I never had imagined in my wildest dreams that two of the ‘famous’ people I fangirl the most over would share a date in common: one’s official birthday, the other’s death anniversary. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna for one, Sushant Singh Rajput for the other.
Almost a year ago, I authored several articles paying tribute to Sushant, with whom I share a cultural heritage, having roots in Bihar. Ten years ago, I was paying tribute to Guevara in this same publication, as he would have celebrated his 83rd birthday. What the two have in common, besides the uncanny physical resemblance in these juxtaposed photos I am sharing here, I am about to tell.
Two young men, in their prime. Che was 39, Sushant was 34. Neither of them had the chance to ‘live to tell’ about their struggles and experiences to their grandchildren or fresher audiences. Both were persecuted in their own respects. Che spearheaded the Cuban Revolution of the mid-20th century alongside Fidel Castro. But once the active revolution was done and turned into an administrative one, he began a new journey.
This made him a moving target. Which is why while he was campaigning in Bolivia for the ‘America Unida’ [United Americas] of his dreams, he was found and executed. His remains were even hidden, his hands severed and sent for fingerprints to Argentina, the country of his birth.
In Sushant’s case, it was what could be termed as an execution, but of a different kind. Abetted suicide or masqueraded murder, we may never know. The ongoing investigation in this case by the Central Bureau of Investigation in India has not yielded conclusive results at the date of writing.
There are a lot of rumours surrounding the death of this artist, as well as a lot of theories by many in-the-know or around it, enough to fuel fodder for the vultures of Indian media. Bollywood bullying, some form of information he might have retained against darker forces or just the plain manipulation of a predatory girlfriend and her family.
An erudite fan even ventured that Sushant “killed himself because of his belief in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory. In simple words, he did not leave behind a suicide note because he did not see his final act as ‘killing himself’ but as living on in another, better world…with his mother.” My personal belief is that his death was not of his own doing.
Neither of these men chose to have their mortal remains photographed either. Both were subjected to the morbid sensationalistic release of post-mortem pictures in the media. Che’s eyes were wide open in his… showing us his absoluteness even in the face of death. Sushant’s were half-closed, like he wasn’t ready – like most of his followers weren’t – for the end of his stellar story.
Guevara acquired living legend stature when he and Fidel Castro marched onto Havana on 31 December 1958. Cuba had been the playground of nearby US interests until then and the pair, and their long list of revolutionary compañeros [companions] such as Camilo Cienfuegos, descended upon the island. They carried out their plan of socialising Cuba, turning companies public and nationalising many previously privately-owned businesses. Health and education became free and Cuba fared well until the fall of The Soviet Union, which had been, until then, their political and economic allies.
Che turned to icon status when a famous picture of him, the one showed here and taken by Alberto Korda at a memorial service, became the carrier of all of the left-wing and Marxist political messages of the late 60s and 70s. He was on posters, banners and badges. He even addressed the United Nations in his army fatigues, demanding the end of oppression from what he viewed as imperialist drives.
Sushant, like Ernesto, was a billboard boy for brands of many kinds… but mostly for the Bihari outsider making it into a world of film-making dynasties. He was considered by his fans to be a revolutionary in the industry, turning down many commercial roles for ones he felt more akin to. What he wanted was to show his skills, display his talents and enjoy himself. He preferred movies with tone and character. He wanted to work with people and not digits. Sushant, for reminder, didn’t receive a single penny for his role as Sarfaraz in PK, just because he wanted to work with Rajkumar Hirani.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s commitment to the down-trodden was also quite well known. He donated millions to children needing medical care, to states beaten down by natural calamities etc. The list goes on. But much like Guevara recounts his experiences in his famous ‘Motorcycle Diaries’, Sushant was equally sensitive to human suffering. His own, with the loss of his mother, giving him particular empathy and absolute humanity in reaching out to those who could use his help. Or responding to those who asked for it.
Che and Sushant are both still highly ‘trending’. The former 54 years after he was executed, the latter every single day for the past year. Che’s Korda photo continues to inspire leftist, Marxist and other revolutionary principles. But it’s mostly merchandise which you can find him on: t-shirts, mobile phone cases and other popular artefacts which may colour you to a certain political ideology, but in a cool, vintage, yet still fashionable way.
Sushant has been in my social media feeds every single day since he passed on last June 14. India’s Twitterati has gone agog with campaigns of #JusticeForSushant or #Warriors4SSR, led by relentless followers. They have been demanding clarity on the investigation surrounding his death on a daily basis. Fans also turned to his family and have made Sushant’s father, sisters, extended family and even his dog, their own.
Poets at soul
Sushant Singh Rajput left us with a lot of original verses… beautiful assemblies of words which much of us won’t understand unless we were part of his star-seeded world. He was a galaxy-gazer. Someone extremely fascinated with the Universe and all of its content. He owned a Meade 14″ LX-600, one of the most advanced telescopes… and had a ton of pictures on his social media featuring his prized equipment.
“I saw birds and serpents
angels and demons
swiftly moving hurricanes &
a wonderfully chaotic butterfly.
Those numerous symbols of being
some similar ways of seeing…” (Sushant Singh Rajput, 28 March, 2020)
If you listen to any of his speeches, he speaks in prophetic prose. His messages have layers from which we are to make meaning. As a result, a section of his fans – not those wailing over the aesthetic loss – dare to believe he is an Avatar. He was devoted to the Hindu deity Shiva and often shared sacred texts and mantras of the latter.
Of Che, we are thankfully left with a plethora of writing as well. Like Sushant, he loved to scribble. His famously-published diary even became a movie. Writing it during his famous journey on a Norton 500 motorcycle dubbed ‘La Poderosa’ [The Powerful One], he said: “Many will call me an adventurer, and that I am…only one of a different sort: one who risks his skin to prove his truths.” And that, as we know, he truly did.
But he’s also left the world with other less sentimental works, like ‘Guerilla Warfare’. An avid reader much like the Sushant, Ernesto was also a prolific speaker. He didn’t make 7-hour speeches like his buddy Fidel, but he was known to have a certain verbal prowess which was none less impacting.
Che Guevara may not have had social media, but he had followers. Like Sushant, he was attractive and was a pop star in his own right. The lyricism of his Marxist-socialist diatribe is what has stuck most with many who were not his contemporaries, but somehow became fans. Like me, who ‘met’ him 30 years after his death, through Latin American political studies of the 20th century.
Sushant was found in his Mumbai residence this day last year. A day which I remember vividly, having remained with the sense of a profound personal loss since then. I am still unable to utter his name in the past, as I do – like his family – believe in his persisting and ‘pulsating presence’ (his sister Shweta describes).
Ernesto was born on 14 May, but officially declared on 14 June, 1928. His birth date made so on administrative documents to conceal his mother’s pre-marital pregnancy. I experienced him as a man and a legend while living in South America and seeing his legacy prevailing there.
This date unites two of my heroes. Two men I have never met, but with whom I feel an ethereal and everlasting connection.