August 14, 2016

Review: The story of a suicide

When I first saw the video trailer of the novel, a chill ran down my spine. For the uninitiated, the trailer is an eerie depiction of a frenzied youngster trying to end his life. The voice in his head rolling  out as whispers in the backdrop makes it even more grim and scary, and is an apt representation of the inner turmoil a lot of young adults experience. The camera then freezes on a disturbing image of an almost dead goldfish struggling outside its bowl, helplessly flapping its fins. This is followed by a sequence of haunting frames that include a silent scream by a perturbed youth kicking and crashing stuff in his room, a calm ripple of water, flickering lights, softer tones, only to culminate with violent images of the youngster self flagellating and considering various methods to end his troubled life. The stoned expression on his face is one of depression and confusion, of pain and frustration, of helplessness and despair. And finally, he succumbs. There is a suicide.

This trailer was a depiction of a brutal reality staring stark naked at me. For a moment, I was stunned by the bold approach. For a very long time, depression, in our country, was a hushed up affair---a social stigma people did not want to acknowledge or talk about. It is only recently that things are changing---we are slowly becoming increasingly aware of this monster called depression;  the more aware we are, the more we'd be able to help ourselves and others around us. Celebrity actress Deepika Padukone recently came out in the open about her long affair with depression. Television actress Pratyusha Banerjee's tragic death was allegedly a suicide. Robin Williams, Whitney Houston, Tony Scott, Amy Winehouse are a few names who left the world before their time was due, leaving a hole in the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. 

I am living with one such crater in my heart. A friend of mine ended his life from over dosage a couple of years back. We never saw it coming, until it did its final victory dance in front of us. There was no suicide note, no final goodbye message, no parting words. We'd had a conversation a few days before it happened. Most of us were aware of his troubled state of mind. He was tired of the unreasonable demands that society made from him. But we had no idea it would lead him to take such a drastic step. His influential family, however, eventually dismissed his death as a case of accidental poisoning. We watched helplessly. Even in death, our friend was supposed to conform to their wishes. All his life, he lived as they wanted. But it was never enough. They wanted to ensure even his death wouldn't prove to be an embarrassment. 

Since then, the topic of suicide has always been awkward for me to discuss. Swept by his nebulous memories, I often wonder how things would have been had it gone differently, had his parents been more accepting of his choices, had society not been so demeaning. That one incident made me realize how we shouldn’t take anyone for granted. Although suicide is a topic that is normally brushed under the carpet, it might just be lurking around the corner.  
Cut to present day. The trailer made me wonder how difficult his last moments must have been like, what his frame of mind might have been, and more importantly, what we could have done to help him? I needed to put these thoughts at rest. Besides, the promotional song by Vedanth Bharatwaj and the befitting illustrations by Ghana only added to my intrigue. It was almost 11.30 in the night that I started reading it here

'The story of a suicide' is a simple yet powerful story that gets complicated. It revolves around the lives of four characters; Sam, Mani, Charu, and Hari who come in contact with each other at KIT Bangalore.
All of them are a portrayal of relatively calm and balanced exteriors, but each of them is facing an internal struggle, fighting the demons of their past....until one incident changes everything. One hate post on a social network sets the ball rolling. The four grapple with their identity, heart break, sexuality, and betrayal. Just as they try to come to terms with their own conscience and society, there is a diabolical twist. The plot thickens and an innocent lover becomes a victim once again.

Have you ever noticed how two people can react differently in similar situations? We can never judge the reaction of one person on the basis of another. Each one of us is different, not just in our outlook but also in the way we are wired emotionally. Batman and Joker are the best examples to explain this theory. Both faced situations of adversity, both battled with an ugly past. But look how they turned out developing juxtaposed personalities! Fiction is never that far from reality. We all have a Batman or Joker deep inside us. Sometimes they make an appearance. Often times they don't until it is too late. Sriram Aiyer has dragged these matters into the forefront---where they should rightfully stand, looking at society in the eye, questioning it for its double standards and hypocrisies.
Having worked as a resident in Psychiatry, I have had the chance to explore various sides of the human personality and deal with varied facets of the human psyche. And I think the novel has beautifully captured the conflicting plight of vulnerable men and women searching for an anchor to depend upon.
Having been witness to similar situations, I could relate to each of these characters and their conflicting state of mind. There is a bit of us in each of these characters, in their everyday struggle with society, addictions, love, popularity, and themselves. Below I have drawn some instances in the story that show us how similar situations can elicit different reactions in different people.  It just goes to prove that you can either let the problem take control or you can take control of the problem.
  • Heart break/ Rejection: This theme forms the main crux of the novel and is dealt in a very realistic and embittering way. Youngsters when heart-broken/rejected often react in one of the two ways; revenge (like Sam who wants to make Charu pay the price for dumping and shaming him) that often results in disastrous consequences, or depression (like Mani who tries to end his life at the beginning of the story because he feels he cannot fit in.) The former is the reason behind so many rapes, kidnapping, acid attacks, cyber crimes occurring in our country, while the latter is responsible for the suicides committed in college campuses, hostels etc.
  • Technology and our vulnerability towards it. In today's age and time, being present at parties, weddings and other social events is not as important as being active on social media. Sam's obsessive compulsive Twitter addiction is evident of that. Also Charu's tendency to post intimate details of her life on FaceBook is also a streak not unfamiliar among us, techno-savvy netizens. Her mood getting instantly pepped up on seeing likes and comments is something we all have experienced. So again, there are two ways technology can be employed. 1)  Good use—eg. The 'tiger preservation' Youtube video uploaded by nature activists and animal rights can be viewed by all those wanting to fight for the cause. 2) Misuse---eg. Geeky Sam misusing the Trojan virus to invade into Charu's phone and publicize her intimate moments, which subsequently becomes the cause of the suicide (Somewhat proving the ‘Butterfly Effect’ theory right.) Besides, the influence that technology has on our mood and life is intimidating. How many times have you checked your phone while reading this post? Switched to FaceBook or Twitter to see who has 'liked' your photo? Our moods nowadays depend largely on the number of likes and comments we get on social networks. We see a hut burning. Instead of finding a pail of water to douse the fire, we'd first Instagram the picture. The last times there was an earthquake, everyone made sure they updated their status before rushing out of the building. Charu and Sam are addicted to social networks too, and like most of us, depend on reader's reactions to be happy or proud of their achievements. 
  • Mani and Hari, both, have had a traumatic childhood. While Mani is haunted by the physical abuse from his father, Hari has had to deal with sexual abuse by a maternal uncle. This has caused both their personalities to become shrivelled and withdrawn. Although Mani is relatively more open in talking about his struggles. Hari is more sensitive and is still not able to cope with the pressure of relationships. His plea for help during childhood was ignored, a fact which reinforces his belief that nobody would understand him and his choices. Come to think of it, don't we all feel that way at times? Often we do not bother explaining ourselves to even those we love most, out of fear that we will not be understood. We give up a little too early. Hari's character left me feeling sad. It also made me think about Article 377 and the Government's rabid response against decriminalizing homosexuality. I strongly believe that love has no limits or boundaries. Who are we to impose rules on the LGBT community? Who are we to say what is right and wrong, normal and abnormal? No form of consensual love needs to follow pre-fixed rules. Love makes its own rules. Love rules.
  • Stereotypical response/herd mentality---There are several instances where the stereotype of Indian mentality has been scoffed at by deliberate representation. The author has not just made his protagonists rebel against the stereotype with the brilliantly executed ‘Caezer meets Draupadi’ act, Charu's 'Vagina and penis' post etc but has also done a fine job by representing societal hypocrisy through the demeaning and caustic remarks of the students gossiping and commenting on social networks. Our orthodox Indian society finds it very difficult to accept change. Had we not made a brouhaha about a whole lot of things, we'd be having more people coming out of the closet. We'd have less cases of divorce, suicide, depression. But no! We want to live in a 'normal' world, no? However fucked up that might be...
  • The novel is generously peppered with psychedelic dreams, each representing the subject’s state of mind. Whether it is Mr Narender's 'dance of death' dream about his son, or Charu's dream of Sam prising her heart out, or Hari's dream of 'free falling', each one has a secret connotation. It made me want to go back and read Sigmund Freud's interpretation of dreams (the consciousness, the preconscious, and the unconscious) Delving into the unconscious is not just a brilliant method in psychoanalysis, but also works as an amazing literary tool, subtly guiding the reader's mind in the required direction.
  • Another important influencing factor among the youth of today is 'peer pressure'. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. But sometimes it is our friends that stab us in the back. So blind we are to their deceit, that even if they punch us in the face, we'd believe there has to be a very good reason behind it. Lucky are those who choose the right kind of friends, for they enter your mind without consent and leave a part of them behind even when they go. Aditya is a terrible influence on Sam. It is his constant goading that sows the seed of vendetta (in Sam's mind) against Charu. It is in his confidence that Sam misuses his knowledge and intelligence for obnoxious purposes. On the one hand, Charu's camaraderie with Hari and Mani is an excellent example of unconditional friendship, while on the other, Aditya is a wolf in sheep's clothing.  That just goes to show how friends can be--they can either ruin you or turn you into gold. 
  • Bullying should be criminalized. An unkind word can not only mar the fragile ego, but is also responsible for the most irreversible consequences on a person's personality. It can cause permanent bruising to the sensitive soul. A senseless act of ragging, eve teasing, mocking someone with a harsh nickname; all these might not seem like a big deal but can eventually drive a person to hate the world, and still worse, himself. Hari's colleagues are sensitive to the torture endured by the poached tiger, but they fail to understand the trauma that Hari is undergoing. They are ruthless in their comments, mocking in their tone, and insulting in their demeanour. They do not once stop to think the kind of pressure he'd be facing, the fear of being labelled queer, the pain of living with a childhood secret that nobody would believe, a sexual identity that not many would understand, and the terrible betrayal of trust by the one person who did. In a way it was his classmates, his family, the society, who are  responsible for his plight. And then again, it is ironical how realization always comes a little too late. 
Having said all the above, I also know that roadblocks are an inevitable part of life. But we can take a detour around it. We can work our way around the stressors, adopt the 'Batman' approach instead of the 'Joker' attitude. The journey is not going to be smooth. Growing up is a colossal mess that goes on forever. We might need to fight for what we believe in, stand up for our rights. Bending but not allowing ourselves to break, we must keep reminding ourselves that we are strong. Life is a learning process and one has got to keep making notes. Sometimes, we encounter the same situation twice. That is when the notes come handy. They make up that one thing no school can ever teach you---Experience

Here are a few hacks I learned from experience.  
  • Heart break and rejection are never permanent. True love is the one that helps you grow up, and be a better person. Your relationship might not last forever. But be happy if you learned something from it. Yes, sure it hurts. But cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. Distract yourself with a hobby. Write, sing, bake. Do what makes you happy. Remember that ten years down the line, the guy/girl who dumped you won't even matter. Fifteen years ahead, you might not even remember the names of the colleagues and friends who mocked you. Anger and misery are just not worth your time.
  • Don't let social media decide whether you are 'like'able or not. It's a photoshopped reality out there. The stud you seem to be chatting with might be a serial killer in search of his next victim. The woman with the big boobs that you are so enamored by might be a seventy year old male with a sagging beer belly, laughing at your expense. Do not become slave to technology. Treat social media for what it actually is…just a virtual way to keep in touch. Do not depend on anyone (especially those who know zilch about your life and situation) to give you the right advice. 140 characters or a FaceBook meme cannot explain your life. The 'Likes', 'Shares' and 'ReTweets' do not translate as those who care. Go take a long walk. Smell the coffee. Meet your friends. Bond with family. Communicating with them is going to help. 
  • Childhood abuse is a horrendous experience and the perpetrators are depraved criminals who deserve to be punished. Most cases of childhood abuse and sexual harassment are hushed down out of fear from embarrassment. Teenage girls are groped in public buses, adolescent boys are sodomized, and none of this is ever reported. Our children need to be made aware about this issue. They should feel comfortable enough talking about it to parents. They should be taught to distinguish a 'wrong' touch. Nobody (be it relative, uncle or friend) should be outside the radar of caution. Also just because someone loves differently than you, does not mean there is anything unnatural or abnormal about it. Love is the purest of all emotions. Be empathetic with those different from you. Don't be quick to judge. We have no clue what battle they are fighting. They might be victims of deep seated trauma they are themselves trying to come to terms with. 
  •  Never let someone influence you so much that you merely become a puppet in their hands. Think with a calm mind. Do let any emotion, love, anger, jealousy, or hatred get the better of you. Never make a decision when you are angry. If you do, you are definitely going to regret it later. Surround yourself by sensible and optimistic people, whose strength of character will send of positive vibes your way. Stay away from fine-weather friends. They are like those mythical creatures who will vanish at the first sign of danger. Do not trust anyone with your secrets unless you know that it is safe with them.  

  • Last but not the least, always remember that every problem has a solution. You just have to focus in the right direction. Communication, courage, and consistency will provide answers to most of life's problems. Reach out. Ask your trusted ones for help. Look yourself in the mirror. See how far you have come. Drive away all negative vibes from your mind. Have a power nap. And wake up feeling refreshed. If you ever find yourself in a scary place, unable to decide whether you can handle it or not, just remind yourself that you can. Majority of suicides occur because there was no one or nothing that could distract them off that final moment. Control the urge. If you succeed in triumphing over that moment, know that life has won. You have won!

Another fact I found particularly impressive about ‘The story of a suicide’ is the sensitivity with which the project is dealt. Every chapter is accompanied with life hacks on how to handle situations in times of personal crises, be it relationships, education, jobs, sexuality, bullying or abuse. You can also listen to the audio book by clicking the play button on the upper right corner. 'The story of a suicide' is a powerful story of love, passion, betrayal, and revenge that aims to reach out to young people and help them understand and cope with life in a more effective manner. And that is the need of the hour.
I finished reading the book in one shot. It is engaging and emotional and makes up for a very promising (and needless to mention, noble) project. My only grouse is that it entered the scene a couple of years too late. Had it been in circulation back then, it might have made a difference.  I might not have lost my friend.
I can only hope this book manages to reach out to all those who need it most!

The above review is written as part of IndiChange, as a tribute to the wonderful project by Sriram Ayer and NalandaWayFoundation in collaboration with Indiblogger.

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August 08, 2016


His eyes talk of stories untold,
Relegated memories-dark and cold...

Storms faced and battles fought
Facades revealed and lessons taught
Truths confessed and lies forbidden
Goodbyes that often left him guilt-ridden
Pain harsh and unaccounted.
Hurdles met and those surmounted
Bridges burnt, and roads once traveled
Love affairs left half unraveled.

Threatened by tears they cannot hold,
His eyes talk of stories untold...