Mathematician Anand Kumar who trains underprivileged students for free and helps them enter IITs
While choosing this mission nine years ago, Anand did not try to be heroic. A brilliant mathematician, he had passed up a chance in the mid-1990s to study at Cambridge University due to financial constraints. He was hurt to the core, and years later, decided the only balm that could heal that festering wound was a vocation that would enable underprivileged students make the higher grades of education.
In 2002, he founded ‘Super 30' his free coaching institute in Patna that spots 30 meritorious poor students and coaches them for IIT-JEE (Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination). He also provides them food and a place to stay. Money earned through maths tuitions given to students from financially stable families under the banner of ‘Ramanujam School of Mathematics' that Anand founded in 1992 enables Super 30 meet its expenses.
The institute has an astounding success rate: Out of the 240 students it has coached over the last eight years, 212 have entered IITs. The last three years have been notable for the fact that all the students have got through.
Despite recognition of his work from various quarters — including U.S. President Barack Obama's office, Time and Newsweek magazines and the Bihar Government — Anand remains humble. There is no sign of vanity in his attire. Many of the students who have benefitted from Super 30 offer him help. A Rotarian who has been following Anand's growth over the years, says, “Anand always says, ‘Thank You. I'll take your help, when needed.' But, he never gets back to them.”
No political role
And he shuns power too. “In the last six months, I am under tremendous pressure from various political parties to join them. I have politely refused the offers and will continue to do so,” says Anand.
As he relates the travails that preceded the glory, he switches often to Hindi to express himself better. “The Super 30's success drew the ire of a few people running other IIT-JEE training institutes in Patna. They wanted me to pack up and leave. I have faced threats from hired goons. I have survived two bomb attacks and one dagger strike. In 2005, the police provided me body guards, who are still watching out for me,” says Anand. “There are, however, other dangers that can't be easily warded off. One, a mushroom of duplicate Super 30s. Two, blogs aimed at tarnishing my work.”
These things, however, don't seem to have distracted Anand from his goals, which include improving and expanding Super 30 (“Even when the number of students double, the institute will be called Super 30”), starting a ‘dream school' that will take under its wing students who drop out after Class X.
Both dreams appear far-off. He runs Super 30 with a deplorably small team of four teachers — including his past students Amit Kumar and Praveen Kumar who teach physics and chemistry — and three non-teaching staff. His brother Pranav Kumar manages the institute and his mother Jayanti Devi cooks for the students.
Having to take maths as well as counselling classes for the students, Anand is busy throughout the day. “These students need counselling and pep talk. They come from very poor families, and are low on confidence. We have to constantly inject into them the belief that they can rise as high as anybody else.”
To make this job easier, Anand has created two cartoon characters — Ricky and Bolu — and a beautiful inspirational story to go with them.
Ricky is a rich child with all the comforts and pleasures that money can buy. While Ricky goes around in a fancy car, poor Bolu rides a rickety old, second-hand cycle. But, Ricky has only one solution to any problem. In contrast, Bolu approaches every problem with four possible solutions.
There is a strong autobiographical element in Bolu's characterisation.