Something I haven’t mentioned in previous posts about the children investigated by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, is that they don’t talk of an after-life. They simply remember a past-life before this one, nothing in between.
Except that there are exceptions, and one of them is the fascinating little girl Puti Patra, born in 1964 to a family in West Bengal. The family were low caste, the father was a day laborer and they lived in a clay hut. Here is how Stevenson starts her story:
When Puti was between one and a half and two years old she began to talk about a previous life. She said she had been married to one Bera and had a daughter and a son. One day the husband had come home drunk. He found his lunch was late and, becoming enraged, slapped his wife, who fell down in a faint. He attempted to revive her unsuccessfully. He then took her body to the cowshed, where he hanged her with a rope. Puti claimed that she was still living in the previous life when her husband did this; she implied that he panicked, became afraid he would be accused of murder, and hanged her body …. in order to simulate a suicide.
According to records, a 25 year-old woman named Lolita, married to one Bansi Bera, had committed suicide about six years before Puti was born a few kilometers away. Bansi Bera said he found her hanging like that and the police apparently accepted his story because she had a reputation of being ‘crack-brained’. However Bera didn’t tell his neighbors that – he told them Lolita died of cholera. .
Like many Indian parents of such children, Puti’s parents tried to stop her from talking about a past life. They were successful enough that she had totally stopped by the time she was 4 years old, which Stevenson says is unusually early (they usually stop around 7 years). But her mother admitted to Stevenson in 1971 when Puti was 7 yrs old that she would still talk about it if she was asked.
Like other past-life children, Puti correctly identified the Bera house, and was right about some other details, but Stevenson says it was this discrepancy between her description of Lolita’s death and that of the husband that most interested him. The completely different account of her death is intriguing to me. I’m sure Stevenson wished he could have interviewed the investigating police officer, or any doctor who may have examined Lolita after death.
But that isn’t all that is interesting. Stevenson also reports:
Puti stated that after being hanged….. she stayed near a date palm tree by the house where she had lived. She told her father: “When you were coming one day about midday from your work and passing by this house [meaning the Bera house] I was standing at the bottom of the date palm tree and came along with you to your house.” Since Lolita died in 1956 and Puti was born in 1964, she seemingly condensed the memories of the experiences of eight years into this one sentence.
Yes, there it is in one sentence, almost an after-thought reference to being ‘alive’ after her death. You would like to know whether Puti was born to the Patra family – or conceived – on that day, but we will apparently never know that. Did this come from a dream? Is it just fantasy? Or does it refer to something real? Remember that this is a small child speaking, who correctly named her past-life father and identified the house.
Although Stevenson put this story forward as another piece of evidence for reincarnation, he warned that we should not attach too much importance to his use of the word ‘reincarnation’. In a 2001 essay, after presenting summaries of the evidence in three other cases (Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation, as reprinted in the At Issue edition, Is There Life After Death?, p. 94), he finished with this:
That is all I can say about evidence we have of the effects in one life from causes in a previous one, and I may have said too much. I think it appropriate to end …. with an acknowledgment of our ignorance, even with an emphasis on it. Although the study of the children who claim to remember past lives has convinced me that some of them may indeed have reincarnated, it has also made me certain that we know almost nothing about reincarnation.
Almost nothing about an ‘after-life’ too, he might have added.
The psychologist J.B. Rhine once said that the concept of an after-life was the ‘Mount Everest of paranormal phenomena’, the reason why he had avoided investigating it. Some people have tried to climb the mountain though, and I’m going to comment on them in future posts.