Iwas seated in front of four seasoned grey heads from the university’s mass communication faculty, defending my master’s degree dissertation. My focus was a subjective analysis of Guru Dutt’s life and cinema. After the more predictable questions, the senior-most in the panel asked me, “It appears to me that you are not only justifying, but also condoning Guru Dutt’s manner of ending his life. So you think suicide is really a solution?”
I hadn’t thought they would pick on that. That last page in my analysis had come from a very personal space and by the time I’d got to it, I’d almost lived through Guru Dutt’s life; being him. It wasn’t that I had no answer or defence, I did. But would this elderly, old-school gentleman in his pristine white dhoti buy it?
“No, suicide is no solution for anything in life,” I told them. “But for this man it was probably hope that made him do it – not hopelessness. A hope that maybe in the afterlife and the beyond he would find what he couldn’t in life. Maybe, just maybe, things would get better there.” My conclusions were most decidedly drawn from my own interpretations.
To this day, I am not sure if they bought it. I eventually bagged a gold medal that year but how much of it I owed to my analysis of Guru Dutt, I don’t know. When I left the viva room that day, I was thinking about the short life and swift death of my maternal uncle.
I never met him. At 19, when my mother was still a pre-teen, he is supposed to have ended his own life. More than two and half decades before I was even conceived. All through my childhood, I heard more about him than my entire clan and forefathers.
My mother, to this day, hasn’t gotten over his loss: Her voice still breaks when she speaks of him. My grandfather had it worse. He stopped fighting life after he lost his son. It broke him. He succumbed, years later, to a weakened heart.
The one thing that got etched into my baby head was this: That one life drags so many others with it.
Today, when I pick up the newspaper and read about Anthony Bourdain, I feel a numbness. Last April, I felt the same when a smiling, 24-year-old from my own city, Arjun Bhardwaj, plunged to his death from a five-star hotel, after recording his end on FB Live.
They call it depression now. There was a time it was “just loneliness”, maybe madness, and other unsavoury, shameful things.
Arjun left nine suicide notes in the room. Not one, but NINE. According to his “friends” and his father he was depressed and had probably been contemplating suicide for several days. The fact that he was expressing himself prior to his death on social media, to me is proof that he was reaching out. And desperately so.
But “reaching out” today is devoid of any physical contact. You are not reaching for a hand, a shoulder, a lap, or an arm to weep into. Instead, you hold it all in, sit in front of an electronic device, connected to the World Wide Web and drop little crumbs of yourself – in spite of yourself – as silent sobs clutch at your throat. There could be times when someone notices those crumbs and steps up to hold you up. But in most cases, your “friends” and “followers” on FB, Instagram, and Twitter will move on to the next post. Maybe you will too.
Only to come back to your haunting and horror when the blue screen is kept aside. Thoughts strangle you, voices in your head smother and suffocate you. You want to grab at something, you want to breathe, you want to pull yourself out – but you can’t. You don’t even know what is really happening to you. You don’t know if it’s something that will pass in a few minutes, a few hours, days, weeks, months – ever? You desperately hope someone out there will eventually get to you. But who?
They call it depression now. There was a time it was “just loneliness”, maybe madness, and other unsavoury, shameful things. All labels in the end. And all those that you never want to see on yourself.
But even all us “normal” human beings have had thought of death or ending things at some point in life. It’s sometimes a natural way for the mind to progress in extreme situations. The more fortunate ones cross over and move on like the thought was just a slip of desperation and nothing more. But some manage to get arrested in that particular slip for a while longer. The voices in our head tell us in the most banal moments – while making an omelette, buying a gift for a friend, or just standing by the shore to admire the waves – you know, you could end it all. Just like that. You could be free from it all.
It’s tempting. To just imagine it, all gone. Poof. Like magic. I have been lured too, seduced by the thought, beckoned by hope.
I still choose to call it “hope” but it’s just false hope. We, the ones like Anthony Bourdain, Guru Dutt, my uncle, Arjun Bhardwaj, and ones who go over the edge every 40 seconds, who give themselves up to suicide… it is hope that takes us to the brink. And when you are at the precipice, suspended between false hope and disillusionment, one understanding look, one reassuring hand, one right word, one appropriate check on reality, or even the memory of a dead uncle, can make all the difference.
We all reach out just before that final plunge, sometimes a bit too late. But reach out we do. Even Guru Dutt did. His last call on that fateful night was to his friend Dev Anand. But he wasn’t there to take the call. He reportedly said later, “If only I was there for him that night, he would have been here with us today.”
Would Arjun? Would Anthony?
This is an updated version of an earlier published story.