Indian Institute of Technology’s or IIT’s are a group of elite engineering colleges in India. The admission to the institutes is through a joint entrance examination, universally acclaimed as very difficult to get through.
I did not get through IIT last year and accepted admission in one of the state engineering colleges. This college was in a beautiful campus that was tucked away in the foot hills of Himalayas. On a clear day we could see the outline of the snowcapped peaks.
The campus was located in an isolated university town, where besides the campus, a shopping complex, and a small railway station, there was nothing else. A single lane highway went past the outskirts of the town, just touching the campus entrance. The railway station was across the road from the entrance. Two trains stopped at that station everyday.
I was already through my first semester of engineering when I decided to give IIT another shot.
“I thought you liked your college”, remarked my dad, when he heard about my plans.
He was right. I liked the college. I also loved the fact that it was so close to the mountains. I had great friends there, some of whom I knew from high school. It was the first time I ever stayed in a hostel and therefore the new friendships were special.
During the weekends, we used to often slip away into the mountains, taking a dip in the brisk mountain streams, our teeth chattering in the cold mountain air. Sometimes we used to hitch a ride to a nearby town nestled in the mountains. The quaint little town, now a major tourist destination, was settled in the British Raj days, to help the Europeans get a reprieve from the heat of Indian summers. The numerous residential schools in the town, especially the girl’s high schools, provided ample excitement for the college freshmen like us.
I really liked the place but for reasons unknown to me, I felt I had to give IIT-JEE another shot.
After a few months of preparation, which included missing of several spontaneous mountain excursions and fun time with my friends, I was finally packing up to take a train to the exam center. The exam center was in my home town, an overnight journey from the campus station.
A much familiar train left our campus railway station at 9 PM sharp every day. I had taken the train home many times in the last year, often surprising my parents by reaching unannounced early in the morning. The exam was scheduled over a Saturday and Sunday. I was taking a Thursday night train.
“ I will have an entire day to do a quick revision” , I thought as I walked into the station.
I was surprised to see that there was nobody in the platform. I walked up to the ticket counter and there was no one there. Puzzled, I walked into the the station master’s room.
“ Is the 9 o clock train late ?” I asked.
“Late? The train left an hour ago.” I looked at him in horror as he continued, “Don’t you know that the railway schedule of the trains all over India was revised last week?”
“We have a notice in the platform”. He pointed to the notice board, where amidst several sheets of paper, was the notice with the revised timings of the two trains that stopped in the station. The next train was not until 8 PM next day. I would miss my exam if I took that train.
During the past few months, especially when I was with friends in the campus, I had got this urge to give up my preparation for the IIT-JEE exam. ” It is so good here and I am happy … why should I take pains to get out of this wonderful life …” the fleeting thought had crossed my mind several times. The urge to give up was very strong today.
I got out of the railway station, sat on the stairs looking at the campus entrance across the deserted road. My exam center was about 250 miles away and I had thirty three hours to reach there. I got up and walked up to a freight truck that just stopped at the tea stall next to the station. I had decided to give the exam another shot.
In the next twenty hours, I hitched ride from three different freight trucks, one car and travelled on two different busses as I hopped from one town to another, chatting with the drivers, taking smoke and tea breaks and occasionally dozing off in a bus station, waiting for the next bus.
Finally I boarded a bus that would take me to my destination, reaching late in the night. ‘I still would have a few hours in the night to sleep’, I thought as the bus trudged through a dusty road.
The bus would have travelled for a few hours when it suddenly puffed and rattled and stopped in the middle of the road. It was dark outside – we were in the middle of nowhere. Other passengers were sleeping. I got out of the bus and saw the driver and his helper fiddling around with the engine. The helper had disappeared below the bus and inspecting with a flashlight.
‘The differential is broken– must have hit a rock. These damn roads ’, he exclaimed in disgust from under the bus.
‘Sahib, there should be another bus coming in three hours – we can fit you all in that bus’, the driver addressed me.’ You can go inside and sleep, I will wake you up when the bus arrives.’
I sat down on a highway mile marker as the driver continued to fiddle around with the engine. A row of eucalyptus trees stood behind me – their white bark glowing in the moonlight. A feeling of weariness slowly crept through me as I realized that the exam was less than ten hours away and here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Suddenly, a car that was passing by the road stopped near me.
“Bus broke down” ? The driver asked.
Drivers of cars running office errands, sometime pick up passengers to make some money on the side. I was lucky to find one in this wilderness! The driver had a very friendly countenance. I did not think twice before grabbing my backpack from the bus and hopping into the car.
‘Had a rough ride?’ the driver asked.
‘Yes, I have been traveling for more than twenty hours. You don’t want to know the things I have gone through’, I replied with a sheepish smile.
‘I know what you mean’, the driver replied with a smile, ‘Where do you want to go?’, he asked with a pleasant smile.
It was past dinner time when I reached home. I offered money to the driver as he was getting of the car. The driver refused. ‘You had a rough ride, I am glad I could drop you to your destination’, he said with a smile as he started the car and left.
My parents had assumed that I had dropped my plan for the exams when I did not turn up in the morning. I shared with them the details of my ordeal as they listened with apt attention.
“The exam better be worth the effort !”, Mom commented jokingly after I concluded my narration.
I got through the exams this time. I was back home after the admission counseling session. In the counseling session, students evaluate the available options between the six colleges and submit their order of preference. They are then matched based on their merit position in the exams.
“So was the exam finally worth the effort? “ Mom asked me.
She was helping me pack my stuff from my old college, in preparation for my upcoming move to the new college. I still did not know which out of the six institutes would be allocated to me.
In the counseling session, I had seen a girl with big beautiful eyes. Those eyes had haunted me since I had seen her. I did not get a chance to speak to her or ask her name. But I could not forget her eyes.
“If me and that girl end up in the same college, I will say it was worth the effort” I thought as I gave my mom a smile and nodded silently.
That girl did end up in my college, in fact in my class. We ended up getting married to each other and in the two decades we have known each other, she has been my best friend as we continue to explore life together. All this would not have happened if I had not given another shot to the IIT joint entrance examination.
The exam was definitely worth the effort!