Kalpit Yadav grew up in a small house in Kanpur, with his parents and elder sister. His father, a teacher in a private school, earned a little over ₹8,000 every month. Yet, his parents were determined that their children should study as much as they wanted. While Kalpit's sister Diksha pursued her MSc, the 17-year-old was keen to study at IIT.
Despite strained economic circumstances and the social pressure to get into a good college immediately after school, the Yadav family encouraged Kalpit to take a year off to study—a luxury for a family of four with only one earning member. It paid off—earlier this month, Kalpit found out he had topped in Avanti (his coaching institute), and that his All India Rank was 2,317 (OBC rank 362).
"The day the results came out was an amazing day for me," he said. "I was very happy."
The story of the small-town boy realising his IIT dreams goes beyond overcoming obstacles—it directly contradicts the study-hard, performing-better-under-pressure narrative that dominates headlines, and causes hundreds of student suicides each year.
Kalpit with his parents, Surendra and Reeta, and sister, Diksha.
At the end of last year, after Kalpit graduated from Guru Nanak Modern School, Kalpit knew he needed more time to prepare for the IITs. His school's gruelling schedule left very little time for self-study, but he was painfully aware that his father had spent a lot of money on his school fees and coaching expenses, so he felt the pressure to do well.
That year, he qualified for the IIT but with a low rank. Luckily for him, his parent were very supportive, and encouraged him to take a year off to study. "I had never thought of the possibility of a gap year," he told HuffPost India over the phone from Kanpur. "But my parents and my coaches in Avanti encouraged me."
Avanti, which provides low-income high-school students coaching in maths and science, gave him a scholarship to study and live in Mumbai, where he shared a one-bedroom flat in Kurla with three other such students. It was the first time Kalpit was away from home, and it wasn't easy for him.
"I took time to adjust but it helped me a lot," he admitted. "Aside from academics, it taught me other things like taking care of my own home, and being with others at home and outside."
Yet, it gave him a lot of time to study by himself, which he enjoyed, he said. "I didn't like going to school because the only time I could study by myself was late at night, which wasn't enough," he said. "During the gap year, I did a lot of problem-solving and learnt to manage my time better, that helped me during the exams."
He listened to music when he would get tired of studying, and felt relaxed and prepared before the JEE Mains. However, when the exam didn't go as well as he expected, he became nervous before the JEE Advanced. But, as the results show, his fears were unfounded.
"I didn't like going to school because the only time I could study by myself was late at night, which wasn't enough."
Now Kalpit plans to pursue Electrical Engineering in IIT Kanpur, but has no concrete plans beyond that. He feels no hurry to plan his entire career, and he wants to keep his options open—he is eyeing either an MBA or MTech degree, or apply for the civil services.
"My father has always said he dreams that I will become an IAS officer," he said. "I do want to serve the country instead of going abroad—what they call brain drain. Whatever I do, I want to do it here."
Kalpit's advice to next year's JEE students is to learn how to manage time and stay relaxed. "Above all do not take much stress," he said.