In India, as I suppose was the case is many socialist and pseudo-socialist nations, living through death of any notable public figure, back in the 80s, was a nightmare. Three full days of national mourning for a peaceful, albeit sad, demise of an 89 or so year old former president or movie actor or such, could only be described as an over-reaction. I could accept, with considerable effort, a full 27 minutes mourning and throw in a few more seconds if it absolutely had to be mourned. But 3 full days? No – I refused.
My father, as he habitually did, argued against my opinion. He thought three-days of obligatory and enforced mourning was a measured reaction, one that was measured skillfully with a blatantly obvious political calculus. As you might imagine, my father and I empathized with each others’ emotional state, However, quite frankly, I did not agree with his rationalization of the whole situation. In hindsight though, I think he was right, I was perhaps still too immature to see his point at the age of eight.
The pain of having to stare into the television, hoping against hope minute after another minute during those agonizing 72 hours, that this 60 something year old “classical” singer would just shut up for a moment and allow for Spider Man to appear instead of his prayer so depressive that it was hard to tell if he was mourning the dearly departed or his own impending demise is indescribable. All the more so, if the said television was only acquired a couple of months earlier as a consequence of what felt like a few centuries of nuanced lobbying accompanied with steadfast and unrelenting revolution at home. Courtesy? Yours truly.
As if sitting through nothingness on television wasn’t enough, while I don’t entirely remember if my school was closed also on account of the mourning in consideration, I vaguely remember being burdened with 8 hours of “homework” on each of those three dreadful days. You see that’s because teachers back then were, as they still likely are now – and there is no other way to put it politely – Cynical born losers, or at least that’s how I felt about them back then. I say this with all the sincerity I can muster – this was no laughing matter, it was a thorough nightmare both as a past experience and as a current recollection.
This mourning business was annoying especially for its pretentiousness. The entire nation was putting up a melancholic act of respectfulness for an old man whose time had come. But nobody really cared that he wasn’t immortal. Everybody wanted to just get on with their lives rather than be stuck in this bubble constantly reminded of death – as if life wasn’t difficult enough. Oh well, such was the age of national television. What choice did citizens have except to accept whatever the few elite decided the entire nation had to watch. If only mass media were democratized? How wonderful it could have been. And you likely see here and i hope you see the sarcasm from a few nautical miles away!
30 years later, I’m coming to the realization that human race is pathological and dysfunctional in its reaction to death. Gross pretentiousness of near past has given way to vulgarity for how demised and their surviving kin are treated. Wailing kin, lifeless corpse, conspiracy, character assassination are all fair game click baits within hours. The velocity and volume of online videos and articles which envelope entire social media points to an industry deeply committed to its beleif of a fascinting fetish among citizenry for Death. Death is not news because you aren’t getting informed beyond the first hour, its not mourning beyond 3 days. Its weird, but decidedly a form of amusement derived from suffering that has’nt accrued to yourself.
Is there hope this might just be a temporary phase or us not knowing how to react to death online. There is absolutely none what so ever because if you come to think of it, this is hardly a new or an internet age phenomenon. Its a phenomenon as old as throwing slaves to lions not on account of punishment, but of entertainment. So its entirely plausible humans aren’t freaking out unnecessarily and over-reacting to death. Its also entirely plausible we are relishing that misfortune has arrived to another person’s life this time around and we had nothing to do with it.