Here is a review of the man behind the buzz and the contribution of his innovative ‘Super 30’ coaching initiative in forging exceptional students out of the poorest of poor individuals, who would otherwise have been lost in the sea of mediocristan and defeated by their challenging circumstances.
Hrithik Roshan’s latest flick “Super 30” inspired by the ‘rags to riches’ life story of the mathematics teacher and mentor, Anand Kumar, is rocking the charts at the Box Office. In just 10 days, it has made it to the coveted Rs 100 crore club and is still going strong, in spite of the fact that movie critics have pilloried the makers for not getting the casting right. Recruiting a six-feet tall, fair-looking star with so-called Greek-god looks, six-pack abs, a chiseled jawline and green eyes to play a 5.6 feet tall, average looking, wheatish-complexioned maths guru with a round face, has not gone down well with them.
Apart from the casting, Roshan is under fire for not delivering the dialogues in a perfect Bihari accent. Then there is the over-dramatisation of events (like when a bunch of students, armed with physics and chemistry formulas, fight off gangs of thugs equipped with firearms) which is putting off movie mavens. Omission of key personalities, like the former Bihar Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Dr Abhayanand, who was a co-founder of sorts of the ‘Super 30’ venture, has upset many.
Be that as it may, enough ink has been spilled in scrutinising the movie ‘Super 30’. So, there is no point in bombarding readers with another opinion piece. This is rather a review of the man behind the buzz and the contribution of his innovative ‘Super 30’ coaching initiative in forging exceptional students out of the poorest of poor individuals, who would otherwise have been lost in the sea of mediocristan and defeated by their challenging circumstances.
And who else are better equipped to tell his story than the very students he has taught in the past 18 years? Swarajya talked to a few of them to understand the phenomenon that Anand Kumar has become.
“My parents were labourers. Now, I have a job so I don’t let them work. I started my schooling late --- from fifth standard at our local government school. It was a typical one --- bereft of facilities and teachers. I didn’t have any interest in studies so I would run errands for my mother because she frowned upon me sitting idle at home. Then one day, I was out grazing buffaloes and one of them tossed me down. That day I decided to start studying.
“We didn’t have a pakka house --- it was made of bamboos and a plastic sheet was our roof. During the rains, it would all come crashing down. Then, I started sleeping at a friend’s place. In exchange, I would clean their house. As I started taking my education seriously, my elder brother gave me books to prepare for the entrance exam of the Navodya school.
“Other people in the village started seeing me work hard. One friend suggested I give tuitions. I started making Rs 500 per month from this, saved some money and used it to come to Patna to study in Super 30 after clearing its entrance examination and interview, which was conducted by Anand Sir himself,” Sujit Kumar narrates to me his fascinating story.
He was born and brought up in a small village in Bihar’s Madhepura district. After two years at ‘Super 30’, he got selected to attend IIT BHU (Indian Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University) in 2015 and opted for mechanical engineering as his discipline. His family didn’t have the money to even send him to IIT after he cracked the exam and Anand Kumar paid his admission fee.
During campus placements, he got a couple of offers --- from L&T ( Larsen and Toubro Ltd.) and the Aditya Birla Group --- but he didn’t take up either as he wanted to prepare for the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) exam and become an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer.
“That was the plan but looking at the financial situation back home, I started teaching Maths at Sri Chaitanya academy in Andhra Pradesh, where I got such a good response from students that the institute gave me the top batch to teach. In my free time, I prepare for UPSC,” Kumar says.
After his graduation, inspired by his mentor, Sujit Kumar started a small school in his village to teach poor students. His friends manage it in his absence. This is his way of giving back to his community.
Ravish Kumar was one year senior to Sujit at ‘Super 30’. He cracked the IIT exam in 2014 and got into the electrical engineering branch at IIT Kanpur. Currently, he is working at an MNC (multi-national company) in Pune. Ravish hails from Purnea district in Bihar and comes from a humble background.
“My father used to work in the state irrigation department. I studied in a government school till Class XII because my family didn’t have enough money to send me to a coaching institute in Patna after Class X. When I was taking my Class XII board exams, my father fell really ill; he was admitted to hospital. He had developed a clot in his brain. Surgery was costly and consumed all the family’s savings not to speak of the many loans we had to take. There was no money left to spend on my education at the time. A friend of mine, who was studying in Patna, told me about Super 30. I cleared its entrance exam and my life turned for the better,” says Ravish Kumar.
Dhananjay Kumar is a batchmate of both Sujit and Ravish. “I stayed back there for two years as I didn’t get a good rank in my first attempt. After my first attempt, I got a seat at NIT (National Institutes of Technology) Warangal. Then, Anand Sir asked me to give it another shot. In 2015, I got a seat in electrical engineering at IIT Kharagpur,” he says.
Like Sujit and Ravish, Dhananjay also comes from an impoverished background. “My father didn’t have money to send me to any coaching institute. Some of my friends had gone to Kota. I felt bad at that time. I got to know about Super 30 from a newspaper. A friend took me to Patna to give its entrance exam, which I cleared,” he tells me.
Dhananjay says he didn’t inform his parents that he was going to Patna and had no money for even a return ticket to his hometown. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford any coaching, forget about clearing the exam.” He is currently employed with the US-based software firm, MathWorks, whose major products include the widely-used software, MATLAB.
Prem Pal is from the 2015 batch. He hails from a small village in Nalanda district. “My father was a landless farmer. Batai pe khet lekar kaam karte the --- he would take some farmlands on batai (lease) and cultivate them. I studied in a government-aided school in my village. Only ambition I had was to do a big job but had no idea what exactly it was. After I scored good marks in Class XII, an elder from my village, who runs a book shop in Patna near Anand Sir’s home, informed me about Super 30. I really liked maths so I joined the institute after clearing its entrance test,” he tells me.
Prem Pal got admission into the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology at Thiruvananthapuram. Just recently, he got hired as a scientist by none other than Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and is expecting his joining letter any moment now. “If I hadn’t got selected at Super 30, I wouldn’t have been able to study further after my twelfth exams. I would’ve gone back to my village, stayed at home and prepared for some competitive exams there,” says Prem Pal.
He hopes to contribute to his country by working at ISRO. “I feel that I should do something from my own village also. People still suffer a lot from lack of literacy. There is an urge to do something for my people. Seeing what Anand Sir has done for us, it also gives me inspiration to give something back to society in any manner I can.”
The students I talked to informed me that simply clearing the Super 30 entrance exam doesn’t guarantee one’s admission there. One’s income is also taken into consideration and preference is given to those from poorer backgrounds. “In my batch, there were hardly any rich people. Most were from poor and lower middle-class backgrounds,” Prem Pal says.
Jainesh Sinha of the 2005 batch tells me that income was definitely a criteria during the time of his admission too. “There may have been a couple of students who could have afforded to take a loan and study at FIITJEE (Forum for Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination), which used to charge upwards of Rs 50,000, but there was not a single student one could call rich. At least seven-eight students came from families that were below the poverty line.
“My own father’s income at the time was around Rs 5,000 per month so I also wouldn’t have been able to afford coaching in these other institutes. But my family’s situation wasn’t that dire that we would struggle to make ends meet. I never needed to work while studying but in our batch there were students who had to give tuitions to their juniors to send money back home,” Sinha says.
Sinha studied at IIT Delhi, then worked for many years as a banker in the US and returned in 2015 to found his own startup, which is trying to foster innovation in the education loan space and caters to making education finance more accessible to middle-class and lower middle-class students.
Pankaj Kapadia of the 2006 batch of Super 30 says that he also came from a humble background but the situation wasn’t such that the family would struggle for food and basic stuff. “Everyone studying there wasn’t dirt poor. There were students from middle-class and upper middle-class backgrounds too.
“One of our friends --- his father was an engineer and mother a doctor --- was the topper of our batch. Since ‘Super 30’ students were provided with only basic facilities at the level of the lower middle-class, he didn’t stay with us. His father would drop him to the class everyday in the morning and take him home in the evening,” Kapadia tells me.
All the students that I talked to testified to Anand Kumar’s effective and unique teaching style, which proved highly beneficial for them.
“Everyone knows how good a teacher Anand Sir is. I remember back in school when we used to put probing questions, say why groundwater feels cold in summers and warm in winters, we would be told to shut up, focus on the syllabus and not ask such stupid questions but Anand Sir would encourage this kind of curiosity. He used to provide us direction but never indulged in spoon-feeding.
“He would illustrate many ways to approach a problem but only after all students exhausted their attempts. If some succeeded in solving a question, they would have to share it with all and teach the class,” Ravish Kumar says.
Dhananjay Kumar also attests to this. “He has a unique way of teaching. He explains to you many ways of solving a problem. And at the end, at least you would remember one if you have worked hard. There is always a story associated with each concept. This way, you can’t forget them. You must’ve seen in the movie how he takes two characters: Rikki and Bholu and uses those and attaches a conversation between the two for solving a Maths problem. That’s his style.”
“Unka to koi jawaab nahi padhane mein. Aur usse se jyaada wo motivate bahut acha karte hain (In teaching there is no one like him. And more than that, he motivates very well),” Prem Pal tells me.
“Anand Sir is a very good teacher. He simplifies things a lot,” Jainesh Sinha says. “So if there is an average student who isn’t good at the subject, he would also be very comfortable in learning a great deal from him. That’s why his success rate is so good. Secondly, he did so much for us: taught us, kept us in his own home, provided us food twice a day, arranged good teachers, ensured great environment for us --- all for free. I will be forever thankful to him for that,” he adds.
Pankaj Kapadia, who currently runs his own coaching institute in Patna, says that those who say Anand Kumar doesn’t have the knowledge of the subject or that he doesn’t teach well are wrong. “He taught me the whole syllabus and If I am able to teach Maths today, then he has a big role to play in that,” says a thankful Kapadia.
Apart from Anand Kumar’s teaching skills, what perhaps contributed more to their success was the mahaul (ambience) that ‘Super 30’ --- the platform --- provided to the students.
“Life changed dramatically after joining Super 30. Living conditions weren’t ideal but far better than home. The environment that Anand Sir provided played a critical role in our success. Unlike in Kota or other big cities where there are too many distractions once you are out of the institutes, we were able to keep our eyes on the goal all the time as most of us came from humble backgrounds and understood that this was a do-or-die situation for us.
“Regular testing, great teaching by Anand Sir and others, and most importantly, collaboration of all 30 students where friends helped each other out in solving problems, clearing doubts --- all these were most important ingredients of our success,” Sujit Kumar says.
According to Dhananjay Kumar, “one of the best things Anand Sir did was to prod us to collaborate with each other. He would encourage us to help each other out. In our batch, we started a new initiative where each student would prepare a daily test of half an hour --- a small one with only 10 questions --- then we would solve it and get our doubts cleared among ourselves, without any help from the teachers.”
“Look, a student in the twelfth class is also not mature. He is still a kid at that age, so discipline is needed to succeed. Super 30 provided that. Structured daily routine and continuous testing as well as being in a close-knit group of very bright and competitive 30 students who taught each other and helped each other out were key factors. To be honest, teaching was not that great. Our chemistry teacher at the time was average,” Jainesh Sinha admits.
As per Pankaj Kapadia, “The biggest contribution of Anand Sir was to get 30 very intelligent students in one place where they compete and collaborate closely with each other. This instilled self-confidence in the students which they were lacking. Super 30 during my time was not what it is today.
“It wasn’t a two-year program where you will be trained to clear the exam. The idea was to provide a platform to bright students during the final months of their preparation. There were no formal classes as such. We didn’t even have a chemistry teacher. So, it wasn’t your typical regular classroom program.
“But there used to be regular tests. In the evening, we would all sit together and clear doubts among ourselves. We would then go to Anand Sir as a last resort but doubts rehte nahi the (would never remain). Think about it. There are 30 brilliant students in one place: some will be good at chemistry, others at maths or physics.”
Anand Kumar’s students whom I talked to are pained and annoyed by all the muckraking against their guru and mentor in the media circles.
“Sir keeps everyone at his own home, teaches them and feeds them for free and treats every student like his own family member. He would tell his own story of success or of a student he has taught and how hard work transformed their lives forever. He constantly tried to motivate us.
“He also looked after our personal problems. At the IIT counseling, he helped me a lot because I didn’t have any idea how to deal with all that nor are my parents or relatives literate enough. I didn’t even know how to operate a computer. Sir guided me through that also,” Prem Pal tells me.
“Hum kahan se kahan aa gaye kabhi socha bhi nahi tha. Aajkal kaun kis ke liye karta hai. Unhone to itne logon ka jeewan sawaara hai. Jab log fraud bolte hain to gussa to bahut aata hai par kya karein. (I never imagined I would reach here from where I started! Who does so much for others like this nowadays? He has transformed so many many lives! When people label him as a fraud, it angers me a lot, but what can I do?)”
“If you transform one person’s life, that’s a huge service in itself. And Anand Sir transforms 30 lives every year,” Dhananjay Kumar says.
One IIT Roorkee alumni, who comes from a small hamlet in Bihar’s Siwan district and who currently works at a software development company, doesn’t think Anand Sir would be proud of his achievements and for this reason he didn’t wish to be named. He is from the 2013 batch of Super 30. “We lived close to his house and he would usually call us all to his house to teach. There, we used to get our lunch and dinner too, prepared by his mother with her own hands. Anand Sir and his brother Pranav always looked after us like their own family. They would always be ready to help us, both financially and personally,” he says.
“Whoever says that Anand Sir is a fraud is totally wrong. The controversy that is going on at the present --- we also saw some elements of that play out during our own time. The allegation that he oversells his achievement might be true --- for instance, during our batch, if I recall correctly, 22 students were selected but it was claimed that 26 got in --- at the time also, I had told them that you don’t need to do this because even helping five people succeed is no mean achievement and 22 out of 30 is an extraordinary service,” says Jainesh Sinha.
While students seem to be in agreement over what factors contributed to their success at Super 30, as far as the movie is concerned, they are split --- those from the initial batches see some serious flaws but those from later batches think that the movie does justice to Anand Kumar’s character.
Prem Pal of the 2015 batch tells me that he didn’t see much difference in the real- and reel-life portrayal. “As far as characterisation of students and Anand Sir is concerned, it’s not over-dramatisation. In fact, we all used to work much harder and Sir used to do much more for us. The movie doesn’t even cover most of those aspects perhaps due to time constraints.”
Pankaj Kapadia of the 2006 batch disagrees. “One of the most important personalities of Super 30 was Abhayanand Sir who used to teach us physics. He has been completely overlooked in the movie. There is a lot of over-dramatisation too. Take the attacks on Anand Sir when he starts the Super 30 initiative; the fact is that he started it in collaboration with the then Bihar DIG, Abhyanand. Now, would anyone dare mess with someone who is associated with a person in such a powerful position? Sir may have faced attacks when he started his Ramanujan Institute in the 90s because there was anarchy in the state at the time.
“Anand Sir was assigned two police guards but the reason was a potential threat of abduction for monetary purposes, not for any other reason. I don’t think he faced such problems after he opened Super 30. Similarly, it is shown in the movie that he got accepted into Cambridge in 1994 and when he couldn’t manage the money to go there, he started selling papad (dried pulses’ cake) but that is not the case; he started the Ramanujan institute in 1992. So, why would he sell papad when he was already teaching for two years?,” he wonders.
So, to sum up, the movie may be ‘fraud(-ish)‘ but Anand Kumar and his contribution in transforming the lives of so many impoverished students is not, and that must be celebrated by all who are cheerleaders of a ‘New India’.