Saturday, December 15, 2012

Jacintha's tragic tale....


This appeared in Asian Age today....

                                              What really happened to Jacintha?
A couple of days after the news of  nurse Jacinta’s tragic death in her quarters near the King Edward VII’s  Hospital in London, I was having dinner with two very bright Australian ladies. What began as a light hearted gossipy session involving  Liz Hurley and Shane Warne, soon transformed into a serious discussion on ‘The Prank’ that cost Jacintha, a mother of two her life. Since that prank was the brainchild of two Australian radio jockeys, inevitably the conversation took a sharp turn. One of the ladies couldn’t stop chortling over how the RJ’s had embarrassed the Queen by mimicking her voice and accent, while the other applauded the genius of the RJ who pretended to be the Queen’s pet Corgi barking noisily in the background. The ladies also mocked the lax security at the London hospital and laughed at the ease with which the pranksters were connected to the nurse on duty ( Jacintha), who naively believed she was indeed talking  to the Queen of  England. Before our conversation was further reduced to a monumental joke, we quickly got back on track and spoke about Jacintha. The ladies were slightly confused. It was a perfectly harmless trick which went terribly wrong, insisted one. The other said it was all the fault of the silly telephone operators at the hospital for putting through a supposedly ‘royal’ call that had not been screened. Both these opinions are largely acceptable. But that still leaves a dead woman, with  grieving family members who are unable to make the slightest sense of what really happened. Why did the forty-six year old hang herself three days after the hoax  hit the headlines? The answer is pretty simple : it was a cultural thing. Perhaps , even a deeply Indian or Asian one. This ‘thing’ has a name. It’s called ‘sharam’. And ‘sharam’ really does not translate well. It is more, much more, than mere ‘shame’. Sharam is such a complex emotion , it defies transliteration . Sharam goes well beyond ‘disgrace’. It encompasses family honour. Just as ‘naam’ and ‘izzat’ do not mean just ‘name’ and  ‘self-respect’. Had Jacintha been an English nurse, her response to the scandal would almost certainly have been different. Perhaps,she would have shrugged and laughed it off. She would most certainly  have worried about hanging on to her job. Or, she would have jauntily phoned a tabloid and tried to make some money out of the story. She might also have received offers to pose topless , enter Big Brother’s house, host a talk show, appear on prime time… write her memoirs. She would have been converted into a grotesque mini-celebrity…. and cashed out. But our Jacintha saw the whole episode through a desi filter. It filled her with sharam…. and  she paid for it with her life.
That filter is hard to understand if you aren’t Indian. There are those who’d argue it was really very foolish of Jacintha to commit suicide for something that wasn’t even her fault. All she did was transfer that bloody call to a colleague. No big deal, right? Well, clearly Jacintha saw it differently. It was a big deal for her. Such a big deal, in fact, that she preferred death over the ignominy of facing the world as ‘the nurse who fell for a prank call’. One wonders what she must have gone through during those three days after the story hit headlines across the world. Did she feel that humiliated, that devastated, over what was nothing more serious than a tiny human error? Was she over sensitive as an Asian person? Another woman , even an Indian one, may have brazened it out and waited for the tabloids to pounce on another sensational story.  But Jacintha held herself solely responsible for the gaffe. The troubling aspect of this sad story is again connected to cultural cross signals.There are those who’ll ask howcome neither Jacintha nor her colleague could figure out that the persons they were talking to were not the Queen and Prince Charles in the first place? Shouldn’t that have been obvious from their accents? Aha – this where the problems kick in.  Jacintha really couldn’t tell between a posh British accent and a fake Aussie-trying-to-be-posh one. She simply did not know the difference! An English nurse may have seen through the joke and disconnected. But sweet, trusting Jacintha fell for it . We shall never know the depth of her self-degradation as she created a noose with a scarf and hanged herself, rather than face the taunts and jeers of her colleagues.
It all boils down to identity and a sense of belonging. Jacintha may have been a superb nurse (or else she would not have been working in such a top drawer hospital). But her training as a nurse didn’t include some other training –  which includes the ability to deal with situations that are peculiarly English or in this case, Australian. Nobody takes such calls seriously. Young people from different parts of the world make similar ones all the time. Jacintha’s upbringing didn’t prepare her for this. She thought she had failed, and failed miserably. Eventually,the ‘sharam’ of  it all would have killed her anyway. She preferred a shorter cut. Jacintha opted for instant death.Bechari Jacintha.

28 comments:

Tushar said...

Beautiful but who?

Pooja Rathore said...

you are very beautiful ...De!
jacintha's a sad case and sad end.

Garima said...

why do we have to see your facw over this article? nice saree btw

Funny Gypsy said...

I think an incredible amount of blame is put on Jacintha for no fault of hers. If the Queen of England wants so much privacy for herself and her family, she should be providing some kind of security and support at the hospital instead of leaving the phone lines to the mercy of a nurse. Too much responsibility - that too unrelated to her job description - was unnecessarily given to Jacintha. Also, I think you are over-analysing how she fell for the accents only because she was not white - I don't think anyone in her place would have the guts to confirm if the caller really was the Queen (Can you imagine anyone saying "Can I have your ID, Your Majesty?").
She was trapped by a faulty system - and I'm shocked that nobody from the establishment came forward to support her when the blame game had begun. By establishment, I mean not only the hospital but also the people responsible for the security and privacy of the Royal family. It's no wonder that she waited 3 days before killing herself.

Tsomo85 said...

SAD :(
Sometimes the game of "master plan" is pain in ass!!!
I must write: Dear mom, thank you for your sharp upbringing!!!!! Bechari Jacintha, although her family got couple £££££ to heal themselves from her tragic death! :(

RAJ47 said...

Hi Shobhaa,
For this one instance, you are terribly wrong.
It was plain simple murder perpetrated by those who thought it was wrong to have transferred the prank call.
She was a selected nurse who understood various symptoms of most diseases including psychiatric ones to commit suicide.
Have you asked why has the husband not said anything?
Yes, it's called culture or ethos etc, but it's certainly not Indian.
It's British Royal tag that hangs around things like virginity of Princess Diana tested before her marriage.
Probably they had gone there to abort the unwanted female fetus which came out in the media as a normal pregnancy.
No one will ever know the truth.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Let me start out stating that I thought the prank was very funny. I laughed along with everyone else and then some. But then I have had years of being exposed to a different humor sensibility and have a different view on failure. Even as an immigrant, as the years passed, I became more socially secure, and realized that everything is not about me (or against me).

Perhaps Jacintha never stood a chance. She may have had other mental or personal issues we may never know about. However, on a cultural level alone, our culture may never have equipped her with the important life lessons any immigrant needs.

In India we are not allowed to fail and not allowed to learn lessons from failure. We are also supposed to be constantly obedient to others, who think for us. For the educated ones, for all the proper english and technical skills and accent affectations we learn, the most basic life skills are ignored by schools across the spectrum. For every time I read about how studious she was, the angrier I become. Perhaps things would have been different if she was exposed to an education of a different kind.

Indian culture spares no space for a sense of humor, apart from the pratfall variety. As an immigrant, it took me years to understand and appreciate and laugh along with the many, many different types of humor, that the west allows room for.

Already socially insecure, like many immigrants I too failed to realize that everything is not always about me (or against me). I know, I have been there in the early years!

Poor Jacintha, I am sad mostly that she was too distraught to think clearly about what she was doing to her vulnerable children. I have seen first hand what suicide does to the ones left behind. It scars them for life, in terrible, terrible ways. There are deaths of loved ones, but this is a different and searing death whose claws will reach down generations. The ones who kill themselves are done and gone, but you leave behind people who should have had a better chance at happiness.

I also feel badly for William and Kate. What a terrible start to what should have been a glorious and happy time.

The prank was nothing. It was funny. I wish Jacintha had just moved on to better things and better pranks, but instead she chose to move on to a different dimension.

Swaminathan Neelakantan said...

Jacintha was a true patriot, devoted to her adopted nation and crown. She was proud of her job and her commitment to it. Let's be proud of her.

Jogeshwar said...

I am deeply saddened by what has happened. From a sociological perspective suicide is a 'social fact', psychiatrists attribute it to social, psychological and biological factors. Aristotle in his book politics states “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ”

Clearly the prank call didn't turn out to be harmless. In India 'Sharam' is considered as being a big deal. Our Society hasn't modernised enough, .Female infanticide is still prevalent, learned from a previous post of yours as to why women can't partake in funerals, rein of khap panchayats on intercaste marriages, honour killings etc are some of the many social evils that exist in our society. Breaking the norms would bring 'Sharam' and social ostracism. Govt. seems unable to tackle these evils (due to vote bank politics). We need many more reforms movements, like Arya Samaj...etc (during pre independence era), to wake our society from slumber.


Aayush Goel said...

Hi...U loook really beautiful......I please request you to write photographer's name on the Photo....would be really glad....

Swaminathan Neelakantan said...

During the British Raj in India, there was a Colonel who built a railway tunnel to Simla. He challenged his detractors he would pay a fine of Re.1, if there be a deviation of an inch in the execution of the tunnel when excavation started from both ends. In spite of all his sincere efforts, there was a slight deviation. True to his word, he paid the fine, and committed suicide. The railway station still bears his name!

Poornima Khurana said...

shobha...i am really convinced with the article .. the boiling racial discrimination issues in Uk and the history of royal conspiracies has dumped the fact which is very well highlighted by you.

Reflections said...

You put it exactly like how it is....or maybe I feel like that because it's exactly what I was thinking but could not put into words.
Poor, poor Jacintha...I feel even her colleagues may have made fun of her. She could have had a fighting chance if she had just shared her feelings with someone...anyone.
I remember once Cyrus Broacha got hit by a aam aadmi for doing a 'bakra' on him. Honestly I cringe when I see shows like that on tv...but have noticed most people enjoy them:-(.

khantastic said...

you seem right as the Indian definitions of sharam and ijjat are way beyond the understanding of the western world.
and of course a women stronger by heart might have responded to the incident in quite different ways but as they say death takes its toll by a on his own will...
sadness all over...

Divya Virmani said...

Mrs. De, I think you are judging her suicide too fast. No one really knows what exactly happened in those three days. Only her family and her co-workers can come out with the truth...And also, we don't even know if the truth has absolutely anything to do w/ the prank call. She could be dealing with other stress before the prank call...

So, let's not just make up stories. May God bless her soul and give courage to her family in these tough times.

P.S. I would absolutely love to see an article from you on the recent rape case in Delhi. It's just too disturbing.

Here's what I had to say:
http://divyavirmani.blogspot.com/2012/12/delhi-gang-rape.html

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Cheryllyne said...

Ms. De.

This is truly well written. I am married to an American. My husband and his family could not understand why Jacintha chose to do what she did. I have been trying to explain this very concept of family honor and pride to them.

Your article does it brilliantly. I have forwarded this piece to everyone who questioned me on this topic.

Thank you.

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