No one was your friend here, they were competition. You didn’t go to Kota to make friends.
Like millions of students every year, I too studied at an acclaimed coaching centre in Kota for a year. I took a drop year to prepare for Pre-Medical Test (PMT), and someone suggested that a year in Kota would do me good. Firstly, there was no pressure on me from my parents, as is the case with many students. This was a decision in which I got more say than my parents. But I was determined to stay away on my own and study. However, I was certainly not prepared for the life I had to lead for the next one year.
An atmosphere of fear and stress
Things must be a lot different now, as numerous coaching centres have popped up around the city. Back in 2004, I used to stay in an area called Talwandi, where most owners used to rent out rooms to students. All you could see was millions of teenagers, with fear palpable in their eyes, and responsibility and parental desires written over their faces.
The pressure to study and excel in entrance exams thus used to seep out of coaching centres into your rooms. All you could see were students. Students in various stages of stress.
Stress, loneliness and the fear of failure
The human interaction, if any, is limited to discussing study material which only enhances your anxiety. The stress leads to guilt and sleeplessness because you know the student in the nearby room is still studying.
Every few days, teachers would make you aware of the sacrifices made by your parents to send you there. The high tuition fee, the living expense, all of this was hammered down into you, with expectations of an excellent performance. We would take mock tests, repeatedly, and panic when we could not even manage to get into top hundred.
Peer pressure at the age of seventeen, scars you for life. Many students suffer from depression, panic attacks, anxiety and insomnia. It's no wonder that in between the year 2013 and 2017, some 58 students took their own lives.
I contracted severe infection and anaemia due to contaminated food and unhealthy lifestyle. It got to a point where my parents suggested that I come back home. The only reason why I survived my year in Kota was I knew my parents loved me more than their desire to see me become a doctor. I knew that I had an option to back out whenever I wanted. But many did not.
Those who studied and those who didn’t
At one hand some are on the brink of a physical and mental break down, for not being as bright as other kids. Then there are others who just don’t care. Students have more money in their pockets than we had in three months. You don’t have to be an Einstein to know what happens when you leave unsupervised teens, brimming with hormones and pockets full of money unsupervised.
Drugs, sex, alcohol, cigarettes…ironically all the distractions the parents wanted to shield their children from, are now a stone’s throw away.
It's not just Kota. It’s the parental pressure
It's easy to dump the figures of student suicides, drug abuse and health problems in the city. But in reality, parents don’t want to accept the incapability of their children. Instead of trusting their children, they choose to trust coaching institutes, which stuff two hundred students into a class and put out promising hoardings, based on half-truths.
You cannot blame the coaching centres entirely for brainwashing kids into thinking that their life is futile and a failure if they fail to crack these entrance exams.
No student should have to feel the burden of studies and expectations as much as we felt in Kota. I came out of Kota undamaged, simply because I had a strong support system. But many others still carry the scars of pressure put on them by their own peers.
Do not send your child away to prepare for competitive exams if he or she is not willing to. Make sure you tell your child that no dreams and hopes are bigger than their well-being. If at any point you feel that your child is not his or her usual self, talk to them. Give them an option to back out.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.