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Every year, millions of Indian students give up on sleep, sport and much more to prepare for one of the toughest tests on the planet—the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Joint Entrance Examination. Ultimately, only 0.7% of these candidates make the cut and get a chance to study at the country’s most prestigious engineering colleges. And the ones who come first in this exam are briefly elevated to the status of a celebrity. Ever wondered what these IIT JEE AIR 1 Rankers are doing now?

Within minutes of exam results being announced, TV channels start tracking down these toppers for interviews, glowing articles are written about them in newspapers, and occasionally their smiling faces stare down from billboard advertisement for leading cram schools. But this glory does not last forever—and the world outside the IITs rarely tracks the trajectory of these academic overachievers.

Here are the profiles of IIT JEE AIR 1 Rankers (2006-2010):

2006 – IIT JEE AIR 1 – Raghu Mahajan

Raghu Mahajan is an interesting case study in itself. His story can resonate with many who get disillusioned because of social pressure and chase others’ dreams instead of chasing theirs.

He spent just two years at IIT-Delhi before moving to MIT to study physics.
“I was doing computer science at IIT-Delhi because of social pressures,” he says. “I transferred to MIT mainly because I wanted to study physics. The physics department at IIT-Delhi is not that strong in theoretical physics, which is what I wanted to pursue.”

Raghu is now at Stanford University pursuing a PhD in theoretical physics, focusing on string theory and the black hole information puzzle.

2007 – IIT JEE AIR 1 – Achin Bansal

Achin is the first student from the Punjab school education board to top the IIT-JEE. The son of a paediatrician, he went to a school built in the memory of his grandfather in Kotkapura, a small Punjab town once known for its prolific cotton crop. He then attended coaching classes in Kota.

With a scholarship from the Punjab government, Bansal read for a degree in computer science at IIT-Bombay and currently works as an associate at Morgan Stanley, Mumbai. His job, according to his LinkedIn profile, includes looking at the valuation of financial derivatives.

2008 – IIT JEE AIR 1 – Shitikanth Kashyap

When the results of JEE were announced in 2008, Shitikanth fled his hometown Patna and went to Mumbai. The reticent topper just couldn’t deal with all the attention he was getting from the media and politicians. Several cram schools wanted to make him their brand ambassador and bugged him relentlessly, even as politicians apparently fell over each other to “felicitate” him.

Shitikanth studied computer science at IIT-Kanpur. In July 2008, he also won the gold medal at the 39th International Physics Olympiad, but he was already famous after his IIT-JEE exploits. Kashyap is now at Canada’s University of Waterloo, where he is completing a PhD in quantum computing.

2009 – IIT JEE AIR 1 – Nitin Jain

Nitin Jain had topped AIEEE along with IIT-JEE and then went to study at IIT-Delhi. While in college, Nitin received a death threat via email reportedly after he published a book called The Secret of my Success. The book had alleged that a few coaching institutes in India had misused his name for commercial interests.

Nitin Jain, also a gold medalist at the international olympiad on astronomy and astrophysics in 2010, currently lives in Dublin, Ireland

2010 – IIT JEE AIR 1 – Anumula Jithendar Reddy

Jithendar had no plans to study engineering until he completed his class 10. It was only after his parents shifted him to Hyderabad from Warangal, a town in Andhra Pradesh, that he started to focus on preparing for the JEE exam.

The son of a professor at the National Institute of Technology, went on to study electrical engineering at IIT-Bombay. While very little is publicly available about what Jithendar is doing now, he had—immediately after he topped the JEE—said that he wanted to go to Stanford University to take up research in physics and turn to academics after his graduation.

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