I was never a diehard fan of Sushant Singh Rajput and I don’t claim to have seen all of his work. I have watched a couple of his films and some interviews and to me, he always came across as honest, authentic, down to earth – the underdog who beat the odds in Bollywood. It helped that he was a musician, a reader, a truth seeker, a star gazer – there was so much more to him than the average ‘hero’ and that’s perhaps why I liked him more than some of the other actors who have graced the screen in recent times. But, I did not expect to feel the way I do, ever since I heard about his passing this morning.
Some losses feel more personal than others even when there’s no real reason for them to, and it’s not difficult to see why. The science is simple, we invest so much in the lives of larger than life characters that they become part of our lives. Over time they rent living space in our thoughts, our conversations and our daydreams.
In my lifetime I can recall reacting on social media to the untimely passing of Chester Bennington, Nafisa Joseph, Jiah Khan, Kushal Punjabi, Robin Williams and now Sushant. There were others before social media became a thing who left behind shattered families, scores of heartbroken fans and communities left questioning ‘why?’. Sadly public memory is notoriously short-lived and before you know it, the next big headline will steal the space where tributes once took pride of place. Already today, news anchors are diverting our attention to stories of presidents, protests and prejudice. Everybody moves on. Public sentiment is re-set. We go back to our default setting.
While the pressures of fame are not everyday concerns for most of us, the effects of isolation and despondency are, they are universal and that’s why a loss like this, resonates so loud. Every time I hear of a suicide, I go reeling back to that Wednesday evening, circa 1998. I had just returned from choir practice when my ma sat me down to give me some news. I could tell from her eyes, the timbre of her voice and the way she held my hands that the news was not going to be good. A few minutes later, I was trying to digest the fact that *******, my friend (just a year older than a fourteen year old me) had taken his own life. ‘Pills’, they said, I didn’t even fully understand how that was possible.
Even today I can close my eyes and re-live everything through a blend of disjointed memories. I remember going to his house, his mother clinging to me as she wept. Tremors passed like waves through her frame, everything around us shook. Sobbing. Wails. Faces in the crowd I had never seen before that day. Suddenly I am at a funeral home. I’m staring at the skylight above us instead of the White coffin below it. My gaze is fixed upwards, I am stoic but I steal glances at my friend resting peacefully a few meters away. First, confusion. Then, Calm. The riff notes of ‘I Surrender All’ linger on gloomy air as a Pastor reads from the scriptures. The hard-wearing scents of Eau de Cologne and Rose petals make it difficult to breathe. ‘Dust to dust’ the crowd reads at the cemetery. Mud, more mud. Flowers. Muffled voices. Incence. Crows cawing nearby. The end, of my friend’s life.
What haunted me then for weeks after, is what makes me most uncomfortable today in Sushant’s passing. How did we let it get to this? Why did he feel so alone, so isolated, so helpless; as if there was nobody, not-a-single-person-in-the-whole-world who could have helped him, or to whom he could turn?
For weeks I felt guilt and regret regarding my relationship with ******* like there was something I could have done or said. Weeks turned to months, but I was still regretting unsaid words and ruing silly arguments; wondering if things would have been different had my actions been any different.
In retrospect, ******* was clearly going through mental struggles he could not articulate. We didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then. Nobody knew his pain in 1998 and nobody knew we would wake up to this news today. Nothing has changed. Not enough people seem to care if you have a mental illness. They might even call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and perhaps never look beyond those labels. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. He was a victim of a mind that turned against him and system that couldn’t help either.
All these years later, everything is still the same. Most people with mental health issues still struggle alone and fight their demons unaided. I wish ******* had known that there are people who do care. I wish those people had told him so. I wish Sushant had known his death was going to send shockwaves through our communities. That he has millions of wellwishers and mentors who regret their absence from his life. That supporters would come out of the woodwork for him. That demigods and luminaries would eulogize him. That people respect him. Admire him. Love him.
Did he know that people care? Would it have made a difference if he did?