By Col Bikram Singh
Winters had just set in, and so were the apprehensions of ‘What Next’ syndrome for an anxious father, who himself had missed the experience of a conventional college life. I had joined National Defence Academy and this intended venture was altogether a unique combat zone for me.
As the pre-boards were approaching, the journey dwindled like the grand annual migration of Wildebeest herd towards the great Mara River. The river was in proximity, its eerie noise was increasing day by day, and on its far bank, the green pastures full of life and freedom were alluring us.
Whenever I gazed at my son, I anticipated achievement; and his “look of silence” conveyed to me, “Buddy come what may, you will get me across to those green pastures”. It was a challenge for both of us to live up to. Another cord which connected us both was the “confusion”, which was growing day by day in our minds.
The month of January overcast the skies with fog and grounded many a flight in Delhi, but it was time for me to take off. Accounts and Economics were keeping him busy, and simultaneously I began my research with a solitary aim to create as many options so as to finally handpick the prime.
The area was vast and the territory was unknown. As I began my exploration, I was taken by surprise that many private universities had already initiated the entrance procedures. Not to miss the bus for any of the intended destinations, I began the ritual of filling applications as I would do over a period of next few months.
He was clueless and preparing hard for his oncoming board exams. I had the confidence that he will perform and in this process my expectations were practical and achievable; unbound of any decree to score a 99 or 100%.
Soon I was on the banks of Masai Mara along with my son; his final exams were over and there was a fair amount of time for the result declaration. Before the boy could fascinate himself with an idea of an interlude, I broke the spell with my skillfully crafted research paper which listed series of entrance exams; without an interregnum.
My journey towards those incredible green pastures will remain incomplete if I do not give an account of the life which existed in the waters of Mara River. Yes, I am indicating my experience with various colleges and universities; which were alike frightening wild animals standing neck deep and awaiting the preys in our reprehensibly degrading education system flowing like Mara River.
All these hungry predators had a singular feature alike; that was, to apathetically exploit the sentimentality and helpless disposition of masses of parents. But later as my journey was drawn to a close, my contentions were fortified with the fact that these institutes were equally vulnerable and time constrained to engulf adequate catch, or else they would perish.
Poised erect on the banks of Mara, it was now time for us to look at each other once again and convey silently, “stay together”. His eyes were moist, and I could feel the tiredness which had set in due to arduous journey towards his board exams, and indeed it was a reckoning challenge for me to spur his impetus at all times. Before we could get segregated from the herd, we confirmed our beliefs, recounted our blessings, and jumped into the mighty waters, and soon we found ourselves struggling to cross over.
My first exposure was with a humongous crocodile, a private convent University of Bangalore which had charged few hundred for its selection interview. The interview was soon over, and within a couple of days, I received a message of regret, followed by another message to apply for the second session after paying the charges again. The same evening, I also received an unknown call assuring admission in the same university for few lakhs.
The intentions were exposed and the diet this brute thrived upon was monetary. Unambiguously, I clinched myself away from the beastly jaws and eluded him. We were now confronting the unexpected slowly. The beasties in the river were ‘lusus naturae’, probably the contemptible system had given certain special privileges of inexorable monstrosity to them.
As we swam away, we encountered another mammoth crocodile, a private International University of repute of Pune. In a cunning demeanor, after the conduct of entrance exams, the University announced that the students were bound to register for colleges of their choice by paying an additional few hundreds, prior to the result declaration. I had no option but to succumb to this coercion.
Result declaration revealed that my son was selected for only two out of the six registrations. A negative response to an enquiry about the refund of money in the institutions he wasn’t selected left me deplorable with a feeling of being cheated and denounced. It wasn’t less than an IPL scam.
Confronting the rogue would have delayed us and jeopardized our mission. Despite the selection in its colleges, I snapped off my alliance with these money hungry ogres and moved ahead towards my objective.
The frequent rains in this season were now flooding the Mara and level of water uprising slowly. En-route every wave, I could see other partners of mine equally struggling to get across.
My son had clasped me even tighter and I could feel that he had left everything on me to adjudge; surmise his life and career pathway which was obscure at that point in time. At this stage, I could see few of my partners crossing over successfully and that kept my faith alive.
As we peddled vigorously towards the bank which was afar still, the board results were out. My son had performed exceedingly well and scored beyond my expectations, but ironically lower than the expectations of a famous University in Delhi.
The encounter with this beast was candid and enlightening. Very impressive but absolutely finical, it awaited its prey without a chase. On its forehead were engraved the two mighty words, “Cut Off” indicative of its violent intent. To lessen my curiosity, I decided to explore it. I first figured out in the newspaper that despite its enormous image, this university did not even figure anywhere in the world rankings. This aroused suspicion to look deeper into its credibility.
While I visited the colleges in South Delhi, it was difficult to comprehend the reality behind this “Cut Off” beast. None of the colleges were any different from a conventional government school in a village. Naming them would take away the surprise.
Also, not to miss mentioning another one in central Delhi, named after an iconic Sikh Guru, it’s as picturesque as the remnants of Harappa civilization. On the contrary, it boasts of a cut off exceeding to 93-94%.
One very interesting fact, which may not be known to many male aspirants. is that the almost 50% of colleges under this colossal giant are exclusive for girls and most of the other colleges, are magnanimous to offer 3% discount to girls, symbolically true protagonists of women empowerment.
Still keeping my options open, I tried to get entry through sports quota. ‘Digital India’ concept was missing as far as sports admission was concerned; one had to collect the forms physically from each college. I started my sports sojourn again from one of the colleges in South Delhi.
Through the undistinguished college ambience, I tried to search for the sports ground, unfortunately, none was found. Soon I was able to trace the sports mentor surrounded by his beloved students, touching his feet with small tins of ‘desi ghee’ in their hand.
After I exchanged pleasantries with him, he took me to his sports room which was littered with few broken sports items. He asked me “what sports are you looking for?” I replied, “Basketball.” Wiping dust from the file, he conveyed instant verdict that the college was only looking for national and international players.
I was surprised but later I realised in good sense that he was right. There wasn’t any sports infrastructure, it was comfortable to look out for players who would be playing away from this namesake alma mater. My attempt of seeking admission through sports quota was a disappointment, and once again I decided to bid adieu.
With fewer options ahead, we were awestruck by our experience until here. As we jostled ahead we saw a crippled alligator, an exclusive University for residents of Delhi, named after the capital of Pandavas.
Struggling to delve a chase, this animal through its unique and revolutionary online maze had left many aspirants bewildered until conclusion. But before I proceed, I would falter if I don’t mention the bogeys which it carried, I mean to say the institutes (not colleges) affiliated to it.
You could find one next door in your locality, near or under a metro fly over. Mysterious to the world, these institutes on the first visit would reflect true culpable image of our education system.
Out of over fifty colleges, only three or four institutes have some veritable image. This beast was apparently a ‘casino master’ and laid a trap through its three stage bluff game; pay for the entrance examination, pay for the online counseling and pay Rs 40 thousand to proceed ahead to revise your choice.
Unaware of this ‘Machiavellian’ intent, I filled twenty choices for each stream and confidently assumed selection of my son in at least one. On a revised thought, wisdom struck. Filling numerous options meant that probability of getting reservation confirmed in one of those low rung institutes with ease and then either you pay Rs 40 thousand to proceed or call it quits.
Feeling premeditated and guileful in the web, I reduced my options to three. At the end of second counseling my son was selected in few institutes of preference, but we decided to move ahead to explore deeper waters. Wily and wary this beast kept moving along with us till the end of our journey, approaching us in circumspection to seize and devour us as its prey.
At last, not many prey hunters now remained, and water ahead was tranquil and serene. Far ashore, we could see the herbivores waving and awaiting our safe arrival. These were few good colleges, no crackerjacks, devoid of hidden or devious agendas.
While we still struggled to get across, we saw few monsters with banners and hoardings adorned around to lure the loot. These were numerous private Universities which had mushroomed all around domineeringly due to our degrading monitoring system.
Their dubious mantras remained ‘Paisa & Placement’ rather than ‘Performance’. These predators had revolutionised the entrance to nothing less than e-shopping. One of them even offered admission packages commencing from Rs 1100 onward. I too bought few of such packages and was accorded the privilege to become its prey but I chose to leave it with grace.
As we were just a short distance away from the bank, a huge ‘Frankenstein’ pounded on us, which seemed to be the end of our journey. A private ‘Peeth’ from Pune conducted its law entrance exam at an extremely belated stage. A day before the exam, while we were in our ritual of discussions, I received a call, and very diligently, I was offered a seat against the donation of a few lakhs.
Reluctantly, I ignored this bait. My son scored 225th position for the availability of 180 seats. The aplomb certainty of college authorities was a bit perplexing when they invited only 200 students for the first counseling as against the usual norm of three to four times the available seats. I nurtured hope for the second session but to my bewilderment, all 180 seats were filled. Well assumed, the money launderers were able to prey on parents who were distressed and exhausted.
Without a blink we both plummeted out of Mara, and soon we were quivering on the muddy slopes; the struggle was soon over with better opportunities in sight. Grappling with each other, neither of us had the nerves to look back at the ongoing despicable game. It was time to embrace each other as we got the best after a formidable struggle.
It was a triumph for me on the personal front though, but underlying this struggle is a strong disappointment and resentment over the paradoxical and inconsistent state of our statutory bodies mandated to regulate the higher education.
River in this narrative is a paradigm of expression, as rivers are the characteristic inspiration of nurturing and nourishment of life, so must be our education system to augment our true wealth of human resource.
Lack of strict regulatory mechanism and over-autonomy has given undue levy to these predators to take deceitful advantage of the sensitive nerves of scores of parents.
Consequently, this has led to an annual transaction of billions of money through unethical or not so ethical methods. To realise the dream of ‘Make in India’, these statutory bodies must take lion’s step to reinstate the original purpose of education and cease the unsavoury game of “percentages, paisa and placements”.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!