The scenic beauty of a verdant valley has been replaced by grimy hot winds. There are no apple trees outside,the air is not clear and unpalatable food is a constant irritant. But over 300 young students from Jammu and Kashmir have stepped out of the comfort of their homes to sweat it out,literally,in the coaching hub of Kota. A majority of these students are girls mostly from the Kashmir Valley apprehensive but determined to make their mark.
Sixteen-year-old Humairah Hamid from Bansoo in Kashmir aspires to be the first woman doctor of her village. Back at home were the simple joys of moms cooked food and a protected life. It is quite tough here. Maybe one day all the hard work and sacrifice will pay off, says a shy Humairah.
For classmate Andleeb Hamid,a resident of Anantnag,the harsh summers of Rajasthan,the saline water and unpalatable food have turned out to be the biggest challenges of hostel life. Like most of the others who arrived in April this year for two years of coaching,she is learning to cope stoically. A big change is the respite from frequent strikes back home that hindered regular classes and confined them to their homes,affecting their studies. Poor rail,road and air connectivity between Kota and Kashmir deepens their homesickness. But each day is a step towards a big dream.
While Andleeb and Humairah had heard about hostel life in Kota from seniors,relatives and acquaintances and
were inspired by their success stories,Aksa Nabi of Anantnag,had no inkling of what the city would hold for her. My fathers friends told him about Kotas coaching classes. I had also read about Kota students who fare well in entrance tests. So I decided to take the plunge,and I do not regret it. The competitive environment and the cutting edge tutorials go a long way in preparing us for the keenly contested entrance tests, says Aksa.
The girls stand out in their hijabs. Despite the sultry weather Andleeb has stuck to wearing her hijab and also requested the coaching institute authorities for a full-sleeved uniform. It is her choice, says Fozia Mir from Naugam in J&K. I would have liked to wear a full-sleeved uniform too but the heat is unbearable. We have not seen anything like this back home. So,though I wear the hijab,I wear the half sleeve salwar kameez uniform. The unsavoury,messy food in hostel can still be endured but not the heat, she says.
A couple of years ago,a handful of Kashmiri students enrolled in various coaching institutes in Kota,much to the surprise of the faculty and authorities. The trend picked up last year wihen over 250 J&K students enrolled. This year over 300 Kashmiri students have already enrolled and authorities expect at least 100 more students to join by the time enrolment ends in August.
Manoj Sharma,vice president,Business Development and Operations,Resonance Coaching Institute,which has already enrolled 65 students,told The Sunday Express,The trend has been encouraging over the past two years. We have also been advertising all over J&K and conducting seminars in schools. The students of J&K have a different academic schedule and finish their board exams by November after which schools close for winter. We have re-worked our schedule for them and hold separate classes after their board exams.
The students have now bonded into a small,cohesive group in Kota. A strong preference for non-vegetarian dishes and similarity in lifestyle – all of them are five-time namazis – have further brought them together. Most of us live in separate hostels and it is only during classes that we get to meet each other. Had we known there were other Kashmiris,we would have all opted for the same hostel, says Fozia.
Rajesh Maheshwari,founder,Allen Career Institute,one of the leading coaching institutes for medical entrance tests,has 169 students from J&K on its rolls this year. He said,Exposure to students from different states not only creates a competitive atmosphere but is a great learning experience for all. That is why we never contemplated providing a separate hostel.
Farooq Ahmed,a resident of Anantnag,whose daughter has enrolled for coaching for engineering entrance exams,said,In 2011 one of my colleagues son went to Kota for coaching and secured a good rank in the IIT exams. I did some research about the city and found it was quite safe for girls as compared to Delhi or Mumbai. In J&K opportunities for higher education are not enough and the environment is not so competitive. Hence despite all odds I decided to enrol my daughter in Kota.