Super 30: Anand Kumar Changing the World 30 Students at a Time
256 pages; Average reading time 3 hours 37 min
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In 1973, Indian economy was crawling at the famous Hindu rate of growth. 54 per cent of the country’s population was living below the defined poverty line. The state of Bihar was in particularly bad shape, with 70 per cent of its population living below poverty line. Patna, the capital of Bihar, is where Rajendra Prasad lived with his family. Rajendra’s family comprised of his wife Jayanti, his brother and his wife and their parents. As a letter sorter with the Indian Railways Mail Service, Rajendra’s meagre salary just about enabled the family of six to live in the slum of Gaudiya Math, a suburb of Patna, and eke out a simple living. On 1st January, 1973, Rajendra and Jayanti, having lost a daughter earlier, were blessed with a boy, whom the grandparents named Anand- the Hindi word for Joy. Two years after Anand came Pranav.
Inquisitive as a kid, Anand would take things apart to understand how things work. Soon he started repairing broken radio sets on his own and in one instance, with a chemistry experiment gone wrong, caused a mini explosion in Chandpur Bela– the locality where Rajendra Prasad had built a house in 1988. Younger brother, Pranav, in the meanwhile, was following his own path of becoming a violin player.
College Years & Happy Numbers
By the time Anand Kumar was in grade 10, he was doing far better in maths, as compared to other subjects- a talent his teachers were clearly able to notice. Anand joined B.N College in Patna for his Junior College and chose maths as his specialisation subject. In college, he would reach out to his teachers with perspectives in maths that would normally not be expected from someone of his age. In 1991, conscious of the poor education facilities in Chandpur Bela, Anand decided to do something about it. On 10th August 1992, Anand attempted his first effort to improve the education resources in his locality- he opened a maths club with just two students. The two students did very well in their grade 12 exams, especially in maths. Word got around about Anand’s maths club and soon there were other students who were keen to join Ramanujan School of Mathematics- the name Anand gave to his maths club, in honour of his favourite mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.
By 1993, Ramanujan School of Mathematics had forty students, only a fraction of whom paid a nominal fee to Anand. While helping students at Ramanujan School, Anand started nurturing the secret desire to study further at the University of Cambridge. He was already reading up journals in mathematics that he would pick at university libraries. Soon, Anand worked on a solution to a complex maths problem on his own, and showed it to the Head of Mathematics at Patna Science College. Professor D.P. Verma found the solution elegant and in order to bring some finesse to it, he asked Anand to send the solution to Kaushal Ajitabh-a senior of Anand’s, who was pursuing his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With Prof Verma and Kaushal’s help, Anand published an original paper titled Happy Numbers in the British Journal Mathematical Spectrum.
He then went on to publish a few more papers across prestigious journals, all this while pursuing his studies as well as running Ramanujan School of Mathematics from a poor suburb of Patna. With the encouragement of his well-wishers, Anand decided to apply at the Cambridge in April 1994.
Cambridge and Selling papad
In a month’s time, Cambridge wrote back confirming acceptance of his application to study maths at the world renowned university. Amidst all the delight and happiness, the serious and difficult job of arranging funds to send Anand to Cambridge began. Rajendra Prasad was clear that his son had to go to Cambridge– whatever be the cost.
On 23rd August 1994, Rajendra Prasad developed laboured breathing and though Anand got his father to the hospital, delay is administering the right medication led to Rajendra Prasad’s death that night. In this period of bereavement, there was still the big challenge of arranging funds for Anand’s Cambridge stint. Anand met rich businessmen, political leaders (including the then Chief Minister of Bihar) but to no avail. Due to a loan taken by Rajendra Prasad, there was an outstanding amount on the family and no source of income, other than a meagre amount from Ramanujan School. The family’s priority shifted from arranging funds for Cambridge to managing the next meal for the day.
Anand’s brother Pranav, who was studying music at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), also came back to support the family. His mother decided to make papads (a savoury food eaten with meals) which Anand would then go out and sell. Very soon, Anand was selling papads on his bicycle during the day, and studying maths in the night. Selling papads allowed the family to pay off its debt and barely keep hunger at bay. Both Cambridge and Ramanujan School were shelved. But while Cambridge was a shelved dream, Ramanujan School of Mathematics still kept Anand awake.
Ramanujan School of Mathematics
Anand revived Ramanujan School in 1995 with six students. Despite the severe struggle with finances at home, Anand continued to charge a very nominal fee from the students, that too only from those who could afford to pay. Some of these students, while being coached by Anand for grade 12 public exam, were also keen to appear for the extremely competitive Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission into the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). Coaching for JEE was an expensive proposition at private coaching institutes, something that was out of reach for the Ramanujan students. Anand decided to help his students prepare for IIT-JEE at a fraction of the cost. With the support of the editor of the Patna edition of The Times of India, Anand got the opportunity to write a weekly column on maths in the popular newspaper. This popular column helped Anand with enrolments at Ramanujan School, so much so that the school relocated into a bigger premise.
By 1997, Ramanujan School had 300 students and Anand started using a Public Address System to run his classes. Pranav, who was a budding violinist in Mumbai, also started helping Anand with the administrative aspects of running Ramanujan School of Mathematics. By 1998, the student population was 400, each paying Rs 500 ($7) annually- a small fraction of the exorbitant fees at the other coaching institutes. The other coaching institutes began a vilification campaign against Anand that soon degenerated into threats and violence. The landlord of the premises where Ramanujan School operated from, was forced to ask Anand to vacate the premises. Ramanujan School, now 500 students strong, shifted to a secluded part of the town.
By 2000, Anand was no longer worried about money, but he was worried about the quality of education being provided at Ramanujan School. He decided to limit the students to 500, come what may, so that he could extend personal attention to each of the students. He also decided to conduct an entrance qualifying exam for his school. In the first edition of this entrance exam, 7500 students appeared, of which 500 were selected. Anand seemed well settled into a life of a high calibre maths teacher in a small Indian town, doing what he loved and earning enough money to take care of his family. But then Abhishek Raj & Kishan Kumar came along.
In Search of a Greater Purpose
In 2002, a boy-Abhishek Raj-came from a nearby village, with his mother, to meet Anand. His father was a potato farmer in the village, and earned only during the potato harvesting season. Abhishek, his mother said, stood first in all the exams in his village school. Abhishek was keen to study further at the Ramanujan School, but could not afford the Rs 1000 ($15) annual fees. This reminded Anand of Kishan Kumar who had met Anand earlier and told him he wanted to become an engineer, but had no money to pay the fees for studies. Anand asked for Kishan’s address in Patna and went to his ‘home’ to meet him. Kishan did not have a home-he worked as a security guard at a house- studied by the street lamp’s light, and slept in the open. Anand was heart wrenched. He thought of the days when he wanted to go to Cambridge and no support came his way. He thought of his father, Rajendra Prasad, and wondered if his father expected him to do more than just run the Ramanujan School. He was reminded of the time when his father had asked him to follow a greater purpose.
Educate a Student, Elevate a Village
Anand decided to explore the path of greater purpose. He decided to begin a system of coaching very different from Ramanujan School. 30 underprivileged students would be chosen by Anand through a qualifying exam, who would not only study and prepare for IIT-JEE, but also eat, sleep and stay with Anand-at no cost. He asked his mother to cook for the 30 students and take care of their day to day living. Jayanti Devi was sceptical about the idea, but then Anand reminded her that the money they had now was because Rajendra Prasad ensured a good education for Anand and Pranav. These 30 kids are trapped in abject poverty and the only way for them to aim for a better life would be through good education. Enabling full boarding would allow bright students from far-off villages to study under Anand’s tutelage. ‘You educate one boy, you elevate an entire village’, said Anand. Jayanti Devi agreed but felt Anand was trying to be a Superman. 30 was the number because Anand felt that supporting full living expenses of more than 30 students would be beyond Anand’s means. Super 30 was born.
Superman or Super 30?
In the spring of 2002, Super 30 began from Anand’s home. Suitable (and barebones) accommodation was identified for 30 students. Jayanti Devi geared up to cook two simple meals for 30 students every day, Pranav became the overall supervisor of the programme, and Anand the tutor. Super 30 expenses would be covered from Ramanujan School’s earnings, and a decision was taken that Super 30 will never seek or accept funds or donations. The first qualifying exam saw many under privileged students appearing to get a chance to enter the Super 30 programme. The first batch of Super 30 started preparing for IIT-JEE exactly one year before their actual JEE exam. One year of rigorous study, basic food and lodging, saw 18 of the 30 students clear the IIT-JEE and get confirmed engineering seats in the best engineering college in India- the Indian Institutes of Technology. The highest ranker among these 18 students was Abhishek Raj, the son of the potato farmer, whose mother did not have the money to pay for Ramanujan School fees.
This was a revolution beginning in the non-descript state of Bihar, built on the determination to not let another under-privileged child miss the chance to earn the best education that the country had to offer. The next year, 22 of the 30 made it to the IITs. In 2005, it was 26, then 28 in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, all 30 students from Super 30 made it to the IITs. This 100% record was repeated in 2009 and 2010. In the 13 years that Super 30 has been around, 333 out of the 390 students have joined the IITs, and the others have joined colleges of national repute.
Formula for Super 30?
What is Anand’s formula for Super 30? Anand says that the core requirement to help underprivileged students succeed is to raise their confidence. Having lived a life of abject poverty and constraints, these students do not believe that they, too, can join institutions of global repute like the IITs. But once they are part of the Super 30 community, the power of group learning helps the students come out of their shells. These students are also aware that this is their one chance to change their destiny, with help from Anand Sir.
On 30th September, 2014, Anand was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-on an invite to address the teaching faculty and students. From missing an opportunity to study at Cambridge to selling papad on the streets of Patna to building Ramanujan School & Super 30, Anand had travelled a long way-guided all along by his father’s call to ‘find the greater purpose’. Global acknowledgement for Super 30 has been rich and adulatory. Japan has tracked Super 30 closely through documentaries. Discovery Channel did a feature on Super 30, and Barack Obama’s special envoy visited Anand in Patna in 2010. Super 30 has been covered extensively by both Indian and international media.
How Nidhi Jha Reached Paris from Varanasi
Nidhi Jha is from Varanasi, where her father is an auto-rickshaw driver. Once Nidhi cleared her grade 10 public exam, it gave her the confidence that further studies will help her build a better life. She attempted IIT-JEE on her own, but could not clear the exam. She then got to know about Super 30 and travelled to Patna and successfully cleared the entrance test for Super 30. Like the few other girls, Nidhi stayed with Anand’s family instead of the hostel. In her mind, her father driving an auto rickshaw to run the family became her motivating factor and for her Super 30 was her best opportunity to build a life very different from what she lived currently. Nidhi Jha made it to Indian School of Mining, Dhanbad. In 2015, a French director made a movie on Nidhi’s life, and Nidhi, along with her family and Anand Sir, got to travel to Paris to watch the premiere of the movie.
Shivangee’s Journey to IIT Roorkee
Shivangee Gupta is currently studying chemical engineering at IIT Roorkee. She was part of the 2013 batch of Super 30. Shivangee is from a village near Kanpur, where her father runs magazine and newspaper stall. She travelled to Patna for Super 30. She remembers her expense free one year stay at Anand’s home fondly. While she cleared the IIT-JEE entrance due to Super 30 programme, Shivangee’s family did not have the ability to fund her four years engineering study at IIT Roorkee. Super 30 stepped in to help her with an education loan from a bank, by acting as her guarantor.
Chiranjeev’s Journey to Adobe Systems
Chiranjeev Kumar is a computer science engineer from IIT-BHU, Varanasi and currently work with Adobe Systems. Before he joined the Super 30 batch of 2010, Chiranjeev studied in his village school. His father is a farmer and his mother stitches clothes. Their means could offer Chiranjeev the village level school education only. Without Super 30, Chiranjeev may have still been in his village.
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