Kota: Whispers of Knowledge, Dreams Aglow


Mohammad Alamullah

I had heard a lot about Kota; whenever I think of it, several anecdotes would jam my mental capability in a jiffy.

Kota, located along the banks of the Chambal River in the southern part of Rajasthan, is known as the city of knowledge; full of young, bright and vibrant minds eager to familiarize themselves with their own surroundings and the outside world. People here are willing to make sacrifices to chase their dreams.

Kota is renowned for its advancements in medical and engineering fields.

Recently, yours truly happened to visit the beautiful city of Kota, the third largest city of Rajasthan after Jaipur and Jodhpur.

The city is truly beautiful, with clean, spacious, and attractive buildings that touch the heart. At night, Kota takes on a magical appearance, with lights in the distance resembling fireflies. Everywhere you look, signs of development are evident – sparkling roads, bridges, vehicles, and the mesmerizing buildings.

The people of Kota seem genuinely happy. Although I had a chance to visit only a few areas of the sprawling city, the houses, shops, and overall living standard indicated that residents here lead a comfortable life.

Due to the presence of proficient and dexterous coaching centers in large numbers, a significant number of students come to Kota. Many families offer rooms in their homes on rent to these students to bolster their income. There are also well-maintained hostels and paying guest facilities, specifically for girls. The city is experiencing recent growth, showcasing innovation in various aspects.

Spacious and luxurious shopping malls have sprung up across the city. In the evening, these malls become vibrant hubs where the youth mingle with each other to spend some quality time. As the night falls, young boys and girls move around like butterflies, adding to the lively atmosphere.

On the flip side, over the past few years, there has been a growing atmosphere of hostility towards Muslims throughout India. Unfortunately, Kota is no exception.

Recently, we were apprehensive due to the incident where two Muslim youths encountered religious and communal extremists. However, my experience on the train turned out to be positive and pleasant, as I met with some understanding Hindu individuals.

The Hindu brothers I met with guided me to my destination and handled negotiations effectively. This experience proved that the hearts of everyday people may not be as biased as is being portrayed in the media and the country’s political landscape.

Urdu, along with English and Hindi, is visible on the signboards of railway and bus stations and government departments, bringing in us a sense of inner satisfaction. However, it’s both surprising and disheartening that there are scarcely any Urdu signboards in Muslim areas. Even in madrasas and mosques, signboards predominantly appear in Hindi. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Urdu is widely spoken among Muslims in these areas, and most Muslims are proficient in Urdu.

Dietary and living habits here are quite similar to Delhi. Hotel culture is almost identical, with plenty of shops offering biryani, kebabs, and more in Muslim areas. However, unlike Delhi, people in this city don’t stay up till late in the night. After around nine o’clock in the evening, there is a quiet atmosphere everywhere, possibly due to the cold. But in the morning, the markets become vibrant again. It seems the entire city just eagerly awaits the break of dawn to have another livelier and cheerful day.

As the sun rises, the voices of vegetable vendors and scrap dealers start rhyming in your ears. The municipality vehicles, in their distinctive style, begin patrolling the streets, playing the familiar tune of “Gaadi wala aaya ghar se kooda nikaal.” Upon hearing this, people come to their doorsteps and deposit their garbage in the vehicle’s trolley.

In the quiet of the night, the city’s journey is delightful. The entire city resembles a beautiful canvas. On both sides of the roads, names of luxurious coaching centers, malls, and hotels shimmer with colourful lights. Outside the coaching centers, towering billboards featuring pictures of successful students, especially those achieving high ranks, enhance the overall charm. This scene becomes evident from the railway station, where banners and billboards from various coaching centers might overwhelm the newcomers.

‘Allen’ is a renowned coaching centre here, but besides that, prominent buildings of other institutions like Resonance Adventure, Motion Education, Bansal Classes, Vibrant Academy, etc., are also visible. It is said that the monopoly of ‘Allen’ is fading, and other coaching centres have also established a strong presence.

Whichever road you take, you’ll notice a large number of students in the age group of 16 to 20 rushing towards coaching centres and hostels, carrying bags slung over their shoulders — a majority of students in Kota hail from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Approximately 1.5 lakh students reside in areas such as Talwandi, Jawahar Nagar, Vigyan Vihar, Dadabari, Vasant Vihar, and the surrounding regions of Rajiv Gandhi Nagar. Additionally, about 60,000 students live in the historic area. The city boasts of around 3,500 hostels and paying guest accommodations to accommodate these students.

According to the locals, the coaching culture in Kota originated in the 1980s when an engineer named ‘V K Bansal’ began teaching students for entrance exams after losing job as his company winded up its business. One of his students successfully cleared the IIT entrance exam, leading to an increase in students seeking tuition from him. Over time, this small tuition center evolved into a chain of coaching institutes, gaining nationwide recognition. However, ‘Allen,’ another coaching institute, soon overtook him in popularity.

Last year, billionaire Robert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, and former Star and Disney India chairman, Shankar, invested $600 million in the coaching chain. In recent years, new competitors with a startup culture, such as Byju’s, Academia, and Physicswala, have also entered the Kota scene. According to reports, the monthly salary of some renowned teachers in these coaching centers go up to Rs 2 crore. However, in contrast, the condition of government schools remains similar to that of other state schools.

I had the opportunity to visit several government schools in Kota, and it was surprising to observe that the development in the city seemingly had no impact on them. The same broken rooms, cracks on walls and ceilings, thick layers of dust in the corridors, and the condition of the restroom is subpar – chopped, with missing lotas if the faucet is working, or a dripping tap if there is a bucket. The windows are broken, and tube lights and bulbs are damaged, giving the impression that no maintenance has been done for years.

Perhaps, some people argue that the title “City of Knowledge” isn’t truly about knowledge but rather about the city’s reputation for intense traditional coaching, lacking ethical standards. In this environment, students are often taught to compete fiercely with each other, leaving the pursuit of knowledge behind. This might explain the high incidence of student suicides in the city. Some incidents are reportedly suppressed to avoid the involved negativity, as it could impact the business of these coaching centres.

It is said that the government is aware of these issues. However, as the coaching industry is a significant contributor to the city’s economy, the government is taking measures to address student stress. Large parks are now being laid out to attract students and provide them with a stress-relieving environment. These parks offer discounted tickets to students, and the government actively promotes them, encouraging young people to spend time say trolling and enjoying leisure activities. Consequently, these places attract a large number of tourists too.

It is said that despite the mentioned challenges, the new generation still aspires to come here for education. While Kota may seem like an ordinary city, for students, it is a paradise offering various opportunities. It’s a golden chance to visit gaming parlours and engage in activities like playing FIFA, Techcon series, and other games. Additionally, the city provides many free 4G towers, allowing students to make the most of their time.

Stepping out of specific areas of the city reveals more layers of development. In these parts, you may encounter cows, pigs, and dogs roaming the streets. Dirty drains and water flow on the roads, and the smell from a distance is unpleasant. This reality exposes the gaps in the government’s claims of making the state beautiful and developed. It suggests that these claims may be more of a political statement or slogan, with insufficient attention given to essential matters.

The views expressed here are author’s personal and Clarion India does not necessarily subscribe to them.


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