Two young men by a waterfall in Kodaikanal (Photo: Aayush Agarwal)
Two young men by a waterfall in Kodaikanal (Photo: Aayush Agarwal)

Failed Your Exams? Keep Calm and Come to Kodai

Teenagers in uniform, hunched over from the weight of their bulky bags, plodding their weary way to school: an unfortunate but common sight these days. The status quo is a result of students struggling to fit into a mould that doesn’t necessarily fit all: board examinations that define ‘success’.

Children who fail their tenth standard school exams are often ostracised and ridiculed in India—and so too, by extension, are their families. Psychologists and counsellors say that the trauma and stigma of failing can have extreme and long-lasting effects on these teenagers. 

Mr Sudheesh, proprietor of The Hammock (Photo: The Hammock)

It was during the trying times of Covid in 2020 that Mr Sudheesh, a young Malayali entrepreneur and founder of The Hammock stays in Kodaikanal, heard about tenth grade students who had failed their exams in Kerala and, as a result, suffered from depression. As a consequence of their failure, many endured domestic violence, whilst others resorted to harming themselves, and felt suicidal. Wanting to help, this 35-year-old father of two came up with a two-day complimentary getaway package at his homestay for families who had suffered social, mental and financial pressure as a result of their children not passing their exams. 

The Hammock was started after Sudheesh came to Kodaikanal about 20 years ago as a hotel management trainee.

In an interview with TKC’s Jegu Markam, Sudeesh spoke about his reasons for stepping in to support these students.

Edited excerpts follow.

TKC: What made you think of doing this?

Sudheesh: In 2020, after the pandemic emerged, the percentage of students in Kerala who failed their secondary examinations was low (about 1.2%). Only about 4000–4500 had failed. I saw many of my friends posting pictures of their children’s A+ results and celebrating on social media. Meanwhile, those who had children who had failed were naturally silent. That silence struck a chord with me and reminded me of my own battle to become successful.

At the time, newspapers were repeatedly publishing stories of students dying by suicide as they had lost their motivation to live after failing their exams. I found these stories disturbing, so I decided to offer students who had failed a space to unwind, spreading the word via friends and social media). I wanted them to understand that there is more to life than success or failure in an examination, and motivate them to keep going.

Time in the forest in Kodaikanal is the best antidote to exam stress (Photo: Ayaz Qureshi/ Unsplash)

TKC: How many families availed of this offer? 

S: Due to the strict lockdown conditions, only about 40 families could come and stay with us (after producing the results certificate) for two days. Those who came were taken on treks to waterfalls and lakes to help reduce their stress. 

Some friends and well-wishers offered to support this endeavour financially—which I gently refused, of course. I was happy to see the positive attention from the public.

TKC: Why did you choose to make this a family package?

S: There is no doubt that the immediate victim of exam failure is the student. However, it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the parents who have to deal with societal pressure, face financial issues and work through their own emotions of seeing their child as a ‘failure’. I wanted to give the entire family a space to relax and come together. This endeavour helped many families look beyond the present predicament and imagine a different kind of future for themselves.

TKC: How was the overall response?

S: Most of them went back saying, ‘Thank you for being truly hospitable’, while others said that these two days were eye-openers. Some families messaged to say they felt more confident about things; one student even expressed that I saved his life. After that, what more can I ask for?

The response from my friends and family was overwhelmingly positive, too. People called and sent messages asking how they could help support the initiative. A few started brainstorming ideas to help those in need through hospitality efforts. Many of my friends teased me, saying Ratan Tata, who gifted a car to the 2020 Olympic athletes who missed the bronze medal, was inspired by my efforts! 

We had unknown supporters calling from the US, the UK, some Arab countries, many parts of India and, of course, across Kerala. These were not just congratulatory calls; some were an expression of personal experiences with exams. Quite a few spoke of their failures and how they had mustered the courage to pull themselves up and become what they are today. 

We were also interviewed by the Deccan Herald, The Indian Express and the TV channel, SunNews. 

TKC: Has academic pressure changed with the pandemic?

S: It certainly has! Students are struggling to cope with the loss of missing two years of in-person schooling. I’ve seen children—who usually perform well—struggle; they could not afford the technology for online classes.

A classroom in Tamil Nadu (Photo: Haseeb Modi/ Unsplash)

TKC: How else did you contribute during the Covid lockdowns?

S: During the first lockdown in 2020, I was part of a team, initiated by Kodai Sera (R Serapandi), that collected funds from our families, friends and well-wishers to provide groceries to local tribes and other people who couldn’t afford a meal a day. 

We were very fortunate with generous contributors and collected a substantial amount, with which we were able to distribute about 900 bags, each comprising groceries worth Rs 500, in Kombai, Pallangi, Perungadu, Kavunji, Ganesh Nagar, Pethuparai, etc. I remember meeting one man who, through tears, shared that he hadn’t eaten anything for about three to four days. That was a life-changing experience! Since then, my friends and I get together on special occasions like birthdays to help people in need by donating food, clothes and stationery.

TKC: Have you been involved in any environmental activities?

S: Yes. Having lived here for about two decades now, I’ve gained an interest in the environment. I’ve also witnessed the changes that Kodai has gone through recently. To bring about positive change, my friends and I joined the organisation OISCA (Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International). We are the first to join from Kodaikanal. We planted trees and conducted an art competition for schoolchildren to understand the importance of forests and wildlife, with prizes. We also participated in rural development activities, such as providing medical help for the tribes around the Kombai and Perungadu areas.  

The green entrance to The Hammock (Photo courtesy The Hammock)

TKC: How do you run your business in a way that is least damaging to the environment?

S: It is a big challenge in the hospitality sector. However, I ensure that all waste is managed systematically and our premises are well-maintained, with greenery. And, I speak to my guests about nature and take them for treks to witness the ‘real’ beauty of Kodaikanal, and village tours, so they can understand the lifestyle. Some say they want to help preserve Kodai. All I say is, ‘Treat Kodai like you treat your home.’ 

There are two things that I feel very strongly about: children and the environment. Children need to understand that they are the rescuers of tomorrow. In my small way, I would like to extend a platform for students to rewind, think and move forward. They should be taught to hold firmly on to both themselves and the future. 

Jegu Markam

Jegu Markam is a teacher and secretary of The Kodai Chronicle and The Kodai Chronicle Trust. She studied at Sholai School and Madurai Kamaraj University, and taught at Blue Mountain School and Fravashi International Academy in Nashik. She lives in Pallangi.

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