It is the most competitive entrance exam in the world. Only 1.68 per cent of the students who write the Joint Entrance Exam succeed in getting a ticket to an Indian Institute of Technology. But are IITs the only colleges that make the grade in India? And can life be the same for those who do not make it? As the results of the 2010 IIT JEE exam are announced, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr S Mohan Raj has some advice for students and parents.
"You should study engineering and you should do it only in a reputed national institute like IIT," Dasarathan* said as they were having breakfast. His son Akhil*, a bright Class X student, sighed. He'd heard this since Class VI, and had been attending IIT JEE coaching classes since Class VII.
Dasarathan listed the virtues of IIT before moving on another regular routine of his: criticising a couple of other national and state govt engineering colleges. He ridiculed their quality of education, infrastructure and the teachers. His cousin, who was visiting them, later took him aside and asked him, "Praising IIT is ok. But, why are you putting down other institutes in front of your son? Won't it affect him?"
Dasarathan responded, "That would make my son focus only on the IIT and nothing else. Haven't you heard about Arjuna shooting the bird? He couldn't see anything but the bird."
Two years later, when the IIT JEE results came out, Akhil was shocked to find he had not secured a rank. He looked back at the past few years. His entire identity was that of an IIT aspirant. No extra-curricular activities. No interest, no hobbies. His father had drilled into him that IIT JEE was the only worthwhile pursuit.
He felt he had let his parents down. He felt worthless and hopeless. His sleep and appetite were disturbed. He avoided meeting friends and neighbours. "How can I face them, Ma? They will all ask about the JEE results," he shouted when his mother suggested an outing.
His father Dasarathan was silent for three days. On the fourth day, he suggested that Akhil apply to the Government engineering college, in their city.
"No!" screamed Akhil, recalling the abusive comments that his father had made about the college. His father persisted, this time listing out the virtues of the government college, and convinced Akhil to apply.
Akhil got selected and began attending college without any enthusiasm. His depression persisted. He could not concentrate during the lectures. He was irregular at class and did not submit his assignments on time.
He made cynical comments about his teachers and fellow students. Gradually, he found he had alienated his classmates. Akhil failed in some papers in the first year. At the beginning of the second year, he told his parents that he would not attend the college anymore. "That college does not deserve me", he said.
Back in 2001, Bharat* went through a similar reaction after the IIT JEE results. When his parents suggested another engineering college, he stoutly refused. He insisted on cracking the IIT JEE again.
He joined a full-time coaching institute and wrote the IIT- JEE again next year. The result was the same. He succeeded on the fifth attempt. More than elation, he felt a sense of relief.
But once the classes started in the IIT, he withered. He said, "I have very little energy or interest left in studies".
After the IIT JEE results, Vidyakar* announced he would attempt the AIIMS entrance exam the following year. His teacher asked him, "Why this sudden change in career plans?"
Vidyakar said, "It is a national institute. My father always wanted me to study in a national institute"
* Fictional names
Image: A student at the Indian Institute of Tecnology in New Delhi.
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