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Leap of death

High-rise apartments becoming hotspots for suicides in urban areas – is it a coincidence or is easy accessibility a trigger?

FOR SOME, death provides respite in testing circumstances. To artists, poets and philosophers it is a mystery that inspires. Religions have tried to make sense of it by creating scenarios of afterlife. It is the ultimate solution for some when life becomes a prolonged misery, and for others who have suffered much, suicide may seem to be the only way out.

On a Friday morning, while soaking in the faint winter sun, a loud thud grabbed my attention. I looked down from the balcony of the tenth floor and saw a man lying flat as if embracing the earth. Blood oozed out, like spilt ink from a bottle. He stirred a little, and then there was no movement.

In Noida, in the past year, there have been at least two dozen such cases, where people decided to end their life by jumping off a high-rise. I wonder what their thoughts were in those last few moments while they fell to meet their end. It’s too late to regret, for sure There’s something disconcerting about deaths caused by falling off a high-rise: You can never be sure if they were pushed or jumped off of their free will. It remains a mystery, even though people and cops alike are quick to conclude that it’s a suicide.

My earliest memory of a tragic end of this nature was news of actor Divya Bharti’s death, on the night of April 5, 1993, nearly 27 years ago. She died due to a fall from the fifth floor of Tulsi Apartment in Versova, Mumbai. The police was unable to find evidence and the case was closed in 1998. Her family maintained that it wasn’t a suicide or a murder, but a freak accident, when inebriated Bharti lost balance while standing on the balcony and fell.

My neighbour, a bachelor in his thirties, was apparently suffering from depression. He was not able to bear the burden of expectations of the world and had little to show as “success. Jumping off the balcony of your own apartment is also convenient. It can be any time of the day, but in most cases, suicides happen late in the night or in the wee hours of the morning. All a depressed person has to do is jump over the railing, not travel to any place, seek privacy to end life or face the fear of pain which is the case with hanging and shooting oneself in the head.

Though jumping is not a popular method of suicide, it’s so in urban settings. With the coming up of high-rise residential buildings in metropolises, particularly in Noida, Gurugram and Greater Noida, this will remain a factor in times to come.

The day before I witnessed the suicide in my building, I was reading Talking to Strangers, a book by Malcolm Gladwell where he discusses in detail that ‘suicide is coupled’. This means that the place of suicide is important to the decision to commit it, as such the importance of context cannot be undermined.

Gladwell gives the example of the suicide of great feminist poet Sylvia Plath, who was barely 30 in 1962 when she turned on the gas (town gas — popular in the 1960s-was a mixture of many gases including a high percentage of carbon monoxide) in her kitchen stove and placed her head inside the oven. She died within 15 minutes. She felt it a ‘feminist” way of ending her life that involved no distorting of the body.

The same year in England, out of the 5,588 people who committed suicide, nearly 45% did it the Plath way. In the late 1960s, when town gas was being phased out in favour of natural gas (carbon monoxide is absent) – perhaps thousands of suicides were prevented or people had to resort to the tougher methods. Town gas and suicide were coupled.

In another example, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, opened in 1937, was a popular venue for suicides, some 1,500 deaths. No other place has recorded such high numbers during that period. The authorities didn’t put up a “suicide barrier” for they thought people who’d want to commit suicide will find another place to do it, for it’s difficult to accept the idea that a behaviour, in this case to end life could be so closely linked to the place. Later surveys showed that people who wanted to take their life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, simply won’t take their life some other way.

When we see a growing number of people jumping off the balcony of their own houses in a high-rise, one cannot escape the idea that some sort of coupling might happen and may lead to more such cases in the future. So, it’s advised that households with a patient suffering from depression or children should cover their balconies with an iron grid to ward off the possibility of an accident or suicide. It’s advisable to remember context is important in the psyche of humans.