Trigger warning: Discussions of suicide, depression
(If you have thoughts of self-harm, or you know someone is in trouble, please show them your sympathy and call these numbers for local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)
The shock of losing friends at a young age is something that stays with you.
I lost three of my friends to suicide right after our 10th board exams. I was just 15, so were they.
No one, none of our friends, could have guessed how upset they were. We never could have guessed that there was more to the words of the songs they sang in the school bus, or how much truth there was in the jokes they made about dying.
For me, the deep impression left behind by those events has permanently altered the way I look at exams, results, and a successful career.
A large proportion of student suicides in India are connected to exam pressure, and failing exams. At least 13,089 students died by suicide due to 'exam stress' in 2021, the highest in five years.
Even today, when someone talks to me about my children's education, the top results, competitive exams, career, foreign universities, I feel compelled to think, are we doing right by him?
Is this what the child wants? Is this what he needs?
What if a child doesn't feel comfortable sharing their desires, their wants with their parents? What if they quietly take on the pressure because they think that's what they are supposed to do?
'She Seemed Fine'
It was just a few days before my 10th pre-board exam. Back then (maybe, even now) book fairs were held in my city every year towards the end of December. There was a different energy and excitement all around in the city at this time.
That year, my friends and I made plans to go to the book fair. In this little group of our was also a girl named Kirti (name changed) who was a school topper.
A week after the book fair, a friend of mine called up crying. She said, 'there are police officers at Kirti's house.'
"People are saying Kirti is no more," she said.
At first, I didn't register it, but then when I finally processed what she had said, my mind brought all my memories of Kirti flooding back to me. We had just met, as always, she interacted with everyone, and had her usual lovely smile on her face.
Back then we thought we knew our friends, now I realise we didn't understand each other. We didn't understand what Kirti was going through.
'She Was Our Class Monitor'
Pallavi (name changed) was my class monitor. She excelled in sports, reading, writing, drama, dance.
She was also popular among our classmates.
She calm and wise beyond her years. She maintained peace and order, and even though she was a kid herself, she took care of the whole class as if we are all her children.
Maybe that's the reason, since I can remember, my class monitor has never changed.
A day before our 10th board exam results were announced, our friend group decided to meet up.
At that time, kids didn't have their own mobile phones. I was given the duty of calling each friend's home number to confirm who was coming. We had a group of about 10 -12 kids.
One by one, I called and spoke to everyone. When Pallavi picked up, her voice sounded dull. When I asked if anything was wrong, she laughed and brushed it off.
At that age, I didn't have the presence of mind to insist she talk about, or the tact to get her to open up.
When we met the next day, we talked about college, and the times to come. But we were all scared of what the results would bring. Hardly anyone slept well that night.
The next day, as soon as the results came on the website, there was celebration and silence in my colony.
The distant sound of landline phones ringing in every nearby house was a reminder that today is a different day.
We were getting calls throughout the day too. But a phone call in the evening changed everything.
My class teacher had called to congratulate me. After speaking to me, he insisted on speaking to my mother. I passed the phone to her and watched the smile fade from her face.
When she was done talking, she hugged me and started explaining how special life is.
At first, she wouldn't tell me what happened. But then on prodding, she told me about Pallavi.
Again, it took me a while to process what she was saying. But her eyes immediately told me that I had lost another friend.
A painting made by Pallavi on Teacher's Day that year may still be hanging on the walls of our school somewhere.
'He Couldn’t Live Up to His Parents’ Expectations'
Conflict in the family, unrealistic expectations of parents, comparison with other children, can all leave deep impressions of trauma on the delicate minds of children, especially when it comes from their parents — the very people they are supposed to be able to look up to for support and understanding.
It is true that parenting styles differ from household to household. At the same time, we also need to understant that every child is different.
The morning after our 10th board results were announced, I woke up to the sound of an ambulance.
As I came out of my room, I saw the same fear and sadness on my parents' face as the day before, and I just knew, I had lost another friend.
Keshav (name changed) was called Sachin Tendulkar of the colony. He was a brilliant cricket player and everyone in our neighbourhood would be mesmerised watching him play cricket.
But his parents thought of it as a waste of time. Their sole goal was to make him an engineer.
Keshav's dreams were different. He dreamt of becoming a cricketer and playing for India some day.
We were neighbors, so whenever he was scolded for paying less attention to studies and more to sports, the loud voices would reach our house.
A few days before the result, he suddenly stopped playing cricket. In the evening, he used to watch other children playing from his verandah, but refused to join in.
His result did not live up to the expectations of his family.
What? Why? How? When? These and other questions that I would never get the answers to, kept playing in my head like a record player that just wouldn't stop.
Years have passed but that record player is still playing in some corner of my mind.
I lost 3 friends in a matter of a few months, it left me with a void I still haven't been able to fill.
Now, as a parent myself, I only wish to create an environment for my son that helps him thrive as he is, instead of stiffling him, and put him in schools where his mental health is priorotised before arbitrary markers acheivements.
It's important to create a safe space for the child in their homes so that if they are ever distressed, they choose the path home, and they don't feel like going home is more frightening than suicide.