Where there's a Wheel, There's a Way: Jitesh Kumar
On a rainy evening, Team MM chanced upon Jitesh Kumar, in one of his usual jovial moods as he reminisced on some of his best bitter-sweet memories about his childhood, college life, difficulties, career and aspirations and more. Behind all the charm and happiness, his aura spoke of such a zealous determination and that is sure to leave a legacy of inspiration for all the junior and future batches, especially of the differently abled section, for whom he is a beacon of hope and an epitome of success.
Jitesh Kumar is one of the jewels of his batch of ECE in NITR, having been recently placed in Qualcomm, a prestigious MNC. Here he aspires to innovate and invent some really productive and affordable electronic prosthetic equipment and wheelchairs. He hopes that it would greatly benefit the differentially-abled people with whom he shares a common bond of familiarity and fate, one which he himself experienced and overcame through great hardships.
As he speaks about his future plans, he shares with Team MM his experiences, his journey till Qualcomm and how he became the man we know him as today.
Monday Morning: Please tell us something about yourself, your past and how you adapted yourself for studies.
Jitesh Kumar: I had to struggle quite a lot in my town in Gaya, I did my studies from home. I could never go to school. I did my +2 college studies through the National Open Schooling system of the government. They provided all the study materials and took care of my attendance issues. Mainly my brother helped me a lot with regular studies.
The immobility of my legs wasn’t a congenital disease—I was afflicted with meningitis and encephalitis during the age of 5 or 6. During that time I stayed in a coma-like state for almost 4 months. After recovering I somehow managed to continue my studies, though I got less chance to explore myself. I stayed in a joint family where everyone, especially my mother supported me a lot.
So after matriculating from Bihar board, I switched over to CBSE in my +2, where the school took care of my absence problems, and during exams, my father carried me all the way to the school and exam centers.
MM: How did NITR happen?
JK: I cracked JEE twice, and cleared for the IIT counseling also. On the first attempt, my AIEEE rank was not as good, but I scored a good mark in JEE advanced (then IIT entrance). My father took me for the counseling but since my board marks were below the criteria, I wasn’t admitted. Next year I attempted AIEEE again and got a seat in NITR.
MM: How was the experience of academic life at NITR--attending lectures and labs – how was it different for you? What were some of the greatest difficulties you faced and overcame in the course of your stay here?
JK: Coming to NITR was itself a very big challenge for me. Everything I did here had to be done without my parents and family, I had to cope up with this. I was allotted in GD Birla Hall like all the other first years. Even getting to the gate from my room in A-115 was very difficult. I had to manage somehow, waking up at 4:30 for my classes, just because the washroom was empty then. I attended classes regularly, and never missed one, whether it was in the main building or the Workshop or the Chemical Department where I had to climb the stairs up to the 3rd floor. My friends helped me a lot, particularly Mitesh who lived adjacent to my room.
In the first year, getting to the class from my scooter was a problem, I had to park it far away from the gate and crawl the rest of the way. In the hot summers, my hands burned, my gloves tore frequently, and it was quite painful. The curriculum structure and the huge campus made sure I had a lot of physical education too.
Towards the next year, I started looking for a room with attached sanitation facilities. I talked with the Director and found out that VS Hall has some staff rooms near the warden’s office which were well-fitted with attached washrooms and other facilities. However here I was totally alone—no one around me for fifty yards or so. I had to virtually stay in the room at all times with almost no interaction. This was a sudden change from my first year when I used to have a lot of company from my friends, moving about and enjoying. I felt mentally depressed and emotionally imbalanced due to this for a long time.
But, therein Prof. S K Patel provided a lot of help, he arranged a wheelchair which was funded by the institute. It worked as an asset for me as I could move around in my hall, to the nearby rooms, and the mess also.
MM: What were some of the student activities that formed a part of your social life in NITR? How challenging was it to participate in fests and other activities, given that attending classes itself was so daunting?
JK: No I did participate in quite a decent amount of extra-curricular activities. I used to go to Cyborg just for fun. I attended workshops whenever my friends in the club called me. I just didn’t have so much strength in me to handle the extra burden of the regular club activities, for I needed to save energy for studies and classes.
MM: What made you choose engineering? Did you always plan for this or you had any other interests in mind?
JK: A lot of things were going around in my head during my +2. My brother was very meritorious and always guided me on what and how to do. Even being younger than me my brother and sister taught me a lot. My brother is an all-rounder, he returned from coaching at the end of the day and then used to teach me till 2 o’clock. He is the main reason for me being here.
MM: We heard that you are a very good public speaker, and also had a short stint with singing. Please share that experience with us?
JK: Singing is my passion, I am currently taking a course in first-year classical music, and will be finishing off the course this January. I go to the Basanti Colony every Sunday. This is my greatest pastime. I also used to explore electronics, write poetry, diaries etc.
I performed a solo in the Freshers with Euphony, although unfortunately I was not selected in the inductions because of my standards. Still, they gave me the opportunity to perform in the event, which went well. Anyways I continued practicing on my own.
Public Speaking has always been my favorite. I visit Sector-2, every year on my birthday, to distribute sweets and chocolates to the differently abled children. That is where I found Gautam, suffering from paralysis and I wanted to arrange a tabloid for him so that he could connect to the outer world sitting at home, and I started collecting funds for the same by giving seminars at different places.
Moreover, previous year on the eve of Diwali, V. Swaminathan Hall of Residence organised a function inviting disabled children, where I got the opportunity to address them.
I used to attend fests on my scooter, I took it all the way to the front and sat on it to watch the events. I got this much-needed companion (the scooter) when I joined NIT, and I take it everywhere, even carrying my friends with me.
MM: Share with us various projects and internship experiences you have had during your course of study here.
JK: I did four projects in my B.Tech. career and one internship as a part of a start-up. I worked on a project which was based on Radio-frequency identification (RFID), that uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information, mostly used in airports.
I also made a door-step laser sensor for maintaining safety at houses. It basically concentrated on multiple reflection theory. It sensed any interruption or disturbance and the alarm was raised, this helped to detect any kind of possible theft. The most interesting part of the project was it used Mq sensor, which is a gas sensor. This could detect gas leaks, send an immediate message informing the owner about the same and thus save lives from major disasters. This could even switch off lights when not in use, mostly during the day.
I got qualified for internships in Bhabha Atomic Reseach Centre (BARC), IIT Kharagpur, and IIT Kanpur as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go for any of these because adjusting to a new location with a different surrounding for only two months was a difficulty. So, I decided to work for a start-up at NITR itself, since there were many start-ups ignited at the moment and this gave me an opportunity and this got me the Qualcomm placement.
Qualcomm conducted its tests and interview in the second week of August. I qualified the first round but unfortunately the same didn’t happen for the second round. I got a call from the firm after about three weeks giving me a second opportunity. It was a telephonic interview of one hour and then I got placed eventually. I’ll be joining soon.
MM: What do you look forward to from your job?
JK: The most important thing is I want to explore myself, as much as I can. I always dreamt of inventing a wheelchair which could not only climb stairs but also provided many additional benefits for the disabled. There are such wheelchairs but they are too expensive to be afforded by a common man. I want to invent a cost-effective one and Qualcomm seems like a path to that goal.
MM: How far do you see the situations in our college has changed in addressing special needs to gifted students like you? What improvements in facilities do you expect in our college that we are lacking in, for supporting students like you pursuing their academic dreams?
JK: I want to convey this message that when a person like me joins this institute, a bit of time for adapting to the new conditions would be a great help, without which the hectic schedule is more of a torture. Everyone might not be mentally as strong and prepared as me. For instance, I saw students like me from my native places who used to crack JEE and still did not even think of joining in premier institutes like this.
Then again, the institute should make efforts for the minority section, i.e. the physically handicapped students like constructing ramps wide enough for vehicles like that of mine to pass, and there can be at least one wheelchair arranged in every department, this could only make it easier for us to mobilise around the institute.
Team MM wishes this fighter all the best for a glittering future where he can realise his dream of reaching out to and standing up for all the people who share his plight and help them overcome the physical limitations just as he so successfully has.