Whatever happened to two minutes of silence?

Updated: Jun 21, 2020, 06:42 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

Sushant Singh Rajput, a young man, a successful person, a popular movie star, sadly, died by suicide a week ago. A sigh of sorrow barely emerged, before it was blown away by a cacophony of self-importance

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraAre you having trouble remembering when we observed two minutes of silence in respect for a departed soul? I don't blame you.

Sushant Singh Rajput, a young man, a successful person, a popular movie star, sadly, died by suicide a week ago. A sigh of sorrow barely emerged, before it was blown away by a cacophony of self-importance.

At funerals, there's always that person who makes another's death about themselves—but an entire memorial service where we speak about ourselves? Imagine that. Everyone shared their mental health story. But, each person's affliction, struggle and survival mechanisms are unique. Our journey is not the same as Rajput's and the conflation seemed misplaced.

All this happened before Rajput's diagnosis and experiences were known. So, while purportedly discussing mental health, we are just discussing ourselves. Rajput's own mental health history is now being consumed as investigative gossip. Instead of public questions about mental health services or crises of community, we are left with cloying, useless offers of coffee and 'my doors are open'.

That wave had barely crested when a faster, bigger one crashed on the virtual shores. Socio-cultural triggers were immediately identified, yaniki nepotism, classism and Bollywood's mean girls culture led by Karan Johar —thus far avidly consumed by those who now attacked it. Bollywood's insider culture was knowledgably attacked and blamed for Rajput's death. The great Indian boycott call was given (since moved on to chowmein) and Johar lost a fingernail of followers.

Discussions about the film industry's mix of corporate-feudal mediocrity-propping structures soon ceded space to personal Koffee With Karan moments in various media fields, cue the middle-class violin orchestra. The original KWK-moment person, Kangana Ranaut issued a video statement. I felt a flicker of nostalgia when she began with her once-crystalline articulation of clubby structures, but the de-rigeur #MeOnly moment came fast: "my film Manikarnika was not given an award."

As we dive head-first only into the largest waves, we merely reveal our deep desire to be insiders. What else is social media's invitation to insert a personal story into the trending story, but a brief illusion of being part of one big inside, a clever conformity whose noise drowns out difference?

Even when we criticise 'insiders', when we hate-watch a new web-series by an insider for the visibility of trashing it online, when we prefer to praise or hate successful men, while barely paying attention to the accomplishments of women, ignore the deaths of Dalits or Muslims, but empathise with other hardships—we endorse the existing caste systems of importance, insiders by association, even while pretending to be outside, even while recalling the moments of outsider-angst from the position of current insider-ness.

People who choose to be, or are comfortable being outsiders, are perhaps busy with other non-trending topics, aware that death will make outsiders of us all eventually.

The inside experience of mental health, the outside reality of social structures and injustice are the intertwined psycho-social combination that need to be the basis of all political discussion. Social media conversations which stand in for political discussion keep the divide between inside/personal and outside/public—yaniki the status quo—strong. Either speaking of ourselves as emotional individuals or attacking individuals as villainous symbols of a structure, we evade any real reflection on the inter-relationship between the two—for that we might need to observe two minutes of silence.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at paromita.vohra @mid-day.com

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