What next?

Two deaths have shaken me enormously in the last fortnight. It has led me to once again question why humanity is plumbing new depths. Why life is not sacred and death can spawn such vitriol.

 

(i)

I was away on holiday when the Florida school shooting happened. It was just another news item, and I read through it quickly, consigning it to the pile of mass shootings that have become too passé to even comment on. Tragic, preventable and a waste of life are thoughts that flitted through my mind as I moved on to the next news item.

It’s only when I returned home to discover that one of the girls murdered that day was a colleague’s daughter that it really hit home.

Let me explain: It’s all too easy to become inured to tragedy. After all, tragedy surrounds us everyday in so many guises. If we let everything get to us, we would be emotional wrecks unable to function. Therefore, as a coping mechanism, we start to build walls around our hearts, allowing few things to truly penetrate and hurt. This way, we function and also help where we can, in whatever way possible, without any emotional entanglement with the cause.

However, now and again, when something like this happens, one is shaken to the core. Gina Montalto was not just a colleague’s daughter, she was also the same age as my daughter. Suddenly I was one with her parents. Feeling their earth shattering grief as my own, asking the same question as them, “Why?!!”

How is it that a nineteen year old teenager cannot buy alcohol in America, and yet is able to go out and buy a semi-automatic weapon with the sole purpose of killing and maiming? Is life really so cheap that to this day the NRA (National Rifle Association) refuses to allow the law to be changed in any way, to make procurement of these weapons more difficult? Is it easier to arm the teachers than to disarm the potential killers? Are thoughts and prayers the only feeble platitudes we can offer?

It is laughable that providing teachers with weapons is seen as an effective strategy. As an interesting meme pointed out, if your child hits another with a stick, would you take the stick away or provide the other child with a stick too?

Boycotts and protests notwithstanding, real change can only come if the inherent ideology is challenged. For most Americans, ‘the right to bear arms’ is enshrined in the Constitution. As per the Second Amendment, this right allows any citizen to challenge the State if their freedom is threatened. Yet, look at the times this Constitution was written in. Could the Founding Fathers have foreseen how this right has mutated and violated the very freedoms they were trying to protect? How about the right to be able to receive an education without the threat of death looming over children? How about the right to a carefree childhood that does not involve lockdown drills and active shooter awareness in five year olds?

Constitutions are formulated by people. Human, fallible and mortal people. It is for the people of these times to decide what needs retaining, what needs amending and what needs eliminating.

As children all over America start to join the movement, holding up placards that read #MENEXT? , we have to examine our consciences and decide which freedom matters more.

If you would like to donate to the Gina Rose Montalto scholarship fund, please follow the link below:

https://www.gofundme.com/ginamontalto

 

(ii)

On Saturday last week came the devastating news of a young, beautiful and fabulously talented actress Sridevi’s death. First reports indicated that she had died of a cardiac arrest in her hotel bathroom. She was in Dubai to attend her nephew’s wedding, and had seemingly collapsed whilst getting ready for a dinner date with her husband.

At 54, Sridevi was still in her prime. After a hiatus of fifteen years, she had returned to Indian cinema in a triumphant comeback vehicle, ‘English Vinglish’. She was very selective about the films she was choosing in her second innings, and was coming up trumps each time.

Having started her film career at the tender age of 4, she had acted in over 300 films. Straddling South Indian cinema as well as Hindi films successfully, she was widely acknowledged as the first female Superstar of Indian cinema.

Her untimely death came as a huge shock to everyone.

Almost instantaneously the rumour mill went into overdrive. ‘She was too thin’, ‘it was all that plastic surgery’, ‘her heart must have been affected by the number of times she was administered general anaesthetic’, ‘she took far too many diet pills’, ‘she was anorexic’, ‘she exercised too much’, ‘her lip surgery had gone wrong’, ‘she was trying too hard to turn back the clock’ etc etc etc.

Now understandably, people were trying to find a cause that could explain away why a seemingly healthy woman would suddenly die in this manner. Admittedly, a celebrity’s life is public fodder. Yet, this rush to attack, accuse and cast her as the poster girl of vanity was already verging on poor taste. Worse was to come.

The following day it emerged that the cause of death was ‘accidental drowning’.  Traces of alcohol were discovered in her bloodstream. No crime there. Yet, once again, conflicting news stories jostled with each other for top slot. ‘She didn’t drink’, ‘she was an alcoholic’, ‘it was murder’, ‘it was suicide’, ‘she had money troubles’, ‘her husband was in financial ruin’ – gossip, rumours, innuendos, falsehoods and fabrications that not once took into account the feelings of her family, least of all her young, teenage daughters.

Morphed pictures of her in a bathtub were circulated on social media. Overflowing tubs were shown on the news. This was the respect accorded to a woman who had contributed almost her entire life to the film industry?

Even as I write this, I have received three pictures of her dead body, with cotton wool stuck up her nostrils. Enough already!

It’s patently obvious, that we have no respect for human life. Can we not, at the very least, show some respect after death?

An acquaintance of mine who loves Instagram, once posted a blow by blow account of his father’s funeral on there. From the dead body being carried to the pyre, to him setting his father alight, there was no privacy allowed to the departed one. Everything was grist to the mill of his public persona. Was stooping that low really necessary? Were a few hundred likes more important than giving his father the respect he deserved?

Indian media is facing a backlash from the public that has finally woken up to the fact that there is news, and then there is yellow journalism. Screeching tabloids, eyeball grabbing headlines have no place in decent society.

However Sridevi died, the sadness lies in her untimely demise. She had so much more to offer to celluloid, as also to her family.  Instead of ghoulish conspiracy theories, character assassinations and mud slinging, let us celebrate her rich and varied legacy in films. Let her, for goodness’ sake, rest in peace.

For the rest of us, who remain mystified by her death;  remember death is not a mystery. It is a destination. Who knows when our stop arrives?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lone Wolf

So what makes them do it? What makes an ordinary, quiet, seemingly normal teenager fire an automatic at his school friends and teachers? What makes a man drive his car into innocent pedestrians on a sidewalk? What justification is there for these lone wolf attacks?

Wolves are pack animals, just as humans are by nature socialised beings. Lone wolves on the other hand, prefer their own company. They live and hunt on their own. They are outcasts by temperament, by circumstance and sometimes of their own volition.

Nearly always after another chilling attack, emerge the clues that led to it. A social misfit, a dysfunctional background, a lack of love, a propensity for violence, vulnerability to ideological brainwashing. Taken alone, each of these qualities may perhaps lead a person to a solitary existence, a criminal career or even a mental institution. Together, however, they become so much more dangerous.

Can we, as responsible citizens; parents, neighbours, co workers, pick up on any of these clues, and report them to the relevant authorities? Do we, as a society, have a duty towards these social outcasts? Is it possible in any way to intervene and diffuse a potentially fatal situation from developing?

These are amongst the many questions that lie at the heart of the modern dilemma of home grown attackers. Are killers born or made? Are terrorists just victims of circumstance and conditioning?

Reflection and responsibility. Two things that might lead us to answers. Uncomfortable truths of the part we play in marginalising these peripheral pariahs, whose only moments of recognition and glory lie in death, terror and destruction.

Then, and only then, will we vanquish this multi headed Hydra.

The Great Leveller

Prince or Pauper. Young or Old. Death doesn’t distinguish.

Rarely do we acknowledge that with every moment and every breath, we are moving towards our own ends. If life is a miracle, then death is its unsung companion. It lurks at every bend and fold. It stalks us with every near miss and illness. It laughs grimly as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and milestones. After all, we have to walk into its arms eventually, and feel its lips upon us.

Does that negate the meaning of all life? On the contrary, as anyone who has had a brush with death would attest, it reinvigorates you into living better, and puts into sharp focus that which is really important.

I lost a friend and colleague last week. As memories and tributes have poured in, one fact has stood out in glaring contrast to the others. People have spoken time and again about his kindness. His generosity of spirit was the trait that distinguished him from all others. Not to say that he didn’t have his share of faults and weaknesses, as we all do. However, the overriding narrative has been about his selflessness, his need and ability to help.

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones, said William Shakespeare. For once, I am in disagreement with the Bard. The good does live on. This is not canonising the dead. This is accepting that each of us has a choice in the legacy we leave behind. Our legacy could be little or large. It could affect multitudes, or only a handful of near and dear ones. Yet, it would be the one thing that we would be remembered by. Choose wisely.

Having seen how quickly life can end, it makes me examine my own self, and ponder whether disagreements and resentments, and standing on points of principle are really as important as I thought they were? I could never be a doormat, and let people wipe their feet all over me. Yet, I need to inculcate forgiveness and empathy, and an awareness that each of us views life and relationships differently. I need to be honest with myself about my own legacy. I don’t want it to be one of anger and hatred.

In his illness my friend reached out to those he had wronged, and those who had wronged him. He set the record straight, and if nothing else, he died with his conscience clear. Perhaps this is a life lesson for all of us.

We do not need to be looking at death in the face to realise the importance of telling our loved ones how much they mean to us, forgiving those we have perceived as our enemies, building bridges that we have allowed to fray, and choosing to live each moment to its fullest capacity.

Live well, Laugh often, Love much.

A trite phrase that contains a pertinent universal truth. Do not wake up to it when it’s too late.