Some years ago, I spent several days in Kota, Rajasthan, gathering material for an article about the coaching industry there for The Caravan. It was hardly a difficult assignment. Signs of the industry were everywhere I looked—up on hoardings, down on the street in discarded leaflets, in offices, the Mall, a temple. All I had to do was observe, then write about it.
It may not always have been that easy, though. Until the 1980s, the town’s economy was largely centred around chemical factories and textiles. But then the coaching business took flight here. Students now come to Kota by the tens of thousands—usually after finishing their tenth standard, but some of them even before. They come to prepare for competitive exams for the country’s top engineering and medical colleges, particularly the Indian Institutes of Technology. There are five big coaching institutes—Bansal, Vibrant Academy, Allen Career Institute, Career Point and Resonance—and dozens of smaller establishments. Coaching has also spawned a parallel economy in the city: hostels, restaurants (“messes”), bike rentals, tiny roadside stalls selling everything from Maggi noodles to stationery.
Because of its apparently single-minded focus on coaching and because it caters to the needs of more than a hundred thousand students from all over the country with elite-college dreams, Kota has evolved into a city like no other I know. Bizarre in many ways, but one gigantic gold mine for stories.