Many a suicide does not happen on the spur of the moment. The thought has been brewing inside the troubled individual. But we, families, friends, colleagues and teachers, don't read the tell-tale signs which might help us prevent a suicide.

Some years ago, I was one of the judges at a poem reciting competition. A young boy, Muni, aged 11, rendered five Thirukkural verses and a Subramania Bharati poem with good diction and passion. Naturally, he won the first prize. That was on a Wednesday. On Saturday, I was shocked to read that Muni lay on the rail track and was run over by a train. What a loss of a budding poet, writer or journalist, I rued.

Some days later, I met his sobbing parents. “We killed him,” they said. “A couple of months ago, we told him that we couldn't afford to keep him in school; we needed him to supplement the family income by rolling beedies as all of us did. He was morose and we thought that it would pass off. We didn't think it will end this way.” I told the forlorn parents that they should have consulted someone who could help. Their reply was: “What access do we poor people have?”

We read about other suicides like that of a young bride who immolated herself because her husband and in-laws pestered her father for more dowry. More people take their own lives — farmers burdened with debts, girls or boys forbidden to marry persons of their choice, a mother killing her young girls and hanging herself, a man killing his children and wife and shooting himself, youngsters committing suicide for failing in their exams, for missing a rank or promotion. We generally don't bother as long as it doesn't affect us and happens to unknown people.

The most unexpected suicide was that of the grandniece of a friend of mine. Jayanthi (let us call her so) at 35 had a promising career, a doctor-husband and a smart five-year old daughter, a posh house near the Niagara Falls. She was so orderly that her husband used to say that she would pack his tiffin with “individually-wrapped idlies.” One day, at 4 a.m., she looked at her sleeping husband and child for the last time, left a cryptic note that read, “Let things be as they are,” and drove to the Falls and jumped off. Her body was found three days later some miles away. She was supposed to have suffered from maniac depression, which her psychiatrist-husband missed!

What a waste of life? Do you know that every 10 minutes there is a suicide somewhere in the world or that Bangalore has got the dubious distinction of being the suicide capital of India? In all these, the tragedy is not only the untimely deaths but the realisation that some of the victims could very well have turned out to be C.V. Ramans, GNBs, Abdul Kalams, top surgeons and distinguished teachers, who knows?

Religious leaders declare that suicide is a sin, governments proclaim that attempted suicides are illegal, parliamentarians couldn't care and society turns the other way. This is not the way to reduce our population and society should act to reduce, if not end, this scourge, at least the copycat incidents.

Many a suicide does not happen on the spur of the moment. The thought has been brewing inside the troubled individual. But we, families, friends, colleagues and teachers, don't read the tell-tale signs which might help us prevent a suicide.

In many cities abroad, there are “suicide helplines” which listen to the troubled souls and counsel them against the extreme step. In Montreal, I was a volunteer at one of these helplines. On a Sunday night, a teenager, Dora (not her real name) called me to say, “I am fed up with life; I am going to end it.” I asked her why. She said she was going to fail in her exam and that would upset her parents, who wanted her to become a doctor. “I don't like medicine and the course, and doctors want only to make money.” I asked her why she did not tell her parents. She said they did not listen and that she had made the decision. I told her that suicide was an extreme step and “you won't have a return ticket.” I countered her “I don't care” with: “One failure doesn't mean that you will be a life-long failure. Everyone has a unique talent in something and you should explore your strong points.”

I cited the examples of Churchill, who was a poor student, and Einstein, who was told he was “no-good” at university. “Look at what happened to them.” She called me the next week and a few more times, which meant she was listening and her mind was changing. I asked her what her interest was. She said music.

Then I suggested that she tell her parents and talk things over. Finally, she gave me the good news that although they were worried after hearing her threat to end her life, they relented and let her change her course to music saying that they would help her. Many years later, she came to see me and said, “Thank you, sir. I am now a music teacher at a school, happily married with a two-year-old daughter. One thing, for sure, I won't insist on my daughter taking to music. She could do what she likes and I would help her.” One happy ending.

Yes, suicides could and should be stopped if we take responsibility for our sisters and brothers. You don't need a psychiatrist or trained counsellors (they would help, of course) but only caring people with sympathetic ears and patience. You don't say, for example, “you stupid so-and-so, Are you mad?” Anyone can help. Since neither the government nor society bothers, it is up to every one of us to offer counsel. Every city, nay, every community, needs to set up a “suicide help” centre where troubled people can talk about their problems and find a solution. Yes, an NGO set-up, if you please, like the homes for “fallen girls” or alcoholics.

Will we do it?

(The writer's email ID is: spsundaram2003@yahoo.ca)

Keywords: suicide

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