Monday, March 25, 2013

The Screams of Silence

A few days back I came across this picture. Young couple in China leaped to its death from a bridge. A photographer caught the act in his camera.

It's got me thinking. What could scare a person who is not afraid of death itself??

This is heartbreaking. The act of suicide. If one tries to google the statistics for suicide rates, its a shocking figure. I don’t want this to be a mere statistic paper and so I will not go into figures. I also strongly feel that when talking about human lives, one should refrain from reducing them to mere numbers.

You know it already. We all know it. It’s an issue which is serious in ALL levels of our society. From top cops to doctors, IAS officers to hungry debt ridden farmers.


Yet, the silence which the society keeps is shocking.

One could take any issue- Rape, corruption, unemployment, health facilities, they all are deep rooted problems which require complex long term solutions.

Suicide is one issue which can be solved by just accepting the people, and talking to them.

Too often, people in depression become automatic victims of lecturing by others. It’s as if one has the right to look upon them. They get that “Weak” label etched on them on permanent basis. The “Big Brother” approach seldom works. I decided to talk about this issue head on, on a very neutral and logical level.

For people in depression, most of us believe that suicide is a pre-planned action which a person commits after meticulous planning.


Suicide is a sudden act. The idea can be floating in your head but no one knows when or what will trigger the final act.

It’s like sudden resignation of an employee who was thinking to quit anyways but suddenly quits one day when he looks at a butterfly flying out a his window.

They say it’s like waking up from a nightmare.

What triggers the reaction?

Life can be scary. So scary that death could seem a logical end to it all. Suicide happens in a circumstance what one could describe as the lowest point of their life.

I asked a lot of my friends this question, the question which I asked in the beginning of this essay :

What could scare a person who is not afraid of death itself??

Interestingly enough, most of them replied “Life”.

Others said, “Just shows how scary/rough life can be?”


Of course life can be scary. This was the reason why the young couple in China leaped to it’s death. Life they say becomes so unbearable that embracing death becomes not a choice but a necessity.

The moment one gives up on the concept of choice, he is like a non-living thing anyway.


So they had a tough time, they couldn’t cope. They committed suicide.

This is how this issue ends. Every discussion on it. Every single time. Almost like a silent approval given by society. Society doesn’t need sad depressed people who question their life. Nobody will side with me if I said it’s ok not to smile. In today’s corporation, anyone who starts complaining about inhuman working hours and gets grim about losing out on his dreams is labeled as “that guy with sad attitude”. He can guarantee himself a pink slip in next downsizing process. It will come faster than the Pizza Delivery from the shop next door.

In a lot of ways corporate slavery is worse than the actual “Slavery”. They made you work in farms till you were reduced a machine who survives just for his masters profit.

But they gave a damn if you were sad and crying on the field. There was complete indifference. If it affected you performance maybe a lash or two but that was it.

In modern day corporate slavery, not only do you have to be a non human machine who sells his dreams and life for his masters profit, but you also got to look happy about it. If you don’t look happy, they fire you. They take away the means to feed your family. They would kill you if they could.

Coming back to how the discussions on Suicide ends. They had a tough life which they couldn’t endure. They ended it.

Too Bad.

Almost a justification served on a platter to the next person who is contemplating a suicide !

How come no one points out the people who fought for a better life in extremely horrible circumstances? How come their story and instances are NEVER discussed to inspire our depressed section of society who could take a step forward towards life instead of just ending it? Why such an indifference?


More importantly, how come this aspect doesn't feature in minds of those of actually do commit suicide? Maybe because before that instant they were one of us. One of us who give a damn about stories of people who fought for survival.

Depressingly enough, this thought process prompted me to think about situations/events which signify the lowest points of the human existence.

I cannot think of a of a point lower than the prison camps during the holocaust.

In 1943, Primo Levi, a young 25 year old chemist was arrested by the fascists. He was a Jew.

He was sent to Auschwitz.

He survived.

He wrote a masterpiece, “Survival in Auschwitz”. This is one of those rare books which talks about the mind of the survivor instead of mere re-collection and narration of events.

I had to get back to this book to understand what prompted men to survive in these horrifying conditions?

I will use some direct quotes from the book for the selfish gain of this essay.

““Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable”
-Primo Levi.

In such trying times, it is some kind of hope which kept these people going. The absolute knowledge that one day they got to die and till then there is scope to improve the life.

Hope and Uncertainty.

There has to be reason why the truth of death is known before something is even born. Even before it.

I think this certainty is a miracle. David Hume described “Miracle” as “ a violation of the laws of nature”.

I’ve written this before and I will write this again, I will never get tired writing about “Randomness”.

Fabric of universe is entropy. Entropy is always increasing. Entropy is the measure of randomness. Thus the randomness and the uncertainty is always increasing.  

The certainty of death completely goes against the principles on which nature is built. Yet it is the only truth of the nature.

Is there a reason why death is the ultimate truth? Is there a reason why everything ceases to exist after Shiva’s final dance?

Such profound questions can be answered by a person who faces death every day. Not only every day, but every hour, in every breath he takes.

Primo Levi answers the question. The puzzle regarding certainty of death. I think every one can have a different perspective at it. I wanted to know what a prisoner in a Nazi death camp thought about certainty of death.

Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief
- Survival at Auschwitz ,Primo Levi

Had we not have the certainty of death, the unfathomable abyss of future would have made the concept of HOPE non-existent.

It was hope which kept these prisoners alive.

On deeper thinking, you will realize that suicide boils down to an extreme situation where the choice is between acceptance and rejection. Between acceptance and revolt.

Suicide is often viewed as an act of revolt.

Hardly so. Analyze the lives of people who are termed as “revolutionaries”. Mahatma Gandhi, Che, Martin Luther King. These are fighters. Different methods but common belief. They all refused to accept their present situation and fought for a better life for their people. How hard is this to figure for people who commit suicide in the name of a “revolt”/anger against something?

Revolt is an act of rejection.A rejection to confine yourself to shackles of your present. Suicide means giving up on your future turning a blind eye towards tremendous possibilities which future holds.

“Suicide is the most extreme form of acceptance”- Albert Camus.

Besides the certainty of death, the life events are random and absurd. There is no way to predict. One should never fail to realize the absurd. Never deny the reality of randomism. Never fail to accept the fact that besides death, everything else is temporary.

Naked truths are devoid of reason. It’s independent of interpretation. Beauty, in that sense-is a lie. What is beauty to one could be obnoxious to other. Maybe just “nice”. Interpretation however, changed. One might need to give a reason why he finds this thing beautiful, or why he finds it obnoxious.

Death required no explanation. What is dead to one is dead to every body else. No reason. No interpretation. To attach a reason to it is an imbecile and foolish at audacious levels.

Thus, its completely justified if one reason’s his actions. “ I am leaving this town to find a new job in a new city”. Fine.

“Ill die because she left me “ “Ill die because I lost my job

This is plain stupid.

You attached a reason to something which didn't need it.

“Really?” I hear you ask. What about those who do die for a reason. What about soldiers?

Soldiers die protecting borders. Here’s the thing about borders though: they change. What represents two different countries could be two states of the same nation tomorrow. I was talking to my friend Mann who told me the horrible times our soldiers faced in Sri Lanka. At least 1500 Indian soldiers died in Sri Lanka. All in the name of historical relations we have had with our neighbor. Then one day politics changed, India votes against Sri Lanka in UN. All sacrifices and deaths forgotten.

In any case, martyrs cannot be compared to people who commit suicide out of depression. These are people who kept they duty, faith and belief above their concern for death.

So it boils down to complete acceptance or rejection.

A complete acceptance of trying times as in the case of the Chinese couple. A slap on the future.

Or it can be ultimate rejection as in the case of Primo Levi. He kept his hope alive in Auschwitz and came out of it.

Suicide is not like waking up from a nightmare. It’s like accepting that this nightmare is your reality and never waking up.

Image Courtesy:

This blog is being submitted in Indian School of Business-Idiya for a change contest.Wish me luck


quixotic.knight said...

Comment which my friend Chaobang gave on Facebook :

"A profound and powerful post - thank you for sharing your reflections on this subject. This is one which (due in part to personal experience) I also have much to comment on, and have kept intending to write a post on myself; probably will at some point. Suffice it to say for now that I find it reassuring and refreshing that you wrote on it in a reflective and exploratory - rather than judgemental - way.

That's the problem I have with a lot of what's said/written about suicide these days, and you capture that issue well. The judgementalism. The locating of the problem entirely within those who take their own lives; as though they are weak, or selfish, or mentally ill. The "normalization" of it.

Thing is, I am not sure I would identify fear as a central driver; rather, pain. When society is obsessed with survival and sees death as the worst possible thing, it is easy to forget that there are things far, far worse than death; and in the light of which, suicide may be a rational act. When every living moment burns with such excruciating agony that the thought of living one second more is unbearable, or when the sum of the existence you know is so twisted as to shatter every hope of change, it is surely a logical thing to seek a way out; a way to be free.

There can, I think, be an element of revolt to this; a politics of it. If nothing else it is a "no" to that kind of society; a refusal to live by its terms, to fetishize survival above all else - especially if society expects that instead of dying, you "simply" change your values and that that would make your life easier. Too many societies do this; expect people to be that which they cannot, which can be far more bloodcurdling than death; then dodge responsibility by locating the problem as a weakness, deficiency or disorder within those people, rather than on that society's unjust norms or structures. How might people do anything other than accept that so long as they live, the nightmare is their reality, if that is exactly what society is so arranged to hammer into their skulls with contempt? What does it say about a society, if people in it are thus led to feel that death is a preferable condition to life within it? Surely it is an indictment, and a sign that it is high time for that society to reflect on its problems.

It can be difficult to establish how far suicide is a "choice": for though there's this political element, it may again be so bound up with the despair, dejection or sheer soul-rending pain at the time that very little can be said for certain about the person's agency. Perhaps, though, that's not where the focus should be. In the end, death is one of the universe's greatest mysteries and something we know so little of for sure; life is something we as a species have thoroughly derailed ourselves on in a traumatizing variety of ways; and each of us experiences the journey through this world differently, such that what is obvious to some may be lunacy to others.

Given this, humanity's suicide discourse is in awful condition. A frank and thoughtful contribution like yours should thus be hugely valued: all the taboos, misconceptions and judgements must be cleared out if we are ever to have a world where no-one has to go through such unspeakably horrific experiences again."

quixotic.knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clem said...

Yes it could be an element of revolt but, in my opinion, before to commit suicide, there should be one shoulder, one friend, who could say, there is another way...

Divyesh Pandya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Divyesh Pandya said...

I would like to call this a 'Gladiator in the Colossium' style of writing... it feels immobilizing at points, unable to read further, when you stick your blades in style... into the guts of the mind...especially the corporate slavery para...wherein the realization strikes that apart from being a corp slave, I am also a slave of my feigned ignorances...unable to accept the realities about my weaknesses..suddenly exposed in the middle of the collosium... ..."Must I die" says my ignorance... but then it would be an honour for my prejudices to be relieved of their existence by such a worthy Gladiator as you... and mind you.... that's not a suicide.

quixotic.knight said...

Now iS the time when the quixotic knight needs to mumble a humble thanks pandya :)


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