I Never Spoke About How The JEE Destroyed My Self-Esteem, Until ‘Kota Factory’ Came Along

I had never been able to put into words the two years that I spent in Kota. There were too many reasons for it. The whole experience left me quite vulnerable as it was the first time in my life that I had failed miserably at something I yearned for. I was too scared of judgment.

The years went by so quick and I was lost. Before I realised what happened to me, it was all over. But after watching the first episode of TVF’s Kota Factory. I had the two years that were lost for lack of recall, flash before me. And for the first time, I felt that I could put myself out there. For judgment, for scrutiny or even better, for someone else to take a more informed call than I did.

Why IIT?

I have, like all kids, been easily influenced by what people have to say. When they said Funskool had the best Beyblades, I wanted only Funskool Beyblades. When they said Barbie made the priciest and most coveted dolls, I wanted just that. I think it holds true for all individuals who are blessed with grit and ambition or are used to having their way. We want the best for ourselves.

The difference between wanting the Beyblades and Barbies and wanting the IITs is that while the former can be acquired by money the latter is sheer labour and an aptitude for the sciences like no other.

JEE aspirants. (Photo: Ramesh Sharma for India Today Group via Getty Images)

I was never the brightest kid when it came to science or math. I scored well because I worked at it. It did not come to me by default. Like a senior once told me, “JEE tera tab hi hoga agar tujhse R.D. Sharma bina solution dekhe lag jata hai,” (you can crack JEE only if you can solve R.D.Sharma – a tenth grade math problem book without looking for their solutions). Well, I couldn’t, to be honest. After so many years, I still can’t.

The decision to opt for a career in engineering was, therefore, flawed. I should have pursued my innate skills for a career in journalism or social sciences, but I did not. The desire to be defined by an AIR was too compelling. It could be because all my peers decided to take up engineering, and the pressure was too strong to do anything else. It could be because of the reverence the world associated with the breed of superhumans they call IITians.

The Decision To Go To Kota

Everyone has their own reasons to leave the comforts of their home, the convenient societal ways to go to a town that has nothing to offer except education. To quote Vaibhav from the show Kota Factory, “Kota mahaul deta hai,” (Kota provides a conducive environment).

As for me, I was in awe of the IITs. I was willing to make the obvious sacrifices to live the life required to crack JEE. I found the local coaching institute to be a poor imitation. The teachers weren’t disciplined with the classes and the children weren’t determined about cracking the exam. For them, it was just another tuition. Hence, I decided to go to Kota. To once again get the best for me. To not give my best. Notice how I failed myself just as the system failed me.

Was The Education Any Good?

It is a conservative city. As someone who has lived the life of a rebel, I had quite a few adjustments to make and a lot of judgment to bear. The mess food was sickening. And more often than not, the rationale and intellect of a lot of people would hurt yours. For the town values nothing but your Review Test scores. It was like being thrown out to face the brutal realities of the world. At a time when we were too young, too naive and too impressionable to cope up.

But just as the adage goes, “whatever doesn’t break you simply makes you a stronger.” I have seen people come two hours early for their classes just to find a place to sit. Ah, the crowd.

There were also creepy calls made and messages sent to girls on their cellphones by perverts who found their numbers from the mobile recharge stores.

The infrastructure is superb though. There are shops in all corners and for everything. You get coffee and food. You get abundant stationery supplies. You get everything to study and otherwise.

There’s humour in the coaching there. You enroll in a dummy school. And then there is a coaching institute that you go to. And at times when you don’t fare well and cannot keep up with the pace at which the syllabus is covered there, you can also go to a secondary coaching to ace the primary one. These are often private tutors.

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota
Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota. (Photo: Ahmad Masood for Reuters)

Now, to come to the most important part: the faculty. A lot of them push you to develop critical thinking skills. A lot of them are good teachers and explain the concepts well. A lot of them mug up the theory and answers and perform like all this is an act. Of course, what you get depends mostly on what tier your performance/abilities falls in, but you really get what your efforts deserve.

Just like a weight loss journey, persistence and consistency is the key. But to quote the show again, “woh study material rankers ke liye bana hai,” (the study material is for top rankers). The questions are overwhelming and aplenty.

The study delivery is more complex than what most people encounter in their lifetime. First, you are supposed to understand complex concepts that are often interrelated. Next, you are supposed to apply them to solve the problems that test your conceptual understanding of the subject. There is a multitude of reasons why most fail to keep up: One, the pace of teaching is comparable to the speed of light. Two, you study so many concepts together that it would put the parallel processing of the fastest CPUs to shame. And three, there is never time or room for repetition.

Do I think there’s something wrong with the system? No, it is made for too much brilliance. And most people who fail this system are not so brilliant. This desire to dazzle is in every JEE aspirant who sets foot in the city. The truth about one’s learning abilities is learnt in what could possibly be the harshest way. And that is where one becomes so full of despair and gloom that they cannot look beyond.

Would I Want This All Over Again?

In this journey, I gained perspective. I learnt to respect what I call the right things in life: efforts and sacrifice. I am not sure if I would have learnt this any other way. The minimalistic life of the two years taught me to live with bare essentials. The trade-offs, like the stakes, are too high.

If Not Kota, Then What?

I must admit, this is the first time I have tried to address this question. If not Kota, then I would have probably quit my JEE prep realising the sciences or their application is not my cup of tea. I would have taken up a subject, a course, a degree that was more me. Because, truth be told, Kota provides you with enough inertia to remain in the engineering prep rut. The people I met during my preparation who failed as bad as me at the review tests were not mediocre humans. They were just good at other things and of course bad at that one thing for which they chose to sacrifice a lot in life. Much like me, they gave up avenues they could ace for mediocrity in engineering prep.

What Did I Lose?

There is no better way to put it than to say that the place deeply affected my self-belief. Students who studied the concepts from the sixth grade but smugly pretended to understand the concept in the last five minutes when the teacher explained it, went a long way in shattering my faith in my own abilities. In consistently failing, I forgot my grit. I forgot what it takes to fight and win, to study and succeed. I forgot my individuality. I forgot how I used to write and sketch when free. I forgot to be happy. I forgot to be me.

I feel it takes ages to recover from a tragedy this massive as one gives up everything to be here. And when one fails at it every day one forgets that they had won life at some point, sometime. Often, there is a lack of an encouraging face as there is scorn everywhere. I believe that could have made all the difference.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Pardeep Gaur for Mint via Getty Images.

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