Thousands and thousands of adolescents roam in the lanes and roads of this congested city of Rajasthan for getting admission to a prestigious institution after school. It seems ironical that only a small percentage will meet their dream. And by the time they will meet their dream, so much would have changed. Years would have passed. They would have missed active schooling for years. They would be pinned to their seats for endless hours. They would not play. They would forget how to enjoy this bridging age between childhood and adulthood. Those who meet their dream lose their adolescence. Those who do not meet their dream lose so much more. They become cynical. The bulk in Kota grows negative in attitude. They realize the futility of effort so early in life. They realize that they are mediocre. They start believing in categories of human beings. Some are talented; others are ordinary. Possibilities die. There’s nothing to life except R.D. Sharma, Gorakh Prasad, S.L. Loni, Irodov, and so on.
Once I met a boy who called himself Swapnil at the Railway station. We were waiting for Dayodaya Express at platform number four. I asked him as to which coaching institute he belonged. He said, ‘None’. I was surprised because on my various visits to the place, I had met a number of parents and a number of students at Railway station, auto-taxies, different shops, parks, mall, and even roads who were always ready to share their insight into the place and scheme of things there.
This boy, however, said, ‘It’s all over, Aunty. I come from Jhansi. First when I came, friends told me to enjoy life first and study later. I started enjoying life. Roadside eating, video gaming, friendship, movies and even smoking at times - I had it all. Then I got into trouble. I had a fight with a friend. There was a police case. I had to return back to Jhansi. I came only to give my board exams because my school is here.’ His father, he said, was a railway employee. He was deeply philosophical. He had his statistics ready. Out of every twenty five students that you see in Kota, one gets a decent institute. The rest are getting exploited and are becoming ‘duniyadar’ (worldly-wise).
There is truth in what Swapnil had said. The fact that my son has secured a very high all India rank, does not take away the pain of lakhs of students hopelessly loitering in Kota. Teachers of the very best batch, in which my son studied, often demoralized students. ‘Why do you stare?’, ‘Why do you look outside?’, ‘Get out of the class.’ – from such comments to – ‘There’s nothing in IITs. I’ve been there. The food is even poorer than what you get here. Parties go on during nights. Boys eat and drink.’ The very desire of the child to go to the truly world-class institutes of India gets dampened. Only we as parents know the harrowing time we had while our very hard-working, studious, sincere, talented boy remained at Kota for two years. Settling at the most expensive arrangement, even simple dal and chapattis were not available. Extremely oily food, extortionist attitude of landlords, misguiding elements everywhere - we didn’t know how to actually manage.
The city as such is choked with over population. Sewage water overflows on roads. Every nook and corner, especially bricks on sewage lines have food stalls where the children of India fill their hunger.
We simply didn’t know which way to go, what to do. Except for frequently visiting the child, bringing whatever things we could, going to all nearby places for little things, sometimes, getting food from one place, sometimes, ordering porridge, sometimes, fruits and milk- we didn’t know how to get clean and simple dal, chapatti, vegetable for our child. One arrangement would work for fifteen days. Then, something would crop up. Servants are not ready to cook porridge for one boy or the food from the hotel is also as oily as that of the hostel. More than ninety percent of students who live in Kota suffer from jaundice. All hostels have water purifiers, duly disconnected from the show-piece machine and tab water flows freely. For full two years, packed mineral water alone was our true companion at Kota. ‘Pani ki peti’ – one peti after another. God bless Bisleri!
I sometimes wondered that even standing in a corner of a lane would cost me some money. Once, when I was returning from the nearby park after a walk, three moms ‘gheraoed’ (gathered) around me. They were utilizing their time by doing some extremely peaceful, spiritual course. Knowing that they had a Professor at hand, they were over enthused and would not let me go till I promised to visit their morning session the next morning. Coupons, fees, peace guaranteed, blood pressure down, ability to cope with frustration, certificate after completing the course, and a promise that once caught up, I would never leave the group – nothing could make me go for the ‘shanti’ course. Everyone sells something in Kota. ‘Kota saree’, Kota Kachori’, - everybody is out to fleece you.
Business, business, business; life is business in Kota. Kuber, the money god, is showering his handful on one and all in Kota. A room of your own in Kota is worth seven lives anywhere else. Regular income, young lives to spoil, round the clock entertainment- what more do you want from life. ‘ Kya karate hai tere Papa, Tujhse milne nahi aaye, Kya karega itna padh kar, ja, thoda ghoom kar aa, mind fresh kar ke aa’ - the tone of Kota! They know how to touch the sensibility of the adolescent.
Once I was strolling outside in the hostel premises, when voices from the upper floor emerged. The ‘chalu’ (tricky) boy was teaching the ‘lallu’ (simple) boy, ‘If you come 500, you’ll get the same college as when you get 1st rank. So why, toil for 1st rank? Let’s roam around. I’ll show you secrets of Kota.’ The language was all strewn with abuses.
Every four or five months, a suicide is reported in newspapers. The notes are usually similar, ‘I have lost the battle. I can’t do it. I’ve failed my parents.’ Drugs and criminal activities thrive during nights. Boys run away for becoming cricket stars, or making quick bucks or just for fun.
And then comes the season of trapping once in every year. Faculties are bought and sold; taken over by rival coaching centers. Even meritorious students are trapped. Rival coaching institutions offer money. Institutions are toppled. The newspaper headlines in this season read like, ‘Twenty best faculty of a particular institute have joined another institute’. And then would follow ‘bhed chal’. Just as one sheep follows the other and all sheep move in one group in one direction, bulk of students desert their old institute and join the other institute.
Kota really made me think a lot. It’s true that students get to know their actual merit on the national level when they study at Kota. There’s competition. The teachers of the coaching institutes are highly qualified; they often come from IITs. Schools can never dream to provide such high quality training which these coaching institutes impart. But can’t there be some other mechanism, some online test series, or easily available course where candidates may get to know their actual merit. Why all the kids have to be stuffed at one place? Adolescents of the same size, moms and dads also of the same size, with same worry lines over the forehead, ‘Will he make it? Will he? Won’t he?’ When people say that 12th class marks will also count for entering prestigious institutions, it becomes all the more scary. With rampant copying, cheating and corruption at several schools, merit could be sidelined. It could be a mockery of our institutions.
Personally, we could make our Kota decision the right decision by untiring labor, care, travel, expense and observation. But, there must be some more healthy option available for the children of our country. Landlords, and hostel managements keep fleecing money. Parents from lower economic strata often sell their land in order to send their children to a better future via Kota. For hundreds of coaching institutes, children are mere numbers. No personal attention is ever given. Children blindly work for striking gold. I’ve met so many students who say that initially nothing is comprehendible in the coaching class. It’s assumed that the students already know Vector, or Calculus or whatever it is. Every month there’s this death date in the form of review test. If the student doesn’t keep his position or improve it he would be pushed to a lower batch.
The whole existence gets down to A1, P1, P2, Z1 and only God knows what. The pressure is just that a pressure cooker. If parent don’t become safety valves, anything can happen. Or, students become relaxed. Children start talking like parents, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’ll keep trying. Let’s see what happens. It’s only the effort that’s in our hands. The rest is in the hands of God.’ Astrologers too have their nooks and corners. Children give money and the red-colored forehead would give them some solace, ‘Next time. Sure. You’ll make it.’ I’ve seen it all with my own eyes. I experienced so many ‘lost and found’ cases during my Kota sojourns. Some old school time senior or elder sister of sister’s friend, colliding somewhere in IL temple or mall, ‘Aren’t you Shubha?’ Of course I’m Shubha. It’s a pain to see how the lives of Indian parents revolve around their children. ‘Bachche ko banaanaa hai’; the child is to be made into an officer, moneyed engineer or successful doctor.
I don’t have a concrete, practical substitute for ‘study at Kota’ option. But it’s an option full of risks, troubles, and even dangers. Parents must know everything before pushing their child into the rat race. So many ladies leave their homes and settle at Kota for two years for the child to complete coaching. I’ve met groups of mothers from Bilaspur, Hoshangabad and other such places who leaving their husbands and homes behind, live in Kota for their cynosure to enter an IIT or a medical institute. Is it really worth it? All the Kotians will say, ‘If the child is successful, then, yes, it’s worth it; otherwise not.’ But apart from success or failure, there should be some logic, some justice in this prolonged stay at Kota. Sometimes I view Kota as the sacrificing altar of old times. Children have to pay the price; parents have to pay the price; only Kotians receive the price.
What I want to say is that it is really tough; tough for the child, tough for the parents. And it’s an open lottery for Kotians.