Two minutes left in the game.
Indra PU College 78 – Bengaluru PU College 72.
Bengaluru PU College’s (BPUC’s) coach was aghast. He called his final time out and started giving his team orders. “Make the shots! Steal the ball! Get back on defense!” His team listened, not listening, swaying like palm trees and not acknowledging his voice.
Lokesh Kumar was watching the proceedings closely. He’d been watching the opponents, their play style, and their weaknesses. Suddenly, he had a plan. He decided to take the risk and approach the coach.
“Coach?” he said politely. The coach whipped around to see him. “Yes, Lokesh Kumar?”
“Sir, I noticed something about them. Their three point defense is very strong, but their interior defense in the paint is very weak. I could score easily with my dunks. Can you please let me in, sir? I promise we can win!”
“Yes, as I was saying,” said the coach. “We need to attack the paint as their interior defense is weak. Drive in and score. Stop the three-point shooting and attack the interior!”
He shot Lokesh a nasty look. “Go back to the bench, Lokesh Kumar.”
Lokesh returned to the bench dejectedly. “Why won’t he let me play?” he thought.
BPUC went down to Indra PU College 82-72.
Lokesh went home that day frustrated, upset, and angry. The loss stung like a bullet wound, and the coach’s lack of faith in him hurt like hot coals on his skin.
“Why?” he thought. “Why won’t coach put me in? Am I that bad?”
But the most insulting part about the day was that the coach had repeated exactly what he had said, and sat him on the bench again.
“Zero,” he mused. “He’s let me play zero minutes all year!”
“Hey, son. How are studies?” asked his worried mother.
“Good, mom. All good.”
“You’ll crack the JEE exam, won’t you?”
“Lokesh’s stomach did a backflip. “Umm…yeah, sure!”
“Good, because your father is really worried.”
Lokesh’s stomach was now catapulting and rolling in his abdomen. “Well, mom. See you later!”
He ran to his room, overcome with emotion and frustrated by the unrealistic expectations. He opened his wardrobe and pulled out something round, orange, and worn out.
It was the old basketball, given to him by his school cleaners.
He then escaped his house, and made his way towards the public playground, where a basketball hoop was installed. He charged into the small court and flung his ball towards the backboard in a moment of frenzy.
“AAAAGGGHHH!!!” he screamed. “WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?”
He catapulted into the air and dunked the ball ferociously into the hoop. He then steadied himself, recovered, and recovered the ball. Then he leapt back up and dunked it again, and again, and again, and again, all the while bawling. “WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?”
From that day forth, he would go to the court every day, and dribble, shoot, and dunk the ball until he was exhausted. He practiced his ball-handling and dribbling. He ran and ran until he couldn’t move anymore, all out of exasperation that he was never, ever, allowed to play.
Whenever his relatives, especially some of his mother’s brothers, paid a visit, his mom would blather on and on about JEE preparation and which IIT (1) he was going to join. His uncles, all tall men of 6’2 and 6’3 (188 cm and 191 cm respectively) would then ramble about their kids and how they were successful in the IITs and NITs (2). This would rile up Lokesh’s parents even more and they would force him to study longer hours.
Lokesh hated every moment of his life.
India’s extremely toxic academic culture was killing him.
As his second and final year of Senior Secondary (PUC) School came, Lokesh’s continuous tirades on his local court had slowly transformed him into an athletic young man. He was now faster and more physically fit. He wasn’t very strong, but was fit and had seemingly limitless stamina. He had also grown slightly taller, and now stood at about 5’11 (181 cm).
As his exams slowly drew nearer, all basketball activities stopped, including his benchwarmer role on the BPUC Basketball team. But, the team had helped him. He’d received enough attendance to be allowed to write his exams.
Lokesh heaved a sigh of relief.
His board exams were an unqualified disaster. Mathematics, once again, was the worst. Lokesh nearly cried as he filled the answer sheets. The other important subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Science were about average. But nowhere near good enough. His languages such as English and Hindi were decent. “I guess I’ll pass!” thought Lokesh happily.
But finally, the dreaded day arrived.
A nightmarish day for ninety nine thousand Indian engineering aspirants.
The day of JEE-Mains.
Lokesh sat in front of his PC to give his exam. As time went on, it became extremely clear to him that he didn’t even know one answer in the entire test. He started to panic, imagining his father’s furious face and his mother’s crying face.
A bell rang, signaling the end of the exam.
“Time’s up!” yelled an invigilator. “Please hit the submit button and sign your names on this paper. Once you’re done, leave the hall in an orderly fashion!”
The students who finished their exam came out in hordes, lumbering like zombies. It had been a long, long, day. Months of preparation, hours of studying, and two years of pure torture were finally over.
The JEE-Mains Exam had concluded.
And Lokesh’s hopes of cracking the JEE exam had been officially desecrated.
He hadn’t answered a single question in the entire test.
1. IIT: Indian Institute of Technology: One of the finest institutions for engineering in India, if not THE finest.
2. NIT: National Institute of Technology: Another set of institutions for engineering in India. Very high-ranked college, but considered to be slightly inferior to the IITs.