Ten years ago, when Mini Poddar, 15, entered Class 10, her parents shifted the television to their bedroom from the living room and cleared out a corner in their one-bedroom flat in Malad so that she could study in peace.
She began regularly studying late into the night. To unwind, the teenager once in a while wrote poems on friendship, love and dreams in her pink diary. Then a few days after her results came out, Mini hanged herself.
“Given what I know now, I realise she was giving us signs,” said Mahesh, 56, a yarn merchant. (See box ‘Signs…’).
Mahesh now spends several hours a month at mental health workshops conducted by city-based psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty (see Q&A), talking to parents about his experience, telling parents to talk to their children.
A Class 6 student of the Holy Family Convent School in Ulhasnagar killed herself in a similar fashion on Monday. Her mother found her daughter hanging from the ceiling fan.
Children who take the ultimate step do so when several stressful events coincide, experts say.
In Mini’s case, her grandmother had expired a few days before the tragic event. Her mother was in Nagpur attending the funeral. Then, Mini was shattered by the 83% she scored in the board exam: it was lower than she expected and her mother wasn’t there to help her cope with that. Her father had little time to give her because he was juggling work and household chores.
Mini went alone from college to college, filing forms, only to find out that she had missed getting into the institution of her first choice by a mere three marks.
“She was very close to her mother,” said Mahesh. “I was busy. She had no one to talk to.”
Mini didn’t take the rejection very well. She stopped eating, refused to watch her favourite TV show and barely spoke.
Then, one morning she stretched out her palm and said: “Look dad, my life line is so short.” Mahesh showed her his palm, and said a little curtly, “Mine is shorter. Don’t believe in this nonsense.” “I never thought she could take her own life for this,” Mahesh said. In the longer term, Anjali Malpani, gynecologist, said that parents should pay particulary attention to adolescent children. They often suffer from low-self esteem due to growing peer pressure and hormonal changes.
“They often try to move away from their parents,” she said. “They like being independent but parents need to pay close attention to them and talk often to them.”
Said Mahesh: “I protected my daughter from stressful events. It was my mistake. Parents should push them to deal with challenges so that they emerge stronger.”
He parenting style has undergone a drastic change after he and his wife adopted Akshat the same year their daughter died.
The Poddars encourage Akshat, a hyperactive, spiky-haired nine-year-old, to play with his friends and have enrolled him in outdoor sports.
“Sport has built his confidence and taught him the importance of teamwork and facing challenges,” said Sarita, his mother. “We also draw and paint with him. “Mini never played outside. We focused only on education.”
Their life may now revolve around Akshat, but Mini smiles from photographs in every room. Her pink diary also provides a window into her life.
Mahesh pulled it out and read out a poem Mini wrote days before she took her own life:
The best thing in the world, if ever it was to be, It would be no exams. Oh, we would feel so free!
Then we would not be forced to study for days together, Without playing with our friends or enjoying the weather.