By Suma Varughese
There is life after failing. Mistakes are not the end of the world says Suma Varughese
Nisha, Alka and Avijit were huddled in a corner of their bedroom speaking in frantic whispers. “I don’t dare tell Mom and Dad. They will kill me,” Alka was saying, shrill with fear.
“Mom and Dad are not like that,” Nisha interjected loyally. “You should know that by now.”
Avijit was pursing his lips shrewdly. “You never know with parents. They can seem liberal to the world but when it comes to their own kids they are as intolerant as anyone else.”
Alka looked even more unhappy.
Just then Mom called out from the kitchen. “Dinner time, everyone. Avijit, come and help me take the food to the table.”
As Alka skulked her way to the table, her heart was thudding so fast that she could feel it push the thin cotton of her shirt. For the life of her she could not bear the thought of eating and she knew that her sharp-eyed mother would notice her lack of appetite. Sure enough, Mom’s concerned eyes swivelled to her. “Why aren’t you eating? It’s your favourite – pasta in cheese and tomato sauce.”
In reply, Alka raised her own eyes and her mother drew in her breath when she saw the fear and anxiety in them. The atmosphere around the table suddenly grew tense. Alka was clearly in terrible trouble. Aji and Ajoba exchanged a look of concern.
“What happened?” rapped out Dad, in a clear, staccato tone.
Alka burst into tears. “I’ve failed my exams,” she wailed. The exam in question was the crucial one before the Boards. Failure to pass might result in her not being allowed to participate in her Boards.
Mom drew in a sigh of disappointment. But Aji was already making her way towards her, her face swathed in sympathetic love. She said absolutely nothing as she took the child in her arms and allowed her to have her cry out.
Dad turned to Alka, and asked not too angrily. “How did this happen?” Alka took a long shuddering breath and said, “Dad, I was so tense about having to pass the exam that I simply could not remember the answers. I had studied so hard and I even knew the answers to most of the questions but after I entered the hall, I could not remember anything.”
Mom, turned to her then and scooped her in her own arms. “Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry you had to go through this. Why didn’t you tell us before?”
“I was too scared, Mom. Nisha and Avijit are both toppers and I thought you and Dad would kill me.”
Mom stroked her twice as hard as if to make her recognise how wrong she was. Dad turned to her and said, “Alka, like all parents, we want our children to do well. But that does not mean we would reject you if you failed. In the first place you must remember that you are not Nisha and Avijit, and you have no obligation to be like them. You are Alka and your job is to be the best Alka you can be. Focus on realising your potential instead of trying to be like someone else, darling. You are plenty smart on your own so why should you even try to be like the other two?”
“So you are not angry with me?” asked Alka.
“Disappointed, yes, but not angry. Sad that you felt so pressurised to do well and did not trust us enough to check if we were putting pressure on you or not,” said Dad.
“I feel such a fool. All my friends were talking about what their parents would do if they failed and it began to affect me. Some of my friends were even saying that if they failed their Boards they would commit suicide. I guess in all this I forgot to remember what you were like.”
“Alka, even if you had failed in your Boards, it is not the end of the world. It does not mean you are a failure. That is important for you to understand,” said her mother, seriously.
“Mom, I can’t even imagine living on if I fail in my Boards. How would I face my friends and everyone else? I would feel so ashamed and humiliated. I would rather die.”
“Dear,” said Mom, “What you need to understand is that life is a process. One failure does not make us a failure. Even a dozen failures need not condemn us. All we need to do is to learn from our failure. What did we do wrong? We can learn from our mistakes and do better next time. The important thing is to never label ourselves.”
Ajoba leaned forward and said, “Alka, setbacks and failures can come to us at any stage in our lives. Yes, failure has struck you a little early in life but it is a good opportunity to learn how to go through it. There is pain in failure, and you are experiencing it now, but once you have gone through it and survived, you will never fear failure again. You will know that you can cope.”
“It’s still so hard to think of going to school and facing my friends,” said Alka.
“That is going to be hard,” said Dad, “but I have never known my daughter to lack courage. Remember you are still the same Alka that you were before, only now a little wiser.”
“If you can forgive yourself, then you will not mind what others have to say,” said Aji in her soft voice. “Forgive yourself, Alka. It’s okay to have failed.”
Alka sat transfixed as the insight penetrated her. “That’s true,” she said. “I have not forgiven myself. But I don’t know how to do that.”
“Simply tell yourself that enough times. Tell yourself that you love and accept yourself as you are. And that you can accept your failure. Stand in front of the mirror when you do that. Put your arms around yourself. Be there for yourself. It will take time, but the exercise will soothe you and one day you will find that you have enough space in yourself to accept your failures, your limitations and other things. Only then will you grow in true love for yourself,” said Mom
Alka took a long breath. “Thanks, everyone. It’s going to be hard but I am so glad I have all of you.” The family silently held hands around the table and experienced both the sadness of Alka’s plight and the strength that loving bonds could bring.
Sathe family fact file: The Sathe family lives in Mumbai and consists of Ashwin Sathe, a trainer and counsellor and Abha Sathe, a writer of children’s books. Ashwin’s parents, known as Aji and Ajoba, stay with them. Ajoba is a retired college professor turned Vedanta teacher. Ashwin and Abha have three children Avijit (20) an engineering student, Nisha (19) in her second year in college studying Eng Lit and Alka (16) in her class 10. The family meets every Sunday over dinner, where problems are thrashed out and solutions offered.
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