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January 17, 2016 (Hyderabad): Rohith Vemula, a brilliant young Dalit scholar and an admirer of Ambedkar hanged himself with an ASA (Ambedkar Students Association) banner. In his suicide note, he talked about his unfinished dreams and how he wished a man was treated as a mind, as a glorious thing of beauty made of stardust rather than being reduced to just a vote or a number.
June 14, 2020 (Mumbai): Sushant Singh Rajput, a Bollywood actor and an emerging star hanged himself in his apartment in Bandra West. He was a science enthusiast who was bewitched by the mysteries of the Universe. He was also fascinated with coding and algorithms.
What is most tragic and unfortunate about their deaths was the chain of events that followed it. After Rohith’s death, we saw a huge political outrage. Academicians, politicians, activists- all joined hands in the name of justice. People came out rightly so, in numbers, to protest against the systemic discrimination that Dalits have faced for centuries. It triggered a series of conferences, seminars, public meetings, and rallies across the country demanding justice for Rohith. He was at the focal point of the election agenda for many Dalit and left-wing politicians. Similarly, After Sushant’s death, we have seen a huge cry against nepotism, and it has fuelled the debate of insider vs. outsider in Bollywood.
But I feel this outrage was disrespectful to the dead. Rohith, in his letter, categorically mentioned not to point fingers at anyone. He wanted to transcend peacefully. And, he was against being reduced to the immediate possibility of a vote. Yet, we did not respect his last wish. We dragged him to floors of inhuman political fights. We used his death to influence votes. We have seen similar developments after Sushant’s death. Criticizing Nepotism has the same currency as criticizing dynasty politics. We saw sweeping comments on every aspect of Sushant’s life from his financial status to his family and relationships.
At the same time, we have also seen some extremely ridiculous comments, theories, and dramatic oversimplification of the problems related to depression and mental health from the so-called experts in media.
We did not respect Rohith’s last wish. We did not respect Sushant’s privacy.
What we did to them was cruel, inhuman, and was completely out of harmony with feelings that overwhelmed their loved ones.
Does that mean we should not raise our voice against systemic oppression and institutional discrimination?
No. That is not the argument here. What I am trying to say is that amidst the huge political outcry and media trials, we miss the human aspect of these events. Perhaps, the human aspect is the most essential one. We refused to understand the complexities of a human brain, the danger that the beauty offers to it. I have seen the most beautiful people be the most vulnerable ones. Beauty is a danger unto itself, and throughout history, beautiful minds are busy loving or dying.
Robin Williams slit his wrist multiple times with a pocketknife before hanging himself by his belt.
Virginia Woolf, perhaps the most influential modernist writer of the twentieth century, filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse.
Marilyn Monroe stuffed her stomach with pills and fell asleep for an eternity.
Ernest Hemingway blew his head at his breakfast table on a beautiful sunny morning.
Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest.
Evelyn McHale went to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, removed her coat and placed it neatly on the deck, penned down a short note, and jumped off the 86th floor. She wasn’t famous. But after her infamous death, the picture of her corpse lying on the roof of a car has been termed as the most beautiful suicide.
Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. She fluffed herself from combustible gases. She was 30.
Anne Sexton suffocated herself in the garage and died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
There are more, perhaps, countless of them.
These are some of the most fascinating and the most influential people that history has known except for Evelyn McHale. She wasn’t famous when she was alive. Nonetheless, what was common among them all were the beautiful artistic brains they had. Art is the science of alternate realities. And it can only be perceived by the wisest of the brains.
What forced these extraordinary humans to end their own life?
Most of the time, when you read about suicide, there is one word that has been pasted over everything else. And that one word is Depression. Suicide is a tale as old as time. Yet, we are here still stuck with only a word that has been categorized as a mental disease as its explanation. No one knows what depression is. What colors does it wear? How heavy does it weigh? Does it float or drown underneath? I have asked a lot of people what color they see when they think of depression? For a writer, it is blue and cold. For an artist, it is saffron. But the athlete says he doesn’t see color; it just floats on the surface. For a different writer, it is the extreme yellowness of a summer afternoon that brings everything to a halt.
Often, whilst sitting idle, I lose the consciousness of the body and dwell in alternate thoughts, if not the alternate reality, I can say. This slow departure from the existing time-space continuum freezes everything in my perceived reality and invalidates all its meanings and purposes. I gaze far away in the emptiness that has nothing there to be seen. I don’t feel that Love is worthy. I don’t feel that Beauty is worthy. That’s how it feels.
The art of seeing forever- for a while.
After reading a few posts on social media about Sushant’s love for science and nature, I wanted to know more about his life. So I followed him on Instagram and scrolled down to the first post. To my surprise, for a Bollywood actor, he was way too immersed in scientific theories and thoughts. Some of the keywords and phrases I came across were: dark matter, dark energy, general theory of relativity, dynamics of perspectives, and measures of possibilities. He thought that algorithms of machine learning that mimic human learning algorithms can further augment human learning abilities. He was fascinated by the Universe and its realities. One of his IG posts reads:
“When we stare at the most fundamental fabric of reality/existence, through the honest eye of mathematics, all we see is infinity, beauty, and symmetry. How immense would be the truth then? How immense would be then, that, who lives?”
He was always looking into the void, making sense of the Universe, it seems. Infinity, Beauty, and Symmetry—those are the dangerous things to stare at–to make sense of.
Rohith wanted to become a writer like Carl Sagan. He wanted to write about the mysteries of the Universe. His first and final letter reads:
I love science, stars, nature but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and the nearest possibility– to a vote; to a number; to a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made of star dust.
He was a strong adherent of Ambedkar’s philosophy and an ally in the fight against all forms of oppression. His beauty made him vulnerable to the vultures of the days. He opened his soul for the Universe that, in his own words, created a gap between his body and his soul. He dared to look at the stars and dream of their stories.
Nietzsche said, “If thou gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
If you stare long enough into the void, it will fill you with an aching sense of emptiness. This emptiness cannot be filled with love; it cannot be colored with beauty. It swallows up thoughts, sense, and logic that life has brought. It crafts a formless dark force of hostility inside your brain that insistently seeks to assert itself.
In time, we live! In age, we die!
It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing, and there is this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. I need to remember. Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.American Beauty, 1999
The last line of this monologue strikes the queen. It says all that we have been arguing about. The infinite beauty of the Universe is a curse for those who dare look into it.
Jupiter and Saturn, each, have more than 50 confirmed moons. Some of them are even bigger than our Earth. Some of them have their own light. Sometimes lying alone on the terrace in the night, when I look at the moon, I dream of a night on these planets. Imagine a night under a sky filled with dozens of moons. Imagine Saturn’s iced rings glittering from the light that penetrates them from many angles. Do they have iced-prisms there? Do they make rainbows? Are there infinite rainbows?
All these questions and the dream are for the future. I realize, in this lifetime, I won’t be able to see that. A beautiful dream will remain just a fragile imagination. This realization brings a sense of unending numbness. It is indeed a regret from the future.
When the future also influences the past, age becomes immaterial; you go, when you have to go. Perhaps, that’s what they believed.
Rohith, Sushant …
You knew the stuff you were made of. Star dust.
You knew the place you were going to be.
Rest in love, until the dust takes another form!