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Past Tense: Jiah Khan

Past Tense: Jiah Khan

June 05, 2013
When a 25-year-old actor commits suicide, who can speak for her?

One of the last Twitter messages by Nafisa (Jiah) Khan – sent on 20 April and nestled awkwardly under a page of thanks and smileys to well-wishing fans – simply read:


Not much we can glean from that, except that it is in the past tense. Now that Ms Khan herself is also consigned to the past, it takes on an eerie significance. What could she have meant? Perhaps it somehow ties into all the inside knowledge and speculation about her personal life and career. Perhaps it was something entirely trivial.


As it is, Khan was found hanging from a dupatta tied to the ceiling at her Juhu home on the night of 3 June 2013. Police announced that the death was accidental. She didn't have a major fan following, but the major news outlets all picked up the story and her name became a trending topic on Twitter the next day. Her roles in Nishabd, Ghajini, and Housefull, opposite superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, and Akshay Kumar, had gained her enough of a profile to be missed upon her passing.

And what an awful end! Suicide. A shiver-inducing word, a dreadful deed. Such a beautiful young woman, only 25 years old. Why did she do it? Many expressed shock at the news. Others criticised her choice harshly. Still others criticised those expressing shock as jumping on some sort of mourning bandwagon. Mourning can be ugly, no doubt, but never as grotesque as those who would make light of it.

We can't know exactly why she did it. Suicide seems to happen for so many reasons, and while there are overarching theories (such as those explained in this memorable article on the 'suicide epidemic'), each individual case is unique.

There are trends. Viveka Babaji, a Mauritian model who committed suicide in Mumbai 2010, left a note accusing a former lover. R. Ajay, a Tamil actor who committed suicide in 2011, was said to be in love with a co-star. Jiah Khan's suicide was immediately linked by fellow actor Kamaal R Khan to matters of the heart. If you've ever been in love, you'll know how it can carve up your perception of reality, how it can take you lower than you've ever been. If you're reading this, though, you haven't reached a point at which taking your own life is palatable – for love or any other reason.

Glad we're both still here. I came close once, though, when I lived in Kerala. The details are too painful and embarrassing to admit right now, but I picked up the knife with intent because the hurt inside and the sense of mental isolation became too severe to bear. In the face of overwhelming mental strain, I sought a different kind of pain to occupy my focus. It genuinely seemed like it would be easier that way. A desperate distraction, a lesser evil. More an episode of self-harm than a fully ideated suicide attempt, but it could have ended very badly.

The moment passed soon enough. As I lay in a bed with bandages stopping up my arm, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I had done, and the hurt I could have caused others. This was far more unpleasant than the act itself. To those of you who believe suicide is selfish, worthy of criticism and condemnation, I would say that in some cases – mine, certainly – the idea that what you are doing is selfish has absolutely no bearing on the situation. It is a visceral decision. Whether or not it was a choice, it did not seem like one at the time. The pain exceeded my capacity to cope in a less destructive way.

I can't speak for the dead, of course, or for the countless others who have attempted suicide, or for millions more who have seriously considered it. All I know for sure is what I experienced. It comes back to me with every suicide in the news and holds me back from jumping to conclusions.

Suicide has left holes in most people's lives in some way or another. Perhaps a good way to fill the void is listen to those who most need to speak.


Fifteen minutes after that one-word message — “were” — Ms Khan tweeted an apology. Her BlackBerry had sent the message by itself, it seemed. Just an accident. Can't read too much into it. Even so, I feel a sadness at how final it seems.


A good resource with realistic help for those considering suicide can be found here.

If you are in India and want to talk to someone about depression, call AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    10.06.13 12:59 AM
    For those interested, Jiah Khan's suicide note has been released to the media. It's very sad, and its private nature might make you feel strange about reading it, but perhaps it will shed some light on her death." target="blank" rel="nofollow">Jiah Khan's suicide note: read here
  • Santanu
    08.06.13 10:17 PM
    We should always accept the fact that if some one love you then he/she ll come automatically. Why to die for some one who does not care about my feeling....Love should be always from both ends
    06.06.13 08:49 PM
    I think some people have unrealistic perception in life. There are other people in the world who has bigger problems then you or anyone else, and to think that your problems can't be solved and you decide to take this step, then I don't have any sympathy for the person who has done this, no matter what their reason is, or how important their life is. The only person or people who I feel sorry for are the one's who has to deal with aftermath.

    When I feel low, I look at the world around me and you should do the same and you will soon know that you are better off then most people in this world in every possible way.
  • Kislaya Gopal
    Kislaya Gopal
    06.06.13 12:03 PM
    The analysis was good, some pain at the point exceeds all other pain, still cant justify suicide, esp high profile people. We should look around and there is so much pain but people struggle and manage their lives.
  • Rajpriya
    06.06.13 11:44 AM
    Committing suicide may have nothing to do with, courage, bravery, and selfish or being selfless.

    It’s everything to do with being unable deal with failures. Finding a way out of difficulties in life needs self-confidence, determination, and perseverance. There have been incidences even very rich people committed suicides.

    If one treats obstacles and difficulties in life as passing dark clouds he or she would not commit suicide. No doubt the thoughts of suicide had crossed lots of people’s minds at some time of their life. For some people waiting for success in life could be too long and makes them weary of living. They are not able to do anything to hasten success that’s elusive of them.

    One starts comparing ones’ self with the success of others who are very successful (this could amount to jealousy) but little realize how hard it is to stay successful all through ones’ life. When comparing ourselves to others we fail to notice the characteristics the others have, may be very different from our own.

    All successful people are not alike.
  • bemoneyaware
    06.06.13 05:35 AM
    When I hear about sucide I wonder is it an act of courage or bravery? Is it being selfish or selfless, could it have been prevented. Were there some signs which her near and dear ones missed!
  • richa singh
    richa singh
    05.06.13 02:35 PM
    the read is so superfluous and loved how you connected the were which was in the end only an accidental entry to twitter... would love to see more posts from you.

    And yes we all have come close to such things. We all have been there and its when we took a turn back that tells us much more about such things... truly a touching post...
  • majaal
    05.06.13 01:20 PM
    Thanks for the detailed explanation, news channels are claiming that Jiah Khan committed suicide as she was not getting good roles in movies, although another news channel claimed that she had three South Indian movies in her hands and she had a fight with her boyfriend after which she took this step, the second news seems to be more logical as she was beautiful and talented and she could have got roles in south Indian movies or in television easily.

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