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Suicide Pact

A news story that really starts two years ago has been lauded because of the philanthropy of the subjects. Dr Rajasekar Sham donated half of his assets to the University of Madras where he studied radiology before moving to the US. That is the obvious part.

The story that interested me is that two years ago he and his wife, Lucila, made a suicide pact. As the report says: “The couple cancelled their phone, stopped their social security benefits and prepaid the year’s income taxes.” And, of course, the Will.

They had been married for 40 years and when Lucila was diagnosed with cancer and had very little time to live, they decided on this since they had no dependents. She did not have the strength to end her life, so she asked him to kill her. He stabbed her and then himself. She died; he did not. He was found guilty of manslaughter but later managed to kill himself.

Is this about love? About loneliness? About selfishness? About fear? About hopelessness?

Why did they choose stabbing for what was a joint decision based on love? It seems gruesome. Was Lucila being selfish or was Dr Sham afraid of living without her? Surely for a professional of some standing – the donated money speaks of a fairly good lifestyle – he would have had friends, colleagues and his work or related interests that might have kept him occupied?

They were obviously both in their senses when they took this step and planned it all so carefully. What if Lucilla had not died but was deeply wounded? What if she, in that state, wanted to live until her illness ate into her? Would she look at him with anger, of why he did not convince her otherwise? Would she introspect about the possibility that he might not have killed himself later?

She trusted him, but did she trust him enough to believe that had he continued to live he would not forget her and not move on? Was it her fear at play as well?

Did Dr Sham have second thoughts and therefore did not succeed fully? Did he later kill himself out of fear of the law or due to his earlier commitment?

We recall how writer Arthur Koestler made a pact to die with his wife Cynthia; she suffered from no illness. Initially he planned to die by himself since he was suffering, but in his final suicide note he mentioned that his wife could not live without him. Cynthia’s note stated: “I fear both death and the act of dying that lies ahead of us. I should have liked to finish my account of working for Arthur – a story which began when our paths happened to cross in 1949. However, I cannot live without Arthur, despite certain inner resources. Double suicide has never appealed to me, but now Arthur's incurable diseases have reached a stage where there is nothing else to do.”

Nothing else to do? Is a person something one does, an occupation? Do we become hopeless in the face of such loss or is it the ultimate tribute?

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Koestler

Koestler was one of my heroes. He produced one transformative work after another. But as details of his life have emerged in biographies and memoirs, he seems to have been a fairly awful person. Reading a recent series of reviews and letters in TLS, it appears that he was not only a practitioner of rough sex, but at least in one case, a violent rapist.

I still think his books will be read for years to come, because his thinking was so original. He wrote on Russia, Spain, Hinduism and Zen, and all of his thoughts are interesting. Perhaps he will be one of those figures, like the facist Celine, whose greatness transcends the despicable life.

Michael Lipsey

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It, then, begs the question

It, then, begs the question whether it was the edgy personality that lent his work a depth and originality or did he become much of what he was because of his manic imagination?

Thanks for your thoughts.

~F

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Koestler

Since I made the comment I saw a final letter on the matter of his being a rapist in TLS and it seems to be beyond dispute. In addition to the woman who said she had been violently raped, with her head beaten against the floor, there were others who said he had attempted to rape them. I don't think it has anything to do with his talent or originality - he was simply a sexual predator and a common criminal.

I can't think of another famous writer as sexually extreme, but there are plenty of examples of those who were abnormal. Such as Tolstoy fathering children while proclaiming his celibacy, and his extreme cruelty to his wife. Or William Burroughs shooting his wife in the head in Mexico while attempting a William Tell.

Michael Lipsey