The recent death of a friend has given me much to think about. Tomislav Simic, whom we called Toma, was from Novi Sad, the town in Serbia in which I grew up. He was 58.
Over the past 20 years or so Toma spent much of his life confined to psychiatric wards. The dilapidated buildings of these depressing institutions, in a country depleted by reckless wars, were homes to his frail body, confused soul and alert mind. When living on his own, he frequented soup kitchens because he was too poor to buy his own food. He died in a hospital of a high fever and a significant drop in blood pressure. But Toma was a nobody, and so the doctors did not even bother to establish the cause of his death.