Everyone has the feeling that he has lived a previous life; sometimes we dream of it, sometimes we feel it when we visit a particular place for the first time--usually a distant, ancient place--sometimes, though extremely infrequently, someone approaches us and tells us who we were, where, and when. Such instances are generally awkward, sometimes amusing, and sometimes—and these are experienced by very few of us—we recognize the stranger somehow. But could we be confusing this person with someone else—someone from our youth, perhaps? Someone we dreamt of? Someone we are merely reminded of?
Three days ago, a hand touched my shoulder, and when I turned, I gazed upon a woman I had known for many lifetimes, all of which came back to me in an instant.
“Kalki,” she said (a name which was not my name, though, strangely, it was), her dark eyes wide.
“Durga,” I said, before I collapsed into her arms.
The shock of the memories of many lifetimes exploding into my mind simultaneously, each as real as the life in which I was currently engaged (was I living these lives simultaneously?—it seemed as likely as that I had lived them one after the other, since not one of them led directly into the next; none of them, though, existed in the same period, which suggests a chronology, perhaps, after all) was a thing so astounding that it might have driven me mad. Imagine a bug suddenly becoming fully aware of every detail of the enormous world around him, of language, science and god—or that it was god!
When I finally awoke I did so slowly, for my consciousness was sliding through my entire existence. (And what I told you earlier was wrong: more and more details, more and more lives were unfolding before me—within me—like an origami universe.) Though I felt that I was flat on my back in bed, with Durga holding my hand, I was also in the Ganges in water up to my knees, looking for something in the reeds… my hand parted them and looked out over the bow of a lovely wooden ship, caught in a steel-grey storm somewhere in, I thought, the China Sea… but when I turned to my left, I was in a spectacular palace, surely the palace of the gods. I could hear Durga whispering to me, her voice like wind against silk curtains, but there was no center—no, center is not the word: it is nexus, nexus--, only my entire lifetimes. I could feel her hand, and she was right there and a million miles away all at once, holding me like a child pulling in a wind-tossed kite.
I awoke in the palace, and there was Durga; I awoke on the great ship, and there was Durga; I awoke on the back of a great eagle, and there was Durga.
“I love you,” I said, and I said it forever, and Durga smiled and held me, held me forever.
The great ship of wood and gold sailed through the stars and stopped at the end of a purple ocean, where there was a harbor, and then a plain, and in the distance, a city, a palace. It was night but the stars were all twisted together there, watching, so there could be no darkness, and there were ships alongside us, and we docked, though the land was not ours.
I was not as many as I had been before: I was ten, and I could be no less. Durga was my wife. I stood with her on the deck of the ship and rubbed my palm against the bronze skin of her face, and she smiled. Her two sisters approached her on either side, and she threw her head back and laughed, and then she, too, was one. She waved her six arms like wings, and she was beautiful, and we were complete.
We came ashore with the nagas, and a warrior brought me my horse, a wonderful white horse with golden trappings, and I took the reins and stroked his nose, for we had never met.
“He is beautiful,” I said.
“I made him for you,” Durga said.
I bowed, she smiled, and when I had looked at her for too long she looked away shyly and said, “It is time.”
I had never been here before, but the place was familiar. It was exotic and lovely in its way, but it was frightening nonetheless, like the eye of a storm. I knew that our journey there had been fraught with danger, but I could not remember any of the perils we had faced—I only knew that Durga and the others had protected me while my selves coalesced. And that this was the only danger that mattered.
Kartikeya the giant was now complete, with ten arms and ten heads. This would be his last battle. Indra stomped across the field on his white elephant, lightning shooting from his mouth as he spoke. We were all there, and we had arrived simultaneously, from everywhere. I found for the first time that I was quite rooted in the moment. I could feel my love for Durga, and I knew those arraying themselves before me, but I was at a loss to think back further than my most recent mental maelstrom, though I knew that only a short time ago I had known my entire life (lives) in fantastic detail. I knew what I had to know, it seemed, and I was content.
“My Lord Kalki, your sword,” Durga said, giving me a brilliant, curved sword and no sheathe. She held six weapons, and her demeanor had changed somewhat, so that it was harder.
Ganesa came to me, and I prayed to him for luck. There were some thousands of us, but only enough amrita for one, and then I remembered that we had dispersed ourselves precisely because we had run out of amrita, that we had lost our immortality. We had assembled this last time because the one god had run out of amrita as well. I embraced Ganesa, who wrapped his trunk around my shoulders, and then I drank the amrita, though I did not swallow until I had kissed Durga. She tried to resist, but Kalki was my most powerful avatar, so when I pulled myself away, she just smiled.
“You should not have done that—you will need it all,” she said.
“What good is victory if you are not with me at the end, my love?”
We moved towards the city like a breeze.
The citizens of the place were legion, but they did not fight. We had come to free them, this they knew, and so they were glad that soon they would become one with us and the universe.
The demons came, though, as we knew they would, flying, running, thundering. Kartikeya killed hundreds. Durga, beside me, was anxious to fight, but she remained by me as we slowly advanced, as did Ganesa. My coming had been foretold, and the demons fought desperately.
When the demon king Ravana crashed into our vanguard with his most fearsome warriors, the battle was decided. Kartikeya cut through the demons with his gigantic swords, and Indra’s elephant slammed into Ravana himself, knocking him into the dirt. Ravana rose nevertheless, and it seemed that he had had a bit of amrita also.
As the army tore into the demons, Durga and I focused on Ravana.
“You cannot kill me, image of Vishnu,” he said to me, but Durga crushed his skull with one blow, and we moved on, into the city.
“Behold,” said one of Brahma’s four faces, and I turned, though I already felt what he now saw: Everything was vanishing behind us. The ocean was gone, the plain was disappearing, and soon there would be only us and the palace.
“Hurry!” Durga said. “You must reach him before we are swallowed up!”
Despite her protests, I grabbed Durga and pulled her onto the white horse, and we ran ahead, through the city and up the many hundreds of steps to the palace of the one god.
The gates were open, and the gatekeeper was gone.
“Faster—it is upon us!” Durga screamed, causing me to urge the horse on without even glancing back.
We rode through a gigantic columnated throne room, at the end of which was what appeared to be a final set of stairs and then the throne of the one god.
We rode with abandon. If the horse slipped on the marble, we were done. But it would not slip. Durga had made it for this one moment, and the beast would not fail.
It was quite clear when we reached the steps that the white throne was vacant.
“We have failed,” Durga said, squeezing me one last time.
“No,” I said, wheeling the horse around at the top of the stairs, and turning to face my wife.
We had reached the nexus, where this universe would end and the next would begin.
“Kiss me,” I said, “and let love be the first thing we create.”