This piece was performed by my co-worker. She was born in India but moved to the United States when she was three months old. Her mother comes from Delhi, but her father’s family is originally from the area that is now Pakistan. She told me this story of learning about reincarnation from her grandmother and learning that her family believed that she (the informant) had been reincarnated.
“So, when I was in middle school… I don’t know it came up but someone asked me once if I believed in reincarnation and I was like, actually I don’t know that much about it even though I am Indian. So I asked my grandma about it when I went home and she was like, ‘Actually we believe that you were partially reincarnated.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa this is really cool!’ So I asked her how she knew and she told me basically after my great-grandpa died (so her grandfather) after he died she did a little prayer, and there’s this whole ritual that you do in India….Basically she did this prayer for about a week, and at the end of the week you have this dream that tells you, or shows you what the person who you’re asking about is doing. In the dream, if you see them praying at a temple, or a mandir as you would say in Hindi, it means that they’re going to stay in the afterlife. Their soul is not coming back, but if you see them, I don’t know, doing something else that would hint they were coming back, they were coming back. My grandmother did it, I think twice, for my great-grandfather and then he, the first time, was definitely staying there. And then later on, when my mom was pregnant with me it was actually…somehow he ended up coming back, supposedly. The reason why it was weird is because this only works, you can only tell if someone is going to be reincarnated if someone else in the family becomes pregnant within six months of the person dying. So, the person died, grandma tried the thing the first time, didn’t work out. but she tried it again later, I think, and then that time… the first time it said he wasn’t coming back, the second time he wasn’t but it was so close to me being born that we thought, maybe he is. And so when I was growing up, and the signs of reincarnation supposedly are within the first five years of life, my grandma said I used to walk exactly like him and that’s a little sketch maybe that doesn’t mean that much, you could walk like a bunch of different people and it’s not that really specific, but he had such a specific gait that they thought, wow, he’s in her, I guess. And I had a bunch of other things, like the way I would talk, it would be just like him.”
Q: Is it common to try multiple times to see what will happen?
“I don’t think so, my grandma just was curious. I think that was the first time she had ever done it, too. I know there was little bit of confusion when she interpreted, in fact I think that may be why she did it the second time because of the interpretation, and she wasn’t sure.”
Even though reincarnation is a fairly well-known kind of folklore, this piece is interesting because it shows that folklore doesn’t necessarily work the same way every time. The informant’s grandmother didn’t seem very experienced with the rituals, so she had to try a second time to make sure she got it right. However, that didn’t make the ritual any less legitimate, as her family still believes she was reincarnated.