He dropped out of the security of an Engineering Course to enrol into the futility of a dance school. He carved his way through sheer hard work from a humble home in the north-east of India to the flashing lights at the heart of Bollywood. He personified simplicity. He had no god-fathers in this brutal industry known for its nepotism and ruthlessness. He stood on the sheer credibility of his talent.
Stars, moons and aliens took up a lot of space in his head. He spent hours on his beloved telescope which he called his ‘time-machine’. He made new friends, kept old ones and his humility through the fame and the wealth of stardom. He stayed true to himself and his name which meant ‘Peaceful’.
His charm and talent won hearts all around. His youthful portrayal of his love of cricket came through in his films ‘KaiPoChe’ and “M.S Dhoni, the untold story“. But the media gave him a hard time as they saw him as an outsider. Of journalists he said, “First they’ll ignore you, then they’ll laugh at you and then they’ll fight with you. Right now, they’re laughing at me.”
Not anymore. Bollywood is in a state of shock. On the 14th of June 2020 Sushant Singh Rajput ended his life at the age of 34. It seems he had been on treatment for depression for the past 6 months. Police is frantically interviewing multiple people to establish a ‘cause’ for his death.
Film contracts falling through? Not enough new offers of interesting roles? Disparaging remarks made by influential bitchy colleagues? Being bullied and ignored? Financial difficulties? A painful break-up? The death of his mother at the age of 16? The death of his young manager, Disha Salian 3 days prior to his? Unmet parental expectations? Inadequate treatment for Depression? Migration away from home? Loneliness? Stigma of having a mental illness? Not knowing how to ask for help? Being a man?
Cricket in the summers and
badminton in the winters. That’s what Saagar chose to play during his school
years. He was good at both and wanted to be better.
I often went along to watch
him play, even though I didn’t appreciate all the technicalities of either
game. One evening we gathered in the Sports club to watch him play. I noticed
that every time he missed a shot he hit his right leg hard with the badminton
racket gripped in his right hand. That must hurt. I didn’t understand. It
distressed me. I spoke with him later. “It’s only a game, darling.”, I said. He
kept quiet, neither defending his action, nor arguing with me, pointedly focussing
on the piece of ground hit by his obliquely downcast eyes. In him I saw a boy in pursuit of perfection.
Out of the blue he broke up
with his lovely girl-friend of 7 months. That too on Valentine’s Day. His first
love. Sweet and innocent. On being asked why, he said, ”It’s boring.” Soon
after, late one night I gleened tears in his eyes as he hugged me, pretending
not to sob. In him I saw a boy, trying to be a man. Oh! The pains of growing!
After a night out with friends,
one weekend I noticed a cluster of 3 pea-sized fresh burn marks on his right
forearm. Horrified, I asked what happened. He said it was a dare. A few of his
friends were being goofy and challenged him to hold the burnt end of a
cigarette on his skin and he did. He laughed as if it was a joke. I didn’t know
what to make of it. How could this bright kid with an astute sense of right and
wrong be talked into this kind of silliness? In him, I saw a boy trying to fit
in with his peers.
Was there more to see? Did he
tell me everything or just what he thought I could handle?
When I stood in front of all those people, my arms were branches of an old oak flailing in a wild wind, my throat was shouting out commands like a drill sargeant at the top of his voice, my eyes were wide open and desperate to get through to everyone in the room. My chest was an erupting volcano and my feet had thrown deep roots into the ground. I invited Saagar and all my angels to help me as I felt exposed. The ‘normal’ part of me wanted to protect Saagar and me from people’s judgements. I am sure some were being made as I spoke. That is ‘normal’ too. But the mother in me stood like a warrior, absolutely disregarding any consequence, complete in the conviction that this was the right thing to do. It was difficult but it was worth doing.
Three times this week. Three times I got to show Saagar off to a bunch of doctors – 250 and 18 and 9. So, 277. They saw the light in his eyes. They now know that many suicides are preventable. They know the stigma and silence of mental illness and suicide. They know that every mention of suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously. That if they notice a colleague, a friend or a family member behaving strangely, they can ask them ‘Are you ok?’ And whatever the answer, they can deal with it. They know that it’s ok to go as far as asking, “Are you thinking of ending your life?” It’s difficult but worth doing. It might save a life. That no one is immune. That everybody can make a difference. That many doctors are lay people when it comes to suicide and believe in popular myths. That doctors, dentists and vets are very high risk groups and need to take good care of themselves and each other. That the medical curriculum is all about physical illnesses. That Mental Health services are broken in this country and we all need to educate ourselves and strongly advocate for our near and dear ones if, God forbid, the need arises. That charities like Papyrus do a great job of helping young people. That when it comes to suicide, there is only prevention. No cure. They now know when, where and how to find help.
Later on, a young lady chatted with me about how useful she found the content of my presentation and how it helped that it was delivered in such a calm and composed manner. Really? Was she talking about me?
The concert had just finished and the hall was semi-lit. A dance recital entitled ‘Hope’ had coaxed everyone’s feelings up from deep within to just under the surface, like fish in an aquarium hovering at the top for specks of food. The main supporter of the show was the Patel family who had recently lost one of its eminent members. He was survived by his young wife and three kids. The soft thuds of seats folding up, the hiss of people whispering in gentle tones and trudging in small steps towards the exit filled the warm air.
I approached the 17 years old Patel boy, one of the sons. He appeared shrunken. Contracted, like an empty plastic water bottle, after a flight.
“How’re you doing?”
‘Not bad. Thanks’ he stated, unconvinced, looking downwards and sideways.
“Did you enjoy that?”
‘Yes. T’was nice.’ Still expressionless.
“How’s mum doing?”
‘We went for a safari to Kenya. That was good’ he looked up a little.
“I am sorry for your loss. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself.”
‘Yes. Thanks’. Mortified.
“Can I give you a hug?”