The hugely popular spiritual leader Bhaiiyu Maharaj shot himself in his daughter’s bedroom in Indore last week. He was 50. Maharaj was know to be close to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and in 2011, was so influential that the UPA government appointed him to mediate with Anna Hazare during his agitation in Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan. In a two-page suicide note he spoke of being “stressed out” and “fed up”. Interestingly, Maharaj was on Twitter a few minutes before committing suicide. Similarly, Anthony Bourdain, the chef and TV personality, was on assignment for CNN when he was found dead. Other than one friend who sensed a dark cloud hanging over him, there were no indications that anything was off in Bourdain’s life.
No one can ever really know what’s going on in anyone’s head, yet, it is deeply unsettling that somebody can be going about their day as usual but secretly be plotting their final hour. It’s unlikely that suicide is an impulsive decision brought about by some random epiphany and suddenly, the idea of death feels like sweet relief. All research shows people facing prolonged duress, over time, come around to believing it is easier to die than to live. Suicides are a depressingly regular feature in the Indian news. Mostly, though, the people killing themselves are inundated by poverty, debt, marital disputes and addictions. Only rarely do they feature well-to-do Indians of the stature of Bhaiiyu Maharaj who could have afforded the best medical care to sort out his emotions. It makes one shudder to think about the level of loneliness someone is experiencing despite being wildly successful and adored by millions. No doubt, modern living involves plenty of suffering and nobody really knows what is it that we really seek, to make life bearable.
Celebrity suicides force us to introspect on what’s really important. When somebody has achieved as much as Bourdain had professionally, the presumption is he had it all together. But despite leading a rich life full of varied experiences and personal growth, he opted out of the business of living. What hope then, is there really for the rest of us? Conversely, we see images of distraught refugees, who have lost everything, climbing into rickety boats, ready to face thundering waves and almost certain death, for what — but a last ditch attempt at survival. The awe-inspiring strength of those people is remarkable, who, despite terrible odds, choose to try to live. One can’t help but wonder at people who were lucky enough to be gifted a dice, loaded from the start — and still chose death. Suicide, at least, among those blessed by the birth lottery and happy circumstance, is, at the root of it, an inability to manage one’s own expectations. Delirious elation is not a birthright.
Like Maharaj, we are all stressed out and fed up. Yet, mercifully, 99 per cent of the population, equally frustrated as him, worry about leaving their child’s bedroom blood splattered, and dead. If it’s one thing becoming a parent does, it stops you from doing incredibly stupid stuff because the thought of your kids having to process that for the rest of their lives is terrifying. It makes you, grudgingly, continue to live. I remember a story I read about a guy who had made it his mission to save people who would throw themselves off a very high bridge somewhere in China. Once a year, the survivors would congregate at the bridge on their attempted suicide anniversary. Without exception, each survivor said they regretted their attempt the second they jumped, mid-air. Unfortunately, for some of us this wisdom comes only in retrospect. And sometimes, that’s too late. As Bourdain once said, “Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. If I believe in anything, it’s doubt.” However wretched the past may be and however bleak the future, it is possible to choose gratitude for now, for simply being alive.