I have been thinking from quite some time about writing about the one year that I spent in Kota, when I was in class 12th. I guess it is about time before I actually start forgetting about it!

I had begun dreaming about studying in IIT even when I was in class 9th. That was when a fellow classmate told me about Bansal classes in Kota- he told me about the huge number of students that study there every year and about the tough competition they face to get into both Bansal and later, IIT. Truly speaking, it were the stories of the fierce competition at Bansal that actually made me poke my dad every other day (when I was in Ahmedabad in class 11) to send me to Kota next year. My father supported me completely, as he always does, and I was only 16 when I went there. Two batches were made that year for freshers of class 12th, F1 and F2- I was put in the former.

Bansal classes, back then, used to be a temple for IIT-JEE coaching. The atmosphere was heavily competitive as well as, at times, frustrating. The batches of folks, who had joined Bansal when they were in 11th, ran from A1 to A8 and B1 to B8- the batches were made on the basis of the tests that were taken round the year and people were shuffled after almost every test. A1 had the highest rankers. We, the people of F1 and F2 batches, were to study a crash course of the 11th class syllabus for a while and were then to be merged with the other batches- this was to be done on the basis of a common test taken after 2 or 3 months. I landed into B1 and that was when I realized my true standing! Toppers were sort of worshipped there- it was normal when people went ‘Oh look, that fellow over there is 3rd ranker in Bansal’. Rumours and achiever stories abounded and students more or less tried to imitate the lifestyle of the toppers that they had heard somewhere- I still remember hearing about a guy who used to stand, in trance or something, at the main gate of his house for hours at a stretch. I remember about him because even I tried that on a couple of occasions, in hopes of getting a better rank in the next test! Tests were very competitive and very scary and I began scoring better than average scores only after sometime.

Most teachers at Bansal were simple awesome. V.K. Bansal, who founded the institute, taught maths to A1 to A4 batches. I had an opportunity to study probability and P&C from him and even till now, I feel comfortable in these two areas. He had a very good sense of humour (he liked to call all the girls in the class his girlfriends!) and was very talkative too- at times, his stories would go on for the entire class duration. But the one teacher who influenced me the most was another math teacher by the name of Jeevan Jyoti. He was the only teacher in the institute who knew my name and I found a lot of support in the many talks that I had with him after my evening classes. According to me, he was the most undervalued teacher in Bansal and I like to think that it was so because he was, in many respects, a better teacher than V.K. Bansal. Teachers had peculiar habits: there was one of physical chemistry called NA (which is the chemical formula of sodium) who liked to compare his qualities with those of sodium; one of organic chemistry called MSC who had memorized even the page numbers of a book called Peter Sykes; another one of organic called SR who used to make us feel guilty for not studying regularly by reminding us of the huge amount our parents had spent so we could study there (he even told us to go without lunch for a couple of days so as to punish ourselves for the ‘sins’ we had committed by not solving a DPP on time! These tactics did work because back then, I was just a kid who had stepped out of his house for the first time); NJ (or ninja) who would have easily been the laziest fellow and also the brightest mind in physics in the city.

In Kota, I remember a Modi school, which had more than 40 sections in class 12- they were numbered 12A to 12Z and then 12AA, 12AB and so on! On certain days of the year, when the entire class 12 was to be summoned, Modi used to declare holiday for the rest of the school! Even the school I attended had a tacit understanding with Bansal and on the days when we actually went to school, we were marked absent in the attendance register! I, along with a small group of friends, used to go to school only for practicals in chemistry and physics and when we didn’t have anything better to do at home.

Talking about home, I lived in a decently sized rented room in Vigyan Nagar at a walking distance from Bansal. The Meena landlord was good-natured and didn’t really disturb me a lot. He lived with his wife and a son (or a daughter, I don’t really remember) who was still living in a cradle - the couple was very childish and very naïve in social matters, but then the husband was the single most miserable soul I had seen in Kota when it came to monetary matters. He would get upset with you if you forgot to pay him even a rupee that you owed him! Another guy lived in a room adjoining mine. We were both preparing for JEE ’06, but he had joined Bansal a year before me. He loved to talk; in my initial days in the city, he used to tell me all kinds of rumours and stories about Bansal, Kota, the teachers and toppers in the institute etc. But when I realized that he was actually wasting a lot of my time, I fought him over some petty issue and never talked to him for the rest of the year. I never found out what became of him.

Kota was a usual Rajasthani city- the only difference between it and the other cities was the heavy number of non-resident students that studied there. Almost every other house, however big or shabby, had a ‘To Let’ board outside- the ones that didn’t have this sign would already have all their rentable rooms occupied! There were numerous messes in Vigyan Nagar and Talwandi (another huge locality housing many students). The food they served was better than average (mainly because of the competition); these messes would take an advance payment for a month and students seldom tried only one or two messes during their entire stay. These were the only places where most of the people like me watched TV. Himesh Reshammiya (who had released ‘Aashiq banaya aapne’ and ‘Aapka suroor’ back then) and Jay Z B (of the ‘Jine mera dil luteya’ fame) were heavily popular at that time! There was a Brijwasi halwaayi shop in Vigyan Nagar where I frequently breakfasted on samosas and kachoris.

I had few friends back then and all of them had been my fellow mates in F1. One went by the name of Ankit Bajaj. He had a bicycle and it was a luxury that the two of us enjoyed for the entire year! He was a regular visitor at my house and an unfailing lunch and dinner mate. He stayed in Kota for another year after me, i.e. for 13th, and landed into some college in Indore. I have lost all contact with him now- tried to find him on Facebook a couple of times but the commonality of his name comes in the way. There was another called KLS Shankar- a typical ghissu who worked really hard for the entire year. He seldom went out with us for having fun, lived in a seriously shabby place and later on, deservedly landed into IIT Chennai! Rahul Garg, a ‘baby fatso’, was from Saharanpur. The two of us shared a (sort of) common disregard for the study material that Bansal gave us. He trusted more the many books he kept purchasing over time and because of this habit, I guess, he remained an underperformer in Bansal. Eventually, he made into a college in Dehradun.

I studied a lot in that one year (I never rented a TV for a night and I did not watch even a single movie in that year, not even Rang de Basanti!) but had picked up the wrong direction early on. Even though we were provided a lot of stuff to study, I trusted more the numerous thick books by foreign authors that sat on my rack (I had purchased them even before my first day in Bansal) and remained a confused kid for the entire year. The final IIT-JEE paper was of 180 marks in each of the PCM subjects. I was very good in Math- I consistently performed well in all the tests in Bansal in math. And in IIT-JEE, I failed to clear the math cut-off by one mark (I scored a mere 35 or 36)! On the other hand, I considered physics to be my weakest subject. Bansal sheets on every topic had three exercise levels- 1, 2 and actual JEE questions. In physics, I could not even solve exercise 1 questions in any topic and in JEE, I scored a more than average score of 105 something! Ironic, I would say. I performed well in AIEEE- scored an under 400 rank and landed into DCE. I had not given any other paper apart from JEE and AIEEE. In fact, I was even planning to not appear for AIEEE but I did because of Bajaj- he came to me one morning and persuaded  me (in his ‘I know it all’ tone) to fill the form. In a way, I am glad he did that! Shankar actually appeared only for JEE.

Kota was the one year in my life that I’ll always be glad that it happened. I had a very (I cannot emphasize this ‘very’ enough) tough time there- but it taught me a lot. In Ahmedabad, you will mainly find Gujaratis and they tend to have a fixed and a narrow mentality- Kota was the first time I began dealing with different kinds of people. Folks my age were working hard, day and night, to fulfil a dream and that is no mean thing. And for me, the most significant thing was breaking out of home early on- it provided me an opportunity to explore things on my own and I have always been grateful to my father for all the support he gave me at that age. After the AIEEE results were out, I had to choose a college- between DCE and the NITs from south. My father left the entire decision making to me and today, I believe I had taken the right choices.

Had I tried writing about my experiences only a little while after Kota, I am sure I could have filled pages. But today, after about five and a half years, most of the things have faded from my memory. What I have written above is more or less the only things I can remember now- I’ll pen down more as and when I remember things!