Chapter 9: The Punar Janam
Hindus believe in re-incarnation but Opana's family had a close and direct encounter with this highly controversial phenomenon. Opana's father was working in Jammu as Munsif and his eldest son, Pritam, was barely two years old. It was then that a very old fakir came to Jammu to sit on the banks of the Tawi to meditate and to commune with people. Legend had it that this wandering holy mendicant had a fresh-grown set of teeth, implying two things — extraordinary age in years and magical powers of rejuvenation.
He sat there and showed keen interest in small children, especially those between the ages of one and two. One day the family servant, carrying Pritam in his arms, went to pay homage to this famous fakir. He came back to report that on seeing Pritam the fakir had smiled at the child and spoken to him saying, "So you are hiding here! I have been looking for you all of these two years since you left your 'asana1 (seat of prayer) up in the Himalayas". Then addressing the servant, he asked him to convey a message to the mother of the boy — that she should never scold this child as he was a saint with long years of spiritual practice and worship to his credit and who, upon some sudden impulse, had relinquished his old life and had been reborn in her home. The servant came home, delivered the message and also added that Pritam had responded to the fakir with a very affectionate smile and a knowing twinkle in his eyes.
The incident was forgotten till some twelve years later, when Pritam was nearly fifteen. Opana's family had by then moved to Daska and his parents had arranged a ceremonial recitation of the Bhagwad Gita. Pritam played an active part in the arrangements during the first two or three days of the reading and then suddenly became withdrawn and uncommunicative. He lost all interest in the ceremony and stopped eating. He would not talk to anybody nor respond to the pleas and questions from family and friends. After five or six days of anxiety all around, Pritam at last came out with an explanation. He described how on the very first night of the Gita recitation a fakir with a new set of teeth had appeared to him in a dream. The fakir told him that he had lost track of him, Pritam, after meeting him at Jammu and had found him again today, after arriving here, along with other fakirs and devotees, to be present at the Gita reading. He then invited Pritam to return to his old life of tapasya (spiritual practice) and bhakti(devotion). Pritam said that he had resisted the call. Subsequently, the fakir kept appearing to him every night and every night Pritam would refuse, for he did not want to leave his father and mother who loved him so much. On the eighth night the fakir led him to a far off beautiful valley where, on the banks of a gushing stream, he pointed to what he said was Pritarn's own asana — all covered in dust — and urged him to reclaim this seat. Pritam then pleaded with the fakir to grant him a little more time with his parents, after which, he pledged, he would go back to his asana.
On hearing this account, Opana's parents were very worried at first. But as soon as Pritam started to take interest in the life around him again, casting offhis melancholy, the whole matter was forgotten. Pritam grew to manhood and died at the age of twenty six. He died in a car accident in Bangkok during the war.
Opana had three brothers and was the third son of his parents. Deva, the youngest of the brothers, had also talked of his previous life ever since he was a child. When he was just two years old and had barely started talking, he used to wake up at four in the morning and try to pull his mother out of her bed for morning prayers. When told that he could do so on his own, he would begin to chant "Ram, Ram" eyes closed, and his head tilting in rhythm from side to side. As he grew up, he began to talk of his previous life when he had been a sadhu and that, along with another companion, had lived in Haridwar, at a spot near Har Id Pauri, both spending their time in meditation. They wore their hair long and their only possessions were a begging bowl, a mortar and pestle, a rosary and a deer-skin. They lived on charity. Their daily routine was to rise early, take a dip in the Ganges and sit cross-legged in prayer. Pilgrims came to them with offerings of food that provided their daily meals and they never had to go out begging. He was quite positive that if taken to Haridwar he could show them the place where he had lived and also introduce them to his co-sadhu who was still there. Deva gave his own version of the reason for his rebirth: he was fond of good food and his hankering led him one day to steal the mortar and pestle of his co-sadhu, and which he wanted to sell and use the money to buy good food. It was because of this sin that he had suffered rebirth — sent back to this world to enjoy all the good food and good life he had yearned for.
Strangely enough, although everybody believed him, nobody was prepared to verify his story or take him to Haridwar. As time went by, he grew more and more devout and from the age of seven he started going into a quiet state of trance or samadhi. He would remain in samadhi for almost an hour, during which period as he lay absolutely still, quite oblivious to the noise and bustle around him, his breathing became imperceptible. He would finally shift spontaneously into seven different postures, one after the other, in perfect rhythm, and after the seventh position, which was more or less the yogic one of tranquillity, he would quietly open his eyes and look around with a soft smile of benign love. He looked quite exhausted after each samadhi.
He soon became the talk of the town and was often asked to go into samadhi by pious and well meaning ladies. His health began to get affected by these frequent and exhausting performances. However, as he grew older the power to do so at will seemed to ebb. He went into samadhi less and less frequently and by the time he was eleven these episodes came to an end.
The facts of Deva's boyhood experiences were well known within the circle of an educated small town gentry. They had observed the phenomenon at first hand. However, no scientific investigation was made and Deva's parents, apprehensive for the boy's physical and mental health, played down the matter as one of no consequence. The boy grew up hale and hearty to become a young man of the world, always pious and reserved, highly intelligent and good natured. As a child, nobody had coached him and his words had rung true as if they welled from an inner inspiration. He was truthful all his life and no one felt any reason to doubt his word when he recounted his experience. Re-incarnation has been and still is a controversial subject. Unfortunately, it has been always brushed aside as religious superstition and very little serious scientific research has gone into it despite instances reported time and again from different parts of the world. Both the brothers, Pritam and Deva, died young: the older one when he was twenty six and the younger one at forty.