July 18, 2019

My Prep Story to JEE Advanced AIR 731

The JEE is insanely competitive with over 12 lakh people attempting the exam. I achieved an all India Rank of 731 in JEE Advanced, 805 in JEE Main , 199 in KVPY and got through NTSE Stage 1. I will be joining IIT Kanpur this session. This post contains my reflections on the last two years of preparation for the JEE. As a prologue, I must state that things which I was uncomfortable sharing on the Internet, have been concealed from the reader. 

The Rise

Flashback to the beginning of Class tenth, most of my friends joined coaching classes to clear the highly competitive NTSE, but my father put his foot down against joining a coaching class in Class X. His assurance, that I could clear NTSE by preparing on my own with the help of my tuition teachers, rung hollow in my ears.
Me with Hrishikesh Sir, my Physics teacher and mentor.
He made Physics exciting for me and helped me with the
ups and downs during my preparation

Fast forward to one month prior to the NTSE, I lost all hope but not the craving. I knew the larger objective but someone had to break it into doable tasks for me and that’s what Mr. Mishra (a staff at the Centre for Advanced Technology, Indore and a NTSE prep expert) did for me. He advised me to scan the MP Board Social Science Textbooks and mug up all the facts, figures and dates in the book. I condensed the entire book into 32 pages of handwritten notes in the form of fill in the blanks. I quizzed myself while reading the notes 25-30 times in the last few days.

Ultimately, I cleared the first stage of NTSE. There was an influx of greetings and wishes, more so because no one ever expected that I would get through the cut-off. What people didn’t understand was that I was just 1.5 marks over the cut-off marks! I learnt that in a competitive exam, you don’t need to score good, but just score better. Whatever be the case, I was enjoying the kind of recognition and acknowledgment I was getting. I had suddenly risen to be the exemplary!

The Transition

The appreciation that I received profoundly encouraged me to work harder for the second stage. I joined a coaching class and prepared for the NTSE Stage 2 with their yearlong students. I understood little in the class because what was transacted by the teachers often referred to what had already been taught earlier in the year to them. It took me a few days to gather the confidence to ask questions though I never became entirely comfortable, as the giggles and mockery by the bullies in the class intimidated me. I would complain to my dad that I couldn’t understand what was going on, sometimes threw tantrums. But then he would ask me to be patient, face the challenge, ask more questions. 
This is the phone that I used during
the preparation period. Sacrificing a
smartphone helped me improve my
productivity significantly!
Disinterestedness was bound to come as little that was taught was understood. But I was too motivated to get distracted. I struggled through the prep and I worked harder than I ever have in my life, yet, I failed NTSE Stage 2.

So what went wrong? The effort, the resources and the methodology were all in place. It was the most fundamental understanding that I lacked, because I didn’t clear out my doubts.

Two days after NTSE Stage 2, I started my JEE preparation classes with a strengthened resolve to not shy away from asking questions in the class. I started asking a lot of questions in the class, some very silly ones too. The giggles and sneer smiles told me that my teachers and my classmates believed that I am an idiot. Despite that my teachers were patient enough to answer all my questions. The subjects started fascinating me because now, I could visualize and imagine what was being taught.

About a month into the JEE preparation, the first mock test was conducted and I got a fourth rank in Indore. Everything changed after that, the giggles and smiles disappeared. I had transited from my shy self, who had always studied in the protected and comfortable environment of a school into a competitive and confident individual who could survive the harsh environment of a coaching class.

The Stimulation

Two months into the JEE prep, I started losing interest and vigour in what I was doing. Primarily, because my hectic schedule, which was followed with unending discipline, led to monotony in my life and left me with little space to be random (even my recreation hours were so fixed). Secondarily, because I felt disconnected to my ultimate goal (the JEE), as it was too far away. It was like an abstraction for which I was working so hard. Is the work I am doing right now going to help me two years hence? How will I remember what I learned today, after two years? These were questions that shook my motivation. NTSE was a sprint but JEE turned out to be a marathon.

At this point in time, the KVPY programme (the selection process for research colleges in India) came to me like a blessing in disguise. The KVPY exam conducted in the mid-session of 11th standard tests on the syllabus of both 11th and 12th standard in all four subjects (Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology). With no inclination towards research and no association with Biology, there was little reason for me to study the entire syllabus of Classes 11th and 12th. But the unmissable resemblance between KVPY fellows and JEE toppers motivated me to use the KVPY as a propellant for my larger JEE prep. And hence, in a month long prep, I worked extra hours to skim through the entire syllabus of 11th and 12th standard in all the four subjects and got through KVPY, not due to my depth, but width.

KVPY gave me a realizable short term goal which motivated me to study. Achieving 199 rank in KVPY made me believe that I could put up a similar performance in the JEE (quite falsely though as KVPY has an interview, where I was an outlier; JEE doesn’t have interview) and stimulated me to work harder for my larger goal. Now, my dream seemed achievable!

The Fall

Thanks to my unexpected attainment in KVPY, the teachers and administration in my coaching started looking at me as one of their better students and upgraded my batch. My new batch was a smaller batch of 15 people, 12 of whom lived in the hostel where our classes were conducted, while I lived in my home and transited to the hostel for classes.  My batch change was a big shock which I could hardly handle, for three reasons.

Me with Kapil sir,
my chemistry teacher and a lot more
I entirely owe my success to my
One, class organization was extremely random as a teacher on his convenience would call up/ cancel a class without a prior notice (since most of the students lived in the hostel). Also, in my earlier batch, a daily homework was given and it was discussed in the class the next day. But here, no formal homework was given (as the students were given the flexibility to decide what material they want to do) and no discussions were conducted in the class. Hence, discipline and regularity in my studies ceased and productivity touched new lows.

Two, my new teachers, though technically supreme, didn’t try to make the subject interesting. I could hardly understand Physics now, as my new teacher wouldn’t make me visualize the problems. Unlike the earlier ones, Chemistry teachers weren’t humorous or witty and hence, Chemistry classes became unbearably boring.

Three, organic and inorganic chemistry became my nightmares. I was unable to retain the bulk of information that these subjects contain. I was touching zeroes in these two subjects.
I was no longer involved and interested in my studies. I would sit in my room for long hours playing with my pen, thinking of random things. Thanks to this shock, my rank in one of the local test dropped to a new low of 63! Getting a local rank of 63 means you are nowhere near getting into any IIT!

Often, preparedness for JEE is checked by one’s performance in three national exams that happen just before the JEE- the KVPY (happens again in class 12th), the Physics Olympiad and the Chemistry Olympiad. I flunked all the three.

It was the most stressful period of the entire two years. I couldn’t sleep, which decreased my productivity the next day. I started throwing tantrums at home. My dad, showing little maturity, started fighting with me but my Mom would console me and give me hope.

I had fallen to my low just two months before JEE Main! I was scared and I panicked.

The Comeback

The stress during the JEE prep is often condemned but seldom acknowledged as the force that pushes you to your limits.

Due to my discouraging performance, I was so stressed out that I took some time off my studies to reflect and introspect. I realised that in my earlier batch, I was almost entirely driven by the system of my coaching class and my interests in the subject (thanks to my previous teachers who made classes interesting). And so, when the system failed and interest withered, I couldn’t stand on my own legs. But then wasn’t JEE a test of my abilities and not that of my circumstances?

I had started finding problems and expecting change in my coaching class, my teachers and my parents. But was it helping my objective?

I probably didn’t have the ideal resources and circumstances but then they were good enough. Was I doing the best that I could, given the problems in my environment?

These three questions brought a realisation- (in Viktor E.Frankl’s words), “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
This is how my room looks: I made it a habit to stick up formula/concepts that I forgot. Serving as a quick reference and tool for revision, the sticky notes and papers stuck on the desk helped me retain the information. When I realised that I am spending too much time playing with my pen while sitting at my desk, I put up the green paper on the bottom left which says "stop time waste." It consciously reminded me to not waste time. Also, I hung the medal (up centre) I received from my coaching class to motivate myself to work harder!

And so, I made a plan. I started giving one mock test, followed by its analysis, everyday. Since my doubts weren’t being solved by any formal system, I derived my own mechanism. Instead of studying at home, I started studying in a vacant room at my coaching class. So, I sat there for 5 hours every morning and whichever teacher would come to the premise for taking classes (of other batches), I would ask them my doubts after/before their class.

Chemistry remained to be a thorn in my side. I couldn’t retain the information and so, I used the technique of learning by writing. I started rewriting the notes that I had made in the class. I discovered that writing by hand is an amazing way of remembering and structuring information. Organic and Inorganic Chemistry made up around 600-700 pages of classroom notes and reproducing them was a herculean task. It required great patience and effort. But then the yield was dramatic. I started doing well in Chemistry and that gave an unbelievable jump to my rank. This recovery wasn’t sudden but gradual.

Should I skip the mock test today as I have had enough? Why am I wasting so much time in copying notes while others are solving more questions? What is the point in writing all these notes all over again?

 These are all genuine questions, with no honest answers, that arose when no observable improvement was happening initially. They disturbed my conviction. At such instances of self-doubt, I had to be strong enough to tell myself to keep faith on what I was doing and not expect results immediately. The people who top JEE aren’t those with the best approach to studying, but are those who follow an approach for a long term, with a sustained effort.

Finally January 2019 arrived and I got a 99.93 percentile in JEE Main! I had made a comeback like never before!

The Last Lap

After JEE Main, mock tests and classes come to a halt for a two month long break for the Class XII board examination. While I was focussed on my boards, it was important that I don’t lose touch with the JEE prep. In order to manage the boards, practical exams and the JEE efficiently, I made a day by day plan of what all I am going to do on the particular days- spelling out my JEE hours and board hours distinctively. I scored a 92.4 percent in Board with a best of four of 96.25 percent!

I made short notes for each chapter in each subject.
In two-three pages per chapter, I summed up all
major concepts and formula of that chapter
Post boards, I got a little more than a month for a fully focussed JEE advanced prep (the second stage of JEE/entrance for the IITs). I knew the subjects in general now, but I used this time to identify the gaps and fill them. I gave two mock tests a day, to identify gaps and analysed them, to fill the gaps.
 I wrote 15-20 pages long analyses on every test, where for every question I did wrong, I would write the solution I had thought of during test, encircle the mistake I had committed and then write the correct solution. Before every mock test at my coaching and the real JEE test, I revised all my mistakes by reviewing the analysis of all the tests. I started remembering mistakes that I had made and so consciously stopped committing the same mistakes again.

But more than any sort of academic furtherance, the last month was about building an examination aptitude to not be emotionally affected in a tough or easy test; about building stamina and patience to give a 6 hour long test in scorching summers; about building the mental strength to perform well in all possible environmental and emotional conditions.

I filed all my short notes. This became a wonderful tool
for exhaustive and quick revision of the vast syllabus.
And finally, the day of JEE advanced arrived. The exam centre’s condition was pitiable with no arrangements of cooling or water and thousands of computers throwing out hot air.

But then I recalled that JEE is a test of my ability, not my circumstance; that I had to do my best, with all the problems in my environment and that in a competitive exam, I don’t need to score good but just need to score better. My last two years came back to me!

My only accomplishment is that I performed, in line with my expectations on the exam day! It isn’t important to state that I got an All India Rank of 731.

Looking back at the two years, it is hard to describe the immense happiness that you get when you work really hard for something and get very involved. Honestly, I am no poster boy for my coaching class, and my rank is below what I had dreamt for when I got into this prep. And yet, I am really happy because I know I was honest to myself throughout my preparation and that is the most fulfilling feeling!


January 15, 2017

Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 3: Moving Towards A Cashless Economy

It has been a few weeks in 2017; Every New year we make certain resolutions and keep some of them. We start with new aspirations and realign our goals. Therefore, it is time that we visualize a new India, without corruption, efficient technologically, where everyone is delivered timely justice and every individual has access to school and education. FasciNative presents to you a series, titled Visualizing a New India, brainstorming new ideas and innovations for tackling long drawn problems. Here’s the third edition, consisting ideas to make the economy cashless.

‘Cashless Economy’ has become an everyday term, thanks to the Modi government’s demonetisation shock. No doubt, demonetisation is a remarkable move but a number of reforms could have been taken before reverting to such a mega move. This post consists of a number of suggestions from my side in order to move towards a cashless economy.

Setting the Incentives Right- Differential Pricing

If you go to a gas station in the US, you will see two different prices are being applied to different people- one, if you a pay in cash and second, if you pay with your credit card. If you travel by the public bus in Singapore, you will have two payment options, one, pay by their linked public transport card (EZ-Link cards), which will only cost you for your part of the journey of the bus (the cost from your boarding point to your destination) and second, pay cash in which case you will have to pay for the entire bus journey (the cost from the bus’s initial point to the bus’s destination).

Developed economies have a system of differential pricing for credit and cash. India must also adopt such a system where if you are paying by your credit card or debit card, then lower rates are applied than cash rates. Apart from introducing such a concept in public sector units, the government must reward private enterprises for introducing a differential pricing concept, by giving tax exemptions or cash-back to the company worth the difference between cash and credit price multiplied by number of credit transactions.

Setting the Incentives Right

The ease of doing a cashless transaction reduces as we move from tier I cities like Mumbai and Delhi to small villages and towns. While every shop might have a card swiping machine in metros, these machines can rarely be seen in the rural areas. It is important that the government develops such infrastructure which allows flawless payment by credit and debit card and educates the villagers about using credit and debit cards. Developing better infrastructure must be foremost to any effort made by the government.

Additionally, the cost of using plastic money that is the processing fee disincentivizes people from using plastic money. No doubt, the bank has to pay a cost to facilitate the transaction, however, it would be an amazing idea if this cost is paid from a certain fee applied on cash transactions rather than cashless ones. Let there be a processing fee applied on cash transactions which satisfies the cost of a cashless transactions. This would turn out to be a practicable solution to both the problems: the people's resistance to pay more for the same payment and the bank's cost. 

Thirdly, for a few months, till when the government has suspended processing fee on credit and debit card payments at petrol pumps, the cost is being reduced from the money paid to the petrol pumps. This is a poor plan because petrol pumps work on too less a margin to accept the loss. Therefore, even though the government has removed processing cost, at the ground level, the petrol pump owners are giving all kind of excuses to not allow the customer to pay by card. However stringent a law the government makes, its success would only depend to the conviction of the people at the ground level. Thus, it is time that we revisit the incentives.  

Finding Local Solutions

Even after developing the required infrastructure for cashless transactions, making the rural people confident about such cashless transactions would be a greater challenge. In order to tackle this problem, it would be an amazing idea to introduce legally valid local solutions in such rural areas.

New local coins with a sense of 'localism' can be introduced in place of the demonetised notes in villages or new software can be put into place at each shop and trader’s office which will have its own localised name, bound to be used in a particular village or region. Such software or coins can be used as a locally accepted currency which must be deemed valid by the RBI. The so-called local currency can be exchanged for rupee in rural banks.This would facilitate cashless transactions while sustaining people’s confidence and developing a culture of banking and using virtual money.

Why is a Cashless Economy Important?

Taking all these measures would help India move towards a cashless economy. Such a cashless economy would prove to be a great help for reducing corruption, which must be seen in context with other measures as suggested here. Moreover, this would reduce the chances of theft and help in tackling the problem of fake currency. Apart from these benefits, cashless transactions deem to be more convenient and encourage transaction as you don’t have to worry about change. Lastly, a cashless economy also inculcates a habit of saving. 

Thank You!
Abhimanyu (abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com )

Also Read- 
Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 1: Speeding Up Indian Judicary
Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 2: Minimizing Corruption

January 6, 2017

Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 2: Minimizing Corruption

2017 is here; Every New year we make certain resolutions and keep some of them. We start with new aspirations and realign our goals. Therefore, it is time that we visualize a new India, without corruption, efficient technologically, where everyone is delivered timely justice and every individual has access to school and education. This is the second blog of my New Year series "Visualizing a New India" where I explore scope of Information Technology, to overcome India's greatest problem- Corruption. 

Interlinking Identity and Transactions- Key to Reduce Corruption  

It is undeniable that corruption would cease to exist once every transaction of ours and every interaction of ours with the Government of India gets recorded and then interlinked with our singular identity. With this objective Dr. Manmohan Singh introduced the Aadhar scheme.

We require a universal interlinked Government of India software which serves each and every governmental institution from police to the judiciary, from PSUs to Income Tax. This single software must have a base which is common for all departments and PSUs using it, supplemented by multiple branches and add-ons for each department and PSU, meeting its specific requirement.

Now, this software will work on the basis of your Aadhar card. The first stage will be to link all bank accounts with Aadhar cards only, and no other identity proofs. All new bank accounts being opened and existing accounts must have an Aadhar card linked with it which must be verified by fingerprints or retina scan. This verification process must be made mandatory at all banks.

The second stage will be to make Aadhar card the basis of your transaction. For example, subsidies on LPG cylinders and electricity must not be reduced from their direct price but be transferred into the buyer’s account. One will have to pay the unsubsidised bill for electricity and LPG cylinder at the corporation’s office. But only if the individual brings along his/her Aadhar card and this transaction is recorded in the Govt. of India software, will the subsidy be transferred in their bank accounts.

The third stage would be further incentivizing Aadhar cards’ linkage to bank accounts. The government must start subsidizing medicines and healthcare at the government hospitals, which must also be using the Govt. of India software. Enter your Aadhar card number on the software’s transaction and get the subsidies transferred in your bank account. Or else pay the unsubsidised prices. The same can be done at ration shops where the grains are sold at rationed price.

Once the culture develops, the fourth stage can be ‘no identity means no transaction.’ The Aadhar card must be made mandatory for any transaction with governmental institutions and PSUs.

How to get caught?

This would help in not only digitalising all transactions and moving towards the much talked about, cashless economy but also catch untaxed money. The general practice followed in Indian households is that the untaxed money is used for everyday transactions and international tours which aren’t shown in Income Tax returns. However, when these everyday transactions are being recorded on the Government of India software and being linked with your Aadhar card, the next time you go to your Income Tax office, the clerk opens your Aadhar card page on the unified Government of India software and he/she can see the total money you have spent. Voila! You are caught and you get to pay a penalty much larger than the subsidies.  And mind you, your Aadhar card is anyway linked to your bank account. So the Income Tax department has the legal right to extract money from your very own bank account.

Remember, this is not a shock therapy but a process which must be carried out in a time period of a decade or so. Secondly, once mobilized, such a unified Govt. of India application, as mentioned above, can be used for many other purposes apart from reducing corruption. Thirdly, a lot of people argue that making a law doesn't help in reducing corruption in itself as it would queue up many cases in our already lagging judiciary only. However, I think that just because our justice delivery system is slow, does not make introducing the law a bad idea, though, I agree that speeding up the judiciary might make this law more effective and hence, must be looked at in context with my suggestions to improving the justice delivery system here.
All feedback is welcome at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com !

Also Read- FasciNative: Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 1:Speeding Up the Indian Judiciary
FasciNative: Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 3: Moving Towards a Cashless Economy

December 30, 2016

Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 1: Speeding Up Indian Judiciary

2017 is just few hours ahead; Every New year we make certain resolutions and keep some of them. We start with new aspirations and realign our goals. Therefore, it is time that we visualize a new India, without corruption, efficient technologically, where everyone is delivered timely justice and every individual has access to school and education. This is the first and foremost blog of my New Year series "Visualizing a New India" where I brainstorm ideas and innovations to India's long drawn problems. 

"The execution of law is more important than making them," said Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence. His statement couldn't have been truer if seen in context with the current state of Indian judiciary. The judicial system in India lags behind with millions of cases queued up thanks to inadequate infrastructure and vacant seats. A swift justice delivery system is as important as the law itself. No doubt, any law holds redundant unless its violators are punished. Therefore, here are some steps that can be implemented to speed up the Indian judiciary.

Petty Offenses- Minimizing Time Wastage in Courts

There are a number of petty offenses which eat up a lot of time of courts. The Indian Penal Code prescribes a special procedure for such petty offenses, which asks the court to send a fine letter along with the summoning to the accused. This means that in case the accused doesn’t wish to participate in the judicial trial, he/she can simply pay the fine and the case would be taken back. However, this only applies for ‘petty offenses’ which refers to offenses with accusations of less than 1000 rupees. This limit can be extended to, say a 10000 rupee limit. There are thousands of people who would prefer paying the 10k fine rather than getting into the never-ending, lethargic judicial process which would itself cost them more than their fine. Taking such a measure would enable the court to zero down on the time spent on such petty cases and hence, concentrate on more important cases.

Pre-trial Hearing- Justice by Negotiation

The concept of pre-trial hearing must be implemented in the Indian judiciary for reducing time wastage in courts. A pre-trial hearing, typically, happens when the prosecutor wants to place a plea bargain to the accused. However, in context of the Indian judiciary, the purview of a pre trial hearing can be slightly altered. Cases must be made to pass through a pre trial session where a junior judge or retired judge acting as mediator tries to find a negotiable deal between the parties involved in the case. If both the sides of the court case reach an agreement, then the trial is suspended and the judicial time is saved. Encouraging such a system would further help reduce the review cases in higher courts as the case is being solved by agreement. However, in order to restore the credibility of judiciary, it is important that the cases where a pre trial agreement is not reached or the agreement reached is later disputed; the trial is allowed to commence or be reinstated.   

Specialization of Judges- Better and Faster Conflict Resolution

A system must be developed which recognizes judges and categorizes them as per their expertise into different categories like marriage, murder, kidnapping, corporate tax, etc. Court cases related to divorce must preferably go to the judge specialized in marriage. This would help in hastening up the process as the judge would be well-aware of the laws and previous rulings of his/ her expertise area. This would not only make the functioning more efficient but also qualitatively better. When I discussed such a proposal with my friends, one of them did not like the idea because that he believed that would lead to an imbalance of cases, with one judge having very high workload and the other being very free. He had clearly misunderstood me. When I write about specialization of judges, I mean to say that the philosophy of specialization must be followed and not a law of specialization. Therefore, in case of a dispute over say, divorce the case must preferably go to the marriage judge; however that doesn’t mean it cannot be heard by other judges.

Case Management- Better Categorization

There are numerous instances where important cases such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case weren’t ruled because the court was too busy going over petty and less important cases. Therefore, it is extremely important that some cases are prioritized over others and must be carried forward at a faster rate. Such categorization is though a hugely subjective task and would require qualified manpower; however the task can be made more objective by providing simple guidelines. For example, cases under the category of ‘rape’ must be prioritized over cases in the category of ‘theft.’ A priority list can be prepared.

Secondly, under such categorization, cases which are similar or litigations about the same thing can be grouped and heard together or in parallel. Thirdly, it is very interesting that a huge number of cases lagging in the courts are those amongst state governments, central government and other institutions of the government. Another institution under the judiciary can be built to deal with intergovernmental cases so that the frontend judicial system can wholly focus on matters involving the citizens.  

Concluding Notes

One can go on and on reforming the archaic judicial procedures and ideas in India which have changed a little since the British raj. Some believe that the Lok Adalats which are currently held once or twice a year must be made permanent institutions. Others pitch for the idea of e-courts where disputes can be instantly solved by negotiation with the help of an online mediator. A lot of people believe that the number of holidays must be reduced and the courts must function for more than 250 days if not 365. Some critics suggest that the courts can be made to function 24x7 so as to get more time for trials. However, prerequisite to all these reforms is the need to fill in the vacancies in the judicial system. There are only about three-quarters of judges working out of the total required number. It would be wrong to simply say that the vacancies must be filled as more than just filling the vacancies, what is important is that the vacancies are appropriately filled.

Unarguably Indian judiciary even though slow and sluggish, is largely unbiased and has so far, retained its credibility. Only a few cases exist where the court decisions were challenged by undemocratic means and not accepted. Therefore, my only fear remains that in the haste to fill up the vacancies, the Indian judiciary doesn’t compromise on its credibility and quality. No doubt, justice delayed is justice denied but swift justice at the cost of no real justice doesn’t seem to be a very convincing idea to me.

Thank you for reading and keep on checking FasciNative for the next episodes!

All feedback is welcomed at abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com !

December 21, 2016

A Visit to Kota- Coaching, Lifestyle, Culture and Business

This week I happened to visit the town of Kota in Rajasthan. Before I move on, let me make myself very clear- I am not studying in Kota but just happened to visit the town. Nor do I intend to go to Kota for my higher studies and so, all my observations are that of a visitor, not a resident which I am sure would be uglier than my romanticized experience.

If you take the name of Kota in front of any Indian guy, the first thing he would link Kota with is a coaching hub with innumerable prep classes for engineering and medical colleges. Not that there is anything wrong with the linkage, but apart from that, Kota is also known for a special stone found there called Kota stone which make themselves visible much before you enter the coaching city. The seven hour long journey from Indore to Kota was the worst that I have ever been on, with only a few good food joints and miserable roads. I wasn't sure how such a remote town ever developed into a hub from where students from across the country came.

But as soon as we entered the city of Kota, our hunger and drowsiness drowned into the excitement and energy that we experienced. It was quite abrupt. One moment we were in a jungle and the next, we were in the town faced by huge structures on both our sides. My perception of Kota as a rusty-dusty town was busted by the sight of a huge empire besides the city mall, as huge as a 5 star hotel. The very sight of the building gave me an idea of the hugeness of the whole coaching 'industry' but then we took a right as we were to visit Allen first.

The Champion Managers- Allen Career Institute 

And so with the help of Google Maps and some sense of direction, we reached a gully, Not an ordinary one but a gully where on both sides we had Allen campuses with different names all starting with 'S.' It seemed as if the whole gully had been bought by Allen. And the few other plots which did not have Allen coaching institutes, had Allen hostels. Everyone in that gully was in a grey uniform boasting their 'Allen' logo. The whole street seemed as crowded as a chowpatty with some students entering one of the many institutes, and others exiting the institutes to go back to their hostels. We finally reached the head office. The head office had a beauty of its own. You could see about 200-300 students sitting in the veranda but not a single noise. Each one of them was studying and not even one of them was talking. I compared this with the noise that is created when a mere 30 student class in my school is asked to study. 

I got into a conversation with some students I found there. One student told me that he had 260 students in his class. Always having studied in a 30 student class and personally tutored, the number scared me. But what was more scary was the cost of it. Each student paid approximately 1.5 lacks every year which when multiplied by 250 (for the sake of easier calculations) gives 3.75 crore rupees. And Allen was running 8 such batches simultaneously at each of their 15 centers. And do not forget that this was only for their IIT-JEE division, medical and junior division not added and other centers (outside Kota) not added. This was unimaginably huge, it was a multimillionaire company in its own sense.  

What was even more startling was that not even one student I talked to was dissatisfied with Allen. I was wondering how a coaching institute could manage, discipline and teach 66 thousand students every year at a single place, yet recognizing and categorizing the brilliant ones and reshuffling them. Allen was truly, a champion manager. Inspite of the grand number they were serving to, they upheld their discipline and morals.  

The Big Arrogant Empire- Resonance

Remember, the huge empire beside the city mall? Our next stop was to be the same building. It was the huge boastful empire of Resonance. It seemed that unlike Allen, Resonance did not believe in buying numerous small plots of lands but making one large empire, which was so huge and beautiful from the outside. The building was a brand of its own, with the Resonance logo embedded in every part of it, ranging from the shape of the gate to the pillar at the entrance of the building.

But when we entered, we were to be met by an unimaginable site of more than 3000 cycles, meticulously parked in rows and columns. It was an exciting view as I had not seen so many cycles at one place ever before. While my parents were having a conversation with the receptionist at Resonance, I just went inside to have a look at the building and by chance a class was going on. I could see the classroom filled over its capacity with more than 200 people sitting on the benches and an additional 50 students sitting on chairs they had kept in the alley and everywhere else they got space. One child sat just at the juncture of the class and the corridor. Had someone even sneezed, he would have been pushed out of the class. And then a bell rung and there was a sudden influx of students from all directions. I was pushed from all directions. The site was horrific and inspiring at the same time. I became nervous and rushed back to the reception or else I would have got dragged with the flow of the crowd.
Resonance was mighty big. Honestly speaking, its atmosphere scared me. It was like a railway station inside with loads of people going in all directions and shops and canteens selling refreshments. Though I think it would be wrong to make any interpretations out of a couple of minutes spent, but my gut feeling told me that it wasn't the kind of disciplined coaching institute Allen was. 

The Kota Difference

The greatness of this place is not just due to the massiveness of the coaching industry there but because of its culture and atmosphere. The kind of atmosphere that you get to experience in Kota, pushes you to study more and work harder. The healthy competition helps you stretch your limits. And if in case you are among the top 20-30 students that they have, they will train you with special efforts, organize extra classes for you, provide you with extra material, extra resources and make the best faculties available at a personal level. This is because if in case they recognize the potential in you to be among the top 10 or top 100 scorers, they would make you work harder and harder as they are motivated towards getting better results. 

The Kota lifestyle and culture plays a very important role in producing sharp brains. The kind of culture where coaching institutes keep their centres open throughout night so that students can study and you can see crowds studying even after midnight. All major coaching classes and hostels are concentrated in a very small area. No one in Kota wastes time on travel. You can easily get a hostel just in front of your coaching class because of the huge number of hostels available. 
However, as every coin has two sides, Kota has some cons as well. Because of the crowd in Kota, you might get lost in case you aren't focused and motivated to do well. In that case, the consequences might be worse and no wonder, a number of students end up deteriorating their performance after going to Kota. Surviving in Kota requires a lot of energy and determination and you need to work with perseverance. 

Wrapped by Education- How Education Fuels Business in Kota?

The society, lifestyle and business environment in the city are all centered around the coaching industry. When we asked a local where we could find a PG (paying guest arrangement) in the city, he said, "Sir, pura Kota hi PG hai." (The whole city is a PG). The interesting thing about the city is that every normal household has commissioned 5-10 rooms in their own homes and earn money by offering students accommodation in these rooms. Other smaller houses offer PGs. Moreover, the competition between hostels has led to more standardization. Every hostel has a more or less same package, inclusive of food, laundry and cleaning but exclusive of electricity cost. Every room in almost all Kota hostels had their own electricity meter where the student is charged as per the electricity used. The cost of the package, though, widely differs depending on the quality of rooms and food. In fact, it goes right from a mere three to four thousand rupees to twenty five to thirty thousand rupees. There are hostels that are miserable in condition and others which are no less than a three star hotel with their own club and screen in the canteen. One of my uncles who went to Kota to study and passed out of IIT- Delhi joked,"If someone chooses to stay in such luxurious hostels, he would not be able to survive in the miserable IIT hostels." In order to facilitate and encourage outstation students' admission and stay, many associations have been formed by the coaching institutes to maintain quality standards. 

Image result for roomkartIndians are known for their entrepreneurial mind. You say opportunity and you will see an Indian making business. Same applies to Kota where a number of people have come up with innovations and business model fueled by the influx of students in Kota every year. One such example is "Roomkart" which is an app providing information about hostels and PGs along with a 360 degree view for students coming to Kota and lets you book it online. Another example is the city mall which  is located right in the middle of the city and runs only and only on students. Can you imagine people selling books and textbooks in entertainment malls? Kota is the place where it all happens. In fact, you can see loads of canopies and stalls selling tabs with loaded classroom videos and exercises. You could buy one tab and start learning at your own pace or catch up on some concept you have missed in your class. 

The coaching business in Kota is inter-woven in the society and economic character of the city. Students and coaching have not only become a brand for Kota but greatly influence the culture and lifestyle of Kota. Every interaction in the city reflects on the kind of mania JEE and AIIMS have become in this country. No wonder, the town of Kota succeeded to excite me. It was so different from all others. The town was pretty small yet the unimaginably huge in the number of students it welcomed every year. It was amazing in a sense and depressing in the other. My words are no justice to the massiveness of the students and coaching institutes in Kota. You would only understand when you visit.   
Thank You and Regards!

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November 14, 2016

The Big Week- Demonetisation, Rock On 2 and Trump

The last week has been extremely eventful. The media hasn't been short of content. Trump's victory to the White house shocked everyone. But how did this happen and what does it mean to the World and America? In India, Modi's live telecast at prime time on Indian television on the day of US elections, overshadowed the big event. Demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupee notes in Indian market has brought mixed reactions. The demonetisation has hit hard on all Indian businesses including Bollywood. No wonder, the much anticipated Rock On 2 is doing poor at the box office. Is it because of demonetisation or the movie itself? This post brings to you my observations of how these big changes have affected the on ground realities and my comments on the chaotic, energy filled environment!

The Second White Revolution- Demonetization 

 “The surplus of jokes and memes about the Modi demonetization surprise proves that unemployment is a larger problem than black money.” “Anna Hazare is changing his name to Anna Do Hazare.” These jokes flooded social media and became the talk of the town, all thanks to the *surprise* demonetization scheme of Modi which overshadowed the US elections. 

The whole scheme on the outside is great but wouldn’t help the corruption problem of the country unless, the whole system is made stricter post December. Else the black money would again build up in a couple of decades to prove the scheme redundant. 

No doubt, I stand in support of this measure but what comes with it is de trop confusion and chaos. Imagine an uneducated illiterate person for whom the complications of the whole process are beyond comprehension. Think about the third of Indian population which doesn’t have access to banks! An auto-rickshaw wala when asked if old 500 and 1000 notes would be accepted told me, “हज़ार  छोड़ो , दो हज़ार के नए नोट भी नहीं चल रहे आज कल(Leave 1000, even the new 2000 notes are not being accepted)  The poor and the uneducated, yet, don’t believe in the new notes as they don’t understand it. Reconciling belief in the ugly, new 2000 notes is a herculean task in itself. 
I don’t wish to negate the positive air about the whole anti-corruption thing. But I hope the time wasted on queuing up for long hours turns out to be worth something. Desperate times, Desperate measures!

Rock On 2- Lacked the ‘Majik’

For me and many other Farhan Akhtar fans, Rock On 2 was a much anticipated movie. But to my disappointment, it turned out to be a slow and an aimlessly-going movie. The sound tracks were no match to the excellent Rock On I album and the script and humour failed to meet the high standards set by the first edition of the franchise.

 However, the larger error was that the movie overdid the Rock On franchise. It no longer remained the enjoyable, fun movie to relive life but has been transformed into a slow emotional drama with deep and sometimes, unbearable philosophical dialogues. Moreover, the two new additions to the ‘Majik’ band (Jia and Uday) had poor performances on screen. Somehow, I was disheartened as I went with much higher expectations. Farhan Akhtar has always rendered great movies and is known for putting in a lot of creativity into his movies but this one is a low on his graph. It wasn’t made with the same passion and conviction. 

TRiUMPhant- The US Presidential Elections

With radical, controversial and bold comments and plans to make a wall along the border with Mexico, Donald Trump unexpectedly won the US elections to much remorse. As per my general conversation with my small base of American friends (majorly students who came to India in intercultural exchanges and people I have met during international events), there was and is a negative sentiment about Trump. Even the larger and more diverse base of exit polls predicted a victory for Hilary. Therefore, the big question is how did the unexpected happen?

Many people would tell me, “It was a flawed election at the end of the day. No wonder, a Richey-rich industrialist won the elections. It is an oligarchy of the rich, you know.” I wouldn’t say it is entirely unbelievable.

But the major reason behind Trump’s win was that the people are bored of conventional politicians who are diplomatic, pretend to be the good-ideal-rational-guy. The people are looking for a ruthless, strong and straightforward person. This shift is very evident from the growing popularity of radical Right politicians in Europe.

Hilary tried to play conventionally with rational policies, uncontroversial speeches, love towards refugees and being the all-good person. On the other hand, Trump captured the irrational yet, true feelings of the Americans. His comments on Islam are well rooted into every non-immigrant American’s mind and despite what his/her rational mind might believe, the truth is that there is a natural disgust towards Islam among Americans. His comments on women are, pretty disgustingly, what a typical American man feels. Therefore, people could relate to his comments, however radical they may be. Thus Trump won.

Trump’s victory brings a great deal of uncertainty to the American politics and economic policy which is negative for the growth of the States. At the same time, Trump brings hope for betterment in US-Russia relations, the former cold war rivals.

No wonder, there is a sense of antagonism in the air about Donald Trump winning. In one of the events I attended this week (in India), the anchor ended up saying America doesn’t deserve a democracy! But it is time that we accept the unbelievable; the guy has made a fool out of all news agencies and their exit polls and is now to reign the World’s superpower. Let the trumpet triumph!

My remorseful obituary for the old beautiful 500 and 1000 notes which are to be replaced by the ugly pink notes, a goodbye to the coolest president America has ever had and my condolences with those people who are just tying their laces to leave for the theater to watch  Rock On 2. 
Yours Truly, Abhimanyu.

If you have some suggestions, feedback or just want to say hello, drop a mail at my email address abhimanyusethia12@gmail.com