“Having reached the interview stage of the UPSC civil service examination and losing out by a mere two marks made me feel miserable. Instead of spending too much time in self-pity, I decided to change the lives around me,” begins Jobin S Kottaram (39).
In 2010, after missing out on making it to the selected candidate list of UPSC CSE, Jobin started Absolute IAS Academy, keeping in mind the aspirants who come from Kerala, and might not be very conversant in English. Speaking to The Better India, Jobin says, “One of the biggest reasons why many aspirants from Kerala seem to miss out on is the English language, and I wanted to change that scenario.” Even though UPSC CSE gives students the option of attempting the paper in their mother tongue, not many know about it.
“This option has been available for almost 60 years since 1964. Aspirants can appear for the examination in any one of the 22 different regional languages,” he adds. Unfortunately, while this is true, the lack of resource material in regional language does not make it conducive for aspirants to choose this option. In 2010, Jobin started putting together resource material in Malayalam, and as of 2021, he has written over 40 books for aspirants in the language.
Turning Adversity Into An Opportunity
“I would be lying if I said I was not dejected for not making the list. It was a dream that I had nurtured and worked very hard towards. The next thing best would be to train others and help them crack the examination and it was with that vision that I started the academy,” he says. In 2010 when the academy was established, Jobin was only helping aspirants who took up Malayalam as their optional paper. Eventually, he established it as a full-fledged academy.
So far, 108 students from the academy have managed to crack the UPSC examinations and for Jobin that has been the biggest victory and motivation to do more.
The Chitrasalabham (butterfly) Initiative
Seeing the success of the academy, Jobin started another vertical called Chitrasalabham to assist differently-abled students prepare and appear for the civil service examination. Speaking about this initiative, he says, “We received 150 applications for this programme and following an interview process, we selected 25 students for the programme. I have taken on the role of a mentor and ensure that I spend quality time with each of the students. Not just this, each student selected for this programme also gets a scholarship of Rs 1,10,000/.” Jobin is able to give out these scholarships because of the money that the academy makes, and says that he wishes to continue doing this.
“I have students who are not just hardworking but also immensely dedicated. What holds them back is the language barrier and through the programme, we wish to help them overcome that and be able to communicate well in their mother tongue,” he says. He shares how he was inspired by Anand Kumar, the founder of Super30 in Bihar, and after studying his model, decided on doing something similar.
The Civil Service Academy was established as a venture to support initiatives like Chitrasalabham, he says.
Besides this, Jobin also runs a YouTube channel, which is open to all where he posts various important aspects of cracking the exam. “Everyone understands how important it is for aspirants to stay updated with general studies, and reading the newspaper is an important aspect of that,” he says.
Each day, Jobin spends close to one hour taking aspirants through The Hindu newspaper in Malayalam. Similarly, in the Telegram channel that he runs, he circulates a free current affairs magazine in Malayalam which is open to all. “My idea is to reach as many aspirants as possible,” he says.
Why is this important?
Speaking about one of his students at the Chitrasalabham programme, Jobin says, “She is from a tribe called Cholanaikkans, and all over India, their population is at just 450. The members of this tribe, even today, live in caves. Having one student from this tribe is not just liberating but I feel a deep sense of responsibility towards helping them succeed.” Yet another student, Dr Athira, who met with an accident and was left paralysed, says that she wants to be a part of the civil service to bring about a change in the mindset of people. “I am wheelchair bound but that doesn’t stop me and I want to be an inspiration to others,” says Dr Athira.
Adding to this, Jobin says, “If Franklin Roosevelt could govern the US from a wheelchair, I don’t see why my students cannot occupy positions of power and authority. They are so good in their academics, this is but a natural step for them.” Jobin is certain that this batch of 25 students, in turn, will mentor and coach more students and the cycle that he started will continue.
To all aspirants who wish to prepare and appear for the examination in their mother tongue, Jobin says, “Do remember that one does not need Oxford English or a fancy coaching centres in Delhi. Stay focussed and put in all the hard work. That will see you through.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)