Sari ummr hum mar mar ke jee liye
Ek pal toh ab humein jeene do…
(We have lived every second of our lives by dying a new death, beg give us one moment of life to live. My transl.)
I have been rather muted about unnatural deaths in my posts. This post attempts to move beyond the moral debates on suicide. I know I am trespassing forbidden grounds, but I have a utopian ideal that the day we give up our inhibitions will we learn to save a lot of human beings.
I thought I should write today on the topic that is closest to the problems of the youth — suicide. Parents, students, in fact the entire younger generation live in a state of denial that suicide can be a reality of our times. But let us face it — it is a true phenomenon which can happen to anyone at any moment of life. The demands and the compulsions of modern Indian life clashes with the demands of tradition and ancient value systems to the maximum extent. The tug of tradition and the push of a bohemian, modern life is sometimes too difficult for many to handle. These are those crucial weakest moments where we succumb to what we have denied for our entire lives — the question that how can you kill yourself? But the worst part of the problem results from the fact that people think that living in a state of denial, making death amount to sin and citing scriptures or religion as the source of scaring away from self-murder are the only ways in which suicides can be averted. No they cannot be. A person who is in a borderline between life and death, between deciding to live on or to finish life is beyond scriptures or religious doctrines or for that matter threatening or denying it as a reality, as a fact of life. In India, we still need a certain amount of intellectual and moral honesty to face the realities of everyday existence. Denial, threatening, scriptural injunctions or even religious conversions (check many websites on the Internet and some promotional shows on the television that use the vulnerability of an individual for conversions) are not the antidote to death itself. Death or desire for death is something that can happen to anyone and the more sinful you attempt to make it the more horrific it becomes. There is only one thing that can prevent it — intense love for oneself and intense love to be shown for the person who is going through this phase. Moreover, there is a need to understand your self while dealing with such an outburst of pathological and psychological emotion.
At some point of life we all become vulnerable,many of us go through this emotion with a lot of intensity. We could save some people and we couldn’t save some others and they had to leave us forever. Let us begin by saying that death-wish and self-killing are not a sin. It is a neutral force resulting because of unequal coping mechanisms. Each of us cope with situations differently and the same stress might have different effects on different people. I do disagree to the fact that a person who commits or attempts suicide is a sinner, someone who is boiled in the cauldron of hell or someone who is ostracized from society. I disagree. Yes, suicide is extremely problematic because you terminate a life by force not by choice. However, suicide is a symptom not a disease. It is a symptom of the failing coping mechanisms, of social neglect, of emotional inadequacy, of material failure, of familial discord, of physical ailments or of complete psychological breakdown. These are the real diseases, suicide is only the culmination of these diseases into an extreme physical form. I have a belief that people are driven to suicide in many parts of India — being mentally challenged and feeling suicidal are different stories, as human beings we do not choose to die .
In his autobiography Dev Anand describing his friendship for Guru Dutt wrote that the latter should have made happy films instead of the melancholic ones because such films eat away a human being (recounted from memory). If you observe Pyasa or Kagaz Ke Phool both are movies that are classics in their genre but they are also like the panic SOS of a drowning man. The unfortunate part about feeling suicidal is that very few people take such people seriously or are completely scared to handle them. Their call is for help not to arouse fear in the other person. Their friends, family and so called loved ones think that these calls are not serious, their outbursts are taken just as anger and pathetic behaviour. Moreover, who has the time or energy to cope with others’ issues when you have an entire pandora’s box of problems to take care of?
A friend who lived two blocks away from my room during my graduation days used to display extreme anger and would cry at the smallest matters. Those days we had a common phone — a landline in the hostel and we all used to get irritated with her because she spoke for long with her parents and would cry relentlessly. After a few months of our final year exams she committed suicide. The apparent reason was frustration but internally she belonged to a broken family, parents living in separation and there was considerable tension going against her to bear at that young age. According to common friends, she had warned and told before but none took her seriously. A distant relative of mine, a lady who went through years of physical and mental abuse by her alcoholic husband recently committed suicide. She kept on complaining to her parents about the behaviour of this man, but her family was economically not well-to-do and they had to let her stay on until she could take it no longer. In fact, in Indian society this chalta hai attitude has remained integral to our thought systems. There is a thought that everyone is equally capable. Stress-coping mechanisms are different for each one. The flaw of our society is creating grand narratives of greatness and sacrifice, where individuals are considered irrelevant. In fact, in Vidarbha or in Jharsuguda the farmers who committed suicide had neither psychological nor moral agenda. Economics drove them to take this ultimate step. Especially, the era that we exist in has this strange imbalance between life and culture, between politics and practice, between personal and professional and between being humane and being divine/demonic. People who claim to be composed, to be intellectual and to be balanced succumb to pressures of society. The result — problems in coping with the demands of life and demands of being an individual.
During my M.Phil days once I met a long lost friend at the bus stop. She had come from a remote village and lived in the same hostel during graduation. She used to visit my room often because my room-mate was her closest friend. Those days she used to be very humbly dressed. People did not take her seriously perhaps because of her economic stature or her dressing mode. I still have some old photographs of the three of us posing for the camera dressed in borrowed sarees during Ganesh Puja celebrations. When I met her after all those years, those moments came back to me. But when I met her, she was really blooming, looked extremely pretty, happy and very “upmarket”. I could not believe that I was meeting the same person once again. She was full of happiness and joy. She took me to a cafe and confided that she was in a long-term relationship and in a live-in with a man of an upper caste. Live-in was something very new for me then and I could not believe what I heard. But, seeing her happiness I started feeling relieved after a few odd moments and thought that if someone is really happy with a person then why not let them be. She however had one tinge of sorrow, their families do not accept it and they have to live in secrecy — I screamed at her and said this won’t last. She just smiled and told me: “everything lasts if you are really in love” . After two weeks, I was lazying around in the hostel visitor’s room, picked up the newspaper and saw that her and her boyfriend’s dead bodies were in the cover-page. They apparently committed suicide, but it was a suspected honour-killing.
Agreed, that societal norms cannot be and should not be changed. However, my anger is regarding the apathy that we have towards people especially friends. What do we do when we make friends? Just have fun, parties, socialize, listen and forget? Or just “tp” “timepass” till we get our own partners or closer friends? Or is there more to our human responsibility? Also, there is something called self-responsibility. People judge friendship by the amount of time they have contributed and by the energy they have spent during those days of parties and fun. Rest, things pass into history and so do human beings. There are many intellectual debates raging these days regarding academic pressure leading to suicides. I disagree once again with such a view. In fact, the movie ‘Three Idiots’ which has come to champion the cause of youth under academic pressure itself shows these flaws. Academics has to be there and it has to be rigorous, else the economic and psychological standards of our society would fall drastically. Quality of education should still remain a priority. How can one account for drunken students, peeing in front of teachers’ quarters, coming next morning to class and committing suicide when not able to cope up with studies? I don’t have an answer and personally think that this is not a justified reason. Drinking, taking drugs and then landing up into death alleys — how do you negotiate with such behavior? There are many causes and multiple symptoms of such a behaviour — friend circle, love affairs, competition during placements or perhaps just a sense of experimenting with life.
We do not exactly know what goes into these aspects. If we knew we would not have lost legends like Guru Dutt, Parveen Babi, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson or Marilyn Monroe. Life is not difficult but it is also not that simple, those of us who survived the hunt of time refuse to own up or take responsibility. We live for ourselves and in our deaths also people accuse us of selfishness. They say time is the greatest healer and time takes care of everything, but it is understood that surviving the attack of time is the greatest bravery. A very close friend once explained it amazingly well to me, she said if you feel low just close your eyes and dream about all those things which you want for yourself, not those that are hurting you, but those that you may not have thought for yourself. She said think about a lovely evening in the sea-beach or cool breezy walk in the mountains with bluebirds flying all around you or think of a brand new car which you are learning to drive, imagine a family that you have created in deepest love and see how different you feel. She also said that when you feel sad think that only your smile can brighten this world and this world turns and twists only with a smile on your lips.
Finally, living and not living are not personal choices. We were not brought into this world with our own accord, we were forced to be born from the maternal womb. Similarly death too is not in the hands of society. The society sometimes stones and kills a person of lower caste, the same society forces dowry and forced marriage on its young children, the same society exists in denial of extreme forms of corruption and unemployment, and the same society forges its rules to prevent deaths. Ironical, yet true….I wish as a society we had some degree of collective responsibility towards everyone including animals and plants.
However, still the benefit of living on is that you have a choice to choose a better life…