The death of a 26 year old PhD scholar at the Hyderabad University on 17th January 2016 disturbed me. Rohit Vemula’s death continues to disturb me very deeply. That someone so young should even contemplate suicide is disturbing enough. That he did commit suicide gives me sleepless nights even now. Was it cowardice? Was it despair? Was it discrimination? Poverty? Caste? Loss? Pain? Protest?
I do not endorse suicide. The act is neither symbolic nor worthy of my sympathy. However, in Rohith Vemula’s letter I found expression to my own despair at the way our constitutional freedoms are systematically being snatched away by an apathetic establishment. His last letter is a reflection of how our polarised social order has made it impossible for the ‘other’ to even aspire for equal opportunity. His last letter made me realise that sometimes what we deem as suicide is actually an act of collective murder by a stifling society and a dictatorial establishment.
Here is my tribute to Rohith. Here is the last letter of a sensitive young man who should not have died. Here is Rohith Vemula’s last letter.
Narrated by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub
Translated by Swanand Kirkire
with thanks to :
Arnab Gayan, Apurva Asrani, Harshit Sharma, Alok Tripathi, Vipul Arora
Profile by Monty Majeed. Appeared first in ‘The Week’
In 2014 I completed roughly 20 years in the industry – of course encompassing my work as a TV producer/director, editor and filmmaker (and atrocious makeshift actor at times). I call these 20 years my life. The remaining years were another life, led by another person, lived by another soul. In 1994 I was a directionless 25 year old bored of computer software, a failed entrepreneur, a young father and basically a young man without a vision for life. 20 years later not much has changed. Except the fact that I have survived. I have survived these 20 years like many other nameless, faceless individuals do in this industry – on the fringes.
Being on the fringes of this industry means that –
- You rarely get invited to parties or premiers or previews.
- You don’t get written about often. Your personal life is very personal and is of no interest to anybody.
- You are rarely / never perceived as a threat to established insider stereotypes.
- You don’t expect or win awards.
- You make less money.
Essentially, this oblivion means that you can focus on work, lead a simple life and most importantly it means that you do not have to be politically correct all the time. Being on the fringe also means that your mediocrity is often looked down upon as mediocre and you have to ensure that your most mediocre work is less mediocre than the insider’s least mediocre work. You can also be irreverent, impolite, even honest and fearless as an outsider – your survival after all does not depend on your conformism or your sycophancy.
Yes, there are disadvantages, mostly self-inflicted, of being a fringe player. You can get cynical very easily as you see those less talented and more fortunate than you get all that you believe you deserve. You can get very bitter and you can waste immense amounts of time limiting your own creative growth. Nothing will ever seem worthy of your appreciation – not even your own work. Yes, cynicism is the greatest danger posed by oblivion as you will soon be unable to look at yourself in the mirror and you will constantly lower your own standards to belong to a place that you will never belong to.
I write from experience. I was once happy in my oblivion. Then I was dissatisfied. I desperately wanted to belong. I got cynical, frustrated and directionless. I stopped holding a mirror to myself. Fortunately, failure helped me recognize this. I took some time off from myself and my ego. Today, I am comfortable in my own little world. Shahid emerged out of this comfort with my own aspirations and my own inner self. I now inhabit an independent universe that is driven by me, my own benchmarks for growth and my own levels of satisfaction.
I write this because I see many like myself fall prey to the perceived pressure of oblivion and because I see them afflicted by the rampant mediocrity around them. I often see these people fading away and resorting to desperate measures that either undermine their talent or see them fading away beyond the fringes that they belong to. The truth is that being an outsider is far more fulfilling than having to belong to a place that you never belonged to in the first place.