Friday, 5 May 2017


First it was my friend Ashok Raj Kaul, an exceptionally innovative Plastic surgeon from Bangalore and now it is T. S. Murali, a celebrated urologist and a wonderful teacher.....within six weeks we have seen two high achievers commit suicide. This made me think why? These are people who have attained success to the point of stardom and yet were surely not happy. They had lovely family life but were surely not contented. So why they opted for this unfortunate choice?  

This question was bothering me for quite some time. I can understand the less focused and the less successful guys, those who have messed up their lives, their family, their relationships and their professions to simply opt out of life…….but why should those who are themselves epitome of success go the same way?

Historical perspective
When I started thinking to get an answer to my question, my mind took me down the memory lane and I was surprised to find that how many individuals, at the peak of their success chose to opt out of life. The farthest I could go was Cleopatra, queen of Egypt and lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Cleopatra committed suicide on August 12, 30 B.C., following the defeat of her forces against Octavian, the future first emperor of Rome, possibly by means of an asp, a poisonous Egyptian serpent and symbol of divine royalty. Not only Cleopatra but Mark Antony, Brutus, Judas Iscariot, Hannibal and Nero all committed suicide.

Sigmund Freud, Virginia Wolf, Adolf Hitler, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Vincent van Gogh, Jack London, Dylan Thomas, Judy Garland, Rudolph Hess, Pontius Pilate, Socrates, and possibly Tchaikovsky, Elvis Presley, and the one and only Marilyn Monroe all chose to end their own lives! Creator and host of Soul Train, Don Cornelius, the famous fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Musician Freddie Prinze, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, World famous WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, Director of hit film “Top Gun,” Tony Scott and comedian par excellence Robin Williams all of them chose to extinguish their own lives and they all were very successful. The Russian poet Sergei Esenin (1895-1925) wrote an entire poem in his own blood that served as suicide note.

The Indian scenario
This is no less gloomy. Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone, better known as Guru Dutt, the finest director and actor that India has ever produced,  Manmohan Desai, the famous Bollywood producer and owner of Paramount Studios (Filmalaya) who is credited with helping Amitabh Bachchan rise to fame with movies like ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, ‘Coolie’ and ‘Mard’ , Silk Smitha the famous Tamil film star,  Nafisa Joseph was a popular VJ on MTV, an actress and a model, Viveka Babajee a famous model and entrepreneur with  her own event company called VIBGYOR ENT, she was an  anchor for FTV India and acted in a film ‘Yeh Kaisi Mohabbat Hai’, Divya Bharti, Jiya Khan, Disha Ganguly, Pratusha Banerjee all very talented and successful people committed suicide.

You would not expect a sportsperson to be so un-sportsman like, accept defeat gracefully only to return again to conquer. But sports too have been tainted by this problem. Welsh national team manager and former player Gary Speed hanged himself. Former Queen's Park Rangers' defender Dave Clement, killed himself in 1982 by drinking weed-killer. Cricketers Jack Iverson, "who could have the world's best batsmen at his mercy, if he could spare the time", Jim Burke, the Australian batsman and Peter Roebuck, the Somerset captain and commentator all went the same way. Interestingly, the latter wrote the forward to David Firth's book about cricketer's committing suicide, "By His Own Hand".

Back to the question “Why?’
The word “suicide” comes from two Latin roots, sui (“of oneself”) and cidium (“killing” or “slaying”). Suicide is tragic enough, but it’s particularly bewildering when young people who appear to have it all take their own lives. We are living in a highly competitive world. Those who are successful find themselves in a unique intersection that exacerbates the burden on those prone to mental illness—enormous pressure to be perfect, combined with seemingly having it all going for them, combined with feeling exactly the opposite inside. And social media isn’t helping either.

Successful people tend to be hyper competitive and upwardly mobile and ambitious, which means that they are constantly comparing themselves to people who are even more successful. This type of comparison leads to unhappiness as no matter how much they succeed; there'll always be someone else who's done better. So they need to understand success in a healthy way.

Successful people need to celebrate their success by extending a helping hand and pulling up all those who are struggling to achieve the same success. If instead people pursue success just to get approval and acceptance, it could feel like a long tiring fight. They would fear to lose what they have because of being judged by their failures.  Additionally, it is very upsetting when a "successful" person reach a point whereby they seem to have everything they could ever want, and yet still feel empty, dissatisfied, or disappointed. What would be your next goal in such a situation? If there's none, what is there to live for? Hence my theory: ‘there is no success without a successor’!

Plenty of "successful" people go into depression and ultimately kill themselves because they cannot live a life whereby they are constantly plagued by the fear of being unable to maintain or better their success. This is because they have achieved success but not understood it. Success is not a destination where one has to reach; it is a path which one makes for others to follow. When we help others to achieve success we prepare ourselves of a bigger and worthier challenge……a challenge worth living all over again!

People do not kill themselves "because" they failed in their own mind, or "because" they weren't successful. They kill themselves because the acute pain of suicidal/psychotic depression - an acute, pain almost akin to physical pain, along with the "emotional pain" of the thought distortions and self-hatred that go along with depression finally exceeding their willingness or ability to cope/stand the pain. To the suicidally depressed, killing oneself is in a perverse way their last and final act of self-mercy. And the best way to fight depression is to help those who are less successful and less fortunate.

If you think Wall Street, Dalal Street, Prime Minister’s office or Hollywood and Bollywood are high pressure zones then wait till you fall sick. Nowhere is the macho code of success more evident than in the pressure-cooker situation in which a doctor works, right from his/her medical school days. Attending to patients of all types, getting work done by the juniors, the nurses and the ministerial staff, trying to remain in the good book of seniors, attending classes and clinics, learning newer skills, being abreast with all the recent advances, being polite and considerate to all the patient attendants, hospital administration and lay press…….and doing so day in and day out even at the peak of their careers takes a toll on the personal and family life. They are taught by their teachers in the profession to give.......give time, effort, patience and keep on giving. This turns them into empty shells and the same patients whom they enjoyed treating now become burden - burden of responsibility, work and indeed reputation. They start believing that if we don't help them they are helpless. They forget the real world where they are moms and dads, husbands and wives, friends and relatives and a referee in a football match or a secretary in a Durga Puja committee. Their life becomes monotonous and unidirectional from the kaleidoscopic multi coloured and poly directional as God desires. This is when they stop making intelligent choices and simply burn out.

So, while I may not have all the answers of why creative and successful people end up committing an act hardly becoming of them but I can tell you that it is some complex combination of nature (genes, brain circuitry, chemical imbalance) and nurture (a lifetime of bad experiences piled up high enough) coupled with underlying diseases like depression and a few drugs like isotretinoin (Acutane), used for treating acne hopelessly stack up against a sensible decision making. Depressed and bipolar people can appear to be high-functioning creative leaders—during their manic bursts—and simply moody when they hit the low end. 

Most of us are brought up to believe that success equates to happiness, unfortunately it could be that the pursuit of success is what that drives people to the brink. No matter how you feel, no matter what mistake you think you made, you can fix it. Suicide is the one mistake you can’t take back.

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