Last year they took away Neelabh’s mobile phone and changed the SIM. No one can talk to him now. Not his friends, not his cousins, not his uncles, not his aunts. Not even his grandmother, who put him to bed nearly every night until, at the age of six, he went to live in Patna with his mother.
Neelabh’s father and grandmother stayed back in Saharsa, one of Bihar’s dust bowls. They thought breaking up the family was a small price to pay for realising their dreams, all of which saw Neelabh smiling on a top IIT campus.
They were not hallucinating. At the St Michael school in Saharsa, Neelabh was far ahead of his class. He cracked the entrance test to DPS Patna, and then to DPS R K Puram, in New Delhi. But he did not join the school’s hostel. He stayed outside at a spartan private hostel in Adhchini. He had enrolled in IIT coaching. It would have been difficult to come out of the hostel every day for that.
For two years he took a city transport bus to school every morning, came back in the afternoon, hurried through lunch, and left for coaching. He came back exhausted and crashed. Sometimes he did not have the energy to eat his dinner.
Yet, he flunked the IIT-JEE last year. His father went into mourning. He had kept the boy focused since he was a toddler. “Nothing but the IIT,” he would often tell Neelabh, several times a day when the admission process for DPS R K Puram was going on.
After the JEE results last year, the father sent Neelabh away to Kota. Kota--the beehive whose 40 IIT coaching institutes take in 150,000 students every year. Where many young dreams go to die in the grand mission of fulfilling their parents’ ambition. Where Neelabh’s paths may have crossed Kriti Tripathi’s.
Kriti Tripathi , a girl from Ghaziabad, did not want to be an engineer. On Thursday, she jumped to her death from the fifth floor of her apartment building.
Hers is the fifth suicide by a Kota coaching student. What’s five out of 150,000, the cynics would say.
Actually, a lot. Few things in this world are sadder than the loss or maiming of a young life. More so if it happens because the young person ends it herself out of despair. More so if the parents have a hand in it, even if with the best intentions.
But Kriti’s case is unique. She killed herself a day after the JEE mains results came out, which she cleared comfortably with 144 marks. The cut-off is 100.
So, unless another theory emerges, Kriti killed herself because she could not imagine herself trudging through years of engineering and then perhaps doing for the rest of her life something she might hate.
The issue has been raised effectively, if a bit superficially, in popular culture. Think of Agastya’s travails in English, August. Think of Madhavan’s struggles in 3 Idiots. You might dismiss them as flaky. But please do not dismiss the death of a young woman. The very first Kota suicide should have woken us up.
There was a story in our school textbook about a scientist talking to a lemming, the little rodent-like creature which has a suicide myth. The scientist asks why lemmings kill themselves by deliberately running off a cliff. The lemming quips he does not understand why humans do not.
We can safely tell the lemming we do, just that instead of jumping off a cliff we send our children to Kota. Where, one hopes, Neelabh is fine. Few have his mobile number.