The ghost inside me

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I have been thinking about the past for some time now. Past, not as in history, but rather my own past. If I were to go back 2000 years, I would find a direct ancestor of mine – alive, living, breathing… This descendant of mine may even look like me. For the sake of convenience, and some colour, I’m going to call him Aadi (Sanskrit for ancient)

My mother tongue, Malayalam, as it is spoken today, is more than a thousand years old, and a rough draft of it was around even Before Christ. So, I could hold a conversation with Aadi, and while neither of us would understand most of the references the other makes, we would still get the gist.

My religion has been practiced in one form or the other for almost 10,000 years. So, in a way, I would have that in common with Aadi. May be he was not religious. May be, he was a zealot, fighting for whatever God he decided to make his own. Either way, we would both be expected to worship nature. To get up facing the sun. To respect the elements that gave us life. It would be expected then, just as it is expected now. Of course, I do none of those things, and if Aadi was anything like me, he didn’t either. But it would be expected.

My home state of Kerala was inhabited by people right from the Paleolithic age. There are rock engravings in Edakkal caves, located not far from my native place, that are over 5000 years old. So, it would not be unreasonable to believe that Aadi lived close to where I was born. May be he had many friends. May be, like me, he preferred his own company. He would have spent his days walking through some of the same places I have passed through, breathing the same air, sans pollution, wondering about women and why it was so hard to score with one.

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I wonder what Aadi thought about when he couldn’t sleep. What he felt when he looked up at the night sky and saw the stars. Did he have a problem with smoking too? Of course, back then he might not have realized that it was a problem. Although he might have wondered why he got so winded and breathless during those long hunting trips. May be Aadi had daddy issues. May be he did not like the tiger-skin his father got him as a kid.

What was Aadi afraid of? What gave him strength? What was the happiest moment in his life? What did he regret doing?

Aadi could have been a warlord. He could have been a warrior working for the warlord. He could have been a cook serving the warrior. He could have been a dhobi, tasked with laundry duty. He could have been a hunter, living in the forest with nothing but his wits to keep him alive and well.

Like all men, he would have had secrets. Some he shared with others, others burned down to dust with him. Was anyone sad when he died? Was anyone happy that he’d lived?

Whatever his secrets were, whatever his reasons for being alive were, there is one thing I know for sure. Aadi did score with a woman. He was alive long enough to produce an heir who would inherit his DNA. A part of Aadi lived through his descendants, through centuries of war and famine and sickness and death, and somewhere down the line, I was born, his blood flowing through my veins. And two thousand years later, there is now a man, his direct descendant, who thinks about him, about his life, who cares enough to ask questions he will never find answers to.

It is remarkable, how much of our existence is owed to good fortune and sheer luck. Perhaps, one of these days, I’m going to brush past a total stranger while walking down the road, not knowing that both of us owe our existence to one man – Aadi. Oblivious of the 2000-year old history connecting us, we will go our separate ways…

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”

― Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas

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