressionist had come to the same conclusion I had.
‘Judging from the events, and the time period you gave of 1940-50s, I would say your last life, before this one, was spent during post-war England. It wouldn’t have been a prosperous time and opportunities for women would have been few,’ she said.
‘The woman looked about my age,’ I thought. Out loud I said, ‘It felt like a life unlived.’
‘Humdrum,’ said my regressionist nodding.
Soon after the regression, I went back to sleeping regular hours and my energy returned. It was somewhat uncanny. So was the fact that it had been the second past life I had witnessed in England. It didn’t escape my notice that on my dad’s side our ancestry can be traced to Norwich, a city in England, and this ancestor was a convict who arrived by boat to Australia. So like my ancestor, my soul moved from living in England to Australia. It is a curious serendipity indeed.
When I think back on the mother in Karan Arjun, I remember her firm conviction that her sons would be reborn and reunite with her. When the villains had laughed and dismissed her she remained steadfast in her faith until it became true. Besides a renewed zest for life, the past life regression moved me from a that-would-be-nice faith in reincarnation to an unshakeable knowing that, just like the ouroboros serpent, when death came rebirth would follow.