Saturday, January 12, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Back from the Land of No Return
Is death final, or are we caught in a cycle of life and death? The issue has dogged philosophers and sages since time immemorial. Several eastern religions believe in rebirth and even science has begun to show interest in it. Kuldip Dhiman presents the cases of three individuals who apparently remember their past lives. Eight-year-old Ishita began talking about her Dadar wala ghar when she was barely a year old


A violent end

PREM RATTAN GILGOTRA, a retired army man, is driving his taxi on the Saharanpur-Dehradun highway. He is going fast, as he must to drop his passengers and get back home soon, for he has promised his wife and three children he would be taking them out. By the time they got dressed, he would drop his passengers, two men and a woman and be back home. But this was one appointment that the soldier would not keep.

As Prem Gilgotra was lost in his thoughts, one of the passengers suddenly rises from behind and pulls a muffler around Prem Giltora’s neck, and begins to strangle him, while the other two stab him from behind. Prem fights back so violently that he tears open the roof of the taxi. But he is outnumbered, and soon the struggle is over. There is blood all over, and then nothing but darkness.

But if you think Prem Gilgotra’s life ended there, you are, perhaps, wrong.

Return from the unknown

Kailash, a mother of three, is busy with her household chores. She is dusting the furniture, the little decorative pieces, and then she stops in from of a framed portrait of her dead husband, Prem Gilgotra. Blinking her moist eyes, she gently wipes the dust off the picture. It is clearer now. Then someone comes into the room and says, "You just won’t believe this.. A few minutes back, a three-year old boy walked in from nowhere. He says he is your dead husband!" The woman couldn’t believe her ears, and she barely manages to stop herself from fainting.


Two faces of the same man? Prem Rattan Gilgotra, Rajiv Khanna, and Prem Gilgotra’s wife Kailash and their three children

In the front room Mr Gilgotra is nonplussed and also a bit weary of the little boy’s claims. He cross-questions him thoroughly, and at the end of it is nearly convinced that the boy could possibly be Prem Rattan Gilgotra, his son who was murdered on the Saharanpur-Dehradun highway, about five years ago.

Looking at a wheelchair, the boy says, "That must be mother’s wheelchair, but where is the old one." He is right again; the wheelchair had been changed since Prem Gilgotra’s death. When they take him to the attic, he immediately recognises the old wheelchair. He than asks them to show his ‘army trunk’.

"Tell us what is in the trunk," Mr Gilgotra asks.

"My clothes, my knife, and my watch."

When the dusty old trunk is opened, sure enough all the items mentioned by the boy are there. Later when the children are presented to him, he immediately points to the 14-year-old daughter, "O! Manto!" He also recognises his son Kanval Kishore, but he fails to recognise his youngest son, Naval Kishore. This, could be because, Naval was only a few months old when the murder took place. "But, where is my wife?" the boy demands..

Not quite sure about what was happening, and still a bit suspicious, Mr Gilgotra suddenly gets an idea. Kailash, Mr Gilgotra’s widowed daughter-in-law, has an identical twin sister. He sends for her, and on her arrival, he presents both of them together., "Which one is your wife?"

The boy points to Kailash Gilgotra without any hesitation and says, "Woh waali."

Mr Gilgotra now allowes the boy and Kailash to spend some time in private. After a while, Kailash emerges from the room and says, "Baoji, he is "he".

From the mists of the past

This is the strange case of Rajiv Khanna, an educated young man, now working as sales manager for a paint company, who began remembering his past life when he was a mere toddler. He is now happily married to Manju Khanna, and has two children.

Rajiv’s parents named him Rajiv, but even when he was a year and half, he used to always ask his parents, "Why don’t you call me Prem?" When asked why do you want to be called Prem, he used to say that he just liked that name. He hadn’t yet begun to remember his past life, but these were some of the signs that made sense only later.

Rajiv Khanna, who started mentioning his wife and children when he was about three years old, has the unique distinction of tracing his old home and family
Rajiv Khanna, who started mentioning his wife and children when he was about three years old, has the unique distinction of tracing his old home and family

For instance, even as an infant, he never let anyone touch his neck."Like most women," remembers Mrs Chanchal Khanna, Rajiv’s mother, "I used to place my hand on his neck while combing his hair from behind. He used to scream and ask me not to do it. When asked why, he used to say that people get killed like that. And it is about that time that he started saying things like, "I want to go to my home. I want to see my wife, my children."

In the beginning the Khannas took not much note of this, thinking that Rajiv was just blabbering like most children do. But when he became more and more insistent about claims, they began to wonder. that their son was probably remembering his past life.

"When he was barely two or a little more," Mr Khanna says, "Rajiv used to scrawl letters ‘P’ and ‘K’, although no one had taught him to write. The connection was made much later that they possibly stood for Prem and Kailash, his wife from past life. At the time I used to work for the railways in the Jagadhari workshop (near Yamunanagar)." Rajiv, then about three years old, used to go on and on about going back to his ‘home’, Mr Khanna one day asked him, "Where is your home?’ "In Saharanpur," Rajiv replied.

"Will you show us where it is?"

"Sure" When pressed for more information, he told them that there was a temple nearby. This was not very helpful, for there are hundreds of temples in India. Nevertheless, since the family were quite intrigued about the whole thing, they decided to check it out. They went over to Saharanpur and stayed with their relations for a few days in Patel Nagar.

Twelve-year-old Rajiv Khanna attends the wedding of his ‘daughter.’
Twelve-year-old Rajiv Khanna attends the wedding of his ‘daughter.’

There was an abandoned car in front of the house where they stayed. Rajiv used to get in it and would try to drive it. His father was quiet surprised that although they had no car, Rajiv knew all about driving, the ignition key, the gears etc. It was in this abandoned car that something triggered in Rajiv’s mind, and soon he disappeared. The parents were alarmed, and they began to look all over. After a while they saw him returning with a niece who had found him in a temple in Subhas Nagar, just about half a kilometre away. The next day or so, he disappeared again, this time they found him near the temple, behind Mr Gilgotra’s house. And when he went missing for a third time, they found him in Mr Gilgotra’s household, asking to see his wife and children. It was just a quirk of fate that the family decided to spend their vacation in Patel Nagar, so close to the dead army man Prem Rattan Gilgotra’s home, or Rajiv might never have traced it.

Luckily for Rajiv, both his families, from the past life and the present one, understood Rajiv’s problem, and his present parents allowed him to visit his past family whenever they could.

One strange thing about Rajiv’s memories is that although he remembers in great detail about his parents, his wife and his children, he does not remember his brothers and sisters, his close friends, his school or his army life. And he is very clear about what he remembers and what he doesn’t.

Now Rajiv is about 34, when I asked about his death, he said, "Actually I do not remember anything about it. The only thing that links up to the murder is that even as a child, I used to scream when anyone touched my neck. It was my past life parents who told us how I died."

How was the experience like, the experience of seeing your past life family again? "My mother from my last birth loved me a lot," says Rajiv. "She used to go on crying as she spoke to me. She would say, "Mera Raju, Mera Raju don’t go anywhere, just sit next to me and speak" And she would go on speaking to me for hours. Sometimes I used to get a bit tired of sitting in one place for hours, after all I was then only about three. Then my wife used to sit near me and tell me all about her problems, I used to listen to her, but I used to also feel a bit shy speaking to her because she was a grown up woman and used to treat me as a grown up though I was just a child."

Remembering the past may sound very mysterious and wonderful, but it also comes along with a lot of problems. And it wasn’t easy for his present parents either, as so many people used to come to see Rajiv. "Then one day three or four sinister-looking men came," remembers Mrs Khanna, "claiming to be his past life friends. We didn’t let them see him, as we were so fearful of the whole thing. We thought they were his enemies of past life. When his father left home daily to go to work, he used to lock the house from the outside, while I hid with Rajiv in the house for hours"

But more agonising than this is the fact that Rajiv was torn apart in two worlds. When he was with his present parents, he would miss his past family, and when he was allowed to go there, he would soon begin to miss his present family.

"Those who say that it is nice to remember your past life are wrong," says Mrs Khanna.. "My son had a traumatic childhood because of his memories. While his two sisters and younger brother played, all he did was sit alone in a corner, and look at the ceiling for hours and hours with an expressionless face. I used to wonder what he was worrying his little head with. Perhaps he used to worry about how his wife was managing alone, perhaps he was worrying about his children. It was a sheer torture for him." Sandeep Khanna, Rajiv’s younger brother, says that he had rarely seen his brother smile until the age of 14 or 15. He was always alone, and was often found crying.

Sometimes he used to think so much that he would have a temperature of 104 degrees. And sure enough in a day or two, they would learn that either his mother or wife, or some other member was ill. Then the Khannas requested the Gilgotras to lessen their contact with Rajiv, as he was unable to concentrate on his studies and get on with his life. After a gap of three or four years, Rajiv suddenly became very sad and this was followed by high fever. The next day they learnt that his mother from his past life had died.

But there were a few moments of joy as well. Rajiv was always invited to important occasions. "At the age of 12 when he was invited for his past daughter’s wedding," remembers Mr Khanna, "He expressed a desire to buy a gift for her. We said, ‘What do you want to gift her, just tell us, we shall buy it’. He said, no he wanted to buy the gift with his own money."

Rajiv broke his piggybank, there were Rs 400 that he had saved over the years. With that money he bought his daughter a gift. When he gave the gift to his daughter she could not hold her tears. She says it was the most valuable gift she ever got from anyone.

As years went by Rajiv married Majnu Khanna, and what might be called stranger-than-fiction scenario, his present wife met his wife of previous birth. The experience was quite unsettling, says Manju Khanna. "I feel very sad for his wife of previous birth. As a woman I can well empathise with her. I often wonder what must be going on in her mind. How many questions must be flooding her mind. She was widowed at such a young age, then a few years later her dead husband returns. She is neither a widow nor a married woman. She knows her husband is there, but now she can’t share her feelings with him, neither can she be with him. As a woman I know how tormenting this could be."

I tried to contact Rajiv’s past life wife who is about 60 now and lives in Saharanpur, but the offer was turned down as it is a sensitive issue. Rajiv himself is so elusive that although I learnt about him from Dr Vivek Lal, Assistant Professor, Neurology Department, PGI, Chandigarh, it has taken me nearly three years to track him down and persuade him to speak. Incidentally, Dr Lal, presented Rajiv’s case at a few private seminars in London, but no parapsychologist has studied the case yet.

An accident on the highway

After Rajiv, we come to Ishita, daughter of Bindu and Dr Sanjiv Lath. Ishita was about six years old when I spoke to her about two and a half years ago. She was born in Chandigarh on September 4, 1993. She started talking about her Dadar wala ghar, her red Maruti and so on when she was barely one year old.

"Ishita learnt to speak when she was only about seven months old," says Mrs Lath, "and by the time she was just over a year old, she had begun to speak quite fluently. It was then that she started saying things that we didn’t take much notice of it in the beginning. When she used to get into one of her moods, she would complain that her present home was too small. We thought she was saying this because she had been watching television a bit too much. She used to repeatedly plead, ‘I want to go home.’ As days went by she told us that her name was Visha, her father’s name was Rustomjee., her mother’s name was Meenakshi. Her house was in Parsi Colony, in front of the Parsi Temple in Dadar. She used to tell us that there was a car park in front of her house, and she used to talk about a swing being there. We could no longer ignore it as blabbering of a child because she would give us vivid details of what to us could only be her past life. Although there were no Parsis in our neighbourhood, Ishita used to blurt out Parsi-sounding names like, Dilshan, Pestonjee and so on. She would describe Parsi dress and customs, telling us that her father Rustomjee used to wear a cap, that is customary for most Parsis to wear. Then she used to mention a word that sounded like ‘Pateti’ to us. To this day we have not figured out what it meant."

At an age when most children do not even begin to speak, Ishita used to complain, "Why have my hands and feet have become so small, they were big before." When she was admitted to the nursery school she was not at all excited about it. "I used to go to college, why should I go to school?" Although the Laths initially had a Fiat with gears at the wheel, Ishita used to say , "But in our car (referring to her red Maruti) gears were on the floor." Once they showed a car accident on TV, the windscreen was full of blood. Ishita began to scream and told us that exactly the same happened to her."

The details Ishita gives about the car accident are not very clear, and as she is growing older she is beginning to forget many things and her memory is getting a bit muddled, and some inconsistencies are also creeping in. She remembers she was in the car, with Chun Chun bhaiya, and Action bhaiya. Her father was at the wheel when suddenly a cycle appeared in front of the car, then there was blood all over. Exactly what happened is not very clear, but she tells us that her hands and legs were cut—haath pair toot gaye— (incidentally there is a birth mark on her right foot). Then she remembers herself lying in a pool of blood. Even Chun Chun was hurt, but she moans, "Chun Chun ko hospital ley gaye, mujhe nahin ley gaye." That’s because she was perhaps dead by then. It was never quite clear to the Laths if Chun Chun was her son or her brother, because although she calls him Chun Chun bhaiya, but when you ask who Chun Chun was, she says, "Mera beta" (my son).

A year after her birth, Dr Lath went on holiday and stayed at his father-in-law’s house in Bombay. In Bombay, Ishita was often found speaking to herself, what then seemed unintelligible to them. "We were pained to see her go on talking about her family and her home," says Mrs Lath, "but we didn’t have the heart to take her there. We were naturally worried, that if we took her to her old home, she might decide not to come back with us. But my sister and her husband decided to take her there. As soon as they reached Dadar, Ishita got excited and although they took the help of the postman, she began to show them the way until they were in front of a building complex. Yes, there was a car park opposite, the dog that she claimed to be hers was there, and a Parsi temple was also nearby. And there was a red Maruti parked in front of the house. Unable to control herself Ishita began to call out loud, "Chun Chun bhaiya, Action bhaiya," but no one heard her feeble voice. Just then my sister and her husband grew cold feet and decided to leave the place in spite of Ishitas’s insistence on climbing up the stairs and going ‘home’.

In June 1997, when Dr Lath went to Bombay on a short visit, he decided to see for himself Ishita’s Dadar wala gahar. Being a doctor at Government Medical College Hospital, Chandigarh, he had always been a bit sceptical about his daughter’s claims But his decision came a bit too late. He traced Ishita’s Parsi Lane, but the trail grew cold there as by then, Ishita’s past life parents had shifted to another place and none in the locality knew where.

Ishita is now eight, and this time when I asked if she would like to go to her Dadar wala ghar, she said no.

"Don’t you miss your Chun Chun and Action bhaiya?"

"They don’t come to see me, why should I go to see them?" she said and looked the other way.

A murder in the palace

Loveena Rai was fourteen years old when I met her, she is now 15. Her parents, Ganpat Rai Chouhan, and mother Geeta Chouhan were alarmed when at the age of two and a half she began to claim that she was the queen of a royal estate that is not too far away from Chandigarh. Her present parents are from the middle class, and she had a tough time getting used to this life. She always spoke about her palace, her horse carriages, her cars, her retinue of servants and so on. " I don’t like this house, I want to go back to my palace," she used to say and become very sad.

Loveena Rai began to remember her palaces and cars when she was about two and a half
Loveena Rai began to remember her palaces and cars when she was about two and a half

"When she was barely two or a little more," says Mr Ganpat, "she used to get up at midnight, and start taking to herself about her past, her husband, children and so on. It was quite disconcerting and we were actually alarmed."

Loveena remembers her name was "Madhumati" and she was queen of a certain estate. The word soon got out, and some time later, members of that particular family came to see Loveena, but her father, fearing for her safety and also worried about losing her, did not allow them to meet her.

Unlike Rajiv Khanna, Loveena remembers how she was killed. "I was in a dungeon, there were a lot of stones, and a flight of stairs leading down. I was terrified. Then I suddenly saw a man with big eyes. His face was covered. He grabbed me by the neck and strangled me. Then every thing went dark."

Her memories of her past life have now almost faded. But her parents remember that whenever they showed vintage cars on TV, she used to say she had many such cars. She also used to stitch some strange kind of little bags. Often her father thought of taking her to the royal estate, since it is close by, but then decided against it. What if she decided not to come back, or what if the murderer killed her again.

When asked if she would like to go back to her old palace she said, "No, now I don’t want to go there. My parents and my brothers and sisters love me so much. Now, this is my home. But I would love to go there and see my past life home, just once."