Between Life and Death
When I was studying in upper primary school in Trivandrum, I saw for the first time in my life a person hanging from a tree on the roadside while going to school in the morning. A small crowd had gathered around the place and I overheard someone saying that he was a priest (Potty as they are called in Malayalam) of a nearby Balasubrahmanya temple. When I was returning home from school with friends, I found that the police had arrived and was taking the measurements of the tree, distance between the wall and tree, height of the tree and so on. And with much difficulty the fire force had brought the body down.
When my mother came home in the evening from office, I told her about this incident and later when I prepared myself for sleep at night, she told me to repeatedly chant, 'Rama Rama Rama' fearing I may have nightmares. As I went to bed, I couldn't sleep at all. I was thinking of what may have prompted this ‘Potty’ in his 50’s to give up. Didn't he have family or friends to share his worries and stress? He was praying and performing poojas on behalf of several devotees and how come he couldn’t confide his worries to God?
As I rolled in the bed, indeed I was grateful to Providence for being alive. In early school years, I had gone through the worst kind of bullying which left a deep scar in my mind. It ultimately led to my poor academic performance and detention in Class II. And worse, I ended up in a class where some of my classmates had brothers or sisters who were in my earlier class and they also came to know of the torture I went through. And it was indeed embarrassing when one person whom I considered my best friend narrated the incidents his brother told about me to a few others just because I had outsmarted him in a game.
I didn't have the courage to tell anyone including my brother or parents about the agony I was going through. Years later and few months into the last academic year in school when we have to fill some forms and put the signature for the CBSE Examination, the Principal called me aside and said, "You know your brother brought only glory to this school but will you bring disgrace. Are you confident you will pass?" Suddenly, the whole world seemed to be crumbling upon me. Will I be the cause for fall in popularity ratings of the school or will I bring a bad name to my brother and family?
On October 31st, 1984, our Prime Minister Smt Indira Gandhi was brutally murdered. It was followed by three weeks of mourning and official radio and tv channels only played the plaintive tune. Soon her son Rajiv Gandhi took over as Prime Minister and life was slowly returning to normal. But for me the plaintive tune didn’t cease. The word 'disgrace' echoed in my ears till the final results were out in May 1985.
Sadness and Happiness
I was again reminded of all these when UNICEF and other organizations release data about child suicides and school dropouts due to bullying and bad experiences in school.
Over the years I came to know of atleast a dozen people who were either my friends or classmates ending up lives for various reasons. We have also seen several celebrities ending up their lives despite all the glory, wealth and influence they wielded in society. We read or watch news about several people committing suicides due to ill health, alcohol or drug addiction, financial worries, debt burden, business failures, exam failures, failed love affairs, humiliation and so on. But we don’t attach much importance to such incidents until someone close to us or known to us decide to end their life.
There is a popular film song of early 1970’s in Malayalam sung by KJ Jesudas – Life is a pendulum that swings from Happiness to Sadness …. (sukhamoru bindhu, dukham oru bindhu, bindu vil ninnum bindhuvilekkoru pendulum aadunnu, jeevitham athu jeevitham…).
The central character Dr Rema in A Slice of Calicut Halwa (Zorba Books, 2019), a fictional narrative by Dr K N Raghavan, was close to committing suicide being constantly abused in the bus by a law college student. She luckily met Jyothy, her classmate ,on the way and this turned out to be a turning point in her life. Dr Rema emerges as a very powerful, strong willed woman and I felt I hadn’t gone through even a tiny fraction of the struggles she had to go through.
Yet the problems and crises we undergo look huge for us. A few of the bullies who tormented me in school were sent away subsequently in higher classes for copying in examinations and deviant behavior. My cousin brothers and sisters used to tease me as I became a ‘pummy’ or very shy to interact with anyone. On the positive side, this enabled me to observe people in a detached manner and record everything I heard and saw. Such observations helped in writing ‘middle’s or short humour pieces in newspapers that enabled me to earn extra income in my struggling early years in journalism.
Most often we blame the institutions whether it is a school or college for the misery in which our children end up. But, the basic unit or institution in society is the family and indeed parents have a much more responsible role to play in giving confidence and create an enabling atmosphere at home for children to openly discuss whatever problems they face at school or in public places.
Whom should I be thankful other than the Almighty for having gone through the vicissitudes of life unscathed till now? Most important among them are my brother who ignored 95% of what he heard from the teachers about me and never reported to my parents, a few English teachers who instilled confidence in my writing abilities, my neighbourhood friends who considered me as their equal, ever ready in the evenings and holidays to play cricket, football or volleyball not bothered about what may have happened to me at school and some of the friends in college who enabled me to overcome my fear of public speaking.
People argue about life after death and resurrection failing to live in the present or help others in distress which may be a more meaningful way to serve God to whom we are destined to return to.