Attempts to preserve the human brain after death and the futuristic prospect of bringing the dead, frozen or preserved in other ways, back to life extend a long way back in time. Cryonics is described as “the practice of preserving a person in cold storage in the hopes that they’ll eventually be brought back to life once the requisite technologies exist”.

There are several allied fields and words such as plastination, connectomics, etc associated with brain preservation. For various reasons, such research has been of great interest to me. Incidentally, did you know that more than sixty years after his death, pieces of Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein’s brain can still be seen at the Mütter Museum, America’s finest museum of medical history?

But what caught my attention recently was a piece on Sir Richard Faull and the Centre for Brain Research he established in 1993. Sir Richard and his collaborators, the article said, were the first to reveal that the adult human brain constantly creates new cells, rather than dying a slow death. This set me thinking of a meeting long years ago with a man who ate a human brain.

We had been on our way to Maldevta, a popular picnic spot near Dehra Dun. Thirst overtook us and we asked for some water at a small thatched hut. A dusky, well built man wearing a skimpy loin cloth emerged from the dark interior of the hut. Why, of course, we could have water, he answered. Was this his permanent residence, we asked him. Oh no, he had no fixed place of stay. There was a cremation ground just a stone’s throw away and he’d built this hut as he had been waiting for a lawaaris or unclaimed body.

After waiting for some three months, such a body had arrived and he’d been able, in exchange for a good luck charm, to obtain the head of the dead man.

In fact, he’d almost run out of water as he had used most of it for cooking the dead man’s brain with some rice. He brought out a blackened pot and showed us the contents. He’d already had one portion, and would have to space out eating the cooked brain and rice over the next three days.

Repelled, chilled, yet curious, we asked him who he was.

Scientists are engaged in unraveling the brain’s mysteries after death by preserving it. The Aghoris are on an opposite track, eating the brain instead of preserving it. 

He was an Aghori, he said. The rules of the search for power in which he was engaged ordained that he had to eat at least one human brain annually. He could actually show us our future, in case we were interested. Why didn’t we come in? Fascinated yet afraid that at this isolated spot we might end up becoming his annual meal, we left somewhat hastily, forgetting all our lessons in politeness.

Circumstances, chance, call it what you will, took us back to him. He was still there, at the peak of his powers, he informed us, as he’d recently consumed the human brain. This time, we entered his hut. The Aghori requested us to sit and placed a lota or container of water before us and showed my companions their future in the water. When we went to meet the Aghori again, we found the hut was just a bundle of grass and straw and twigs strewn on the ground.

Enquiries at the cremation ground revealed that the Aghori had been driven away by irate residents of Raipur, a nearby suburb. However, what has remained firmly imprinted in my brain is a comment he had made. “Burn it, bury it, destroy it, eat it, the brain never dies”.

The thread of this theme was picked up a couple of years ago at Haridwar, through another Aghori we met, again by so called chance. He was at a much higher level of evolution than the Maldevta Aghori.

“The heart”, he informed us, “pumps blood through your body but it is the brain where everything is stored, our experiences, our karmas, memories, birth after birth…”

I had a flashback here of what Henry Ford, the automobile pioneer wrote, “…Genius is experience. Some seem to think that it is a gift or talent, but it is the fruit of long experience in many lives. Some are older souls than others, and so they know more. ….”

Does all this mean, I asked the Aghori that the brain dies physically, but its connections, its contents never die?

“Correct”, he answered, “but that’s only part of the answer. My guru can tell you how it is ageless, can never be destroyed by time and many other things that science-viance wallas can’t …”

But sadly, a request for a meeting with his guru was met with silence and it set me thinking again.

Scientists are engaged in unraveling the brain’s mysteries after death by preserving it. The Aghoris are on an opposite track, eating the brain instead of preserving it. But though their purpose is different, for both it is an exploration of the power and possibilities of the “dead” brain.

And though unschooled, illiterate and isolated in the conventional sense, the Aghoris seem to know a lot about brain power. The hitch to hearing more from them: where and how does one locate a genuine Aghori?

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