how IIT JEE made a small village boys life, who scored 39% in 12th board

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My name is Rajiv Dandotiya – Dandu Bhai for friends. I am writing this article today from Copenhagen, Denmark where I work as an Assistant General Manager in a  drilling company – Maersk. This is the story of how I went from studying in a Govt. school in Rajasthan, sitting under a tree – to earning a PhD from a  European University. This is a story about the IIT-JEE – how it taught me the meaning of Learning and thereby made me who I am today. And it is a story of my Board Exams. But most importantly – it is the story of how I achieved my dreams by never giving up.


I did my schooling from Govt. schools in Samod and Dholpur in the state of Rajasthan. My schools  were barely one – the teachers would hardly ever come. Many students would take tuitions and just memorize lessons and somehow pass the exam. I was never able to bring myself to do this. We never knew about engineering colleges – or what it meant to really learn something. After the close of every school year – we would sell our books and buy some cricket balls with the proceeds. That was what the value of learning was for us. Most schools in the area were just like mine.


It is no surprise thus that I got poor marks in my school leaving Board exams – 39% – even though even at this level I was 5th in a class of 60! I was given grace marks in Chemistry. I still remember when I went to seek the blessings of my teachers after the Board Exams – and someone said pair to aise choo rahe hain jaise merit main number laye hon (translation – “it’s not like you passed with flying colors!”). One of the most disheartening things about my Board exams was how students paying for private tuitions were favored in Practical Exams. I got half as many marks as some of my friends – for no reason other than this.


My school education left me disinterested in further education. We were also financially distressed. After passing out of 12th in ’95 – I started helping out my father in his factory. Times were tough. It is very hard to run a small business in India and after a couple of years – the business closed down. Left with no other option – I started exploring whether I could get admission to any BSc. course – but quickly found out that my Board exam numbers made me ineligible for all of them. When I approached coaching classes to train myself for PET Rajasthan – they also turned me down for the same reason. Desperate – I asked our bookseller if there was any exam where my board exam results would not make me ineligible. He suggested applying for the IIT-JEE. In what looks very funny in retrospect – I asked him to give me the set of books for this exam (just like we used to get one for every class in school). He gave me three books – M.L Khanna, Gupta & Gupta and O.P Agarwal. Thus began my journey to IIT.


In my school – I had never really learnt English. This meant that I had to first learn English to read these books – so I bought a Dictionary as well. While the JEE is available in languages like Hindi – it is very difficult to train for JEE using Hindi alone. And yet – most students coming from my background do not get English education. In spite of these problems – I really started enjoying my studies. I realized for the first time what it meant to understand concepts and solve problems using first principles (and not by memorizing). I felt glad that I had not memorized everything up during my school days. My mind was unpolluted – like a fresh slate. Some problems would take a day to solve – but I liked that better than looking up the solution. I also got access to some old coaching material from Brilliant’s and that was also a turning point for me.

In the year 2000 – I  cleared the JEE screening. Some people had made fun of me earlier – how can a person who barely cleared the Board exam even think about going to IIT (in my native tongue: PET main pass hone ki aukat nahin hai, chale hain IIT main pass hone”)? But my parents and elder brothers always stood behind me. I was able to clear the JEE screening this year and this made me realize that I was on the right track. During this time my elder brother was taken severely ill and my mother had to be at his bedside to take care of him. His sickness made our financial condition even worse – but I kept preparing for the JEE while simultaneously helping my father in his business and doing all the household work and cooking. It turned out that the cooking skills I acquired then would help me during my education in Europe much later in life.


In 2001 – I reappeared for the JEE. Unfortunately – because of a mistake in reading one of the questions – I lost a lot of marks and could only manage a rank of 3453 and could not get a seat in IIT. But by now I knew I could clear the JEE with much better rank. My brother called me from the hospital and encouraged me to re-apply. I had also become an expert in the JEE – and I knew that if nothing else – I would be able to give Engineering coaching classes to other students. I was also approached by a coaching institute in this regard. Even though I had not gotten a seat in IIT so far – the JEE had made me a far better student with good career prospects.

In 2002 I took the JEE for the last time – and this time I got a rank of 1758. I still remember the counselling in IIT Bombay that year. I was desperately trying to hide my Board Exam results – hoping to not get rejected because of them. However my counsellor looked at them – and was not sure whether I could be admitted to IIT. After consulting his colleagues – he let me be admitted – and I got admission to 5 year Dual Degree program in Industrial Engineering & Management at IIT-Kharagpur.


The people who used to taunt me were all praise now. I had also left far behind so many talented friends from my school days – most of whom were now running small shops. By grace of God – my brother also got better. But I soon realized that the obstacles posed by my Board exam numbers were not all over. During my Third Year in IIT – I saw the job postings from well known companies in India. And they had a minimum cutoff of 60% in Boards. I realized that I would never be able to get these jobs. I also decided I want to be a real engineer – and not just do some boring IT job. Hence motivated and encouraged by my IIT batchmates Chintan and Anish – I applied and got internships at IIT Bombay and at RDSO (Indian Railways), Lucknow. My project on the latter became the basis of my BTech & MTech project – and I was awarded the best project for the same by IIT Kharagpur.


While I had not expected to get any jobs graduating from IIT because of my Board results – I was surprised to get an offer from a  company Force Motors at Pune. I was selected from 600 candidates and I had a special interview loop and offer from them where they directly admitted me into the management cadre. However I felt like I could achieve even more with my life and decided to get a PhD from Lulea University in Sweden – one of the four Universities across US and Europe that offered me a scholarship. Over here I finished my PhD in only 3.5 years. We came up with a solution to a tricky problem in maintenance decision making – and this solution has helped achieve significant cost savings in the Mining industry in Sweden. We were given an award for the same by the Swedish Centre of Maintenance Management – and I have been elated by being able to use my engineering knowledge to solve problems in the real world.


Looking back – the critical thinking developed while training for the JEE gave me the versatility to work in domains as different as Railways, Aircrafts and Oil & Gas. I have also been impressed by the focus on applying engineering to practical problems during my PhD program in Europe – something that we did not see as much in IIT (leave alone school).


Even after all these years – my fondness for the JEE has remained. I have looked up the current JEE papers for fun. And I have been sad to see the changed pattern. Objective questions are  much easier than subjective ones. After all – the correct answer is lying just before your eyes – just waiting to be guessed. And I have wondered – why has the JEE been made objective only?

In the last few weeks – there is a lot of discussion around IIT-JEE. What should be the format? Should Board Exams play a role? Do people who clear JEE really become good engineers or scientists? What happens to people who do not get through the JEE?

In my opinion – Board Exams are equally or more elitist (as compared to JEE). How many of our Board Exam toppers come from small villages like Samod? Getting admitted to DPS RK Puram (to ace the Board Exams) may be harder than getting admitted to Bansal Classes (to clear the JEE). While there are no easy answers to any of these questions – I believe that providing greater weightage to board exams will certainly not solve the problem of the JEE becoming an exam for the elites. It may actually make it worse. At least the old format allowed students like me to come up – will the new format do the same?
Every year I go back to my old school back in my village and meet students there. My message to them is always that you can do anything. You just need to have confidence in yourself and the perseverance to see your potential through. Just remember – what doesn’t kill us – makes us stronger.


P.S: the Story is compiled by Joydeep Sen Sarma, find more about him here

  • SwapnilMhatre

    hats off to you sir….!!

  • HimanshuSharma

    Dandu bhai … Respect respect respect. I always did for your spirit of joy but now a real life fighter hero. I am feeling proud that I know you …

  • GaganDanu

    very inspiring  sir ..thank u for sharing this..surely dis gonna change many lives

  • ManjitKumarDas

    Hats off to u Sir…  Sit my bro is now in class-8. His dreams is becoming engineer from IITs. Sir what steps should I take to make him aware & responsible in studies? Sir should I get him admitted in Bansal Classes or FIITJEE or Resonance for IITJEE preparation? 4yr preparation (class-9 onwards) or 2yr preparation (class-11 onwards) will be better??

    • cxv

       @ManjitKumarDas Sir its being great being an iitian( i could say this because i’m one amongst them) but still at least allow your brother to live his life at least, thrusting him to coaching classes as early as 9th might enable him through JEE (if it still exist til then, thanks to our HRD min) but surely ruin his personal life, give him some space to live by. And if it is your brothers  dream to get into one of the IIT’s, and he really wants it to come true ,he will surely work too hard to get through, there is no need of coaching class to motivate a motivated soul.

      • ManjitKumarDas

         @cxv Thanks U Respected Sir… 

  • ManjitKumarDas

    Hats off to u Sir…  Sit my bro is now in class-8.His dreams is becoming engineer from IITs. Sir what steps should I take to make him aware & responsible in studies? Sir should I get him admitted in Bansal Classes or FIITJEE or Resonance for IITJEE preparation? 4yr preparation (class-9 onwards) or 2yr preparation (class-11 onwards) will be better??

  • KaushalRai

    great Rajiv….good to see that you documented your successful career story today…it will set an example for all students who thinks they are poor in studies. anybody at any stage can excel if have the same commitments and confidence what you have…abhi to start hai aur bhi ummeed hai aap se…

  • SameerGupta

    my story is somewhat different but i can completely relate to it  

  • mahendragntmra

     oh very good motivator n hats off to Dr.Rajivji for such best laurels onhim best wishes for future too im fw this mails to few of my contacts for motivating them too bye tc gn Mahendra K Shah Guntur A.P India

  • RajivDandotiya

    Well, I can see the decision have been made. So there is no meaning of my article.   The new model for JEE, advantages still goes to people from big cities as they will not only getting a good schooling and clear the first screening but also can afford coaching and tuition’s for JEE mains and Advance. Village level student has no access on quality schooling, even though he can be screened for first level but how about fighting for JEE mains  & Advance test.  The new JEE system will have following impacts For students from good financial background: They will start preparing for JEE from class 7th and 8th and taking coaching and tuition simultaneously (apart from good schooling till 6th class), to clear JEE mains & Advance other than board percentage. Many of them dont have to pay hostel and mess as they can get same quality education at their home town.   For students from villages: If they can afford of sending their big cities, they have even more expenses other than coaching, tuition and schools they also have to pay for hostels & mess expenses for 3-4 years (approx. 3-4 lacs). Which was used to be for 1 or 2 years (1-2 lacs) .  Certainly, despite of poor financial condition they have to pay even more for getting same quality of education compare to students from urban area.  Forget about admission in to IITs for those students those who cant afford to pay. As they cant even do the self study like me as no. of JEE attemts are only 2.  On other hand 1.5 lacs students also includes those rote learners who can easily score in boards, which is major defect in proposed JEE forget about corruption in practical exams and mass copying on top of it. The JEE new system works perfectly where schooling standard is same all over country. Therefore, the first step of government should have been looking at fundamental structure of schooling system.  In our country, the unfortunate concept is how to make “the rich get richer and poor get poorer “.. Sometime I feel fortunate, that I have cleared JEE in right time and my son doest have to go through the struggle which I have faced in India.   Well, in nut shell, IITs are no more available for village students apart from miracles.

    • VrashankJoshi

      @RajivDandotiya sir u are write there is no possibilities in jee for student who belonging to village or rural areas by this new pattern please help me i also belongs to a village of rajasthan please suggest me some good books for jee preparation

  • VinayMalhotra

    new pattern is more important, good luck for new IITtians

  • MeetShah

    Hats Off!!!! Great achiever ! I didn’t clear JEE 2012 but learning for JEE has brought a lot of change in my Thought process.

  • AmanRaj

    I am a board topper from small village of Khagaria Dist of Bihar. 
    My observation regards IIT Jee one must have clear & conceptual knowledge of subjects (pcm) with well mannered practice of creative ‘N’ analytic numerical questions but for the Board exam don’t need these kinda practice. if u have good basic knowledge, chapter wise simple-practice of  basic & imp questions as well as must having  logical writing ability in subjects (phy, chem,Eng,HND or other lang) then there is 100% chance to get score in board exam above 80% marks.

  • HardikGupta

    hats off to u

  • nairsuraj

    I’m passed out tenth having marks around 92% but confused what to choose after the 12th though i prefer to go for computer science,but i seriously want to clear the IIT exams but don’t know when to attend and about the IIT  procedures so it would be great if help me in this problem

  • ShinoShibu

    Truly Inspiring..

  • PradipParida

    Hello….everyone if anyone having low percentage and searching for any admission in any engineering and medical college then I can help you in getting admission in any college through management quota. If anyone interested then call me at 7845696432……..

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  • RahulMewal

    Hope you read this. I am from Jaipur too(as there is also an area named Samod but I’m not sure it is the same as the one you mentioned in your post). My 12th percentages were 53 I took admission in an Engineering college for BTech in Computer Science and later dropped out for almost no reason. My parents forced my to pursue graduation and I took admission in B.Sc but I later quit it too. Currently It looks like I’m doing nothing. My parents are very much disappointed with me so am I. As I am also from a village in Jaipur and if you are from the Samod in Jaipur then I can imagine your background and situation, actually very much similar to mine. I can’t get where you are today and I also don’t know what to be done now. I have a very good interest in programming but once a program gets complex I quit it. Please suggest me something.