to start living
With a 93 percent success rate in the entrance exams of elite engineering institutes,
an independent coaching centre for the underprivileged in Bihar shows how the right guidance
can usher in social justice
About 10 years ago, I met Anand Kumar in the office of Uttam Sengupta, the Patna editor of The Times of India. He was in simple garb, and had an air of confidence. The meeting was not special in any way. We talked a bit about mathematics. I hadn’t imagined at the time that this chance meeting in another’s office would in a decade blossom into such a special relationship that would shape the lives of so many girls and boys. Even today, Anand retains that refreshing simplicity, although he is now a well-known public figure.
Anand began seeing me regularly. I grew aware of his sincerity and realised that apart from his obvious confidence, he was a man with a mission in life, and was ready to go to great lengths for it without sacrificing the basic principles of humanity. Guided by his peers, Anand honed his teaching skills to the extent that he started his own Ramanujan School of Mathematics, which was not just the bread-earner for Anand and his family, but was also popular with those sitting for the joint entrance examination (JEE) for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). I seemed to have found the person I was looking for. Later, Anand disclosed that Uttam Sengupta had advised him to strike up a friendship with me.
Meanwhile, I got deeply involved in tutoring my daughter and son. The teacher in me that I was blissfully ignorant of had surfaced one night when I came home late from work and found mother and son having a wordy row over poor mathematics marks in a routine class I class test. As the blame was being rudely shifted to the father, I decided to face the matter squarely. Before I could plan a roadmap for this encounter (it was a first in my life) I blurted out, “Which is the biggest number in the world?” Seriousness descended on the proceedings. Shwetank, my son, said thoughtfully, “There can’t be such a number, for I can always add one to it.” The child had discovered the concept of infinity in mathematics and I had at the same time discovered a teacher in a policeman. In my own childhood, my father, another top cop of repute, encouraged me to think laterally. He too had the ability of asking questions that would turn the issue on its head. This helped me see things in all their dimensions.
My interactions with my two children had led me to believe in a dictum: A teacher never gives the right answers; he keeps asking the right questions. It was fate again that brought me close to another educational institution. My son was admitted to class IV in the Rama Krishna Mission at Deoghar (now in Jharkhand), and I got involved in the activities of this residential school. I found myself happily asking the schoolchildren thought-provoking questions. The children learnt how to apply their knowledge-worth to a problem at hand, and I learnt the way children of generation next think on the issues facing them. I was definitely rediscovering myself. Helping others think for themselves was more satisfying than thinking for oneself.
It was perhaps a process of re-graduating along with my children and their contemporaries. I was becoming a counsellor of sorts. Physics provided me with a base, as this was the subject I loved most, and could talk about with ease. Mathematics is a close cousin of physics, and so I had some areas in common with Anand. Later, as I grew up, it was a revelation to learn that mathematics is more a language than a subject, that it can carry any subject, not only the sciences. It is a way of thinking and a very logical, accurate way, at that. Debating with myself, I have almost convinced myself that apart from theism, mathematics is God’s own language. I still love teaching physics but I cannot deny that my affair with mathematics continues unabated.
My children got into IIT; Richa graduated from Roorkee and Shwetank from Delhi. Anand helped them at times with mathematics. The void was felt after both my children had left home for college. I did not want to lose whatever I had learnt in the process of their development. My association with Anand came in handy, and ‘Super 30’ was born. That was about five years ago.
Super 30 was a pious concept: pick out poor but talented students, those who could not afford the luxury of coaching for JEE, and give them the last push that would send them into the IITs. The road map was clearly laid out, the mission statement was more than clear, there was no financial backup and yet there was a resolute conviction that no financial help would be either sought or taken. We could clearly see the road ahead. The journey had to begin, and did begin, with 30 students. These students were literally on a sea voyage – not in an ocean liner but in a decrepit wooden boat, manned by sailors who were charting the course on a solo run. What was abundantly present was the belief that we had in each other, and the ever-growing desire to explode myths.
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an Indian Police Service officer, and Anand Kumar run ‘Super 30’, a
tutorial centre for underprivileged students in Patna. Though caste
is not of consequence for Super 30, a large chunk of its students are
from the backward castes. Once
a university topper himself, Abhayanand is now Assistant Director General
of Police, Patna. Anand Kumar, once a brilliant student from a poor
family who couldn’t afford Cambridge University in spite of being selected,
is now a mathematics teacher determined to help poor but talented students