Is the so-called choking game popular in the US catching up in India too? At least that is what the parents of a boy of Mumbai found hanging last fortnight say.
13-year-old Gaurang Dalvi, a high school student in India's commercial metropolis, had been found hanging at his residence. Initially the death was attributed to academic pressure. But his parents now claim that it was not suicide but a game of dare that went horribly wrong.
Mondira and Mangesh Dalvi had steered clear of the press in the days following the incident even as speculation spiralled. The two finally broke their silence on Tuesday morning — Gaurang's birthday — saying they wanted to share their story with other parents.
"Everybody who came to our house for a condolence visit wanted to know why a happy-go-lucky boy with lots of friends had taken his life. Even we couldn't understand it," says his mother, a teacher in the same school where he studied.
"The incident occurred on the afternoon of December 6. I was in my bedroom and Gaurang's grandmother was in his room. He asked his grandmother to leave the room for a while. The incident occurred in the 15 minutes that she was out of the room."
They said they received a phone call a little after he shut the door that day. They could hear a bunch of boys and girls giggling in the background while a boy asked, "Gaurang, are you dead as yet?" Before they could respond, the line was disconnected.
They grew suspicious only after a time as they had not heard of choking games. When they finally broke in, it was too late.
"If only we had had any inkling of such a thing, we could have prevented it. But it was much later only we heard five students were planning to try this out on the same day. Since Gaurang was plump, they probably thought he should try the stunt first, as it would take longer for the oxygen supply to get cut from his brain," says Gaurang's father Mangesh.
Although the Dalvis did not have an internet connection on their home computer, and the only access to the Net at home was on the father's laptop, which was supervised, they feel that he must have heard of the game through friends and participated in order to win the approval of his peers.
The couple do not want the police to investigate the identity of the other children involved in the deadly game. They believe that all the children involved were ignorant of the consequences and said they had learnt of the existence of websites that taught children how to cut off oxygen supply to the brain in order to get a temporary 'high'.
There is now a group called the Dylan Blake Foundation in the US, founded by a parent who lost an 11-year-old son in 2005 to such a game. It says there were at least 40 deaths and 5 serious injuries resulting from choking games in the United States alone last year. Its hanging almost, only in the last minute one extricates oneself after experiencing a surge of blood to the brain. It goes by various names like space cowboy and cloud nine.
16-year-old Levi Draher of San Antonio in Texas, who almost died of the game, is now an active campaigner against it. He had passed out faster than he could react, his brain deprived of oxygen for more than three minutes.
He was clinically dead. He spent three days in a coma followed by a regimen of anti-seizure drugs before recovering.
Increasingly teenagers are seeing such choking games on Internet sites like YouTube, and playing them in even more threatening variations, it is feared.