For a good four years of our early life, our brain just copies and translates and recycles. We have no memory of anything. We don’t remember being in a womb, or coming out bawling, learning to walk and speak, drinking milk or pooping in diapers. Only after around four years, we start to form memories. Our brain develops the neocortex where we store long term memories. We may have some vague flashes or smears of something intangible, we may have vividly imagined what our parents told us of those first few years, but we ourselves are biologically incapable of forming memories. When I sit and mindfully think of my earliest memories, I can only remember things from when I was probably ten years old – a summer camp here, a science class there, a beach trip, a Holi celebration. I learnt a lot of skills before that – riding a bike, playing chess, reading, speaking, writing, and the rest – but I can’t for the life of me remember the process. Consecutively, I also don’t remember at what point I learnt to discern. I remember I knew that bullying was wrong, that I should help others and be kind to them, that I should not yell and scream and throw tantrums. My parents and teachers most likely taught me all this, but I only remember the outcome, not the development.
My birth as a physical human was my detachment from my mother’s nutrition channels and development as a separate being. My birth as a person though – that was not as straightforward, was it? At the risk of sounding poetic, we are reborn every time an opinion, a dissent, a concept, a revelation, or an emotion takes place within us. We change ever so slightly in the aftermath of that phenomenon. After the first flutter in our stomachs when we felt a longing for another human being, after the first epiphany when we learnt about gravity or oxygen, after the first heartbreak at the loss of a loved one, after the first pain of a bone fracture, after the first feeling of anger at something, after the first pang of guilt when we stole a sweet from the pantry – we are reborn. We begin to identify ourselves as a true individual – not just a physically separated mammal, but an emotionally and thoughtfully separated person. And as we grow, we finally remember the process.
Our physical birth into this world was not our choice. Our survival and existence for a good decade was also likely not in our control. And an essential attribute of having taken birth once is that we inevitably have to grow older and older. We have to evolve too – not into another species, but into a sustainable version of ourselves. We simply aren’t in a situation where we can refuse to change with the times. The birth of a single being leads to the birth of a collective in one way or another. Inventions, dissent, revolutions, imaginations, and wars are all individual conceptual births that snowballed. What this means is far more serious than we think – we can’t merely dismiss our personalities and traits anymore. We can’t hide behind the absence of memory anymore. We can’t justify our ignorance and consecutive wrongdoings anymore. All we need to do is look around, and unless we truly live under a rock, we can’t defend our racist, misogynist, discriminative and selfish identities anymore.
Birth is not a fixed event that happened to us many years ago when we entered the world. It is a continuum that lasts until we leave the world.