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Memories unfold

Fond moments
Last Updated : 27 June 2016, 18:39 IST
Last Updated : 27 June 2016, 18:39 IST
Last Updated : 27 June 2016, 18:39 IST
Last Updated : 27 June 2016, 18:39 IST

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When ‘The Dark Knight’ actor Heath Ledger died in 2008, Meghana Basavaraju, a freelance cinematographer, was shocked. Though he was technically a stranger to her, she personalised the death and experienced a deep loss. “I remember crying my heart out. The only way I could deal with his death was by binge watching his films and painting Joker all over my bedroom door,” she says.

She isn’t alone — every time a well-known personality dies, people around the world go into mourning. Meghana explains this feeling of loss for a celebrity: “You can’t call these people strangers. We, as individuals, are strangers to them but they are definitely not strangers to us. Many people die everyday but I don’t know their favourite colour or who their love interest is.”

And people deal with loss in different ways; while some hold memorial services in their homes, others take to the virtual space to pay tribute. Sangeeta Agnes Hosea immerses herself in the person’s work post their death. This helps her remember the wonderful times she spent experiencing their art. “When chess genius Viktor Korchnoi passed away recently, I went back to my old chess books and played through many of his wonderful games. This makes the loss much easier to deal with as celebrities often help you through hard times with their art,” she says. 

When a connection is formed with people, it makes it harder to let go as the death reinforces the fragility of life and the passage of time. Evania Christine Navya says that her sister, Manya, still cries when she thinks of actor Cory Monteith because she grew up watching ‘Glee’ and the death symbolised the loss of her childhood.

Angad Gummaraju, a medical student, adds that when one looks up to a celebrity, it makes them imperishable in their head. And as people look for a certain amount of constancy in a world that’s changing a little too fast for comfort, a celebrity passing away reminds one of how incredibly fragile life is. “As a student of medicine, I am reminded of death on a daily basis, and the death of a celebrity is confirmation that no one is immune to the world’s troubles. This makes me push myself harder and do something of substance before I’m gone.”

Deaths of popular personalities also often bring people together. Angad remembers when Michael Jackson died, he had hour-long phone calls with his family.

“As mortals, frightened by the fragility of life, we might find comfort in a large group of people we have something in common with,” he explains.

In times when people are becoming increasingly dependent on the virtual world, support systems are formed through the Internet. Pratima Murthy, professor of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, says that people, especially youngsters, take celebrity deaths personally because they connect with them.

“The Internet has made it easier for people to bond with others, who are otherwise strangers. These connections eventually become as strong as familial ties, which can be harmful.” But she adds that as long as people have other, more ‘real’ bonds, it’s fine to experience loss over strangers.

Angad reinforces this need for support from various corners: “I remember high school was the hardest time I’ve had to go through because of identity crises on multiple levels, body image issues, bullying and self-harm, and discovering the Internet might have been the single best thing that happened during the time. I’d watch cover after cover of Christina Grimmie, stunned by her voice, and when she was murdered this year, it came as quite a cruel shock.”

Being well-known personalities means living with increased expectations. So, a burden that can’t otherwise be carried alone, is shared with these popular figures, even if they don’t know it. This is why such losses are experienced on a highly personal level.

Sangeeta concludes, “A celebrity can influence the day-to-day life of a person. That is not to say their lives are more important, but it is natural to feel the loss of people whose work has influenced you; sometimes, it means a realisation that those days are now gone forever.”

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Published 27 June 2016, 16:35 IST

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