Realising the IIT dream

Take your pick. What does it take to get into the fabled world of IIT. Hard work? Dedication? Luck? Or is it I-am-good-at-my-subject confidence? Or is it coaching at Ramaiah Institute? If you picked only one of them, you may not land up at the IIT at all. It is all of these and none of these.

Welcome to the world of billion-dollar possibilities and cipher misses. Of two-year bookworms and of parental sacrifices.They may be the next big wave. The people who will create a splash and something more in whatever they do. To top it, this year, more than 200 17-year-olds got the coveted IIT seats from Andhra Pradesh.

What made them tick the right choice?A few days after the good news of securing an under-100 rank, life is not easy, though it might be exciting. Shrikant is in Mumbai making his choice between physics and chemistry Olympiad. Ravikant Shastri is preparing for the maths Olympiad. Pramod and Mohan Krishna are in Chennai preparing for chemistry Olympiad. Exceptionally gifted students?

That may be one of the criterion. S Rohit gives me a peep into the grind that landed him seat number 135. Get up at 3 am, eat something then rush to the coaching institute, get back and finish the tonnes of homework, grab a bite then back to the institute for four more hours of the grind.

Top off the day with some more homework. If this doesn’t sound appetising, here’s more bad news. No friends, no Tees with names of heroines, no parties, no movies and no TV for two years. At an age when most of their friends would be watching MTV Beach Grind, these students were undergoing a different kind of grind.

The signboard at Sriramnagar in a dingy by-lane says: Slum Improvement Project Phase III Aided by the government of UK. Living next to it in a small two-room house is Muthunoori Ravi Kiran. The boy next door who has secured 2nd rank in IIT among SC candidates. Ravi Kiran had his father drop him off to the coaching class at 3 am, “I was really scared of stray dogs.”

“Getting into IIT is very simple if you have the calibre. I worked for nearly 10 hours a day, and just before the exam I saw Hera Pheri. I was good at numbers and the coaching ensured that I was disciplined to solve any problem. Getting into IIT is not about solving problems but about living and how to analyse any problem,” says Ravi Kiran.

“At the coaching centre each and every problem was not solved so learnt to solve any problem,” says Ravi Kiran. Rohit Acharya’s body language is of a very obedient student in front of his teachers. Back from Tirupati with a tonsured pate, he is ostensibly seeking advice on which branch to pursue at IIT.

“In the ninth class neither did I know about IIT nor about Ramaiah but once I got to know about it my life changed completely. I didn’t care about my marks in tenth class, so what I scored very good marks,” he says.Rohit talks about mechanical engineering and sliding (moving to computer science) when he is talking to his lecturers.

But in private, he is a transformed man. The obedient-boy body language changes to one that is more in tune with the big-body big-boy confident image. The palm rubbing diffident thing gives way to thigh slapping expansive gestures. The verbal language changes from: “yes sir, no sir,” to one of body shaking laughter and “nahi yaar, yeah and nahs.”

But for two years, Rohit forgot all about his piano lessons and paintings.And what will he do with his first million dollars? “Million dollars? That would be a lot of money? Do you think I will get that kind of money?” are some of the questions to my questions.

“Well if I get that kind of money I will help my institute in whatever way possible, I am grateful to it. I will send the money here,” he says.“Wowie, million dollars, I will buy myself a red Ferrari,” says G Karthik who has got 811 rank. Karthik is different from the other students in that he is good at computers already. He completed DCA and PGDCA when he was doing ninth class.

“All my classmates were uncles they were holding jobs and were much older than me, but I was more brilliant,” says Karthik. IIT is not about numbers it is about common sense about how you handle problems. “It is also about not getting distracted,” says Karthik.

Sharat whose parents have shifted from Marredpally to Shivam so that it would be within walking distance to his coaching class says: “Practice enables us to do anything. It gives confidence. It is not 10 hours of slogging but 10 hours of learning how to think differently. But it may click or may not click. There’s the rub.”

Everyone knows getting into IIT is not a joke. First the preliminaries with 1,26,000 competitors, then the cruncher with 20,000 students slugging it out for the 2,600 seats. Then a shocker of a list with 3,600 numbers and names.Another place, another time. The appointment is at 10.30 am. Suddenly, an old man wearing white panchi pulled up to the thighs and a starched kurta comes pillion riding a Hero Honda.

“Tatayya has come,” shouts one young boy and runs inside. Ramaiah shows the four classrooms that make up for the institute. In one L-shaped room he points to the first chair on his left.

“All the boys (it is always a boy, girls are very rare to come by in the rarefied realm of mathematics) sitting here have got under-100 rank. This boy (pointing to Rohit Acharya) used to sit here. Each seat has a history and the impressions are everlasting,” says Ramaiah.

One coaching class from Hyderabad may have produced 102 IIT success stories but behind it is the story of exceptional talent. Ten years back Ramaiah gave his students one problem from Hall and Knight x-a + x-b+ x-c = 0. Then the master trotted out the routine solution in five steps. One student, Manish got up, and solved the same problem in one step. “I learnt that solution from him,” says Ramaiah.

“The students are not ordinary men who can become IIT rankers just by undergoing the grind, they have to have it in them to make the mark,” says Surendranath a physics lecturer. Surendranath has radical ideas of teaching and has created Java Applets to help students visualise abstract physics problems.

“Children find it difficult to understand transverse wave equations but when it is created on a screen and they can see the various permutations and combinations and it sticks in their mind,” says Surendranath.Thinking in abstract is not a difficult thing for the students who have made it to IITs.

“Content is less important, how you approach the subject is. It is a way of thinking,” says Koteswar Rao who teaches mathematics. “Most of the students are exceptional and gifted, so it requires a different methodology of teaching.

Children who learn by rote would stand no chance, on the other hand, those who adapt and grasp ideas quickly and use them would have a head start,” says Koteswar Rao. Dinesh is the odd man out who would opt for electrical engineering and commuted by bus to his coaching centre.

Slogging is a thing of past for him, “If I make my first million, the very next day I would return to India,” he says.“Come back and do what?” is the blank question that Radha Malini throws back at me. One of the few girls who have made it to IIT, Radha puts dedication and hard work as the criterion to get into IIT.

“I can come back but what will I do after doing an MS in the US, I don’t like corruption one bit so why should I live in a corrupt country when I have a choice?” asks Radha. S Rohit has already made up his mind: IIT Powai with computers.

“I think I am here because of my friends,” in the next breath he says: “I am here because I was very competitive. I asked my friends advice but I never told them what I was doing, what I was studying or how I was preparing.”Choice is not a simple word for IITians.

Most IITians, whatever be the branch, are lapped up by foreign universities sure about their knowledge level and their adaptability. Money is also not a difficult thing for IITians. If the regimen is tough, students take it because they know that that IIT opens unimaginable doors of possibilities.

MS at MIT or any other top American university, then it is minting dollars.But all is not hunky-dory. Everyone doesn’t get into IIT. Take the case of N Suresh, son of a MCH engineer, his mother wanted him to get into IIT.

Pre-coaching class grind and a tough study regimen ensured that he got into one of the best coaching centres for IIT. But the IIT dream was not to be realised. He couldn’t make it. Then his parents consulted an astrologer who predicted that the bad phase will pass by the time he made the second attempt.

To make things certain, the parents consulted a Vaastu expert who found fault with the opening of their doorway. The boundary wall was brought down, the doorway changed and Suresh wrote the next exam. Unfortunately, he flunked again.

This is not an exceptional case. Ramaiah, who offers coaching for IIT selects 125 students out of 5,000 students who write his tough competitive exam. A seat in Ramaiah is the first step, a slip there means half of the IIT dream gone sour.Mukta Acharya is Rohit’s sister.

Having seen her brother slog day in day out without a break, without being in touch with the world, Mukta wants none of his lifestyle. “No stress and strain for me,” she says. Pendyal Kirti got 29th rank, one which would ensure him a seat in whatever branch he wants. “I would opt for computers because everything depends on computers.”

And what about the first million dollars he makes, “Oh that would be lot of money, I would happily come back and do something here to help people,” he says. These are not your geek boys made good but people who worked hard, with a lot of dedication and the gods joined in. So next time you see a serious young man walk with books under his arm, watch him carefully. He could be the next IITian you know.