Thoughts on the Death of a Young Artiste

चराग़ों को आँखों में महफ़ूज़ रखना
बड़ी दूर तक रात ही रात होगी l
(बशीर बद्र)

If we are truly alive, we are bound to face existential despair. A vast majority of us. Most of the times we hide our despair, our anxieties & fears. We pretend to be normal as society expects us to be normal. No one likes melancholic, anxious, depressed people around, except in the cinema we watch and the literature we read. That’s why millions of people throng theatres to watch Devdas & Joker, but these same set of people say to depressed people things like: “Snap out of it. Cheer up, it’s not so bad as you think it is.” The irony is that depression is very common, and yet most of the modern societies ignore it.

Approximately, one in five people gets depression at some point in their lives. It kills more people than many other forms of violence including homicides, conflicts, wars, & terrorism. About 900,000 people all over the world die of suicide every year, with India alone accounting for one-third to one-fourth of the global suicide count. Depression is a killer, unlike any other. Our society acknowledges other killers – cancers, strokes, road accidents, etc. But anxieties, depression, dementia, schizophrenia & other mental disorders are stigmatized and the patients discriminated against.

Our society is one of the most complex societies, driven by blind orthodoxies of a bygone age (arranged marriages, superstitions, casteism, patriarchy, etc.) & the modern maladies we’ve imbibed from the West (fierce competition, promiscuity, materialism, etc.). We have progressed to become one of the most hypocritical, unfeeling societies on this planet, with a leg rooted in ancient times and another dangling midair in an age of science. Any thinking-feeling human gets perplexed by the booby traps & mines he/she is expected to survive each day. Boys don’t cry (even if crying soothes & dulls pain by releasing those feel-good chemicals, oxytocin & endorphins). Good girls don’t argue (it’s another matter that arguments are signs of a functional brain & help let out steam). Boss is always right (even when the boss might be a morally corrupt, nincompoop). Don’t question your elders (Even though the youngsters could offer a fresh perspective about an issue). Never question the government (even if it’s hiding things that might jeopardize the security of your country). Your religion is the best (because by an accident you were born into it and have been brainwashed every single day to agree to whatever it says.)

In our society, a man is always expected to smile in the face of adversities. Introverts have no place in the social sphere. One must choose a career imposed by his parents and peers. In the year 2020, you’ll be accepted unconditionally, if your gender identity perfectly matches with the sex assigned to you at birth; if not, be ready for a life full of ordeals. To be unmarried after a certain age is to provide fodder to gossip mongers and a variety of pressures will be applied to cut the unmarried freak to size till he/she conforms to societal norms. Job choices are dictated by the society; some jobs are respected because they fetch huge bribes, some others are looked at with disdain because they bring uncertainties. How often we’ve seen dreams of artistic kinds crumble because of discouragement & lack of support from the people close to us who could have supported us at the right time?

How many people visit shrinks in India? Is it even a thing here? Are there enough trained psychiatrists in our country? How many schools across our country employ full-time counsellors? How often you’ve been called mad, idiot, moron, dumb by your teachers or elders? How many times you’ve mocked your peers by calling them mad, psycho, or idiot? Were you ever bullied? Did you bully someone?What do you know about mental disorders and mental health? In this age of anxiety & stress, when was the last time you were counselled by a professional trained to deal with stress, anxieties and fears? How many dental clinics you’ve seen around the place you live? Dozens. And how many psychiatric clinics? Nada. Zilch. Cipher. Is brain less important than dentures?

We live in a country, where even now in villages and towns, if someone shows typical symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions, hallucinations, etc.) he/she would be taken first to faith-healers and black magic practitioners. After spending years and wasting money, sometimes a rare few would visit a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

We live in a society where people call suicide an act of cowardice. After the unfortunate suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput, I saw a number of comments where teachers (insensitive jerks masquerading as teachers) & other highly educated people (disgrace to the colleges they went to) called suicide a cowardly and selfish act. Before I answer why suicide shouldn’t be labelled cowardly, I want them to imagine that a person whom they love the most (son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother) dies of suicide and someone comes & says that the person died the death of a selfish coward. How’d they feel? Nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to live and be happy. You can’t even imagine how long a person fought to survive, with dignity. You can’t even guess how long the dead person tried desperately to cling to hope. You can’t fathom the courage he/she exhibited to fight his/her inner fights which no one else ever saw him/her fighting till he/she was alive. If you are an insensitive person, who cannot understand the daily struggle to live, that a person with mental disorder undergoes, keep your ignorant mouth shut. Many mental disorders like schizophrenia and MDD have genetic & environmental causes and the person suffering from suicidal thoughts isn’t even responsible for those destructive thoughts. By calling suicide cowardly, you fill the grieving relatives left behind with thoughts of gloom. You add to their grief. Did you ever call someone who succumbed to cancer or stroke a coward? How can you call someone who succumbed to a mental disorder cowardly?The ideas of sin & damnation are added to suicide by religions (all false, whether of one book or of many books, whether of one man-made God or those of many man-made gods).

David Foster Wallace once said: “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
Be there for someone with anxiety & depression. Educate yourself. Read about mental disorders and what to say and what not to say. Listen & be patient. Life is already cruel, don’t add to its cruelty by taunting or teasing someone you know is feeling low. You can’t predict what might act as a trigger. Motivate the person to seek professional psychotherapy & medication.

Research shows a correlation between mental disorders and intelligence. The idea of Tortured genius isn’t a myth. Look at the examples of Mozart, Newton, Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Dostoyevsky, Beethoven, Edward Munch, David Foster Wallace, Anne Sexton, Kurt Cobain, Guru Dutt… Great art comes from great pain. When alive, most of these geniuses remained unsung, surrounded as they were by mediocre men & women in a world that worships mediocrity. Many a time, the world has been shaken from its slumber by the untimely demise of a tortured genius. By then it was too late. Let’s act now to avoid such unfortunate deaths of young talents, by providing them a world full of empathy and goodwill. A world where merit is allowed to prosper, away from thoughts of guilt, shame, sin & damnation.

To survive this tough life, don’t feel guilty if you have no real friends. Don’t be afraid of being idle. Find a reason to live. Read, write, talk (to yourself, if there’s no one else to talk to). Don’t hurt anyone. Be kind. Be honest. Instead of watching TV or scrolling aimlessly on mobile, go to sleep or go for a walk. Love unconditionally. Let go of thoughts and fears. Accept change. Allow toxic relationships to die sooner. Never hate anyone. There is no afterworld, this life is all you have. Do your best and don’t worry about the results. There’s no god anywhere, you’ve to take care of yourself.

Find meaning and you’ll find happiness.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to seek help.

(Disclaimer: I am not a mental health expert. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition. Don’t delay seeking advice.)

  1. I have watched only two of the movies of Sushant Singh, Kai Po Che and Sonchiriya (In coming days, will watch another one of his movies, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!). He was a good actor. A person who took stand in that manufactured controversy around Padmavat; something that shows he had spine in an industry, where bigger (& spineless)stars fail to take unpopular stands. In the last few years, I sometimes came across his posts on science & bucket list of 50 dreams, and I used to think that he was in a wrong industry, where generally unschooled people with shallow thoughts prospered. In my opinion, from where he started and what he achieved at the age of 34, he was a success. In near future, he might be recognized as the James Dean of our times. Definitely, a life to be celebrated, for its struggles and successes. If his death creates a movement to recognize importance of mental health, we might save many human lives in future.
  2. Obviously nepotism is the reason for the poor quality of movies being made in India. In all the film industries in India (Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, etc.), outsiders have to prove themselves each day and the star kids are born with a silver spoon. But then we are a society that thrives on nepotism. In case you’ve a doubt, look at lawyers inheriting fathers’ practices, doctors bequeathing their clinics to their kids, political dynasties, neighbourhood grocery shops… Every outsider becomes an insider some day and finds a dynasty, if he survives for long. Our movie industry can’t be like Hollywood, where except some rare examples of dynasties like Fonda or Douglas, you’ll mostly find fresh talents prospering. We are an ageing civilisation, afraid of new adventures and so out of self(ish)interest want to preserve the spoils of our wars & fruits of our labour for our sons & daughters. Here Reliance will always be headed by an Ambani and not some Sundar Pichai.

 

(In the Urdu couplet quoted at the beginning of this piece, Bashir Badr, the eminent poet says: Preserve the lamps in your eyes, as the night will be long and dark.)

 

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