Requiem for a People that People Forget

Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

This week’s column is dedicated to the people who work tirelessly as stewards, cooks, drivers, clerks, security guards, pembantus (maids) etc., to make Bali an island paradise. It is also an appeal to all non-Indonesians who have made their home in Bali: Let us return to the Balinese the love and sustenance that we have received from them.

UBUD ~ Several months ago, The Bali Times carried a news report on the number of suicides on the island. Between January and October 2007, 114 people committed suicide: 92 from hanging; 17, poisoning; three by cutting their veins; one from jumping from a height; and one from burning.

Reasons cited by family members for the suicides were disease, frustration and poverty; 60-percent were men, 40 percent women.

Statistics have a comforting way of showcasing the truth without emotion or drama. We are mere numbers on the graph that rises and falls like the daily exchange rate of currency. It’s this cold response that denotes our level of morality that has become threadbare with overindulgence.

We should ask ourselves – Is suicide the final egress for a misspent life or is it an escape from penury and degradation?

People who have read these statistics speak eloquently about it being the unavoidable consequence of lopsided social and economic development. Social reformers and workers masticate on solutions like the adjustment of society to include the fringe folk and their ilk. But this is talk and it is cheap, just like the lives of these wretched people whose souls lie buried deep in the morass of collective consciousness.

We shall not be drawn into the blame game or pontificate about the evil that befalls those that end their lives – the perceived notion of an afterlife of eternal damnation – for we can console ourselves with the fact that they are in the company of Sylvia Plath, Papa Hemingway and Yukio Mishima, literary giants who resorted to the final act of self-extinction, albeit in a dramatic manner. Hemingway turned a gun on himself and Mishima performed the centuries old ritual of hara-kiri – self disembowelment with a ceremonial knife.

The following lines from one of Sylvia Plath’s poems reflect the intensity of life that finally led to her death by suicide:

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night;

But ah, my friends, and oh, my foes, it gives a lovely light

The gentle people on this isle have taken their lives not out of honor or belief in a philosophy but because of disease, frustration and, more importantly, hunger. Is this an indictment of our insensitivity and sheer callousness to our less-fortunate brethren or the ever-widening gap between have and have-nots fuelled by a cancerous form of consumerism? A stroll through the labyrinth of malls and foodcourts may give us the answer.

An acquaintance termed this as the “me factor” – the urge for self-gratification that exceeds the established boundaries of awareness and reason. Maybe this is the brave new world disorder, where everyone is for herself or himself and winner takes all.

We can carry on ad nauseam about the factors contributing to suicide on the isle or pass the buck ad infinitum, but what will it achieve, heartburn and hot air?

I spoke to a friend who told me that the Indonesian word for suicide was bunuh diri. She said that it was devastating for a person’s karma as the decision of life and death lay solely in the hands of the Almighty. If this is correct, the people who ended their lives must have known it, yet went ahead with their decision. One can only speculate on the trauma and utter desperation they felt when they cut their wrists, jumped onto the rocks below or hung themselves. It was the final act in a play that mocked the very essence of life.

Nothing escapes reality except the truth; it lurks somewhere in our consciousness, prodding us to accept what is dished out on a daily basis. Is it good to starve to death or die of a horrible disease (naturally) because it is our kismet? Are realism and fatalism impostors that take us on a guilt trip? And will these souls be absolved of their iniquities?

On Earth, the stigma of suicide will rest forever on the family like the mark of Cain. And in heaven, the angels may sing praise or send them back to earth to live another life as an act of redemption.

In Christianity, people who committed suicide used to be buried in unmarked graves. Whether this practice is still followed, one does not know. In India, attempted suicide is rewarded with a jail term.

It is apparent that society and the God/s are hell-bent on punishing these miserable people for the transgression of ending their life. There is no difference between them and criminals – the logic is that if you hurt yourself or hurt someone else, retribution is the same from man and the Maker.

In wars there have been many instances where people have killed themselves and their families for fear of being captured by the enemy. So how do we judge these people? Are there different laws of salvation for them? Or is there a blanket condemnation of suicide?

In India, hundreds of cotton farmers have committed suicide due to abject poverty brought on by failed crops and the humiliation that follows in the aftermath – prostituting their wives and other unmentionable acts. So how will society and the big eye in the sky judge and convict them – with many rounds of bad karma?

We must pay heed to the welfare of people on this isle and share our resources and love with them. Let us endeavor to make it a comfortable and safe place for all who eke out a living in Bali, for suicides are the paradoxes that are a slap in the face of reality while paradise is the comfort food that we can partake of in times of despondency. The comfort food being the rich cultural landscape embellished with a religious fervor and presented by a beautiful people – the Balinese.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

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