For as long as she can remember, Puja Sharma has had a “craze” for a government job. And a place in the railroads is his “ekdum (just my dream job) dream job.”
A year ago, this “craze” brought her to Patna from her hometown of Jamshedpur, where her father works as a carpenter. “The pandemic has shown the difference between private and public jobs. Government jobs are stable, they make you respected. I want that. The study environment in Patna is more serious and I hope I can concentrate more here,” says the 25-year-old, who has taken the exams three times.
The eldest of three siblings, she is one of hundreds of aspirants who gather every weekend at the Kali Ghat near the Ganges to solidify their preparation for the contest.
The mock ghats tests were started more than two months ago by SK Jha, a mechanical engineer turned teacher. Since his coaching courses for railroads and SSB aspirants, which he started in 2014, could only accommodate just over 1,000 students per batch, Jha started the mock test sessions of 90 minutes on the ghats. Between 5,000 and 10,000 students take the test every Saturday and Sunday morning.
Recently, as images from the ghats went viral – of several students sitting on the steps with their heads buried in their test papers – they told a story from India, or more specifically Bihar: of the struggles and despair that young people cross in their search for that elusive work of sarkari.
Puja started preparing for the railway exams soon after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Jamshedpur Women’s College. Until then, she was home-schooled to support her family, earning 5,000 rupees a month. “I had passed the state polytechnic exam and was offered architecture. Through the college’s placement cell, I also received an offer for a job in a call center “But none of that excited me. My maternal grandfather had a job in Group C Railways and my uncle had a job in Group D. They really inspired me,” Sharma says.
She is glad that she did not accept the private job offers because her friends who did are now taking care of “grihasti (family and children)”, without a career.
His own journey since then, however, hasn’t been smooth sailing either. She made three attempts at the railway exam, but narrowly failed each time. “In the RPF Constables recruitment test I exceeded the running time by 20 seconds and on my second attempt I practiced so much that I sprained my ankle a day before the test. reviewing the popular non-technical categories of the railway recruitment boards, I missed the three-point threshold,” she says.
With little money to spend on coaching, Puja had prepared for the tests in Jamshedpur on her own, mostly through online tutorials. But after three failed attempts, she was sure she needed help. “I had heard about free coaching for girls at Jha Sir Institute in Patna, but my parents were very worried. None of the girls in my family had come out of Jamshedpur…I spoke to some of my cousins and they convinced my family,” she says.
So last year, as the second wave of the pandemic waned, she landed in Patna with her father and found paid accommodation for Rs 3,500 per month – a big investment for the family. “But I have no other interests. Unlike other people my age, I don’t watch movies or soap operas and I don’t go out… That’s all I want, to be the first woman in the family to have a government job.
Most of the aspirants who take these mock tests on the ghats come from underprivileged backgrounds, and Jha believes that the “lack of opportunities in the private sector” is the reason why people in Bihar are obsessed with government jobs. “There are no jobs in Bihar. Nothing. And there is no skill-based education either. So what option do people have,” says Jha, adding that her idea of starting free coaching classes for girls led to an increase in their numbers in her class. “There are about 350 girls now.”
To ensure that her parents’ investment in her future is not wasted, Puja follows a “very strict” daily schedule: waking up at 5 a.m., praying to “surya devta (the sun god)” and going running around, doing mock tests with his study group, cooking all three meals between 9 and 11 a.m., then rushing to a public library to study between 11 and 4 p.m. This is followed by another four hours of lessons at Jha’s coaching center, where she answers questions about reasoning, math, general knowledge and science. At 8 p.m., when she returns home, she revises all her lessons, has dinner and then goes to bed. “Then repeat the next day,” she laughs.
Puja also has to watch her diet closely to stay fit for the physical tests. “I eat a lot of green vegetables, chicken and fish. But I don’t make them in onion sauce, only mustard. It’s healthier,” she says, adding that at home too, being the eldest, she did most of the cooking.
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When she can afford a break, Puja goes up to the terrace of her PG lodging and admires the view of the city, sometimes taking advantage of this time to talk to her younger sister and her mother. “Patna has a lot of waste. I miss Jamshedpur, it’s very clean. Also the people here speak very shuddh (traditional) Hindi, we speak a mixture of Hindi and English. Yahan log bahut rengha rengha ke bolte hain (here people speak very slowly),” she says.
By her own admission, she doesn’t have many hobbies, “but I want to improve my skills.” “I like to listen to English songs and learn their words. I recently covered the lyrics of (Justin Bieber) Let me love you. I also learn astrology and numerology through YouTube videos,” she says.
While in Jamshedpur, the 25-year-old had established a YouTube channel, where she mostly reposted funny short films, which had over 5,000 subscribers and also worked as a local tour guide.
However, with the RRB-NTPC exam scheduled for July, all of that has taken a back seat. “I got very good grades and a good ranking without any coaching… Now I’m working very hard. My own life, my struggles, keep me motivated. I will pass the exam. I’m sure of it,” she concludes.