A maths wizard, an IIT engineer who didn’t let a genetic disease defeat him, a disciplinarian, a jovial teacher who hosted Tambola for students on New Year’s Eve — Vinod Kumar Bansal was many things. But the one title he will be remembered for is being the “Bhishma Pitamah” of India’s coaching industry — the man who, starting from a tuition class in his living room, put the small industrial Rajasthan town of Kota at the heart of the country’s education map, and the centre of a Rs 3,000 crore coaching industry.
On Monday, the 71-year-old chairman of Bansal Classes passed away after a long battle with muscular dystrophy. While he had tested positive for Covid-19 recently and was admitted to hospital, his reports had returned negative two days ago. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Sameer Bansal, his son and managing director of Bansal Classes, said in a statement, “He was the architect of Kota’s coaching industry… For 35 years, he did not think about anything other than his students… He is also an inspiration for those suffering from a disease… As we battle a pandemic, we can all learn from his positive attitude.”
Stories about ‘Bansal sir’ can be heard all over Kota. Born in Jhansi, Bansal studied mechanical engineering at IIT-Banaras Hindu University and joined J K Synthetics in Kota in the early ’70s. Just a few years later, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy which impaired his physical movement.
“He wrote to doctors all over. Finally, a doctor from the United Kingdom suggested that instead of trying to find a cure, which was difficult, he should focus on finding a way to utilise his time. He suggested teaching maths… That idea stuck,” recalls A K Tiwari, who retired as senior vice-president from Bansal Classes in 2019. Bansal started with the son of the security manager of the company, who was struggling with maths. “The son passed his exams and the word spread.”
In 1985, when one of his students cleared the IIT entrance exams, the numbers in his classes grew.
“I met him around 1985-86, when I was taking computer classes for employees at J K Synthetics… He wanted to learn ‘WordStar’ so that he could put down all his notes in one place. I have seen him work consistently for over 14 hours every day. In the last three years, when he stopped taking classes because of his deteriorating health, he would sit for hours and formulate maths questions,” adds Tiwari. “He always said that he wanted to feel tired at the end of the day so that he could have a peaceful sleep.”
Many of the measures practised by Kota’s coaching centres have their origins in Bansal’s classrooms, including separate batches for students based on performance.
“Between 1993 and 1996, we had a lot of common batches. I would teach physics and he would teach maths and there was a 15-minute distance between our buildings. He said we must devise a timetable so that our students get enough time to travel. Later, he suggested ‘bench shuffling’ — separate batches for students based on merit — so that we could give more time to weaker students,” says Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point.
Up until the early 2000s, the fee structure of institutes also followed the Bansal model. “When he was taking tuitions, he did it for free. In the late ’80s, the father of one of his students who had cleared the IIT exams gave him an envelope with some cash. He refused at first, but later realised that teaching could be a career option if he lost his job. But he felt conscious asking for money, so the same parent devised a fee structure for his classes. All centres in Kota followed that fee structure for years,” says Tiwari.
Bansal started out charging around Rs 2,500 annually for maths classes in the ’90s, but by the end of the decade, with his institute covering all subjects, the amount rose to Rs 30,000. Now, the fee varies between Rs 1-1.5 lakh, including at Bansal Classes.
The entrance exam to get admission to coaching centres also started from Bansal Classes. At its peak, in 2007-08, the institute had nearly half the students enrolled for coaching in Kota. Bansal Classes also has branches in Ajmer and Jaipur.
“He once denied admission to a politician’s daughter who did not clear the entrance exam. He even made the politician wait because he was in the middle of a class. He never wasted a student’s time,” says Manthan Dalmia, a first-year-student at IIT Delhi.
Says Govind Maheshwari, director of Allen Career Institute, “It was his fresh vision that made a subject like maths interesting… Lakhs of students will remember his contribution.”
Lok Sabha Speaker and Kota-Bundi MP Om Birla was among those who mourned Bansal’s death, calling it “an irreparable loss to the entire academic world”.
The demise in a way signals the end of an era for Kota’s coaching industry, that is caught in a tussle between its online and offline identity due to the pandemic. The second Covid-19 wave has again forced institutes shut.
On May 2, Rajasthan recorded 18,298 positive cases, and Kota’s caseload stood at 601.
In the last decade, Maheshwari says, Bansal had grown concerned about the “commercialisation” of the coaching industry. “He said ‘Ab sab business ho gaya hai (It has all become a business now)’.”