I wish Shinjini Sengupta hit the headlines for some other reason. Unfortunately, we are all saying, 'Let what happened to her not happen to anyone."
This cheerful, bright, immensely talented 16-year-old school student is struggling to get on with her life at Nimhans, after having been laid low by the comments of some judges at a reality show on TV in Kolkata.
Dr Abdul Kalam, as President, used to urge our youth to dream; dream of achievement, dream of success. Going by the phenomenal popularity he enjoyed, I'm sure his exhortations had fired a million dreams; it must still be.
But did he stop at telling our young minds to only dream? Even if not, I'm sure a million minds had just stopped at dreaming, and begun living in those dream castles built on air.
Dreaming is just one small step in the long and arduous journey to reach a goal. When we helped our children fire those dreams, did we also prepare them for the long haul? I doubt.
Dreaming is easy, so also setting goals. But is anyone helping the children in their journey to achieve those goals? I doubt.
Dream, we tell our children, casually, carelessly. Young minds are launched into a roller-coaster. They are then left there all alone.
Shinjini's is just one case which fell out in the open. I am sure there are umpteen other minds and hearts seeking a straw to hold on, a prop to steady themselves.
It's time for a reality check
The show must go on, but not this way. The public stage can't be a cathartic ruse for parents to fulfil their dreams. Young, impressionable minds can't be savagely dragged through promises of cash running into lakhs and crores. Isn't there some limit to torturing children in the name of chasing dreams and success?
School educational boards have done away with the obnoxious practice of ranking. Now what about these talent shows? More than a stage for excellence, have these become pits of humiliation? Failure, not humiliation, helps us to correct ourselves and learn.
What is on stage is for all to see. What happens at homes is a slow killer. Millions of families who tune into the show, might be involuntarily goading their children to perform like the stars on the telly, some might even be making sarcastic remarks comparing their children with the stars, which sound no less than a humiliating nag.
What must be immediately done?
1) The practice of awarding lakhs and crores as prize should be stopped. Children's talents are worth more than that.
2) Competitions are fine, but adequate and foolproof safety net to protect the kids who don't make it in the full glare of the nation must be put in place. Each candidate should have continuous access to a professional counsellor before, during and after the competitions.
3) Every participant should get a valuable gift that would help him or her develop the talent. Recognising talent is as much important as recognising the winner.
4) The organisers should be made accountable, for they are playing with talent, that can't be counted in lakhs or crores. A statutory body to ensure that children aren't made unfortunate pawns in the games of elders must be set up. It can also ensure that quality levels are maintained.
5) Parents should be educated on how to deal with their own children. Multimedia platforms should be leveraged to achieve this.
What is success, failure?
Every life is precious. Let us not ruin it by assigning arbitrary standards of 'success' and 'failure', for these are not absolute but subjective.There is no one final 'success' in life that we are aiming for, nor is a failure the end of everything. Success is every achievement at every moment; failure is a success too, the success of having got a chance to learn, of being on the step that will launch us to greater heights.
UPDATE on July 2 at 1 am