| Anand Kumar: On a mission
Patna, Feb. 21: Ten years ago he'd take his bicycle and deliver Anand Papad, made at home by his mother, to shops and homes. Anand Kumar's father, a P&T employee in Patna, had died and the retirement benefits took time to reach the family, leaving him with no option but to fall back on his mother's skills.
He had been offered admission in Cambridge and Sheffield universities but had no money. Now he has and is thinking about going off to the US, which he has visited thrice in the past three years.
A decade ago, Anand needed several lakhs to study abroad. His well-wishers had tapped every possible source and when nothing worked, he was referred to then chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and his powerful friend and MP Ranjan Yadav, who virtually acted as the higher education minister.
Despite three attempts, and although the chief minister had granted an appointment, the boy returned with a contemptuous comment by a member of the personal staff that still rings in his ears.
'What has the world come to' Anand recalled the minion saying after him, 'everybody wants to study in vilayat.'
Anand, who had wanted to but couldn't, can now be seen every morning in a corrugated shed close to the Patna bypass. Hundreds of bicycles are stacked outside. His solitary voice is carried to students over a microphone clipped to his shirt as he stands in front of a blackboard and teaches as many as 500 in a single batch, thrice a week for two and a half hours each.
Four such batches make up the student strength at the Ramanujam Society of Mathematics, which is run as a trust and prepares students for the joint engineering entrance examination.
'Many of these students cannot pay even the paltry Rs 4,000 we charge for the 11-month course; some pay in instalments while others, who have nowhere to stay in Patna and are too poor to afford accommodation, have been allowed to stay on the campus,' Anand said. The trust also selects 30 poor but talented students every year and offers free coaching, boarding and lodging. In the first year, 18 of his students from the Super 30 group made it to the Indian institutes of technology; the following year the number went up to 22 and this year he is convinced it will be even higher.
Boys from affluent families do not stay with him. First, they are not comfortable with the idea of staying with poorer boys; also, they are used to certain minimum comforts like hot water.
On one occasion, Anand recalled, the wife of an auto-rickshaw driver approached his mother and requested that her son be accepted in the Super 30. The boy was asked to take the test and he passed with flying colours.
'This year,' said Kumar with confidence, 'he will get into the IIT.' Most poor students, he conceded, have difficulty with the English language and take time to adjust in IITs.
Anand knows because he himself had trouble communicating in English at one time. Last month, he was the youngest speaker at Atlanta, where he was invited to speak at the joint mathematics meeting, an annual conference organised by the American Mathematics Society and the Mathematics Association of America.
The previous year he had been invited as a delegate but based on his contributions to The Mathematical Gazette and the Mathematics Spectrum, both journals published from the UK, and Parabola, published in Australia, he was invited to present a paper this time.
Anand acknowledged his debt to Abhayanand, an IPS officer of the Bihar cadre who now holds the rank of an IG. 'Sir has bailed us out of trouble time and again; he himself takes physics classes and helps the successful Super 30 students get education loans,' he said and pointed to the two police bodyguards deployed to protect him.
He does receive extortion calls and threats and has consequently thrown a ring of private security around himself. 'In Bihar, successful teachers have been abducted or, worse, killed.'
In Bihar, or maybe anywhere else, those in search of success should not go to politicians for help ' this is a lesson Ranjan Yadav, who had granted him an audience 10 years ago, taught him. Yadav saw Anand in the belief the boy needed four or five thousand rupees, but whoever gave him the idea that politicians would part with two or three lakhs'
'Go back and concentrate on your studies; stop approaching politicians because nobody will do anything for you,' he recounted Yadav telling him.
He heeded the advice, Anand said with a chuckle. And today he has reached a position when going abroad is not just an ambition. 'I like the work being done in American universities and the resources they have,' said Anand wistfully, 'and I am tempted to leave the country for good.'
What's holding him back' 'I have not yet come across a teacher who can carry the work forward.'
Usually clad in jeans and a T-shirt with the buttons open, which gives him a raking charm, Anand added ' a little shyly ' he is also tempted to get married.