The Spectacle That Is Death


I scroll through my twitter feed, aimless, bored. I hit the search button and key in #Jayalalithaa the results stream in reiterating the same things from the last time I searched about an hour ago. I am fascinated. I am obsessed. I am morbidly curious.

In 1999, my Appa lay in the same hospital in a bed that looked more like a cage, a multitude of pipes and tubes running from the cavities in his body. He looked gaunt and very unlike the father I knew. My family and I roamed the halls, lay in wait for the doctor visit each morning and clung to the updates like our life depended on it. He was in the hospital for over a month the first time around. I was 23 perhaps, not yet completely independent. I remember the grave eyes of the doctor and the nonchalance (perhaps affected) in his tone as he said in thamizh, your dad is like the cat on the wall, he could go either ways. If I remove the ventilator and he breathes, he will live.

I remember waiting with bated breath as they took him off the ventilator. He lived for seven years more. The next time around, I was older, all of 31 years old. The hospital was different yet mostly it was the same. The constant worrying, the anxiety as the reports came in each day, of CO2 levels, of Sodium and Potassium, Of urea and creatinine. The oxygen saturation, the constant googling of what these levels meant. The worry about the quality of life thereafter, the constant visitors and the questions they brought with them.

Even today, I loathe hospitals. I hate being part of the ring of people who are caregivers. I hate the waiting, the endless marking of time until the monitor flatlines. The waiting, the watching, the expectation of the final breath and with it, the sorrow of having to wait for it all to end.

It will be ten years this November since Appa passed. Watching news of Jayalalitha brings back the same anxiety, the same racing heart. It reminds me of all that I have lost. It reminds me of the morbid curiosity that resides in people not touched directly by the tragedy in the making. The extended family, the neighbors, the friends who ask each time they see you “any updates?” In the circus playing out in TN, it reminds me of the apathy with which we treat death unless it is in our home.

I know not if Jayalalitha will recover from this. I do know that I wish her well. I wish for her the space to deal with her illness without it being a public peepshow. I wish for her, most of all, freedom from pain.


  1. Agree absolutely. Regardless of political loyalties, no one should ever go through such an experience of both pain and the absolute lack of sympathy/empathy and privacy. I just gave my parents a lecture about not forwarding rumor-mongering messages.

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