“Death is paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, `Slow down.`”
Journalists are a cynical lot. They are full of self importance and quote, “Bad news is good news, and good news is no news at all”, whenever they are faced with the question of morale. When wars begin, famines happen, corruption surfaces, fights ensue – they thrive. A world in order begets nothing. Not that the media doesn`t like the feel-good stories of love and goodwill, but these don`t earn the bread. People like to hear about what is wrong with the world.
The problem is comics are more cynical than journalists can ever hope to be. They see the chaos as it is. They see through the façades and bigotry of the world leaders; of what this good earth has become. They manipulate words to throw light on the manipulations of this world. They say things as they are, without the rose-coloured glasses, without justifications – laced with laughter. Comics make you laugh at your own shortcomings.
Comics see the worse side of mankind and push it to the forefront. Studies say that one of the most depressed people are comedy artists. As a leading psychologist said, humour is a response to the sadness they feel. The death of Robin Williams (his apparent suicide) has brought that dark side to the forefront. Chris Farley, John Belushi, Mitch Hedberg Richard Jeni are few of the many stand-up artists who died battling mental illnesses, leading to death by suicide or overdose.
But is it just the comics?
Remember Guru Dutt? The man who made classics like `Kagaz Ke Phool`, `Pyaasa` and `Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam`. He made cinema that has stood the test of time. The way he portrayed Vijay in `Pyaasa`, the way the character shaped up, the love he put into the movie – the irony of Vijay`s fame is something no one can replicate. The genius who battled alcoholism, died alone – of an apparent suicide while mixing sleeping pills and alcohol. The failure of `Kaagaz Ke Phool` at the box office devastated him. This would be his third suicide attempt. He was acknowledged by the world – but he was alone. `Kaagaz Ke Phool`, ironically has been listed as one of top 100 greatest movies of all times.
The same lies true for music director RD Burman. He did not commit suicide, but any Pancham buff knows that the man died of loneliness. He is considered the most versatile of all music composers in India – even today. But, in the late eighties the man had lost everyone around him. His musical genius failed while Bappi Lahiri and other disco artists thrived. His patrons were ignoring him and going on to younger composers. He shone one last time for `1942 A Love Story` and died 3 months before the movie released, 20 years ago.
Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Nick Drake, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse – the list is endless.
Robin Williams was not particularly young when he died. But he was definitely a man who was not done with his art. His audience and fans have not had their fill. He was a man who made thousands like me laugh in `Mrs Doubtfire` and cry in `Dead Poets Society`.
He made me “Seize the Day. Carpe Diem!” Made sure I knew that there was more to art, poetry and literature than to just read `about` them. I needed to experience it. Love, poetry and romance keep humans alive. He told us all about families and how they were all different, but love is the “tie that binds us all”. He enthralled, inspired and entertained. Robin Williams was Peter Pan, Genie and Lovelace... He made characters live for those who watched him on screen.
For those who watched him perform live, I have heard that he could rattle non-stop – flitting from one character to the next in seconds, while the audiences caught their breath from laughing too hard.
I have heard he went on the stage just because he wanted to. Even if amateur artists were performing – he would simply climb on and perform, get the audience to have more fun than they bargained for.
He left a motto – spoken by his character, but no one can deny the truth in his eyes when he said them:
“Seize the day because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.”
If people like him—artists, passionate performers can be lonely, there is much more that humanity needs to introspect. This tandem of war and misery, the death of innocent, sufferings of the poor – they all get noticed by the greats of this world. People like Williams, they observe – they internalise – they suffer with the sorrow of the world. They succumb. Robin Williams gave in to this isolation.
If there is anything to learn from his life and his death, then it is to `live`, hard and proper, in our own way. Make the world laugh with you – suck the marrow out of life.