Newspapers on Monday were flooded with success stories from different parts of the country after the announcement of the JEE Advanced results over the weekend. Fortunately for the chosen ones, they won’t have to face the wrath of the ‘society’, but spare a thought for those, out of these 1,70,000-plus, who couldn’t make the cut. Not to say that they were less deserving or put in lesser efforts, but it probably was just not their day. (Though some might have appeared just because they had filled the forms)

We read about how various kids from the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) go on to achieve great things in life, but what happens to the also-rans in this mad rat race?

Some of them choose to write stuff like what you’re reading right now, and don’t die anonymous deaths. But some others are perennially stuck in this viciously competitive circularity, that too in a manner that they’re unable to ever come out of it. And the seeds of this diseased tree are planted right when the clay is wet.

Catch ’em young

Coming from a small town, the pressure to ‘achieve’ had been thrust upon right from a very young age. More so because many of my classmates were extraordinarily smart when it came to academics (more than 80 percent from the class’ top 15 rankers went on to study in one of the top 10 engineering/medical colleges in the country). So I joined the same tuitions as they did, because, of course, getting good marks was everything.

In as early as my eighth grade, the tuition teacher had put it in our heads that the ones who don’t make it into the IITs end up doing nothing but watching grass grow. My colleagues were lured by the bait of earning ‘crores of Rupees every year’ upon graduating from these colleges and concentrated all their efforts into making this dream come true. Cut out of a different cloth, I couldn’t understand how this was the only way to succeed in life and turned into a rebel.

(It’s therefore not surprising how parents still ask questions like these on Quora)

But having soon shifted to a different city due to my father’s job, I was away from all these friends and was somehow motivated to strive hard like them. I ended up scoring as good as many of them in my 10th board exams and was amazingly now neck-to-neck with them in my head, having opted for the same subjects in the last two years of high school.

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Part of the same race

Little did I know that by the time 11th grade began in the summer of 2006, many of them had already joined coaching classes and were two months into entrance exam preparations. Some of them had even moved to Kota in Rajasthan, which was radially spreading around the much-famed Bansal Classes as the hub for IIT preps back then.

(Yes, the same town out where multiple teenage suicides take place due to the pressure to succeed)

With financial constraints and a deafening lack of clarity, I had to stay back in my hometown of Indore with the words of my former tutor ringing in my head as I put my first steps into one of Indore’s best coaching classes, for the exam previously called the IIT-JEE.

Life under this roof hit me with the intensity of a wrecking ball. The sheer number of students who were a part of the institution could easily populate an entire IIT campus in the country today. And then came the faculty. On the first day was a series of orientation speeches, one of which I clearly remember. The gentleman welcomed us to the world ‘without movies and cellphones.

‘Nothing that distracts you, even friends, should be part of your lives from this day onward. You have to devote at least 12 hours to studies everyday,’ said the dude without remotely acknowledging our social life or the fact that we go to school as well.

Same story

As the days wore on, my interest started deteriorating in this dance of headless chickens; but opting out wasn’t an option either because my parents had already made several sacrifices to deposit the exorbitant annual fee of the institute at one go. The rebel in me thus spent most of the time gaming at PlayStation parlours or in the company of some truly hopeless folks.

As the shine wore off, I finally mustered the courage to inform my father that I’ll track back from my chosen path and will not prepare for the entrance exam next year. I then went on to live an average 12th grader’s life, although always inferior to what my contemporaries were up to.

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But once the 12th board CBSE results were announced, it suddenly came to me that there is no other way to life for an engineering aspirant without facing the wrath of IIT-JEE preparations. It entailed taking a gap year to prepare for the exam for another year after school. Despite putting in dozens of hours, I still couldn’t make it and realised that my friends had moved on so far ahead in life. They would be earning heaps of money within some years and I’m here unsure of whether I’ll even make it past college.

After getting admitted to a second-grade engineering college, it took at least two years for me to get over this trauma of failure in life; that, in addition to a curtailed social life and many extra kilos of fat on my body during the preparations.

Need for correction

Today, one might laugh my story off as a thing of the past, where people had limited awareness and a dearth of choices. They might even call me a whiner because I wasn’t good enough and am supposedly making excuses for my failure. I have no qualms in being guilty as charged at this age today and I’m even ready to withdraw any unfair criticism of the coaching classes, who actually didn’t come to my doorstep to invite me for admission. It was by choice that I took that road.

But my heart goes out to all the kids who couldn’t cross the final hurdle in this year’s results. I can deal with that resulting trauma as an adult today, but there’s very little support for the young ones out there, who will be subjected to Sharma-ji-ka-beta-esque comparisons and will gradually develop a complex, which some of them could well be unable to cope with even for the rest of their lives.

So dear parents and educationists, people like me might not be the Nandan Nilekanis or the Sachin Bansals or even the Rahul Yadavs of the world, but we’re not doing too bad either. It’s a plea to let kids be kids at this age and just ensure that they become good human beings, without comporting on their childhoods. The rest will follow.

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