His name was Vivek Pandey. Good in sports and bad in studies, he was among the naughtiest and ‘sloppiest’ in a class of 35. It is a telling irony that I remember him now, after over a decade has passed since I last saw him. I remember him because he was my closest brush with suicide during my school years. It was 1995. We were in class IX, trying hard to cope with the pressure. There were classes and then tuitions. Television for half-an-hour during dinner and then back to books. There were tests, half-yearly exams and then the final exams. Now, when I look back, I think they were killing. But I came out alive.
Vivek did not. I still wonder what could have been so earth shattering for him to swallow pesticide. The school was closed for a day. Most of us chose to forget him as soon as we could. After all, exams were round the corner and we couldn’t spoil our exams for anything. We finished school and then graduated from college. We were the survivors of an ordeal and we were ready for the next race.
I don’t know what dreams Vivek had seen. I think he had dreams bigger than ours and he was scared to fail. With repeated news of student suicides, there have been the sudden pangs of social guilt of not being able to provide counselling, of being far too focused on grades, of being far too involved with career and making money as parents. I want to know what could have saved Vivek. I was his classmate. Could I have helped him?
He was a ‘bad’ child. In the last few months he lived, he had tried very hard to be good. Perhaps he needed a little more help and counselling than others. It couldn’t possibly be his fault that the school was far too concerned about discipline to care about the life of its students; that the teachers were overburdened with work or were not motivated enough to find out his needs; or that his classmates were too busy trying to match the set standards of good and successful to be able to spare him a thought.
Exams in schools are almost over. Soon it would be time for results and mad rush for admissions. In the meanwhile, should we do a rethink of the system? Should we also tell our kids that a 95 per cent is good but that it is not the only way to live. And will we also remember that it is not the child’s failure that he/she cannot cope with the pressure. It is us and the system which has failed again and again and again in providing what is required.