In his failure sprouted a faint flicker of hope. With the years, the hope became a dream. And the dream has not only come true for him but for many who dared not to dream big. Meet young mathematician Anand Kumar from Chandpur Bela, Patna, whose dream of pursuing higher studies at Cambridge University was terminated by financial difficulties, despite an offer from the top British institution. Having come a long way since, a gritty Kumar today is the proud brain behind Super 30, the free IIT coaching centre for talented poor students in Patna which has been hitting the national headlines two years in a row for its 100 per cent success rate. But this 36-year-old would rather tell his sad story first. “I knocked at many doors in 1994-1995 seeking sponsorship to study at Cambridge. I sought help from the then Bihar Government, visited newspaper offices in Delhi too. Though The Hindu published a story on memy state, nothing came of it,” recalls Kumar, flashing a gentle smile. and a pair of twinkling eyes that sit lightly on you.
Strapped in poverty, Kumar had to swallow his frustration and accept his reality. “I wish there was Internet then, my plea would have got a wider audience,” he says. Being a brilliant student of mathematics, he thought of making a living out of giving tuitions. “I began to coach local IIT aspirants by starting my Ramanujam School of Mathematics.” Kumar lost his father long ago and his mother was putting food on the table by running ran a small business of homemade papads to put food on the table. Kumar, who stopped over at Delhi the other day on his way back from Bangalore where he presented a research paper on mathematics, continues to rewind. “The institute was doing all right, and I was beginning to accept the reality that my life would end this way.”
But then everything changed. He explains how: “It was in early 2000 that a poor student came to me seeking coaching for IIT-JEE. He said, *I can't afford the full fee. I will give you Rs. 1,500 now and after my father sells his crop of potatoes in six monthslater, I can give you another Rs. 500.' I reeled back to my days of frustration and thought hard. I wanted to make a difference.”
It led Kumar him to start Super 30, a free residential IIT coaching centre for financially-weak poor students. “After a test, I picked 30 students who had it in them to make it to the IIT. I offered them free boarding and lodging. But it was not easy.” Needing help, he called back his brother who by then had gone to Mumbai seeking work; his mother offered to cook for the boarders; he roped in two teachers to help and took a place on rent. In the first year, 18 students made it to different IITs. And, since 2008, all 30 have been successful. With such sparkling results, one is tempted to call him Midas, but back home, he says, “I am still called the papad wallah bhaiya because for about three years I used to go door-to-door selling my mother's papads.” Kumar's success attracted offers from rich businessmen offering financial help. “But I refused. I want to state the point that one can make a difference without big money. The tuition fee I earned from Ramanujam Institute is enough.”
Making a difference
It also attracted the wrath of the local coaching mafia, and a staff member was stabbed one day. “I have security guards now.” But he is steadfast. in his resolve, “Because I am convinced that right coaching can make a huge difference to poor students. So far, 182 students out of 210 have made it to the IIT through us. Imagine what difference they will bring to their families. The rest also made it to other good institutions.” Reacting to Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal's idea of scrapping the IIT entrance examination, he says, “He should rather think of cutting down the lofty standard of questions in the entrance. They are for research scholars, not for class 12 students.” Opening Kumar, wanting to open Super 30 to poor students from outside Bihar, Kumar has expanded the number of seats to 60 from this year. “We had an all-India test but could pick only 45.” There are two reasons. “One, many good poor students drop out of school before plus 12. One is that good students from poor families often drop out before completing class 12. “The other reason is, even though we managed to get a few more than 45 this time, they opted out because their families feel Bihar is not a safe place to be in.”