Thursday, 12 May 2011

On Rebirth & Reincarnation in 'Jasmine'

Mukherjee suggests, through Jasmine/Jane/Jyoti, that perhaps we are reborn many times during our lives in one body—as opposed to being reborn to a new life in a different body—or at least that this is possible. I absolutely agree with this unexpected assertion and have found my own life to work very much in this way. The narrator tells us that Jyoti was not Jasmine, that Jasmine isn't Jane, and wonders onto which identity to put herself as a murderer or herself as a victim of rape (127). I think about this kind of thing a lot—how some of my previous selves don't seem like me now, me today.

(Different versions of me, different lives that I have lived include: Tally in an Emory sorority, M-tal to students at Cate, Meghan-Tally in braids in a Colorado mountain town, Meggie the daughter of my mom. There are others.)

Jane joins Mary Webb, who believes she has been reincarnated multiple times, at a luncheon because Mary sees Jane as a kindred spirit of sorts, trusting that she, too, believes in reincarnation (perhaps just because she looks Hindu and perhaps because she simply seems a certain way). Jane says, "When the waiter leaves, I tell her that yes, I am sure that I have been reborn several times, and that yes, some lives I can recall vividly" (126). A few minutes later, she continues, "'Yes,' I say. 'I do believe you. We do keep revisiting the world. I have also travelled in time and space. It is possible'" (127). Mary is talking about being different people in different bodies, different times, different places, while Jane is talking about being different people in one body, in different times and different places. She re-inhabits her own body as different people or different versions of herself all the time.

After Jane finds out that Professorji is actually not a professor but a procurer and seller of human hair, she tells us, "Nothing was rooted anymore. Everything was in motion" (152). She seems to have the sense that boundaries are fluid, that everything both is and isn’t at the same time. She is obsessed by questions about her own existence; she has to be.

"I feel at times like a stone hurtling through diaphanous mist, unable to grab hold, unable to slow myself, yet unwilling to abandon the ride I'm on," Jane says (139). Then: "An imaginary brick wall with barbed wire cut me off from the past and kept me from breaking into the future. I was a prisoner doing unreal time" (148).

Jane’s sequence of rebirths or reincarnations presents a paradox: they make everything and nothing possible. She can be someone new, but she is not entirely in control of who that someone will be. She feels consigned to this fate, in a way, and yet she understands her own adaptation and reinvention as a mode of survival, an utter necessity.

Sometimes this is positive, even though it is surprising and out of her control. Unexpectedly, Wylie and Taylor’s gecko jumps onto Jasmine at their apartment in New York, and Jasmine says, "Truly I had been reborn" (163). Jyoti would never have been able to embrace this happening, but Jasmine can. Jasmine adapts and survives, and this brings small lagniappes as well as traumas, depending on the day.

I have not survived nearly as much as Jane; nor have I adapted nearly as much. Yet I have survived and adapted through various mutations. Maybe being reborn or reinvented is a shedding of skin. The old skin dies and comes off, and a new person is revealed underneath—both the same and different.

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