Death Wish

Narayan Lavate’s lifelong pursuit of death

Narayan and Iravati have been married for more than fifty years. They are nearing their nineties and have been campaigning for their death for several years now. Shubhra dixit
31 May, 2020

NARAYAN LAVATE, 89 YEARS OLD, said he went to the blood bank and told them: “Take all my blood!” It was January and he was standing in the middle of the room when he told me this, extending his arms out at the punchline. But this is not a joke. Narayan is serious, even though he seems, at times, like a performance artist. He wants to die. He has wanted to die since 1952; possibly before, but that is the first time, and only time, that he tried to kill himself by walking into the sea at Mumbai’s Girgaon Chowpatty, opposite his alma mater, Wilson College. He remembers this was at 11 pm. He was caught by some people who brought him back to solid ground and would not let him go in again. So he left, dejected. The first, of many rejections, in his pursuit of death. 

Narayan has convinced his 80-year-old wife, Iravati, that pursuing death is a worthwhile enterprise. She laughs at his projects. When he showed me a circular that he had put together, offering the sum total of their savings to anyone who would kill them, she let out a loud laugh and said, “Really, he is a very funny man!” I first met the Lavates in January 2018 when I went to interview them for the media organisation I was working for at the time. Their candour on such a grim subject surprised me and soon I felt compelled to make a short film on them. 

Narayan told me of another idea: asking the state to give him and his wife death in place of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. If two people have to be killed, a man and a woman, he said, why not kill a different man and woman instead? One woman is as good, or bad, as another, and the same goes for men. When talking about potassium cyanide, a subject about which he seemed particularly enthusiastic, he cited “Hitler and his beloved Eva Braun,” who took this poison in 1945. That year, Narayan had turned 14. 

Narayan said he is not sure what set him on this course of death, but he has found life to be without purpose for most of his existence. He had felt this way since he was a youth and it grew stronger as he approached retirement. A record of his life based on his own resume, however, shows a man with initiative, engaged in long and tedious battles in the material world. In 1952, he started work as a junior clerk with the then Bombay State Road Transport Corporation and retired as personnel officer in 1989. He became an RTI activist in 2002. Among the triumphs listed in his resume, he describes how he succeeded in getting his wife and her fellow teachers their arrears from the school they taught at.

Shubhra Dixit is an independent journalist, photographer and filmmaker.