I woke up to the sound of drizzling on this late, cold morning in Western France. I picked up my cell phone lazily, which by this time was already exhausted from screaming its lungs out in an attempt to wake me up for the last couple of hours. I don’t know why I tend to set alarms for early morning when each cell of my body knows (and I swear it does) that I have no intention of waking up at that time.
As is habit with me, I opened Google to check for news about India, something that helps me reassure myself that things are under control and that no panic is yet necessary. Through groggy and half-opened eyes, I happened to see a picture of Sushant Singh Rajput, the young and charming Bollywood actor. ‘Must be some new dating story about him’ I chuckled to myself. As I scrolled below, couple of other pictures of him appeared. I knew something was wrong. All media groups will not publish the same dating story about him, right? There are still some sensible guys left out there. Straining my eyes to read the letters below the picture, I read something that I have not yet been able to believe. As I write this piece, I still hope that I break out of my reverie only to be laughed at, with someone telling me ‘Are you kidding? That was just a bad dream! Stop watching so much drama before going to bed!” But unfortunately, a part of me tells me that it will never happen. The harm has already been done.
Sushant killed himself by hanging from the ceiling of his apartment this afternoon, India time. As the police swarms his residence in Mumbai, there is speculation that he was depressed and on medication for the last couple of months. ‘Depression got him too?’ I murmur to myself, as vivid recollections of my rough brush with the dreaded D word flood my head. I had a young baby to care for, just few weeks old and I had already convinced myself how worthless I was and so unworthy of using up oxygen and space in this beautiful world, full of deserving and wonderful people. As I shake those painful memories off, my mind goes back to Sushant.
A long, slim body, and long, dark hair that he charismatically managed from time to time, by jerking his head sideways and his characteristic sheepish smile, which could make you blush, no matter your age or gender. He was the guy-next-door, someone just like you, who had set out to achieve dreams that sounded too good to be true. The same dreams that Indian society teaches us to never have, to avoid dejection and pain in the end. But not only did he make it big in life, he also instilled in all of us, a hope that we could too.
As I am reading more and more about him on the internet, curious and confused, I am thinking of how I often compared his smile to my brother Ashish’s. A ladies’ man, as Ashish is often referred to in the family – given his popularity among the opposite sex right from school times – would smile just as sheepishly each time I asked him about his latest crushes, too excited to keep silent and too scared to reveal the truth to his elder sister, who had direct access to the parents. And now when Sushant is gone, it feels like a personal loss. Someone I knew and loved is gone.
My supposed knowledge of theology (of things that happen after we die) gives me comfort as I think of him being in a better place, full of light and joy, and all that. But you know what hurts – the thought of not being able to see, hear and witness the happiness and longevity of another human being, who exuded life and enthusiasm from every inch of his body. This is punishment, isn’t it? He may be fine in another world, but are we, those that stay behind, knowing rather well that this could have been averted, with just a little more care, concern and empathy? Of course, we didn’t know him directly, but somebody did, right?
As I hear people share theories about how the rich and influential classes, celebrities and the like are more prone to mental illnesses, I cringe in disagreement. Just because their lives are more public and glamourous than ours, does not make them any more susceptible to such illnesses than the common man, who struggles to make ends meet and worries about paying monthly bills. Maybe we like to tell ourselves that fame, luxury and extravagance cause greater worry and anxiety than not having any of these. Well, it’s probably rationalization of the sense of misery we experience in our mundane lives.
Depression is a serious mental illness that is expected to affect one in four people in the world at some point in their lives (WHO, India). Nearly about 4-6% of the world’s population experiences symptoms of depression that include feelings of guilt, hopelessness and loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, making it the largest single cause of global disability. In India, the figures are much more disturbing – one in 20 Indians suffers from depression, making it the most depressed country in the world, followed by China and USA. To make matters worse, the social stigma associated with mental disorders and the belief that they tantamount to ‘madness’, prevents people from opening up about their troubles and seeking medical help.
Sushant’s untimely demise raises an important question – in that section of society that we believe has it all – looks, popularity, a plush home, larger than a middle-class person can ever dream of owning in his lifetime, branded clothes and accessories, a huge fan-following – is there even a remote possibility that they ‘lack’ something? For this is what we have always believed, right? He or she killed himself…they did not have money to repay their loans, did not have the looks to get married to a person of their choice, did not have this, that. But Sushant had everything. Right?
Wrong. Even when his possessions and early success may have created a class divide between him on one side and the common people on the other, the fact remains that all said and done, in the end, we are all vulnerable human beings. We are all broken inside, and we need care, company and a shoulder to cry on. Class, or social status plays no role here. Our status as humans supersedes it all.
I just wish someone had been there to listen, to check on him or to just reassure him that no matter how rough life seems now, things will eventually straighten out. But again it’s easier said than done – depressed people hardly speak. They withdraw themselves in their shells, shielding themselves from public glare. I remember how weird I acted when I felt blue – closed, moody and erratic. Smiling and laughing for no apparent reason, only to end up crying for hours, again for no reason. How can people come to your rescue when they do not know you are in trouble? Or worse when you repel them, shooing them away for any little concern that they may show you?
I think in the end it is a matter of persistence. As the new digital way of life separates us from one another only to ‘connect’ us virtually, the pandemic and the isolation it has caused has brought us on our knees. The noise, drama and the relentless chatter we took for granted in our day-to-day lives has suddenly faded away, leaving behind ghastly silence, that forces us to face our innermost demons, that we have never even acknowledged in our lives.
We have little choice but to remain on-guard at all times. No one may ever come and tell us that he or she is unwell or lonely or anxious, but we must develop that ability to feel what it is that they are experiencing deep down. Let’s keep texting them, telling them that we are here for them, and that no matter how hard they shoo us way, we are just a phone call away. To indicate our availability is enough. Even when we may not be able to reach them when we want, they may, when they like, without any fear of shame or judgment.
I miss you Sushant. Stay happy wherever you are. You shall brighten up that place too, I am sure.
I wish I never had to write this piece in my life.
Image taken from Google images.