On the IIT’s, the coaching centers and Mr.Murthy’s statement…

“I didn’t even know there was something called facebook or for that matter much about internet
until I reached college” – says a friend of mine. A rather shocking statement considering the fact that he is of the same age as me and I on the other hand knew much about facebook right in my 10th std and about internet a couple years before that.

That statement made me a little curious, it was not like he didn’t have a computer at home or anything, so I ask him how he wasn’t aware of the trend that was rising like a wave, gathering everyone’s attention and probably was becoming a part of everyone’s life, to which he says “Arey try to understand, I was in one of those coaching centre’s in Andhra preparing for IIT”.

Nothing new really- “preparing for IIT” was a standard answer you would get from every other person, in his 12th class in the country, in fact even I had done it or rather I was seen doing it, perhaps one of the many false images people have/had about me. But in spite of my so called preparation, (I did attend coaching classes) I wasn’t like him, I was indeed aware of the things around be it the facebook or the other prominent things that happened. This fact made me a little more inquisitive and so I asked him on how he could have missed such a big thing.

“Buddy you don’t understand how it is like in Andhra. I had joined a reputed coaching institute during my 11th and 12th class, a residential one”. Apparently his parent’s had put him there probably hoping that he would one of those success stories those institute’s always advertised of, and they thought that he would be one of those “gifted” few who would ultimately enter the premier institute- the IIT.

It’s sad that he is not in an IIT now, he had missed the cutoff by less than 10 marks and he was telling me all this sitting right next me, in the college canteen! I’m little saddened by the fact that he had missed it by a mere 10 marks and at the same time I’m drawn into his story. To me what he said after this was completely indigestible and the fact that for everything he said I could see myself in his position made the feeling even more horrible.

“Life there is worse than being in a jail” he says. A typical day of his begins at 5:45 in the morning with a loud thud on the door signaling that it’s time for the machine within him to start. “They give us 15 minutes for our daily routines and by the stroke of 6 we’re supposed to be at a classroom for the 1st study hour of the day- 6:00 to 7:30”-he says.

At 7:30 the breakfast is served and by 8:00 the regular school begins. They teach only math, physics and chemistry and this continues until 1 in the afternoon. After 1 is their longest break he says, exactly 1 hr for lunch which he says is the same old stuff- rice and some curry, nothing new. I ask him by mistake if they serve fried rice or biriyani and he’s quite amused at that and tells me that those are forbidden words because they think a fried rice or biriyani can hamper his preparations!

By 2:00p.m you’re supposed to be back at the classroom for the day’s 2nd study hr- 2:00 to 4:45p.m. After that it’s break time for 45 minutes, and at 5:30 it’s time for him to go back again – the 3rd study hour- 5:30 to 8:30. Half an hour for dinner and again from 9:00 it’s study time again right up to 12 midnight.

All this is fine he says, he doesn’t like the weekends much, there is no school on weekends, which means its study time from 6:00a.m to 12 midnight with only 3 breaks totaling to 3hrs, solid studying for 15 hrs! At this point I become a little nosy and ask him what happens if someone sits in front of the book and sleeps to which he calmly replies- “Menon, you don’t think they’re fools right? They make us study in classrooms where we have a supervisor in every corner, everyone is given an individual bench and in case the supervisor finds you sleeping he will just come and poke you with the long stick he always carries”.

I was totally shocked on hearing that and next I ask him whether they get to see news and matches on TV if any. The moment I ask that he’s thinks I’m mad- “leave alone the news or sports on TV man! they don’t even allow us to read newspapers inside the campus!”. There is not even enough time to have a bath” he says. To him having a bath was a luxury, which he says is something he could afford to do only once in 3 days during the summer and once in 5 during the winter.

What about going home? Do they allow that? I ask next and he says – “Yes, twice in a year and if we’re lucky we might have a telengana bandh. We’re allowed to go home during these days too. And as far as parent’s coming here is concerned, they’re allowed only once in a year for our birthdays’.

And monthly once we’re allowed to go out but only for a haircut that too for a maximum of 45 minutes”- he says. He seemed happy when he said the last statement and I ask him what makes those 45 min so special. He says that those 45minutes according to him is the most precious time- a time when he can go to the nearby shop to get some biriyani or fried rice parceled and throw those packets to his friends who would be waiting near the back gate.

I was completely out of words when I heard that, that was something terrible I just heard and I was sure it can’t get worse than that. Shocking indeed!

The fact that they were being taught only math, physics and chemistry made me ask him about the board exams. “It’s simple. Board exams are like a cake walk for us. We hardly study for a day. 3 days before the exam they tell us all the probable questions and we’re asked to by-heart all the answers.

Only problem is with physics, since the answers are pretty long it takes time for us to do it, but still we mange it quite easily” -he says. That is not all he reminds me –“at 9:00 p.m on the day before the exams they hand us the question papers along with the sets. We are asked to practice those until 2 in the morning. How much more easy can it get, huh?” – he asks me.

WTF??? That’s even more shocking to me, I mean how can a system like that even exist, question papers along with the sets leaked out on the previous night – I raise that point to which he replies- “Dude common it’s an open secret, everyone knows it’s the case here in Andhra!”

In the beginning I thought he was doing a bit of exaggeration when he said Jail was better but then after hearing this I could do nothing but empathize with this poor soul. I just couldn’t imagine their plight, those grueling study hours, the rude supervisor, the endless wait for their biriyani’s…

And at the end of all this I ask him- “How could you ever cope up man? How did you even survive? Aren’t you angry at your parent’s?” Surprisingly I did not find any regret on his face, in fact he was smiling and he coolly said- “Never man! My parent’s only did what everyone else in Andhra does. And moreover I’m happy they put me there otherwise I wouldn’t even have reached where I’m now!”

In a country where every other child is brought up with a fixed goal in front of him – to somehow get in to an IIT – it doesn’t come as a surprise when someone like Mr. Narayan Murthy comes out with a statement that the quality of students in deteriorating. I find it quite evident, for there are many students in these premier institutes who have got in from coaching centre’s like the one described above and I’m pretty sure that almost all of those lucky ones will have a story like the one above.

Many people did get offended by what Mr. Murthy said but I think we need to accept facts and that was something someone had to say at one point or another. It’s indeed a wakeup call to our system, we do need to buck up because 20yrs down the line I don’t think we would want someone like Mr. Murthy to say- “Oh! IIT? – Just another engineering college!”

I was actually flabbergasted by the way my friend responded to that last question I asked him. I think if I were him I would have definitely cursed myself and my parent’s for ruining 2yrs of my life. Incredible, that reply I thought!

Vijay Menon