Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
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Oil on canvas by MURALI NAGAPUZHA

Improvising and configuring were the key concepts of our effort. A small room bereft of even plaster on the walls, with a tin roof, creaking benches and a piece of wood painted black for a board. The ambience was conducive enough for the JEE aspirants to cohabit with rodents. And they did. I had to boost my skills as a teacher so that I could present a more engrossing discussion in class than the playful display by the rats. We could not afford a separate dining space for the students. In fact they were thankful to us for they considered it a privilege if someone cooked food for them. The classroom was converted into a dining space, and students would use this time to discuss nuances of JEE subjects very passionately. In fact, they seemed to enjoy discussing issues amongst themselves much more than listening to monologues in class. The lesson here was that students gained more through synergy generated within than from outside. Anand and I realised that we could only act as catalysts to initiate a reaction that could only be carried forward by the students themselves. Luckily, the children were extremely hard working and ready to slog it out. We held several tests under simulated conditions. I would jokingly tell Anand to try waking up the students from deep sleep and handing them a JEE test paper. My bet was that they would not think twice before answering the first question they saw. In short, the fear of IIT JEE was completely wiped out. For our students, the real JEE would become just another practice examination of Super 30.

This paid off and continues to do so. The fear of the IIT JEE is the main source of trouble. Even capable students are stumped by this fear and finally beaten in the race. We had realised very early in our effort that it is not only the algebraic sum of one’s knowledge of the three subjects but also self-confidence that is the key to success. Our students would not for a moment think that they might not figure in the final list of successful candidates. “I am waiting to see my rank, Sir!” was their typical refrain. This confidence came largely from the elimination of the fear of JEE. I kept wondering whether the process I was experimenting with was similar to that of anaesthetisation. Even if it was, I believe it to be a vibrant and lively one.

The JEE 2003 results were declared. Our score: 18 out of 30 were successful. Encouraging, to say the least. Some lessons were learnt, some experiences had to be followed, some had to be edited out and mid-course corrections made on the roadmap. And so began our second effort. Thanks to the local press, word spread. This time we had more than 1,000 applicants to choose the 30 from. We could afford the luxury of written tests. The next group had begun the climb for JEE 2004.

We were more organised, we avoided the pitfalls and tried not only to do things right but also to do the right things. Positive experiences were stored and the negative ones rejected. Feedback from the students who had qualified and those who had not, was taken in great detail and analysed along with our class test results. In our management group we have a person who hasn’t had formal education, but has excellent observation skills. He has developed the uncanny knack of sighting confidence — or its lack — in students. To our surprise, his forecast of results was closer to reality than our class results predicted. I have made serious efforts to fathom his way of figuring out this much-touted ‘confidence’. But I must admit I still have not. He is a very valued member of our team.

JEE 2004 was more intense. Our students showed their prowess. The result: 22 out of 30. It was an improvement both in quantity and quality. Ranks were better than the first time. Our efforts had started making news at a local level, while rumblings were heard in other parts of the country. Some called it a gurukul, some said it was a factory. People had various ways of describing our efforts. Whichever way we looked at it, this activity had started attracting attention. The son of a brick kiln worker, a watch-maker or a three-wheeler driver were finding their way into IIT. It was helping similarly placed students to begin dreaming and realising their dreams. For the media, our activity was changing from space in coverage of news to presenting views. Bolstered as we were by the accolades, our resolution became even more firm.

The third batch had taken off. This time we had more than 3,000 applicants. As always, we took in 30. We put in redoubled efforts. We had almost become professionals, answering questions and satisfying or trying to satisfy the curiosity of parents and guardians. It was more difficult clearing the doubts of parents than the actual task of coaching. I realised the amount of damage that doting parents can do to their children. Those who had faith in our group would leave us to our job, and their wards would do much better than the wards of those who peered into whatever we did and tried to interfere with their half-baked information. Faith is the key word. If one has faith in a process, it can give wondrous results; on the contrary, lack of faith can draw a naught from an otherwise highly organised process.

This batch had thrown up an even better result — 26 out of 30 — with even better ranks. Super 30’s results — 18, 22, 26 — were going up in arithmetic progression. People had started saying that we should be getting a perfect score in our next effort. This was not to be, but people were waking up to our activity with greater interest.

We had started receiving calls and mails from far and wide suggesting that we accept financial help with a view to increasing the intake number from 30 and to improve the infrastructural facilities. A lot of thinking went into it and it was ultimately decided that we should not accept any financial help from anyone, whether an individual or an institution. It was also decided that we would stick to 30 students. Once decided, we shot off prompt replies to all our well-wishers saying we needed only their good wishes.

The fourth batch had even better results to offer. More than 6,000 applicants, 30 taken in. The JEE board had announced a change in the examination pattern. As if the fears of JEE was not enough, the fear of the unknown was added to it. Our brave boys faced up to the challenge and weathered the storm. The final outcome was 28 out of 30, with the best rank being All India Rank 10. This time the media got more curious and explored all aspects of our activity. By now every part of our activity had become transparent and porous as well. Till now, the government had not been at all amused. On this occasion, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar not only personally congratulated the boys, but also announced a cash grant of Rs 50,000 for each successful poor student.

So much for the entry into IIT. It must be clear by now that we do not get any financial return from this venture. Yet we do ask for a guru-dakhsina from students. Give back to society what you have got, if not more.

May God bless this concept of Super 30 and may the world see more such Super 30s. For only when we can open up opportunities otherwise blocked for the underprivileged can we aspire for a just and equitable society.

p. 1 p. 2


Abhayanand, 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
to chase their dreams