For more than a week, Sushant Singh Rajput has dominated our social media and news feeds. Video he himself shared on his social networking sites, photographs and videos others have taken of him, images of his family and friends taken without their consent, have all made their ways to the internet. Not even his dog Fudge has been spared. A video of Fudge purportedly searching for his human has over 16 million views on YouTube at the time of writing this piece.
The media’s opportunism, the monetisation of tragedy, is disgusting. Sushant Singh Rajput’s elderly father, who is reportedly unwell, has been photographed endlessly, and was cornered into answering a few questions by an entertainment portal, which went on to call it ‘an exclusive interview’.
As disgusting is the opportunism of Bollywood’s elite, who have dived into the mental health and nepotism debates with their uninformed opinions and rationalisations. Even people who claim to be friends of the actor have made personal revelations about him and his partners, clearly things they were told in confidence.
Perhaps the reason his suicide haunts us so much is that it brings home to us the isolation of our times. In the videos and pictures Sushant Singh Rajput himself shared on social media – running with Fudge, curled up on the beach with Fudge, serving army jawans, playing with friends’ children, visiting CERN, showing us around his house – what is most heartbreaking in retrospect is the cheerful smile on his face. How easy it was for him, and how easy it is for all of us, to hide pain.
He, like many of us and many of the people we know, seemed to be a happy person, radiating positivity, showing kindness to his friends and motivating them not to give up, riding on a wave of success. Unlike most actors, he had no connections and came from a middle class home. Unlike most actors, he wore his celebrity lightly and seemed a genuinely nice person, the kind who would surround himself with childhood friends and make at least one phone call home a day. Unlike most actors, he allows one to relate to him, even in death. The sense of isolation that is now evident in him is an echo of the isolation we all feel.
It has been over three months since periods of lockdown began, and various cities have begun clamping down after relaxing the rules. It is clear that the pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Even if it were to disappear magically tomorrow, its effects will remain. Businesses will not recover from this easily. The economy has taken a beating. Livelihoods people once took for granted are now at stake. The simple things we accepted as part of our lives – hanging out with friends, meeting someone for a drink, going to the cinema, watching a cricket match on television – have suddenly been wrenched from us.
We need to come to terms with the fact that the world has been thrown into an unnatural situation, and that none of us is equipped to deal with it easily. Technology has made things easier in some ways, ensuring that we can communicate with our loved ones and continue our work or education from home, but the notion of man as a social being has been challenged by the lockdown.
Ease of travel, which had become a key factor in people seeking lucrative opportunities even if it meant being away from their families or partners, suddenly seems to be a thing of the past, something we can never take for granted again.
When we are in the middle of something unprecedented, something no one could have predicted a few months ago, we must make allowance for the fact that we are susceptible to unprecedented and unpredictable emotions and impulses too.
One of the most dangerous ideas that have emerged from the recent talk of mental health awareness is the notion that we should be able to “reach out” to anyone, and that anyone should be “willing to listen”. The intentions behind offering to listen may be good, but we forget that the outcome isn’t always in keeping with the intentions. Most of us are not trained to say the right thing, most of us are not equipped to handle depression, and many of us are likely hiding our own depression – even from ourselves.
We are living in times that even psychiatrists and trained counsellors are struggling to navigate. Perhaps the first step to dealing with the strain is to acknowledge it.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com