Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Eulogy for a Friend

Sushant. “Last seen Sun at 9:15 AM.” His unchanging Whatsapp status still declares on my phone - an epitaph etched onto a binary stone - more tenacious than granite, as fragile as memory.

“Time is but a stubborn illusion, brother.” He would have invoked his relativist hero, part in jest, part in romance, just to inspire an argument from me. 

“You don’t actually buy into unprovable useless mumbo-jumbo like nth level simulation, do you?” I would have fallen for it. 

His smile would widen ear to ear and his eyes pierce through me as he would beam at me. “No.” Gotcha! “Par dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghalib yeh khayal acchha hai (But it’s a pleasant idea to cheer the heart.)”

Sushant was made of flesh, blood and ideas. He played with ideas just like a child plays with toys, and for the same reasons - to discover, to invent and to learn. 

The distinction between success and failure didn’t matter much to him, because both lead to the same outcomes - discovery, invention and learning. If it did, it was only to the extent of arriving at places nobody else before did, so roads can be paved for the next in line.

That’s what brought us together - our desire to create infrastructure and institution for those who sought them, but found no joy in the ones that already existed. That was where we aligned - in making our lives about more than just ourselves - in our invention of meaning. Seekers of meaning may not find the meaning, but they do find each other. 

Aye, there’s the rub! For arriving first, also means gestating. It means being lonely. He stayed graceful in highs, he survived the lows, it’s the in-betweens where he froze. It’s the slings and arrows of the ordinary that he opposed the most.

When he showed me his list of fifty things he wanted to achieve in a year, I asked him what was that one thing that he wants his co-seekers to learn from his experiment.

“I want them to know that it’s possible.” He packed in more lives in an hour than most people have hours in a lifetime. He performed, he wondered, he flew. He strived to bridge the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what can be’. 

Like the photon in a double-slit that he obsessed over, he oscillated between the profane and the profound. The man who danced to a crowd of millions was shy, the man who raged against the system was tender and the man who inspired so many to thrive was suffering. 

So let me not perpetuate the error of generations. Allow me to celebrate my peer, but let me not romanticise his suffering. Sushant killed himself. What he concealed as duality was perhaps a polarity pulling him apart. The radiance all of us witnessed, perhaps came from all the burning inside. Forgive the inelegance of my metaphor as I am trying to map a territory beyond my perception.

What switch in us triggers a desire to bow out gently into the night, we are yet to understand, but this much can be said with certainty - a call for help is not intrusive and vulnerability is not vulgar. Though sometimes it may take a gentle prodding at the crust over the molten inside.

Sushant and I would talk about inclusive fitness for hours, but I failed to ask him if he felt sufficiently included. We’d spend evenings talking about zero gravity, but I never gathered that the ground below his feet may be slipping away. We would talk endlessly about what we thought because meaning mattered so much to us, but I wish I had asked him how he felt every once in a while, recognising that no matter how much meaning we invent, life may still feel empty sometimes.

Just like a child at his toys, he would deconstruct things and piece them back together to see how things worked, and he would jump and fall over and over again without paying much heed to his scratches. What I quietly worried over and never quite looked into was if he also, driven by his unquenchable curiosity, ever put pins into live electric sockets.

The silence before he arrived is different from the silence after he left - like the silence before the sitar’s string is plucked and the silence that follows. 

In this silence, I seek solace in a place where I usually go to - biological certainty. Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell, reassures me that

“There are some creatures that do not seem to die at all; they simply vanish totally into their own progeny. Single cells do this. The cell becomes two, then four, and so on, and after a while the last trace is gone. It cannot be seen as death; barring mutation, the descendants are simply the first cell, living all over again.”

I believe Sushant sought to extend himself memetically and not genetically. While I struggle to accept the existence of realities beyond our own, I concede to the existence of a non-transient part of our lives - the meaning we leave behind.

What survives him is the pursuit he inspired in millions - the pursuit of, to quote him, “of unknown knowns and of known unknowns.” Here’s to his pursuit, here’s to the man I knew and here’s to the man I wish I knew.