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Turning failure into success

Most Indian parents are known for burdening their children with the weight of expectation

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Teenage girl and boy sitting in the classroom and studying together.
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As exam results are published in newspapers at certain times of the year in India, these are invariably followed by depressing reports of suicide attempts by students, which are heartbreaking to read. Imagine my delight when I read about a completely different reaction by a parent to his son’s failure.

This dad threw a party for his son who failed the class ten board exam. The civil contractor from the state of Madhya Pradesh invited his relatives and friends for the celebration although he did not tell his guests the reason for the party. His unusual gesture, he said, was prompted by a desire to motivate his son to take failure in his stride and aim to do better next time.

This incident came in the wake of seven students committing suicide in that state within a few hours of the exam results being published.

The father said that he wanted to let his son know that it wasn’t the end of the world and there was always another chance to resit the exam. He added that he knew his son had worked hard but hadn’t met with success. The son, in turn, said that the party had strengthened his resolve to do well in the exam the following year.

I can well imagine the son’s shock and relief when his dad hugged him and offered him sweets as soon as he disclosed the news of his failure.

Most Indian parents are known for burdening their children with the weight of expectation. It was no different in my home as doing well in studies was very important to my parents. So, we put in long hours of work to get the desired results. However, no parties were thrown in our honour as we were only doing what we were supposed to be doing.

We didn’t expect them to shout out our results from the rooftop and were relieved that we had not let them down. I remember once disclosing the marks I had got in a particular test, expecting at least a lukewarm “well done” or a smile, but they were made of sterner stuff. The immediate response was a desire to know the highest marks scored in that test. When they were told that several of us had scored the same, the expression on their faces said it all. I was made to feel as if I were crowing over a non-existent victory.

I can empathise with what goes through the mind of a student who cannot bear the shame of failure and the disappointment of parents who have placed their hope on their son or daughter doing well.

I am sure that the parents of all those youngsters who have taken the extreme step of taking their own lives after failing in an exam or not doing as well as expected are devastated by the desperate act, tormented by the thought of their child being unable to see any other way out.

However, I must stress that although my parents’ expectations were high, we never contemplated suicide or other such drastic measures. Of course there was fear of failure or not living up to the standards set but, thankfully, we were aware that they knew we had tried our best. Perhaps this was because self-discipline was a way of life, instilled in us from when we were very young. We had fewer distractions and were provided with an atmosphere conducive to study.

Some may find fault with the dad who celebrated his son’s failure, but the silver lining here is that the son was able to disclose his failure to his father, unlike many other teenagers who, sadly, are unable to face up to parental wrath or disappointment.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.

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