This is an excerpt from Chetan Bhagat’s “Revoution 2020”. This incident is one of the center pieces of this 2011 novel about three childhood friends. In the novel, the protagonist Gopal fails to get Engineering admission and end up becoming Director of his own college.
The incident given below describes sad state of affairs in privatized higher education in India.
I attended the career fair held in a giant tent put up in the Dr Sampooranand Sports Stadium.
Vineet had urged me to go. ‘Meet my friend Sunil there. He is the event manager of the fair and knows all the participants’
I entered the main tent. Hundreds of stalls made it resemble a trade expo. Private colleges around the country were trying to woo the students of Varsnasi. Members of managing bodies of colleges stood with smiling faces. Banners inside the stall displayed campus pictures like real estate projects. In cases where parts of the college building were under construction, the pictures were an artist’s rendition.
‘Once complete, this will be the best campus in Uttar Pradesh,’ I heard one stall-owner tell a set of anxious parents. He skipped the part about how during construction students would have to study in makeshift classrooms surrounded by concrete mixers.
Loud posters proclaimed college names along with emblems. Names varied, but were often inspired by gods or grandfathers of rich promoters.
Select faculty and students from each college greeted us with glossy brochures of their institute in these stalls. Everyone wore suits and grinned like a well-trained flight crew. Hundreds of loser students like me moved restlessly from one stall to the next. Seventy per cent of the stalls comprised of engineering colleges. Medical, hotel management, aviation academies and a few other courses like BBA made up the rest.
I reached the Sri Ganesh Vinayak College, or SGVC, stall at noon – the designated place and time to meet Sunil.
I picked up the SGVC brochure, with its smiling students on the cover. The boys seemed happier and the girls prettier than the JEE toppers in the Kota brochures. The back cover of the brochure carried praise for the facilities and faculty of the institute, enough to make an IIT director blush. Inside the booklet I found a list of programmes offered. From computer science to metallurgy, SGVC offered every engineering course.
I read through the entire brochure. I read the vision and mission statements of the founders. I read the college’s philosophy on education, and how they were different. Other career fair veterans grinned as they walked past me. I seemed to be the only person actually reading the document.
Sunil found me at the stall for the Sri Ganesh Vinayak College, deep in study.
‘Gopal?’ he said tentatively.
‘Huh?’ I turned around. ‘Sunil?’
Sunil gave me a firm handshake. Stubble and sunglasses covered most of his face. He wore a purple shirt and tight black jeans with a giant silver buckle. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ he asked straight off.
‘Reading the brochure,’ I said.
‘Are you stupid? Go to the fees and placements page. See the average salary, check the facts. If two years’ income pays the cost, shortlist it, else move on.’
‘What about teaching methods? Learning…’
‘Fuck learning,’ Sunil said and snatched the brochure from my hand. I found his mannerisms and language rather rough. He borrowed a calculator from one of the students at the stall. ‘See, tuition fifty thousand, hostel thirty thousand, let’s say twenty thousand more for the useless things they will make you buy. So you pay a lakh a year for four years. Average placement is one and half lakhs. Fuck it. Let’s go.’
‘But…’ I was still doing the calculations.
‘Move on. There are a hundred stalls here’
We went to the next stall. The red and white banner said ‘Shri Chintumal Group of Institutes, NH2, Allahabad’. A small map showed the college location, thirty kilometres from Allahabad city.
‘I can’t go to a college called Chintumal,’ I said.
‘Shut up. You never have to say your college’s name anyway.’ Sunil picked up a brochure. Within seconds he found the relevant page. ‘Okay, this is seventy thousand a year. Final placement one lakh forty thousand. See, this makes more sense.’
A fat man in his forties came to us.
‘Our placement will be even better this year,’ he said. ‘I am Jyoti Verma, dean of student.
I had never expected a deal to sell the college to me. He extended his hand. Sunil shook it purposefully.
‘Yes, your fees are also lower than theirs, I said and pointed to Sri Ganesh stall.
‘Their placement numbers are fake. Ours are real, ask any of our students,’ Jyoti said.
He pointed to his students, three boys and two girls, who had worn suits for the first time in their life. They smiled timidly. I browsed through the campus pictures in the Chintumal stall.
A man from the Sri Ganesh stall came to me. He tapped my shoulder.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Mahesh Verms from Sri Ganesh. Did Chintumal say anything negative about us?’
I looked at him. Mahesh, in his forties and fat, looked a lot like Jyoti Verma.
‘Did they?’ Mahesh said again.
I shook my head.
‘You are considering Chintumal?’ he said.
‘Why not Sri Ganesh?’
‘It’s expensive,’ I said.
‘What’s your budget? Maybe we can help you,’ he said.
‘What’ I said. I couldn’t believe one could bargain down college fees.
‘Tell me your budget. I will give you a ten percent discount if you sign up right now.’
I turned to Sunil, unsure of what to say or do next. Sunil took charge of the situation.
‘We want thirty percent off. Chintumal is that much cheaper,’ Sunil said.
‘They don’t even have a building,’ Mahesh said.
‘How do you know?’ I said.
“He’s my brother. He broke off and started his own college. But it has got bad reports,’ Mahesh said.
Jyoti kept an eye on us from a distance. Yes, the brothers did resemble each other.
‘We don’t care. Tell us your maximum discount,’ Sunil said.
‘Come to my stall,’ Mahesh signalled us to follow him.
‘Stop,’ Jyoti barred our way.
‘What?’ I said.
‘Why are you going to Sri Ganesh?
‘He is giving me a discount,’ I said.
‘Did you ask me for a discount? Did I say no?’ Jyoti said, his expression serious. I had never seen a businessman-cum-dean before. ‘Mahesh bhai, please leave my stall,’ Jyoti said in a threatening tone.
‘He’s my student. We have spoken,’ Mahesh bhai said and held my wrist. ‘Come, son, what’s your name?’
‘Gopal,’ I said as Jyoti grabbed my other wrist. ‘But please stop pulling me’.
The brothers ignored my request.
‘I will give you the best discount. Don’t go to Sri Ganesh and ruin your life. They don’t even have labs. Those pictures in the brochure are of another college,’ Jyoti said.
‘Sir, I don’t even know…’ I said and looked at Sunil. He seemed as baffled as me.
‘Shut up, Jyoti!’ a hitherto soft-spoken Mahesh screamed.
‘Don’t shout at me in my own stall. Get out,’ Jyoti said.
Mahesh gave all of us a dirty look. In one swift move he ripped off the Chintumal banner.
Jyoti’s face went as red as his college emblem. He went to the Sri Ganesh stall and threw the box of brochures down.
I tried to run out of the stall. Jyoti held me by my collar.
‘Wait, I will give you a seat for fifty thousand a year.’
‘Let… me … go,’ I panted.
Mahesh returned with three people who resembled Bollywood thugs. Apparently, they were faculty. They started to rip out all the hoardings of the Chintumal stall. Jyoti ordered his own security men to fight them.
As I tried to escape, one of Sri Ganesh’s goons pushed me. I fell face down and landed on a wooden table covered in a white sheet. It had a protruding nail that cut my cheek. Blood covered one side of my face. Sweat drops appeared on my forehead. I had finally given my blood and sweat to studies.
About the novel, it is pulp fiction, targeted at the English reading Indian youth.
Gopal goes on to found an Engineering College as benami to a local politician and performs of all kind of corrupt practices to become “the young director of GangaTech College”
Of the other two friends, Raghav dreams of creating a world without corruption through his writings. Aarti swings between Raghav’s idealism and Gopal’s pragmatism. Finally the pragmatic Gopal sacrifices his love for the idealistic Raghav.
The title reflects Chetan Bhagat’s marketing acumen and his devotion to the capitalistic world which worships Gopal’s corruption and makes fun of Raghav’s idealism.
No wonder Chetan Bhagat went on to become a fan of corporate favourite Modi.