Chapter 1: A Small Village In Northern India

Four-year-old Kiran Kelly was jumping for joy. Today she’d ride on a bus to sit the Reincarnation Test. The fact was, she was more excited about riding a bus than sitting a test, even though she had such vivid memories of her previous life. While they waited for the bus, her father, Ramesh, looked over the northern Indian village of Bhokat. The small village where the latest construction project had brought him and his family. 

Northern India was baking in the pre-monsoon heat of early May. Even though it was still morning, the temperature was already in the low 30s. Ramesh brushed the dust from his clothes. He knew it was useless because the dust was everywhere. Dust got in his eyes and his nose. The landscape was a parched, dun-coloured monotony of dust.

As a low-caste, ditch-digger family, they were forbidden a seat on the ancient bus. They were only allowed to stand, or to sit on the floor for the 90-minute ride to Rajnan. Even though there were a few empty seats at the back, all seats were off-limits to everyone of their caste. 

This was the first ride on a bus for Kiran. She ran from side to side in the empty, last row to look out the windows and see the world fly by. She watched the clouds of dust trailing in the wake of the dilapidated bus. Even though the bus was barely crawling along, Kiran thrilled at the speed. However, the novelty wore off quickly and she sat on the floor with her imaginary friends.

At first Ramesh chose to stand. He bent his legs to absorb some of the shock. Soon the bumping and bouncing over the broken road was just too much. Years of back-breaking work had taken its toll on his twenty-six-year-old body and, standing or sitting, the ride was painful. When he finally gave in and joined Kiran sitting on the floor, she cuddled up to him. The floor was worn to the bare metal and rusted through in places. Those in seats could mostly avoid the road dust by placing their feet over the holes. But the dust, heat and fumes coming through the floor were inescapable for Kiran and Ramesh.

The other passengers ignored the Kellys, which Ramesh considered a blessing. He was resigned to being invisible to higher caste people. Now he could be alone with his thoughts. Something he did every day when digging ditches. When someone sitting just ahead of them would clear their throat or nose and turn to the aisle to spit, it often landed on them. It was just a fact of life for the lower castes. At least the spitting wasn’t intentional. Ramesh knew the many reasons they had to spit on him; his low caste, his lighter, half-breed skin colour, and because he was a Catholic surrounded by Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. 

In one way he was hoping Kiran would fail the Reincarnation Test because it would help reinforce his strict Catholic teaching that reincarnation is false. At the end of his life, he would join God, Jesus and Mary in heaven forever. Without this comforting thought, bearing his gruelling labour and his poverty would be much harder. But if Kiran passed the test and really was a reincarnate it might mean heaven didn’t exist, only endless reincarnation. He could live with his faith being challenged in this way only because he knew there would be some money associated with her passing the test. Even a few extra rupees a day would be welcome. 

For countless children around the world who had failed the test, it was like a losing lottery ticket. For the Kelly family, it would be borrowed rupees thrown away on a whim. If Kiran failed the test, it would take Ramesh months to repay the cost of the bus fare and internet time. On the other hand, like everyone’s dream, this could be his family’s way out of their grinding poverty.