“But in the end, one needs more courage to live than to kill himself”– Albert Camus.
What is the real value of human life? Our conscious convinces us that we think and therefore we exist, but existence is only preliminary to being; a unanimously acknowledged foundation on which our essence remains to be built. We are required to add meaning to this gratuitous passage of time and pretend that we are skillfully steering and gearing our boats and not just helplessly marching towards death. Because that is what makes the life of Gandhi more worthwhile than a farmer’s, or an army general’s more revered than an artist’s; these parameters define who is making more sense for the greater good and is more significant in weaving the fabric of society.
Only last month, I stood beside the burning pyre of a deceased cousin, almost watching her soul escape through the dancing flames of the fire, in the form of smoke that cannot be seen until it reaches the sky, and condenses into a beautiful star in the gardens of heaven.
My whole family attended the funeral in white since it is the colour of oblivion, regret and nothingness. White is what ghosts look like, though often the ghosts are not the demised but the ones left behind. For the next few weeks, the prayer rooms at our home were empty owing to the give-take contracts that religions often are; loss generally leads to disillusionment with God.
Cursed silence fell upon anyone who walked by her wardrobe or dusted her bookshelves. The sound of conscience breaking and bleeding from the wounds of guilt and negligence could be heard when we sat under the very ceiling fan she had hung herself from in the living room.
But living hearts do not stagnate; they are meant to beat with desire and progress. In a month or so, trousers, scarfs and uniforms in red, blue and magenta could be seen rushing through the kitchen and the dining hall to offices and schools, rejoining the war of survival already, now that time had made the bandages of emotional damage fall off.
The void that my cousin had left was filled and replaced by exhaustion that comes from overwhelming work-hours, a newly joined music class, or evening TV soaps. The ceiling fan roared like the wheels of life, slicing the tenacity in the air into pieces, wobbling and making rattling noises that were loud enough to drown another family member’s lonely cries in the bathroom.
It is weird how families never see a suicide approaching and stare with disbelief when it finally arrives as if it was an unprecedented event.
But the worst is not the fast-track coping mechanisms of our beloved after our death, which questions the believed notion of our positions being irreplaceable in anyone’s lives. Instincts and the weak memory of human beings cannot be complained about. What is disturbing, is that within a few days of my cousin’s departure, people dared to paint her suicide as a symbol of irresponsibility.
“Ladke ka chakkar tha (She was involved with a boy),” they gasped in shock when the dissection of her personal life revealed her indulgence in a love affair. “Maa baap ke bare me to sochna tha (She should’ve at least thought about her parents).” These people believed that my cousin should have given a thought to what would happen to her parents after her irreversible and impulsive mistake. I believe neighbours are the most myopic and insensitive species, next to relatives.
Suicides are never impulsive. They are not the result of a moment of anger or sorrow but rather, a prolonged state of despair and unhappiness. Suicides occur due to a psychiatric state which needs proper attention and observation rather than kind advice.
The reason for suicides is never a single event. Not a breakup but possibly the lack of any source of love at all through many years. Not a failed exam as much as the thoughts of its repercussions. Not a relationship, as much as the mental abuse involved in it for any reason whatsoever. Who is to decide which reason is ethical enough for giving your life away? Why is a premarital love affair a trivial stigmatised cause to die for, but an abusive marriage a better and easily accepted one?
Confucianism endorses that life given away only for others as a sacrifice is justified, but why is an individual often reduced to his relation to others and why does his emotional obligation to a family or immediate company hold a higher pedestal than his expectations from them or anything else solely personal?
We have turned into chess pieces but never consider the possibility of a checkmate situation in someone’s life. We have turned into a herd, where everyone exists only because they are part of something bigger, and mental health does not hold as much importance as a social duty.
Earlier this year, when India decriminalised the attempt to suicide, I subliminally rejoiced this public agreement to the fact that man is not an object of the state. But he has failed to unchain himself from the dungeons of the society, from the stigma that resides inside his own heart. He is an object to himself. Ironically killing themselves, for freedom from themselves, and later laughing hysterically at this act.
Manu Joseph once wrote a wonderful article, where he showed how farmer suicides were far less frequent than suicides amongst the Indian middle class, but when painted with political colours, they became more fathomable and urgent for the newsreaders.
Apparently, every man has to be politicised to be avenged for an “organised suicide’’, but never understood, never empathised with, never sent help for. I wonder if there is a good enough reason to commit suicide or even a reason that is bad enough.
But what is saddening is that even the question of life and death can quickly be reduced to its nearest stereotype. Prejudice is the adhesive which makes societies coherent by inhibiting differences. Till it is propagated, accepted and internalised, the value of human life will remain confined to an identity, a number, a system and never be more than that.