May 30, 2008 dawned bright and clear in Patna, Bihar. Pans were rattling and children were being coaxed out of beds and into school uniforms. It was early still, but the slum of Chandpur Bela was abuzz. People were gravitating towards one housen – Shanti Kutir. A crowd was assembled and if you pushed in farther, you could see a youngish man in his shirtsleeves, who seemed the centre of all the hullaballoo.
Anand Kumar was trying to talk to several people at once, answering questions, accepting their good wishes, and trying his utmost not to let his anxiety and nerves show. He had spent the previous year coaching thirty students for the IIT JEE entrance examination and finally, it was the day of the results. It was the hour of reckoning.
All thirty students had spent the night at Anand’s house, all too keyed up to get any sleep. Anand relived this year after year, yet the tight bundle of nerves in his stomach would not ease till he saw each student’s result. By 6 am, they had given up all pretence of sleep and started to get dressed. Jayanti Devi, Anand’s mother, prepared tea and soon the modest Kumar household was bustling with people.
Journalists started arriving as early as 6.30 am. Anand tried to explain to the first few that the results would not be out until 9 am, but soon gave up when he saw that they also wanted to capture the mood before the results were announced.
By 2008, Super 30 was a name to reckon with.
Anand Kumar was hailed as a hero by People magazine, and his unique initiative, Super 30, was celebrated as one of the four most innovative schools in the world by Newsweek magazine. Expectations were sky high as twenty-eight students had cracked the coveted IIT entrance exam the previous year, in 2007.
Anand fielded calls from journalists who had grown close to him over the past few years as Super 30’s fame spread. I hope the result doesn’t disappoint, prayed Anand, as 9 am ticked nearer. Outwardly, he was the picture of calm – reassuring the students, charming the media.
At about quarter to nine, Anand positioned himself in front of the computer screen with a list of roll numbers in hand. The students huddled around and more and more people pressed themselves into the cramped room. At 9.01 am, Rakesh Kumar was in! A cheer went up, Rakesh was thumped on the back, a journalist surreptitiously tried to lead him outside so he could get an interview.
Anand Kumar still had twenty-nine more names to go.
Everybody waited with bated breath as he keyed in the second roll number. But nothing happened. The server was jammed. Lakhs of aspirants were simultaneously trying to check their scores.
A few minutes later, Jai Ram had made it through! And now it was eighteen on eighteen. Anand was perspiring freely but a hint of a smile played on his lips. He went on checking result after result – sometimes it would pop up immediately, leading to raucous cheers and in other moments, the error page would come up.
Nearly an hour and a half later, it was just Anand and Ranjan Kumar, the thirtieth student left at the computer. “Chinta mat kariye, sab achha hoga,” Anand said to the white-faced Ranjan. He had made it. He hugged Anand tightly and started laughing, and then crying, and then shouting garbled victory cries.
Anand was hoisted on shoulders, laddus were thrust into his mouth, flashbulbs went off, headlines for next morning’s papers were composed, and cries of ‘Anand sir zindabad’ reverberated. Deepu Kumar’s father had travelled from Supaul to be with them for the occasion. He was so overcome with emotion that he stood alone in a corner, weeping.
Anand Sahay’s mother sat with Jayanti Devi making puris and jalebis. Journalists were trying to talk to as many students as they could. It was surreal. Anand could hardly believe it. Looking down at the shining, jubilant faces of his students, he felt a happiness so piercing that tears pricked his eyes.
History had been made. Super 30 had achieved a cent per cent result.
"Now let me tell you about Anup. Anup lived in Chenw, a remote village of Bihar which was riddled with naxalite trouble. Anup's family struggled to feed themselves. One night, eight-year-old Anup was crying due to hunger. His mother beseeched his father to go out and ask someone for some rice so they could boil it and eat it with salt.
But the water boiled and boiled till there was nothing left in the pan. Anup's father never returned. Some say he got captured by the Naxals; the villagers looked for him for many days but there was no trace of him.
Anup grew up – first sad and then angry at the abject poverty he was surrounded by. He grew disenchanted by the caste divide between the poor and rich in the country. He was lured by the methods of the Naxals and looked for ways to exact revenge, but his mother knew there was only one weapon powerful enough – education. She toiled hard and sent Anup to school.
He scored very well in his Class 10 exams and came to Patna to get advice on higher education. They landed up at the Janata Darbaar in Patna at Nitish Kumar's house. Their story was received with sympathy but it was clear they could not offer any direct support.
However, seeing the young boy's helplessness, someone at the chief minister's house suggested that they could go meet Anand Kumar, as they were told he coached some students without taking a penny from them.
When I first set eyes on Anup and his mother, they were barefoot and glistening in sweat but there was a light in their eyes. Anup studied hard for two years, and is in his third year at IIT Bombay today."— From Anand Kumar's presentation at MIT Media Lab, September 30, 2014
Excerpted with permission from Super 30: Changing The World 30 Students At A Time – Anand Kumar, Biju Mathew, Penguin Books.