Ricky and Bholu are not the names of the two gun-toting bodyguards who shadow Anand Kumar but characters from the 44-year-old mathematician's favorite theorem about success. Ricky is a rich boy who wears branded clothes, eats burgers, rides a motorbike and speaks English while Bholu wears a tattered kurta, eats chapattis, rides a cycle and speaks in the local tongue. When a Maths sum is presented to both, Ricky comes up with a textbook-style solution but Bholu initially struggles and ultimately solves the problem with novel methods. So far, Patna-based Kumar has groomed over 350 real-life Bholus. It helps that he is one.

The story of Patna-based Kumar -whose coaching class 'Super 30' annually trains 30 bright, underprivileged students in Bihar for the IIT-entrance exams for free -is a readymade film script. A Maths student with crushed dreams goes from selling pa pads to becoming a near-fanatical teacher who would move a room at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to tears with his speech. “Education is the most powerful weapon to tackle most of the world's problems, “Kumar had said in that speech. And in the last 13 years of Super 30, Bihar has grown to validate his belief. “Earlier, during elections, people used to beg politicians to help employ their kids, “says Kumar. “Now, they confront politicians with demands to send more teachers to the nearby school. “

Thrice so far, all 30 students from a Super 30 batch have passed. Given that chances of getting into IIT are slimmer than that of getting through Harvard, this success rate is telling. Among Kumar's protégés is Santosh, a roadside vendor who studied by a lantern, got through IIT Kharagpur and is now a research scholar in Europe. Then, there's Anup, the resident of a Naxal-infested village, whose father went out one night in search of food and never returned. Anup seethed with revenge but his mother advised a more powerful means of retribution education. He studied hard, went to Super 30 and got through IIT Bombay. “Keen desire to succeed plus positive thinking plus continuous hard work plus boundless patience, “is Kumar's simple arithmetic for success.

To arrive at that though, it took a few tough breaks. Growing up as the curious son of a postal-worker, Kumar loved fixing radios and asking questions like why cars ran on petrol and not water. Once, when someone told him that a piece of iron develops magnetism after being given an electric shock, Kumar tried it and caused a short circuit at home. But, since his father could not afford private education, the bright young boy was transferred to a public school in Class IV. The next opportunity that poverty snatched from the gifted Maths student and fan of S Ramanujan, was when he got through Cambridge University but could not make it there due to lack of funds. Soon after, Kumar lost his biggest cheerleader. His father, who would teasingly touch Kumar's feet in anticipation of his success, passed away.

Though he got a job offer in the postal department on compassionate grounds, Kumar decided to rent a classroom and start 'Ramanujan School of Mathematics' where students would pay him whatever they could. To get by, Kumar would sell papads prepared by his mother, door-to-door. Once, a bright student named Abhishek, the son of a poor farmer who could not afford Kumar's annual fee of Rs 500, asked if he could pay it in installments. When the skeptical Kumar paid Abhishek a surprise visit, he was moved to see the boy studying a physics book while living under the stairs of a lawyer's house. This prompted the launch of Super 30 that would screen 30 poor but talented students and impart coaching, boarding and free meals.

However, with results came problems. The coaching class mafia started targeting Kumar.“One of my non-teaching staff was stabbed and I considered scrapping Super 30, “recalls Kumar. But his students egged him on to continue. He was then given two bodyguards by the Nitish Kumar government. One of them, Pradeep Chaudhary, was so in awe of Kumar's teaching methods that he even brought his son to the coach during his board exams. Unsurprisingly, bigwigs including Anand Mahindra and Mukesh Ambani have approached Kumar with generous offers of donations but he stubbornly refuses all financial help. The teacher wants to prove that Bholu doesn't need Ricky's help to succeed.

The inspiring Anand Kumar will be in conversation with film director Vikas Bahl at the Times Litfest at Mehboob Studios on Dec 4. http:www.timeslitfest.com