A friend departs

I do not consider myself to be a very social person. I have few friends. When I lost one of them to suicide recently; I came to know how much it can disturb one. Siva was my classmate when I was doing my masters at IIT Bombay. In social hierarchy of IIT he belonged to a higher caste (Dual Degree) while I was a member of backward caste (M. Tech). It is not usual for a M.Tech. to have friends among B.Tech. or Dual Degree students. Some even claims that they do not mix. A friend in other IIT who was doing her M.Tech. there cautioned me, when I told her that I have a crush on a DD girl, “What? You know they hate us!”. I am not sure in what degree it exists on IITs but it exists nonetheless.

I never noticed him in or outside the classroom. We had totally different characters. He never spoke in the classroom and I could never remain silent for too long, even when I had nothing interesting to say. He had a tidy mind and ability for “linear” thinking. He could easily hold on to a problem for a long time; I, on the other hand, had a terrible random mind. He worked with methods and I preferred intuitions. His solutions were mostly right, I struggled — still struggle — to get them right in first attempt.

I met him first time in person when I rejoined the department for Ph.D. program and Prof. Narayanan advised me to ask him about courses I have to take. Coming back to staying in IIT for a second degree is not something one normally does and we chose to do so says there was something abnormal in us. Such cases are usually explained by the argument that either they tried hard to leave but could not leave, or they are some sort of ideologue. Those who works in Indian universities suffer from great many disadvantages, and those who work in American or European universities enjoy many benefits, including an added social status. I can only speculate how much this can contribute to depression and feeling of inferiority when one is extremely sensitive about how their peers are doing abroad.  And world seems to be welcoming them with open arms. No matter how loudly we deny it, we Indians are extremely sensitive about our peers.

He joined the department for his Ph.D. a semester before I joined. He was working with Prof. H. Narayanan. I was involved with Prof. Patkar and we belonged to more of less same group in department. While I was learning system design and programming, and he was working on sub-modular functions and matroid.

I was in Hostel 12 and he was in Hostel 14, a 5 minute walk away. I rarely talked with anyone outside classroom and my TA job. But I enjoyed talking to him: I am a horrible listener and he was a horrible speaker. Moreover, he never tried to change the flow of conversation and listen to everything I had to say. He never corrected me on my social theories but pinpointed any error whenever I talked on technical things. If I had an solution, I’d go to him to discuss it. Most of the time he would throw cold water on my solution by pointing out rather silly mistakes committed here and there. But we rarely discussed problems,  most of the time it was plain GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) talk.

Siva mood was monotonic and his life at IIT had a fixed routine and he wouldn’t have it other way. It was impossible to tell what mood he was in. He used to say that he does not think about anything random and whenever he gets bored, he prefers to sleep. He had no interest in physical activity. Only sports I saw him playing was chess, and occassionaly table-tennis if he could find someone to play with him. Whenever I went to his room in the evening before sunset, I found him sleeping. He would open the door after few knocks and then wash his face. We’d go to the terrace and I’d pass comments on birds, eagles, mosquitoes, trees and other animals (students).

After completing 3 years in Ph.D. program, I was getting bored (or perhaps feeling burnt out) and somewhat depressed. I thought of making a change before it was too late. I took medical leave for a year and left IIT in August for NCBS Bangalore where I am currently working. I talked to Siva once a month or so from Bangalore and he would have no gossips or news to share. When I visited Mumbai on Jan 1 this year, I stayed with him during the night. I found nothing unusual with him. I came back on Jan 3 and after ten days, I get to know from his father that he was missing.

My first guess was that he went for a short trip, even though I knew that this is not something he would do. He did not like to go out of the campus, a trait which I shared with him. Now, when I try hard to think about the possible reason why he committed suicide, I can think of none. Sometimes I feel that I should consider it an accident rather a suicide. A fertile mind can be a horrible thing to have when it plays tricks with itself. Who know which idea can get into your head and what sort of feeling it creates and sustain! Perhaps Emile Durkhiem work on social factors that drive people to commit suicide might help us understand it a little better.

I have suicidal tendencies too but they are directed at career than life. It has been said that being introvert and cutting connections from the larger world is not a good thing for a person especially in a culture which puts a high value on social connections and condemns anyone who is odd or different. Social life is mostly lived in man’s mind and it is confusing and unpredictable. Many have tried to find ways to sail through it painlessly if not happily. Each life takes its own course and one has to find his own philosophy to sail through it. My opinion about life that having hobbies helps a great deal. It makes me wonder sometimes, if it was the lack of hobbies which convinced him that living was pointless.  One wishes that community and authorities on the campus will not treat is just another case of personal mismanagement but also consider the institutional and social arrangement relevant to such cases. Emile Durkheim have given us a theoretical framework which deals with social causes. His work could be incredible helpful if we are willing to look at suicide something more than psychological [1].

[1] Summary ‘Le suicide’.  http://durkheim.uchicago.edu/Summaries/suicide.html

– Dilawar

– Dilawar

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

1 thought on “A friend departs”

  1. suicides are two kinds,

    1.people who don’t have choice other than death coz they are in a situation after being morally right and wise all through their life where their loved one’s too are not bothered about his/her death situation that was created out of everyone’s opportunistic/selfish approach towards life.these people are not cowards,they have led life with clarity from childhood ,these people are as wise as sigmund freud,socrates,plato. death to these people is peace from unnatural world.everyone don’t live for the sake of it,they don’t live for food and money,they live with passion and end when there is no further purpose in life.

    2.ignorant and immature people who don’t have clarity in life from childhood coz of bad parenting and environment around them.these suicides are out of stupidity.

    you can’t prevent suicides of first kind above coz you don’t have reason or capacity to stop a sensible suicide.we should make euthanasia legal all over world,so that people can die peacefully after a panel of psychologists,sociologists and psychiatrists clears one’s case.we should have a single institution with centres all over country to deal with suicides and euthanasia coz we can prevent certain suicides and we can assist certain deaths so that people and families don’t get embarrassed with suicide deaths.

    we can’t keep society morally right,people are not ready to be morally right,so it doesn’t make sense to prevent suicide of morally right person.i recommend euthanasia and suicide preventing centres all over country to deal deaths sensibly.

    suicides of first kind are rarest of rare i have seen in modern society,sensible suicides are one in 100 million people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s