09 June 2012

A suicide note

I received a cryptic text message sometime in late March this year.  I had been out of the country and had lost my mobile phone.  I had to get a new phone with the same number but had lost my list of contacts. 
‘Uma left her body today. I am the most unfortunate father.’  Didn’t make sense.  It was one of many text messages, so I skipped to the next and the next.  Once I had responded to all the messages (after figuring out who had sent each of them), I returned to this cryptic sms.  Took me a while to understand. 

‘Uma’ was ‘Uma Shanthi’, a 9 year old girl I had first encountered two years before.  She suffered from a rare congenital ailment called Goldenhar Syndrom where victims suffer muted development in one side of their bodies, head to toe, external and internal.  Uma could not speak.  She needed a tube to help her breathe.  She couldn’t talk.  The only person she was attached to was her father whose face she would lick quite often; ‘aadaraya pennanne ehemai,’ her father explained that this was how she expressed affection.  Her mother had left them a long time before.  The father couldn’t afford to sleep much because he feared that she would pull out the tube.  Tough life. 

She had died, I understood. I called.  The funeral was over, he said. 

Two weeks later, he called, seeking an opinion.  He wanted to know what I felt about someone who had no aim in life committing suicide.  I am no counselor but this is what I said (in translation):

‘I subscribe to a Buddhist view of things and processes.  Until the final emancipation, we are all prisoners of the ata lo dahama (joy-sorrow, profit-loss, fame-infame, praise-blame), so death is not a release.  Come and see me now.’

So he did and we talked long, about his daughter, about life. 

‘She did not die, for she lives in you in the things she gave and the things she changed in you.’
‘Yes, and she cannot have gone to a bad place, for she could never have harboured any ill feeling towards anyone,’ he replied. 

Strangely, not too long after that, my brother Arjuna, the Buddhist scholar in the family, had held forth on ‘suicide’ to my wife Samadanie.  Here’s the gist:

‘The human form is important in comprehending the truth and working towards emancipation.  Suicide amounts to a rejection of the human form, a rejection of this necessary vessel to cross the river of sufferance.  It is unlikely that rejection gets rewarded in yet another opportunity and so suicide could very well result in that individual being forced to take up residence in another creature form.’

Made sense.  

So what constitutes ‘rejection’?  Suicide and suicide alone?  Perhaps it is all things that have the potential of causing harm to the body; for example, bad habits that lead to disease or compromise the smooth functioning of the organs.  That line of thinking took me to a line from the Dhammapada: Arogya parama labha (Good health is the most profitable thing).  And another: Appamado amatha padang (don’t procrastinate). 

My friend, that day, confessed, ‘I’ve wanted to tell you something and I called several times to do so but each time I cut the line; I am addicted to heroin.’

‘I know,’ I said and we then talked about rehabilitation.   

‘I don’t know how to thank you, how to repay you’ he said as he left.

‘Maybe it’s me who is doing the repaying and anyway what’s all this talk of payment and repayment, we are brothers after all.’

We don’t know way out.  We have to light our own lamps, be our own lamps.  We have directions, we have a map, but if we are not healthy and if we let emotion cloud reason then the chances are we’ll take a wrong turn and even convince ourselves that we picked wisely. 

Talking to Pradeep and listening to my wife recount her conversation with my brother convinced me that suicide does not make sense. 

Two days ago, an elderly and well-known lady called me and in the course of the conversation she told me that she felt suicidal.

‘Old age.’

Yesterday the father of a close friend hanged himself.  He had been ill.  I worry about my father, who is also very ill.  I reflect on the Buddha’s teachings: birth, decay and death.  And I reflect on the eight-fold path.

Right View and Right Intention (Wisdom); Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood (Ethical Conduct); Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration (Mental Development).  I return to the wonderful verse of the Ven. Veedagama Maithriya Haamuduruwo in the Lo Weda Sangarawa, ‘kumatada kusalata kammeli vane? (and why be slothful in the matter of being virtuous?). 

Today is Saturday morning.  I am yet to write the editorial and my weekly political comment for The Nation.  I feel empowered.  Thanks to suicide thoughts. 

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukitatta (May all beings be happy).



fayaz said...

we muslims are absolutely forbidden suicide...

then what about suicide bombers, you may ask?

that isnt suicide by islamic definition; merely a conveyance of the bomb; what remains totally forbidden is to kill a non combatant..

when you heroically take on impossible odds as did the muslim armies of yore, you are a hero whether you die or survive..not a suicide cadre.

the minimum odds against the early muslim armies 630 CE , was 3:1 ; the max i know of was 35000: 1 million (during conquest of d Persian empire)

sajic said...

I call myself a christian. My religion says that suicide is a sin. I do not believe that. I do not think any religion or philosophy has the right to condemn a person who takes his/her own life, for whatever reason. It would be a completely personal decision;obviously only the person involved would know the outcome.
I read a long time ago that 'suffering only shows us the uselessness of suffering'.

Ramzeen said...

Suicide is the bravest action of a COWARD. When a person commits suicide, it primarily depicts the failure of society and secondarily, the failure of the state.

Anonymous said...

fame-infame? really? lol