• Quirk NLS

Remembering Nishi


TW: Suicide


This piece has been written by Ashwin Pantula (B.A. LL.B. Batch of 2019). The illustration is by Gunjan Jadiya (Batch of 2023).


Ashwin writes about his batchmate, Nishi Ankita Kujur’s early death. Nishi passed away on the 15th of November, 2016, in her third year at NLSIU. Her death came as a shock to everyone in college, but perhaps more particularly to her batchmates. In this piece, he tries to investigate why NLSIU tends to get so isolating so easily for so many.


Thanks to a book edited by Prof. Sairam Bhat and others, pathetically short interviews taken by the media after she secured the 1st position in the arts stream in Jharkhand in her 12th standard exam, random Midterm results and attendance records from her time in college, and a few articles about her death, Nishi Ankita Kujur is safe from being wiped clean off the internet. The Bar & Bench (B&B) article about her death ends with a somber paragraph on how Nishi suffered from chronic abdominal pain, how that prevented her from attending classes, and how she mentioned in her suicide note that she was “not able to bear the pain any longer”.


It was GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. She told me on a Facebook chat that I had had with her about a month before she passed away. As I go back to check whether I am right about my sense of time, I realise that it was also the only time we ever spoke privately – we never exchanged WhatsApp messages, emails, or Facebook messages.


The chat took place on October 8, 2016. I told her that I was interning in Bangalore with one of my heroes, Clifton D’ Rozario. With his “law firm”, actually – Manthan Law, a smart acronym for ML (Marxist-Leninist). I do not know whether it’s a registered partnership firm or an LLP or whatever. Nishi told me she wasn’t interning because she had “not fully recovered”. All the same, I wished her a happy birthday, and we engaged in some pleasant small talk. I told her I would see her in November once college reopened, “fully recovered”.


After college reopened on (presumably) the 1st of November, I forgot all about seeing her. I mean, she did sit in the row right in front of mine, and was less than two metres away from me for 4 hours a day for a decent part of her time in college. She used to turn around and laugh at some of my mid-lecture jokes – just loud enough for the 10 people around me. It was inevitable, her laughing - I tried so hard and so frequently to make people laugh that I like to think that everyone in my batch has laughed at least once at one of my jokes.


***

Around 1.10 p.m., on November 15, 2016, we got to know that someone had attempted suicide or probably died by suicide. I don’t really remember why class got over earlier that day or who the professor was. I remember running towards the Yamuna hostel and then just standing and waiting there. Somewhere around this time, I think, we found out that it was Nishi we were talking about. My mind immediately went to her grades – she was doing just fine, no? Her first year hadn’t been great, I thought to myself, but she had got a lot of O’s in the second year. In a few minutes, I think I saw a body being carried by a few white-clothed men. I also saw Sarasu, Babu KG, and Somashekhar Naik. And I saw a sea of students just standing near Chetta. I don’t remember any of them except Himanshu, my best friend-cum-roommate.


The silence that fell over the campus that day will never leave me. Everyone was just silent. Numb. The ‘moment of silence’ in the Acad Block the next day (or was it on the 17th?) was nothing compared to the day of silence the entire student community had observed. That kind of stuff does not need instructions or orders. What does need to be told, which we were, promptly, by our class representatives and SBA office-bearers, is how the student community should interact with the media. The instruction was simple we weren't told to keep it short, not speculate, not talk about the manner in which she died by suicide, or not blame the administration — just: don’t interact with the media.


Why should I expect anything from B&B and Deccan Herald in this setting? At least Legally India tried – it included the nice and fresh and sanitised SBA statement. God, gotta hate lawyers when it comes to talking about feelings and emotions. Ugh. Well, anyway, I don’t know who B&B spoke to, but definitely not to her close friends.


“Chronic abdominal pain.” Pain. Does an organisation founded by NLSIU alumni not know anything about pain at all? The pain that comes from the weight of expectations. The pain of being isolated from even the closest of your friends because the college will remind you, through rank lists and the RCC rigmarole, that they are ultimately your competitors. The pain of having to knock on the doors of the administration time and time again, to request them to understand that you’re seriously unwell. Or the pain of having to spend hours convincing the administration that your medical condition is extremely serious. The pain of knowing that the hopelessly romantic writer in you means nothing to your potential employers – all they care about are your grades, and, if you happen to be a woman, your marriage plans.


***


We got one decent email from the faculty. Professor Rashmi Venkatesan. She treated it like an actual event that had taken place on campus and said we could grieve with her. Most others treated it like a news item. ‘A student from NLSIU was found dead in her room’. If it were really just GERD that led to the suicide and if that’s all that her note said, why weren’t we allowed to tell the media that she died by suicide because of GERD? Why take that power away from us as batchmates, friends, people who were grieving? Why centralise that power in the hands of the SBA office bearers and the Registrar and the VC? Well, it doesn’t make too much sense, or any good sense at least, if you’re part of the student body. But it makes perfect sense if you’re part of the administration. It’s not nice to speculate what led to her death. It’s easy for things to get sensationalised by the media. Plus, most importantly, just like I’m projecting things right now, others would have done it too, at the time. Maybe it really just was GERD. Maybe that’s just how debilitating the disease was for her.


I wonder what GERD did to the artist in her. She was a really good poet, as the SBA statement does not fail to record. A few minutes after the official, VC-led ‘moment of silence’ had ended and the VC had left the building, her closest friends took over the microphone and recited a poem she wrote. I don’t remember much of it. I think it was about Kashmir, and it contained the word firdaus. Maybe there were two different poems. But anyway, did she stop writing because of the pain? Did she write in and about the pain?


The B&B and Deccan Herald articles do grave injustice to Nishi’s memory. Just like B&B did to Kanishk Bharti, another batchmate that died by suicide. 2019. I don’t remember the date. I was on exchange, and was in Budapest for a vacation with my (now) wife and some of my batchmates. One of the said batchmates checked her phone, made a phone call, and was suddenly crying.


Did B&B even publish anything about Kanishk? Certainly nothing worth remembering. Quite unlike what it did for Rohit Mammen Alex or Shamnad Basheer. B&B is just an example – they’re all the same. Overworked and understaffed organisations, with underpaid staff struggling to meet deadlines because of the large volume of work, thanks to the loosely defined objectives of the website. More importantly, perhaps the lives of those who have already graduated from NLSIU matter more. Our work and “vision” make for a better webinar topic than the failings of the top law school of the country in addressing the loneliness and dread that more than half of its young adult students face on a day to day basis. As for what the college did? Ah, let’s do full show-sha about Shamnad Basheer and Rohit. They were alumni, after all. “Deferred dividends”, as a former VC often said. Potential donors! What good is a student, anyway? Just a liability. One lesser source of complaints. Good riddance.


Don’t get me wrong. Shamnad really is a hero and if I could inculcate in myself even 10% of the compassion and determination he had, I would do well in life. Rohit was an inspiration to many, and, having worked on a case that that had previously been with his office (before it came to mine), I really admire the meticulousness with which he went about his practice. Similarly, B&B is my favourite legal news medium. Okay, it’s tied with LiveLaw, but you get the point. I don’t think of B&B as some legal-education fixing organisation and don’t hold them responsible for anything. But, I do hold NLSIU responsible, the institution and the community (including myself). Maybe this whole piece is a way of alleviating my own survivor’s guilt. Who knows?


What we do know well is that suicides are social phenomena. Honestly, I did not know either of them well enough to really have the right to write about them (Nishi and Kanishk). But having spent about 1/5th of my life at NLSIU, I can talk about what college was like, sometimes. Now, this is going to sound extremely clinical and instrumental so please forgive me, but, in a Durkheimian sense, both the suicides (Nishi’s and Kanishk’s) were egoistic. It came from a sense of not belonging, not being integrated in a community (at least that’s what I thought at the time).


And that problem continues to exist for students at NLSIU. Yes, 30-odd of them do form Basketball and Throwball teams at the beginning of the year, 10 of them do form a hyper-exclusive Soundcheck band for performing at Strawberry Fields, and all of them are also on some committee or board or alliance or group or some such thing. But the place is just so isolating, my god. Just like all other top law schools of the world. Or the whole world, really. People are encouraged to do things on their own, whether it’s work or processing emotions. You’re an individual first and foremost. Go to a counsellor, shoo. Don’t bring your mess to us. Here, take one counsellor and one nurse, all 500 of you (there are more of them now, I know).


***


It's not November 15 today. I used to dread November 15 for a few years. In 2015 and 2016, we lost one student each on that date. Vats Pramod. He died of Malaria during an internship in Niyamgiri. I could be wrong about the place. I had such a hard time recollecting Vats’ name, the name of the ‘other person’ who passed away on November 15. Despite the fact that I had written a poignant Facebook post about him a day after he passed away! He lives on in the form of a prize or an award that has been instituted after his name by the MPP division. [1]


Nothing for Nishi. That’s okay. We undergraduates have neither the time nor the maturity to process loss. We will forget Nishi. Slowly, but surely. For those other than her close friends, she will become just another college ‘dropout’ – a person who was an integral part of the National Law Prison of India University community, until she decided to escape before serving her time. Like those dropouts, she left too soon. And like them, she’s probably better off for it.


[1] Editorial Note: The author is referring to the Vats Pramod Memorial Medal, awarded every year at the Convocation to the Best Performing Student in the MPP Programme.


 

Ashwin and the Quirk Team are working on putting together in memoriam pieces as a way to honour the memory of Nishi. If you knew her in any capacity, and wish to contribute with your memories of her, please reach out to us at quirk@nls.ac.in or drop us a message on our social media handles. You can also reach Ashwin on Twitter at @AshwinPantula with thoughts on the piece or your memories of Nishi.

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