CAT among the crammers

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 18, 2012 09:14 hrs

Bombay is the hub of everything. From seminars on Jaddu Krishnamurthy to offbeat film festivals, it is for nothing that people don’t want to shift places once they have lived here. At the third edition of Kashish, the queer film festival, I chanced upon Weekend, a rewarding gay romance that I have been wanting to watch since its release last year, but which has shunned all efforts at discovery in any metro. Only in Bombay you get to watch Tom Cullen’s smouldering intensity on 70 mm with other enthusiasts.

Back to Mother Earth. After being unceremoniously ousted (ok, fired) by the recruitment firm for which I was working, my first instinct was to dial the Career Launchers, Times and IMSes of the world. When one’s bank account has just been credited short of a lakh rupees and one faces the prospect of that not happening again, one becomes the perfect vessel for Freudian interpretations. After changing the salutations in the cover letter, I rapidly forward my CV to multiple IDs.

The Common Admission Test (CAT) for entry into the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) is big business here, as in other cities. In my earlier avatar as a journalist in Delhi, I used to take English classes for a CAT coaching institute run by a friend. So it’s familiar territory. After initial hiccups, the CAT moved successfully online in 2010. In 2011, they brought down the multi-section format to two sections, one on quantitative ability and data interpretation and the other on verbal ability and logical reasoning. This year saw the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science also opting to use CAT scores for admissions to their MBA programmes. The CAT’s stock has never been higher.

The verbal section of the exam has undergone little change content-wise since its inception. Reading comprehension, grammatical errors, sentence completion, the works. It’s all very easy but cut-throat competition ensures that the CAT coaching industry has proliferated beyond imagination.

Bombay itself has three corporate and countless mom-and-pop coaching institutes, spread over branches that criss-cross the breadth of the city, going as far as Thane and Navi Mumbai. The business is booming. For a one-year programme, a student typically shells out Rs 30,000. This covers classroom instruction 12 hours a week over six months in math, English and data interpretation. Should one get a call after the written test, there’s the group discussion (GD) and personal interview to crack. And if those hurdles are crossed too, one gets to attend the hallowed portals of an IIM.

I make quick inquiries about the CAT coaching scene from friends and acquaintances. At the moment, the uncrowned badshah of this mini-industry is a former English faculty at one of the Big Three who started his own centre at Dadar in 2009. The enterprise has since expanded to three other centres. An anglo-Indian from Bihar, Joy Williams is, to rehash a cliche, the “God of CAT coaching”. When I spoke to him about joining him to teach English, he invited me to take demo GD sessions for CET, the entrance exam for B-schools in Maharashtra.

At a matchbox-sized centre opposite Dadar station, in a room packed with eager 22-year-olds, Joy sir and I are listening in on views flying thick and fast on the relevance of marriage today. I am bowled over by these boys and girls spouting phrases such as “marriage is a masterpiece of social engineering” and “a hegemonic idea losing its relevance in today’s times”. These kids are way too smart for an MBA, I think, reminiscing over my own GD experience that was not half as evocative.

I take individual notes and begin complimenting candidates on their presentation and articulacy when the GD ends. The girl who called marriage a “masterpiece of social engineering” gives me a broad smile and says: “But that’s Joy Sir’s phrase.” The “hegemonic idea” boy looks at me sheepishly. I can read his eyes. I look at Joy Sir. He is smiling. As someone who has been sending young guns to IIMs, the Faculty of Management Studies, the Xavier Labour Relations Institute, or XLRI, and the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies for the past 25 years, Joy Sir has an enviable body of knowledge and skills that students are eager to replicate. My eyes gleam with awe.

Later, Joy sir speaks about the topic with unsurpassable clarity and vigour. For someone who has never satisfactorily reconciled the conflict between engaging the mind and filling the belly, I am beyond myself with happiness. If I join him full time, my salary would be a little over half of what I was earning at the recruitment firm. But when I consider sitting in a room full of young enthusiastic people bouncing ideas off one another, and compare that with strapping on a headset and repeating ad nauseam the monotone introducing my erstwhile employer, it’s a no-contest.

Names have been changed to protect privacy
The author has switched too many jobs in the past and hopes he can hold down this one

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