Aram Kugiungian

J. Rodolfo Wilcock

Illustration by Monika Grubizna

Innumerable are the believers in the transmigration of souls. Of these, not a few have proven themselves capable of remembering their previous lives or even several reincarnations. Yet one man alone maintains, not simply that he lived, but that he lives, at any precise moment, in many bodies. Foreseeably, the largest number of these bodies belong to well-known people, some quite well-known, and this fact rendered him particularly famous in narrow circles, esoteric as well as Canadian.

He was called Aram Kugiungian. As a child, he fled Turkish Armenia with his father, who was obliged to join a rather well-heeled brother in Rioja, Argentina. Yet through a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, they instead caught up with a very poor uncle, actually a tatterdemalion, in the vicinity of Toronto. The uncle got them a ride on a vegetable cart bound for the city, where Aram's father, as he was wont to do at Erzerum, immediately went to work in a cobbler's shop.

The shoes in that country were so different from their Turkish counterparts that his only qualification for practicing the primitive craft was virtually the habit of remaining seated before a shoe. Mr. Kugiungian possessed a limited idea of the real dimensions of America, but he quickly grew weary of asking which train would take him to Rioja. Both father and son learned a simulacrum of English. Aram was disconcerted by the fact that people could be Jewish, Turkish, and Christian simultaneously. This astonishment pushed him from the agnosticism he originally held toward theosophy. The plurality that others attributed to him planted deep roots which one day would send forth unexpected branches. In the meantime he frequented a Toronto-based group known as "The Karma Wheel."

One April evening in 1949, on the sidewalk of a dirty street heading toward Lake Ontario, Aram Kugiungian first noticed that he was also someone else or, indeed, several others. He was then twenty-three years old. He hadn't finished learning English; in fact, there were girls who claimed he spoke French. America was undoubtedly a continent suited to being different people at the same time.

His father managed only to be his father, dedicated to accumulating minute sums of money inside an old victrola, whereon he laid his pillow at night. His father's uncle, however, chose not to be anyone, or more exactly, he was no one, since he hadn't made another appearance in more than a decade.

As for Aram Kugiungian, the wheel of his karma began to spin uncontrollably, as it seemed, perhaps to arrive prematurely at its fixed terminus. The fact is that at intervals of approximately every two months Aram was born again, while continuing to live in other bodies. Obviously, arithmetic is useless with souls: a soul divided by a thousand always yields a thousand perfect souls, just as the Breath of the Creator divided by three billion yields three billion Breaths of the Creator. Aram knew he was the Armenian boy of whom it was said: he wished to know who he might be.

He sought advice from his friends in the Karma Club. He made clear that he wasn't suffering from a case of double or multiple personality; he knew nothing at all about the other people. There were just occasions when, seeing a name or photograph in a newspaper or publicity poster, he experienced the acute sensation of being that person as well, whoever it might be. These abrupt encounters had already happened with a young actress, apparently English, named Elizabeth Taylor; with a Catholic archbishop from New York on a visit to Québec; and with a certain Chiang Kai-Shek, who was clearly Chinese. He didn't know whether he should contact these people, even by letter, to explain that they were all his reincarnations.

His friends were quick to understand a case of this kind, although it was the first to occur in Toronto. They listened to him with interest, with wonder, and with the respect that the supernatural inspires when it departs from its usual daily routine. They told him that if he wrote a letter to himself, he risked getting no response. So they counseled him to read the newspapers more often to see whether he could trace his identity in other people and compile a list of them for publication in the Club's monthly bulletin.

The bulletin, like the Club, was entitled The Karma Wheel. In the October 1949 issue, an enthusiastic note by a certain Alan H. Seaborn commented on the singular velocity of Kugiungian's soul. In addition to the above-cited people, the list of his previous incarnations (he didn't recognize the subsequent ones, probably children too young to be famous) comprised Louis de Broglie, Mosaddegh, Alfred Krupp, Eleanor Roosevelt, Olivier Eugène Prosper Charles Messiaen, Chaim Weitzmann, Lucky Luciano, Ninon Vallin, Stafford Cripps, Eva Perón's mother, Wladimir D'Ormesson, Lin Biao, Arturo Toscanini, Tyrone Power, El-Said Mohammed Idris, Coco Chanel, Vyacheslav Mikhailevic Molotov, Ali Khan, Anatole Litvak, Marshall Tito, John George Haigh, Yehudi Menuhin, Elinor Wedel (Miss Denmark), Joe Louis, and many other personalities who have since sunk into oblivion (the vampire John George Haigh, meanwhile, had been hanged in England).

His fellow club members often asked him how it felt to be so many people at the same time. Kugiungian always replied that he didn't feel anything extraordinary; in fact, he didn't feel anything at all, or at the most a vague sense of not being alone in the world. In reality, his corporal multiplicity came to be the first refutation of the so-called solipsistic thesis in corpore vili. Kugiungian, however, thought that Berkeley was a cricket field near Hamilton, and solipsism a form of refined vice. Several of his fellows questioned the strange coincidence that all of his simultaneous reincarnations were prominent figures. But Kugiungian prudently countered that in all likelihood his epiphanies were very frequent, and so, lacking the means to inquire into the little known, he was forced to limit himself to the most conspicuous.

At this point, a young Steinerian advanced the hypothesis that perhaps Aram Kugiungian might be the entire world population, which in that period was rather enormous. The idea was seductive—a freewheeling soul can complete a great number of revolutions per second—and Kugiungian was flattered by it. But here he had to confront the resolute opposition of the other club members, nearly all of whom obstinately refused to think of themselves as the Armenian's embodiment, whether as a reincarnation or a preincarnation. Only one young lady responded favorably to the proposal. The others took this gesture for what it certainly was, an awkward effort to flirt, on the pretext of being soul mates.

Nonetheless, Kugiungian continued to recognize himself in newspaper photographs and, later, television. From one of his statements in the Journal of Theosophy we must infer that ten years later, namely in 1960, apart from the above-cited people, he had also become A.J. Ayer, Dominguín, Mehdi Ben Barka, Adolf Eichmann, Princess Margaret, Carl Orff, Raoul-Albin-Louis Salan, Sir Julian Huxley, the Dalai Lama, Aram Khachaturian, Caryl Chessman, Fidel Castro, Max Born, Syngman Rhee, Elvis Presley, and Anita Ekberg.

He currently lives in Winnipeg; and although in recent years he has multiplied himself exponentially, he has never wished to meet any of his incarnations in person. Many of them do not speak English, others seem to be very busy, and, to tell the truth, he wouldn't know what to say to himself.

translated from the Italian by Lawrence Venuti

Original Italian text (c) 1972 Adelphi Edizioni S.p.A. Milano.

English text used by permission of David R. Godine.

Translation copyright (c) by Lawrence Venuti, 2000, 2014.

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