Shorts In The Dark

A short history of star suicides

When it comes to awareness of mental health, India and America are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  4-minute read |   28-06-2020
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When Kurt Cobain put a bullet through his head at the age of 27, his band, Nirvana, was at the height of its fame. The fans said: rock ‘n’ roll killed Kurt — a reference to the pressures of big labels interfering with one’s creative process, and the trappings of commercial stardom. Cobain’s friend, Michael Stipe, the lead singer for R.E.M., offered a sober unromantic explanation: clinical depression, not an abstract entity called “rock ‘n’ roll”, led to Cobain’s death.

Conspiracy theories

In the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, similar accusations have been swirling on social media: that Big Bollywood is responsible for his untimely demise. Sushant was an unusually bright bulb in Bollywood. He read Nietzsche and Sartre and didn’t shy away from being a thinking person. I’d think he’d be happier if one analysed his death in the context of other geniuses who’ve also taken their own lives.


When it comes to awareness of mental health, India and America are at opposite ends of the spectrum. In America, every middle class person who can afford a therapist has one. You don’t have to be mentally ‘ill’ to seek help. A therapist – different from a psychiatrist – is like a life coach; people often change therapists until they find the one who works for them. But then Americans have a tendency to go to extremes; they even put their pooches on medication.

In India, depression is seen as a sign of weakness. If news gets out that you’re on a mild anti-depressant, it will be relayed in hushed whispers to all concerned. Depression is an item of gossip. You will be stigmatised and labelled, perhaps not on your face, most likely behind your back. In a material world, we find it difficult to fathom when ‘successful’ people take their own lives. David Foster Wallace and Hunter S Thomson shot themselves when they were on the top of their game. If you’ve nailed the roti-kapdamakaan-naukar-shohrat formula, then why should you be unhappy? What people don’t get is depression is different from unhappiness; it’s about chemical imbalances in one’s brain. It can also be circumstantial. The right medication and a good therapist can help bring clarity and perspective. It’s like the right pair of glasses immediately helps you see better, drive better; you will still have to fight your own battles and demons.

There is plenty of nonsense floating around about reaching out to friends and helplines. The truth is friends aren’t really bothered.

No simple answers

We live in a selfish world, cloaked in indifference. If you do well, the peanutshell throwers will find chinks in your armour and pull you down. Once you are down, the peanut-shell throwers will indulge in momfali timepass, accompanied by a slow handclap.

One has to be extremely alert about one’s own state of mind and seek professional help. Please avoid pouring your heart out to heartless friends.

That Twitter hashtags do not help was evident when Scott Hutchison, lead singer for the highly regarded Scottish band, Frightened Rabbit, drowned himself in a lake. He was aware of his condition, had sung about it in song after song: ‘Poke at my iris, why can’t I cry about this.’ Days before he committed suicide, Hutchinson has spearheaded a government-backed mental health awareness campaign through his concerts and social media activism. His death was an exercise in high irony.

Chris Cornell, the lead singer for Soundgarden, pioneers of the grunge era, was on medication for several years. He was off drugs and drink, happily married with children and a beautiful wife. Then he went and hanged himself. He had been put on high doses of lorazepam, commonly called Ativan, which is known to cause suicidal tendencies in some cases. The lesson: it’s not as simple as reaching out for help etc. Medications are often changed by psychiatrists depending on how the patient is feeling; at times the medication can backfire terribly.

The nepotism factor

As for nepotism, what can one say – it’s a fact of life that can also go against you. The public has largely been unkind towards Rahul Gandhi and Abhishek Bachchan. They’ve accepted Anoushka Shankar. That the proverbial leg-up exists in Bollywood is no secret. Sushant was wiped off the publicity for Kedarnath, which ultimately became a launch vehicle for Saif Ali Khan’s little girl who can hardly speak Hindi. And what was Saif doing calling Sushant ‘edgy’ in an otherwise empathetic interview? When Saif wears a Ramones t-shirt and plays with Parikrama, isn’t he trying to be edgy?

If you’ve seen Chhichhorey, Sushant’s character’s dialogues about being a loser will haunt you for the rest of your life. They are profoundly prophetic. Sushant was no loser; he leaves behind a solid and significant body of work, now rubberstamped with the authenticity of death. The clichéd depressive mopes in his room and wallows in a dark tunnel. In reality, the depressive wakes up at dawn, appreciates the beauty of nature, cracks jokes with friends, before hanging himself from a ceiling fan. Figure that one out.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Sushant Singh Rajput deserves our voice, not quiet


Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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