I said I’d write a sequence of blogs on the mysteries that attend my life. I am assuming that I am not unique in being subjected to uncanny forces beyond my powers of reason. I expect most people, if they spent a bit of time in personal reflection, would dredge up the inexplicable in their own lives. The fact of the matter is that if we do experience events beyond the pale, then we tend to consign them to deepest memory because we know we’d be ridiculed if we intimated we believed them. Our friends and acquaintances are always ultra-rational when it’s not their own lives held under a spotlight.
In the last couple of blogs I have introduced what Jung terms synchronicity, events that are bizarrely connected across time and space and seem to defy normal forces. Here’s another example, a vignette which speaks of the irrational.
I was born in India. By the time my family returned with me to the UK I spoke Urdu and English. By then I was aware that my elder sister had drowned and it took three or four years for my parents to conceive me. Four years after me they produced a girl, too. Until I was forty five or so I had the story of my sister’s death imprinted on my brain by my mother. She would say, “Little Margaret would be fifteen now” or Little Margaret would be twenty five now”. In other words my dead sister was ageing as I was and as a ghostly precursor to my life. She died, I knew – I had been told many times – at the age of a toddler, two or three. She was the daughter of an army man and his wife. My father was a significant player in building India’s military academy in Dehra Dun, a couple of hundred miles north of Delhi. He was seconded to the Indian military whilst also a captain in the PT Corps. He helped stage those old TV events at Earl’s Court where services competed in assembling canons, doing gymnastics and the like.
My sister was found drowned in the water tank in the garden. She had apparently climbed over the little protective fence. There she was, like Ophelia. It nearly destroyed my father and my mother had to be strong to hold their relationship together.
Moving on forty years. I accompanied my dying father back to this place where he had been ‘the man’ and where my ghostly sister began her immaterial ageing. Being an academic I was invited to address India’s leading military trainers and stood before a packed lecture theatre with my father sitting in the front row, observing his son doing something he had done forty to fifty years before. We had tea in the bungalow where I first crawled. This was my first return after the intervening decades.
I decided to find my sister’s grave. My father was reluctant. Maybe the prostate cancer and the catheter made him feel unprepared. Anyway we went. We found the grave. It had been partially defaced with strange hieroglyphs. We interrogated the register in the little church. There was her name, Margaret Sanger. There was her age. Six years. Now, can you imagine? Six? But she was surely a toddler! Finally my father talked about that distant time.
Margaret was born with a fear of water. She hated being bathed and would scream. When she was eighteen months her screams brought adults into the garden to find her pointing. A toddler was drowning in the fountain but her prompt but precocious warning saved it. She wanted to learn to swim. When my father took her to the swimming baths she grew rigid as she approached and turned blue when he gently eased her into the water. He taught hundreds to swim in his later life. He became a swimming pool manager after the army. But not his own daughter. Not Little Margaret. The very strange thing about her death was this: the post mortem showed no water in her lungs. My father could not explain it except that she may have died from fear. Or, I told myself, she had been asphyxiated and thrown into the tank. Who knows?
I went to see her grave the next morning early. I had arranged for the gardener to put flowers on her stone. He had filled an indent in her slab and rose petals floated there. I heard a little girl crying in my mind. Self-delusion, no doubt.
My parents had more luck with their second daughter. She took to water like the proverbial duck. In fact she became one of Britain’s leading women breast-strokers, aged only thirteen.
Little Margaret would be 74 now.