He was the apple of the eye for whom ever met him. It was only after we lost him that every one realised what that usage meant “apple of the eye”. To his mother, K was the baby boy who never ever grew up though he was 6 feet tall and had a striding gait. To his sister, he was the eternal bully and mischief maker. To his father he was an impatient teenager with whims and fancies of his own that he remembered being too. To his friends and classmates he was a bundle of intelligent mischief and new ideas that made life very thrilling. To his teachers, except one or two, he was a chivalrous, attentive student above average. To the lady help in the house he was a considerate and compassionate boy, who appreciated her cooking and sometimes joined in heating food and setting the table.
He was energetic and positive, full of surprises and charm, that everyone in the family and close circle of friends felt he was theirs. That may be why no one believed one rainy afternoon when they heard that K had taken his life…Some friends who were close to him and who had met him that morning knew he was troubled and upset by the behaviour of a teacher in recent times. She would pick on him unnecessarily in class, insult him frequently, and insist on explanations and apology from him for the smallest of mishaps. She would often demand he get his parents to the school and so on.
His friends would advise him to ignore and go on with his activities. But somewhere deep inside, K was affected in a way he himself could not tackle. He shared this angst with his mother and sister who spoke at length with him and reassured him that it is the inadequacy of the teacher and not his that created this unhealthy situation – but one day his tolerance level snapped and before he knew it, his desperation got the better of him…and that was the end!! K was always a person not easily satisfied with mediocre explanations and incidents in life. His deep quest for perfection and truth often made him feel alone even when among friends. His existential crisis was related to the misery in the world, the injustice and poverty, the suffering and pain. K certainly was too rational a person to find relief in quick answers and man made remedies.
He left behind rich and beautiful memories to all those who knew him. Memories of a joyful, naughty, intelligent, just and loving person – a window into what he would have been had he grown into adulthood. This made his absence intense as days passed. Each person carried a special image of a special moment that K shared with them – he was good in creating a feeling that each person was special and unique to him .
For his mother, the best memory that kept coming back was of him coming to the institution where she worked and waiting for her so they could drive back home. Some days he would have two of his friends and all four of them would have a jolly drive home. The institution was on a high hill and there was a grassy slope that led to a valley. K would run down the slope and then climb up a few times before his mother came. It was tough for him to sit quietly or stand still for long. Even at home while studying, he would get up and go to the kitchen to have a glass of water or eat something now and then. On the way to the kitchen, he would nudge his mother’s cheeks or pull his sister’s hair and go back to studies.
The main attraction to run down the slope was a huge jackfruit tree gnarled and dark on the branch of which someone had tied a swing. K would run down and catch his breath swinging on the branch. The wind would stroke his hair and make him smile. The tree was next to a playground where many children played and K would make way for them to swing too. His mother could not really see him from up the hill when she came out of the office…but she could see a form moving and the swing too. One day K came up a little disturbed and told his mother that the grandmother jack tree would not live long – he had seen a huge crack in her trunk. True to his observation a few weeks before K’s exit from the world the branch on which the swing was tied snapped and fell down in the wind.
After K went away his heartbroken mother and friends could not bear to look down the slope at the tree, the swing and remember the beautiful vague image of K on the swing. The friends parted, his family took a transfer to another town, unable to bear the sorrow of staying in the place where they lost him forever. It was like every curve, every tree, every place they went carried an image of him. Each suicide of a young person that happened during the lock down days – the girl who could not access modern technology for online classes, the girl who was harassed because she was caught copying by a harsh teacher – all this news made her feel the loss was hers too. Her heart reached out to the grief stricken parents and the helpless void they were thrown into when a death like this – avoidable and sudden – strikes like lightning. The social and cultural complexity of the reality that youngsters face in this modern, fast, competitive world where success and achievement is the need of the hour, any one with deeper and sensitive pursuits will be left behind and named a failure. They are immediately diagnosed to have some mental syndrome for which psychological or even psychiatric help along with counselling is prescribed . Like Susanth Singh Rajput , the talented actor who recently took his life said the biggest lie we are forced to believe and live upto is that money plus recognition equals happiness.
Some like K must have realised that there is no easy way to happiness and success. And in the lonely space this creates he could not entirely rely on the support of his family…and the only way out of the intense desperation and crisis is a quick exit…and K did just that.
Years passed and the days of lockdown brought two of his friends back to the same town. They went to the spot from which they could see the jackfruit tree…Sadly the tree had vanished. They slowly walked down the slope to the spot only to see a stump. The rope that tied the swing was on the ground in a state of decay. It was like the tree and swing had also exited along with K. They found some children playing together in the ground.
One of the boys suddenly came up with the idea of planting trees in this common space – in memory of the tree and swing K loved so much. They called K’s family who readily agreed. His mother asked if two trees could be planted so that the trees will not be lonely. She still could not come in terms with the loneliness that must have driven her beloved son to finality, in spite of all the handholding that existed in the family.
The boys got two healthy saplings – one of a jack tree and the other of the fragrant Indian bullet wood or Elanji and planted them silently…. in the same spot that held fond memories of the dear departed friend of theirs. They felt K was beside them, energetically digging the soil, getting water and asking the tree to grow well and flower soon in his typical style. Since they were at home, they would walk every evening and pour water and sit for some time near the saplings watching them gently sway in the wind. As if by a miracle, two days after these were planted, the intense summer gave way to sharp pre-monsoon showers and then real monsoon rains.
They imagine the trees growing to a right height when they themselves could tie swings for the children to play and swing, catch the wind in the air and smile like K did every evening as he waited for his mother…K’s family was so touched by this gesture of planting trees as a growing eternal tribute to a person who could not be forgotten because he had left so much to remember….
As the trees grow and flower and bear fruits, so would the memory of K get entrenched and infused into the people who hold him close…What better way to stay on… long after one is gone!
“Trees are the best monuments than can be erected to retain one’s memory. They speak the person’s praises without flattery and they are blessings to children” Lord Orrery (1749).
Anitha. S is an ecologist based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written in memory of a special 16 year old who loved Trees and Nature…