A growing pack of students is enjoying the 'joy of missing out' in Kota, the cut-throat coaching hub of India. Pressure, stress, tension and fear are alien words for them. Find out about the carefree lives of these JOMOsapiens
Rajiv is based out of Delhi-NCR and writes stories on startups, corporates, entrepreneurs of all kinds, and yes, marketing and advertising world. His ‘historic feats’ include graduation in history from Hansraj College, master's in medieval Indian history from Delhi University, and PG diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Another forgettable achievement was spending over a decade at The Economic Times as his maiden job. For the first seven years, he learnt the craft on the desk, and the remaining years were spent unlearning and writing for Brand Equity and ET Magazine. What keeps him going, and alive, apart from stories is the heavenly music of immortal legend RD Burman.
It's a long day: A student going back to his hostel after finishing the last class of the day
Kota, July. “Are you going to take my picture as well?” asks Amit Kumar as he stares at an innocuous camera. The protruding lens is all set to capture the raw emotions on the face of the young boy who came to Kota a year ago. “Now this will definitely add stress to my life,” says the engineering aspirant from Bihar and breaks into a hearty laugh. A bunch of his friends cackle as well. The cheerful lad poses for the camera, but requests not to publish his images. There are too many Amit Kumars in Kota and Bihar, reckons the happy-go-lucky guy. “As long as you are not showing me, my father won’t get to know,” he grins. “Nahin toh baap maar dega [Dad will kill me otherwise],” he chuckles.
It’s noon on a bald Tuesday in Kota, Rajasthan. Kumar has bunked his engineering coaching class—he has been religiously doing so over the last 12 months—and is chilling out with his friends at Romantic Chai Wala, a cosy tea outlet nestled in the bustling coaching lane of the city. “What’s the point in going to classes?” asks the 17-year-old student, who has completed a year in Kota, and is now in class 12. “I know I can never make it to IIT. But I have to pretend that I am preparing for the exam,” he smiles. But why pretend? Don’t you feel bad wasting time, years and money? “No,” comes a quick and blunt reply within seconds. “I can’t argue with my dad,” he says. ‘Nobody can. He just gives orders, and all of us in the family have to follow them.”
A bureaucrat from Patna, Kumar’s father always nursed an engineering dream for his son. “I had always been an average student,” confesses Kumar. “I never topped my class or school,” he says, adding that he wanted to become a fashion designer. The dream was ruthlessly crushed. “IAS ka beta darzi banega [The son of an IAS officer will become a tailor]?” was how Kumar’s father mocked him. “Spend two years at Kota. I want to see you as an engineer,” the father ordered his son, who assured him of giving his best.
The assurance, and promise, brought peace and happiness. “He was happy,” says Kumar. “And I am happy.” But what after two years… once it becomes clear that his son couldn’t clear his exams? Would it not have been better to tell him that you are not made for engineering? Kumar smiles. The problem with him, he underlines, is that he doesn’t listen. “He would have made my life hell back home,” says Kumar. “So, it’s better to spend two years here,” he grins. “And I am having the best time of my life.” No stress. No guilt. No parents. Nothing. Students, Kumar points out, in Kota live under stress, fear, expectations and pressure. “Some even die. It’s terrible,” he says, adding that from the parents to their kids… everybody is living under FOMO [fear of missing out]. “Have you ever tried living under JOMO?” he asks me. “You too came to Kota because as a reporter you didn’t want to miss out on this part of the story. Right?” he continues with his searing probe. “You also had this FOMO,” he laughs. Kumar’s blunt assessment made me ponder how life can be without stress. “Join the JOMO club,” he takes a dig at me.
Time to chill: Local Desi ice cream always find takers
Parents who have had a glowing professional and academic report card think that the mantle would be taken over by their children. “Why is Rahul Gandhi supposed to be a politician if his father or grandmother happened to be one?” she asks. “Why am I supposed to be a ‘bright’ student? Is it my fault that my parents were [bright] and I am not?”
The young girl continues with her rants. “I have always been told and made aware about peer pressure,” she says. “But trust me, most of the parents are living under intense peer pressure,” she laughs. Their lives, she lets on, revolve around their friend’s son, friend’s daughter, colleague’s kids… their achievements. “I want to become a chef,” says Sharma, who was forced to come to Kota and was initially overwhelmed to see lakhs in the rat race to make it to the IITs or medical. She was shocked to discover that her roommate had suicidal tendencies. “That poor girl is not able to cope,” she says. “She doesn’t even learn from me,” says Sharma, who is in her second year in Kota, has lived a carefree life so far, and will go back next year. Her biggest achievement and satisfaction, she adds, are keeping her smile intact. The best way to beat stress, she points out, is to kill stress. “There is life beyond Kota,” she says. “At best, Kota is a ‘comma’,” she smiles.
It’s refreshing to meet hordes of boys and girls who have shunned FOMO and embraced JOMO in a place that has become infamous for students succumbing to immense pressure. A counsellor at one of the top coaching institutes is impressed with this new perspective and attitude. “Most of the students coming to Kota,” he points out requesting anonymity, “don’t have an aptitude for engineering or medical.” But they are made to believe that they can do it. And once they get into that cycle, the pressure from parents, peers and the fear of failure drag them down. These JOMO boys and girls, he underlines, might be the ones scoffed at by others. “But if you ask me, they are the real winners,” he says. The ones who know their limitations, he underlines, are the ones who know their real strengths.
Food lifts the mood: Tea stalls and momo outlets dot the coaching lanes and bylanes of Kota
Ajit Kishore is among those who knows what to do. “My parents forced me to come to Kota, so they better foot my bills,” he laughs. “Why should I feel guilty for something I am not responsible for?” he asks. Kishore is from Uttar Pradesh and his father is a sugarcane farmer. If you have a ‘poor’ farmer’s image in your mind, you are mistaken. “We have a processing factory,” smiles Kishore. His father, he tells us, got bugged with the Kota virus because his younger brother made it to IIT-Kanpur, and is now settled in the US. “My dad never got respect in his family because he couldn’t study,” says Kishore, whose grandfather always showered more love on his IITian son. “My father,” he underlines, “wants to set things right. But this is not the way.”
Meanwhile, Harsh Singh Rathore tells us the ‘preferred’ spot of the JOMO boys and girls. “They spend most of their time at the mall,” says the 37-year-old manager at Cinemall, a mall located in the midst of the coaching hub. One can easily spot them in coaching uniforms. “In fact, at times I get anxious when I see them spend hours here,” he smiles, adding that the kids are always chirpy and casual.
Back at the Romantic Chai Wala store, Kumar tells why he wants the JOMO tribe to grow. “I don’t want to sound preachy, but stress never helps,” he says. Everybody, he underlines, will eventually achieve and do something in life. “Success just can’t be academic or professional,” he says, sharing his own perspective about success and failure. “If I am happy, I am successful,” he smiles. When you get to hear such deep insights about life from a 17-year-old, you wonder why most of his peers or others can’t emulate him in terms of having a stress-free life. Can the land of FOMO see the value in JOMO? No kidding, the process might be underway.