[This essay was originally published on the Penguin India blog.]
‘It was only some twenty years ago that I finally returned here to my ancestral lands, called back by the need to remember, to gather up the fragments, to reconstruct the cracked vessel of my life and pour from it my own story. I don’t know if any good will come from this exercise, whether there’s any wisdom to be had from it, but I feel compelled to put down my tale. Who knows why one feels this human urge to preserve and perpetuate ourselves, our visions and desires? Who knows why this need for art, this brazen denial of death and emptiness?’ ~ Shanti, The Legend of Virinara, page 5
Like Shanti, the primary narrator of The Legend of Virinara, most of us have moments when we reflect upon our own lives. We reckon with our choices, good or bad, to understand how we became the person we are today. We look for a coherent thread of cause and effect, of consistency in our own personality, of personal growth running through the events in our memories like beads. Perhaps we need to understand our own drives or desires—or explain to others why we’ve done what we’ve done. We might wonder what it all means—the sum of our life, thus far—or whether we can draw any lessons from it to teach others, to do better ourselves, or to build our sense of connection with others.
So we each tell ourselves the story of our own life. We do it in large ways and small. It may be a boy marvelling that he survived a war in which his parents perished. Or a mother wondering at her decision to take a job that brought her overseas and made her children’s lives unrecognizable from her own. It may be a young graduate trying to understand why she didn’t get that job or promotion she was surely qualified for. But however great or small or even petty our questions loom, compelled by a need for connection, continuity and meaning within the vagaries of life, we may tell ourselves almost anything to create a story that suits our needs, up to and including the grandiloquent and absurd; we even invoke the supernatural.