The Republic Day is round the corner.... and the student suicides continue.....
This appeared in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle.
Am dying to share my views on 'Avatar' with you guys. Perhaps in another post later today.... inshallah.Till then... read on...
I am writing this on one of the most auspicious day of the Hindu Calendar – Makar Sankranti. While there are countless, carefree teenagers flying kites across India, there are also those traumatized and troubled kids who feel life is no longer worth living. Something weird is going on in our society and ‘Aall is NOT welll’, I’m afraid. On the contrary, all is falling apart, going by the scarey statistics. Just this morning, I received a call from a senior psychologist who counsels teenagers. She talked about her daughter’s friend , an Indian student at a top American university, who has written a book about his own suicidal feelings. The young man’s life was saved by his caring and sensitive grandfather in Ahmedabad, with whom the student spent time when he was at his lowest. It was entirely through his grandfather’s efforts that his young life got saved. The psychologist wanted me to guide this student and help get his book published. I thought to myself, this boy is blessed – he had a loving person in his life who didn’t give up on him. What of the others who feel isolated and desperate enough to kill themselves? And how can one possibly explain this phenomenon which is seeing a spate of teen suicides?
In Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation has roped in Aamir Khan for an awareness campaign (“ Life is Beautiful”) which is aimed at making children feel more positive about themselves. Several workshops are in the pipeline, which are also designed to train teachers to look out for tell tale signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.Aamir has been picked after much thought, since students like his personality and it is believed that if Aamir appeals to the young to ‘appreciate the beauty of life’, his message will get through. 25706000 is the number of the helpline that has been created to cope with a crisis that has taken society entirely off guard. In Pune, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker talked about the power of Indian classical music and spirituality to heal the wounded souls of our teens. He also talked about the power of yoga and praised the government’s agenda to teach yoga in schools. Some would say, there is nothing new in any of this. But at this desperate point in time, whatever we think can work, has to be given a chance. Whatever.
Perhaps the key to solving the current sad situation lies in this – we no longer know who we are. People take ‘identity’ for granted, even though it is at the core of our lives. If we don’t know who the hell we are, it is safe to assume we are lost – emotionally and spiritually. What the young in India are facing today is a loss of identity ( 42% of India is under 18). Since we are such a young nation, where we have failed is to connect with our own youth. Even Aamir is 44- years -old, and we consider him ‘young’. Rahul Gandhi is the youngest politician to reach out to this segment and he is 40-plus as well. Our other netas are geriatrics whose mindsets are stuck in another century. In any case, their priorities never did include the young – till statistics caught up with them. Today we are dealing with an emergency- like situation that has to be tackled on a war footing if we are to pre-empt and prevent further deaths. Are we upto it?
A metropolis like Mumbai can be exceedingly indifferent, even cruel to anybody seen as a ‘loser’. This explains the success of a movie like ‘3 Idiots’ which deals with the pressures faced by Middle India – the sort of compulsions to compete fiercely and win at all costs, that can completely break a youth’s morale and lead to suicide ( as it does in the film). There is a silly attempt to link recent student suicides to the movie and put the whole thing down to a ‘ trend’ ( ‘Babes, suicides are just so ‘in’ this season – think I’m going to try it. Just for fun!”) with a cascading effect. There is no denying the overwhelming effect of popular Bollywood movies on audiences, but that is not the solo factor responsible for the suicides. However, since movies in their own crazy way do reflect social realities, it isn’t a mere coincidence that along with ‘3 Idiots’, another movie ( this one flopped miserably!) titled ‘Pyaar Impossible’ also focused on failure ( the hero is a geek who nobody but his dad loves or understands), and being dubbed a ‘loser’ by contemporaries. Whether in love or academics, today’s young are unhealthily obsessed with success and winning. The pressures on them are so unrealistically steep, that unless we modify those outdated school\college systems and get them more in tune with today’s requirements, we will be mute witnesses to more such tragedies.
The reason why Rancho ( Aamir Khan’s charismatic character in ‘3 Idiots’) connected big time with audiences is because there is a Rancho in all our lives. Think back on your own school and college days and you will recall a character like Rancho – someone who challenged the system, subverted authority, instigated others to rebel, was hated and persecuted by teachers, and yet managed to emerge a topper – a winner. Such a character is not mythical at all – every generation has a Rancho – which is precisely why the movie has done brilliantly across generations. The trouble is, everyone wants to be Rancho these days! At the end of the movie, even ‘Chatur’ ( the detestable chamcha-student who hates Rancho and wants to be one-up on him in the final analysis) has to concede “Rancho jaisey koi nahi.” If only every classroom in India could be filled with Ranchos, then we’d not have to face the grim reality of yet another youth found hanging from the ceiling fan . The Rancho Effect has only just begun to seep into our consciousness. Now, with Aamir spearheading a multi- media campaign , there is some hope.Life is beautiful, indeed, but alas, it is not a Bollywood film with a happy ending. Here’s hoping our kids recognize the difference.