It’s easy to spot the students in Kota. They walk in groups, clutching umbrellas bearing the names of coaching centres in the city as the mercury goes over 42 degrees. Others, much older, in their late 20s, zoom past on motorcycles, their T-shirts with the faded names of coaching institutes indicating a much longer stay. It’s also easy to spot the ‘successful’ students in Kota.
It’s the month of results of competitive medical and engineering entrance examinations, and at the entrances of the city’s coaching centres, to which aspirants from across the country flock, hang life-size pictures of the ‘toppers’, many of them flashing the victory sign. Down below, every available space along roads is covered with posters of yoga guru Baba Ramdev.
The JEE Advanced results, for admission to the coveted IITs, followed by other top engineering colleges, came 10 days ago. Of the estimated 1.5 lakh students enrolled at any time in the big and small 30-odd coaching centres in Kota, around 7,000 qualified this year. At least 60,000 qualified for counselling in the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) exam for medical admissions, results for which were declared on June 4, a jump of at least 25,000 over the average of the past three years.
Between these numbers lies another ominous figure, of suicides, 12 so far this year by students. In order to stem the suicides, coaching centres have introduced a series of measures to help their students de-stress, but after falling from 20 in 2016 to seven last year, the suicide numbers are up again.
But in Kota, life has already moved on, with many of those who failed to make it pitching their tents in for another year, and at least 80,000 new hopefuls flooding in. Coaching centres estimate that only half of those who don’t make it any year leave; the rest stay back to give the entrance exams another try.
Amidst the incessant commotion near Kota’s Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, 19-year-old Ranjit Kumar is fidgeting with his mobile phone outside a bank, checking for messages. “For some technical reasons, mobile alert messages about bank transactions and funds transfer have stopped, and this results in a lot of problems. I am here to solve this glitch as I will be staying here for another year,” says Kumar, a resident of Siwan in Bihar.
Kumar, who had appeared for NEET this year but couldn’t qualify, will soon join the students popularly known as ‘The Thirteens’ in the coaching hub.
“Thirteens are the students who stay for one more year after their Class 12 exams in order to take another chance at qualifying. The coaching centres have separate batches for them called the leaders’ batches,” explains Kumar.
The institutes also give a discount to students repeating a year, starting from 10 per cent. But Kumar says he is discussing with his family whether he can join a different centre this year, in the hope that it will help him qualify.
Piyush Singh, 18, has just arrived from hometown Korba in Chhattisgarh. Having failed to clear the JEE Advanced, Singh decided that his best shot was moving to Kota. “All the best coaching centres are here,” says Singh. Having come just two days ago, the 18-year-old is yet to find a place and is for now staying with a friend. Standard accommodation in Kota costs Rs 10,000-15,000 a month, including room charges and food, with electricity bill separate.
Navendu Jha, a resident of Patna, who has come to enrol his son Shubham, who wants to prepare for NEET, says, “At times we do get scared after hearing about student suicides, but it’s also true that one has a much better chance of qualifying for the competitive exams studying at institutes here.” Jha adds that he had to search for several days before he could find an accommodation where his son could study without “disturbance”.
Nitesh Sharma, the chief media and marketing officer of Allen Career Institute, Kota’s biggest coaching centre by far, says their student numbers have risen from last year. “Around 67,000 students have already taken admission and we are expecting the figure to cross 1 lakh by the end of this year,” he says.
Scattered around roadside eateries and mobile recharge shops, many students sitting with friends, earphones plugged in, are enjoying a break from their gruelling schedules. Suman Kumar Verma, who came to Kota a month ago to prepare for NEET, admits one thing unites all of them. “It is easier to study because everyone relates with the other owing to their same objectives.”
Still, as Nishant Ingole, 17, from Aurangabad, says, this period, after the results and with nearly a year to go for the next exam, is their best at Kota. “Every day, I have around seven hours of classes, but at this time, we have some time to listen to music, go out with friends to places such as Chambal Garden in the city, and relax.”