A motivational guru, academician par excellence, author and civil services coach, Jobin S Kottaram inspires countless individuals and has ignited a silent social revolution
– Renjith Leen
For the want of a nail the shoe was lost;
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost;
For the want of a horse the battle was lost;
It is an old rhyme we all are familiar with which says how a small misadventure can set off a chain reaction of sorts… For Jobin S Kottaram, it was the want of two marks that clipped the wings of his civil services dream. But the battle was not lost. It was just the beginning of a long innings of achievements for this life coach, motivational guru and author, who runs a chain of civil service training academies in Kerala.
An ardent champion of education, Jobin has given new dimensions to success and has earned a covetable position in the list of influencers in the state. His chain of civil service academies helps ordinary Malayalis dream big of cracking the UPSC exam and bring it to fruition, demolishing the perception that it is the monopoly of those from an elite background. Over the span of a decade, 108 products of his Absolute Academy have made it to the civil services. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes him a cut above the rest is the humongous effort he took to unlock the potential of Malayalam to propel the civil services aspirations of ordinary Keralites. He deserves unrestricted accolades for proving that Malayalis can use their mother tongue to crack the UPSC exams and for single-handedly penning all the texts needed for civil services coaching in the vernacular, a task which took him 10 long years.
How a scorched IAS dream shot Jobin to fame
Like many studious Keralites, Jobin too nursed the Indian Administrative Service dream. More than 10 years ago, he quit his job in ICICI Bank to prepare for the UPSC exams. During that time, he had already published 10 books on positive thinking in Malayalam. “It was in 2010 that I wrote the prelims, attempted by almost 10 lakh candidates of which 15,000 clear the mains and 3,000 are called for the rigorous interview. About a 1,000 are selected,” says Jobin as he goes down memory lane.
He cleared the mains and did well in the interview. He was sure of being selected, but his hopes proved futile as he found out that he had scored 60 marks less than what he had anticipated in the essay paper. “In fact, they add the scores of the interview and the mains. But I scored less in the essay paper as I wrote it like a PhD thesis. Little did I know that it is evaluated by higher secondary teachers who expect a conventional essay. That wrong strategy scuttled my IAS dream by just two points,” says Jobin, who topped the Malayalam optional.
Jobin, who had landed the job of a Human Resources trainer in ING Vysya in Thiruvananthapuram by the time he cleared the prelims, also used to provide coaching to civil services aspirants in the morning and evening despite his busy schedule as it was a passion for him. Having the rare ability to turn adversity into opportunity, Jobin seriously thought of becoming a full-time civil services coach after the narrow miss.
Absolute IAS Academy: Incubating civil services dreams
He lost no time in joining hands with a like-minded friend to establish a coaching centre named Planet IAS in the state capital. “It was a small enterprise focusing only on optional subjects initially,” says Jobin, adding that his friend took care of Sociology lessons while he himself taught the lessons for Malayalam optional. With the number of students cracking the optionals rising, Jobin’s fame grew and it spread outside the state. The prestigious Chanakya civil services academy in New Delhi invited him as a visiting faculty to coach their candidates who had opted for Malayalam as one of the optional subjects.
Along with Jobin’s fame as a coach, the number of candidates seeking admission also registered a steady rise. It kickstarted a trend of sorts with students from rural background knocking at his door. With many of them asking him about the possibility of appearing for the exams in Malayalam, the visionary in Jobin gave it a serious thought. “I explored the possibility of this little-explored option. Candidates from rural backgrounds who are not conversant in English do not stand a chance against the IAS aspirants from St Stephen’s and JNU in Delhi. But if they appear in Malayalam, they do have a chance,” he says, adding that from 1964, there has been a provision for candidates to take the UPSC exams in any of the 22 regional languages.
Achieving the impossible
Though it was a wonderful option, the biggest stumbling block was the unavailability of books and training materials in Malayalam. Jobin, who holds the advice of his father, Dr Sebastian Kottaram, not to be bogged down by adversity, close to his heart, decided to do the impossible. He took upon himself the herculean task of penning 16 books in Malayalam covering all subjects of the UPSC examination. When he shared this plan with his friends, they called it a crazy, utopian idea.
“It took me 10 long years to achieve this incredible endeavour. On some days, I used to spend hours at a stretch,” he reminisces. In fact, he spent close to 4,000 days for this mission and the rest is history – 16 books in the vernacular, which have illuminated the paths of scores of aspirants from Kerala. What lends more sheen to his stellar achievement is the fact that he could achieve in 10 years what the state government could not in 60 years. “That gives me the biggest satisfaction,” he says.
Setting a new trend
The success of his decade-long initiative made Jobin think of yet another innovation. Why not a bi-lingual IAS coaching academy offering classes in both English as well as the vernacular. “I lost no time in revamping my academy making it the first bi-lingual civil services coaching institute in the state,” he says. Three years ago, Planet IAS Academy was rechristened as Absolute IAS Academy, which now has branches in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Karunagappally, Mavelikkara, Kochi, Palakkad and Kozhikode. It is the only one of its kind to have branches in seven towns. A B Shilpa, the topper in the Malayalam optionals last year, is a product of his academy.
After a decade of meritorious service and seven promotions in ING Vysya, he finally stepped down from his role as HR training head of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa to focus on his academy, which is the only one to have IAS officers, both retired as well as novices, among its faculty and Jobin plans to expand its presence to all districts as well as Lakshadweep by 2022. While the regular batch is coached for eight months, the course time of the holiday batch stretches up to 14 months. They also have a Junior IAS programme for school children to mould them from a young age.
Championing the cause of the mother tongue
It is a sad reality that love for the mother tongue is on the wane among Malayalis as they have a false notion that Malayalam will take them nowhere. But Jobin thinks otherwise. The fact is he staunchly believes that regional languages have power and they can make people successful provided its potential is unlocked. “Why are Western countries such as Spain, France and Germany so successful? It is because they have harnessed the power of their vernacular by using it to teach all subjects. That does not mean English is ignored. They give pride of place to their mother tongue and ensure that English is taught as a second language,” says Jobin who believes the same model should be implemented in Kerala as well.
Referring to Gandhiji, who once said that it requires only one-sixth the effort to learn a subject in one’s mother tongue, Jobin says that academic books should be translated into Malayalam so that it makes learning much facile. He believes that it will kickstart a silent social revolution.
“The government spends a lot to uplift the Scheduled Tribes. But most of them drop out of school by the time they reach the higher secondary level. The reason is the sudden transition from Malayalam medium to English, which demoralises them. Only education in the vernacular can bring real empowerment to these marginalised communities,” says Jobin.
He believes Malayalam will be a game-changer as far as the civil services exams are concerned in the coming years and the signs are already evident. Out of 60 candidates from Kerala who got into the civil services, 22 had Malayalam as one of the optionals.
Changing countless lives
A motivational speaker, who is renowned both within and outside the country, Jobin has made a difference to the lives of countless individuals over a span of 18 years. He has trained over 5 lakh people so far, from children and corporate honchos to estate workers. His motivational books numbering 25 have changed the lives of many for good. “I feel elated when people tell me now how they were inspired by my books when they were children,” says Jobin, who has conducted training sessions in the UAE, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain. His brother Sebin S Kottaram is also a renowned motivational speaker.
He recounts the anecdote of Anu Joshi, a Malayali girl who cracked the IAS exam this year. She came out with a touching Facebook post detailing her struggles in life. “It touched me a lot as often successful candidates brag about their exploits. I called Anu to congratulate her. To my surprise, she told me her father used to gift her my motivational literature when she was in school and that influenced her a lot to overcome difficulties,” he says.
Another shining example of Jobin’s motivational prowess is IAS officer Mohammed Ali Shihab who grew up in an orphanage and wrote the UPSC exams in Malayalam and is today at the helm of a district in English-speaking Nagaland. “When I invited him for a public function, I introduced myself and he said he knew me and the column I wrote in Mathrubhumi daily. Surprisingly, he even corrected me when I wrongly mentioned its name. Shihab said those columns were his source of inspiration to aim for the IAS,” says Jobin, who has also worked in NDTV and CNN-IBN in Noida and Delhi at the start of his career.
When the deluge of 2018, the most devastating in magnitude in the history of modern Kerala, washed away the hopes of lakhs of people, leaving them scarred and scared, Jobin used his skills as a motivational guru to encourage inmates of relief camps to start life anew. For his outstanding service, Junior Chamber of India bestowed upon him the Manava Seva award. He has also won other accolades including Success Kerala award for the best motivational speaker, Muttath Varkey Award for litterateurs, Malayalam Puraskaram, Aksharam Puraskaram to name a few.
The making of a motivational guru
From a tender age, Jobin nourished the dream to be an orator and change people’s lives as he was influenced by his father, who was a well-known rhetorician who could sway the masses. “He is my guru in public speaking as he prepared my speeches, corrected by voice modulation and showed me the hand movements and that helped me win a lot of prizes in school,” he reminisces.
During his college days, he was drawn to international motivational experts who were blazing a trail in the West and gaining a lot of respect and fame. His skills were noticed in 2002 by a professor in charge of the National Service Scheme who invited the degree final-year student to conduct a personality development class during a camp. “I grabbed the opportunity and my first session was in a dilapidated building for a group of 35 student volunteers seated on rickety old benches. At the end of the session, which was well appreciated, I got my first remuneration of Rs 500,” he says.
It was while pursuing MBA in 2005 that he came out with his first book in the motivational series ‘Vyakthithwa Vikasanathiloode Jeevitha Vijayam’ (Success in Life through Personality Development), which went on to have 36 editions.
Undying passion for academics
It would not be wrong to call Jobin an astute academician as he has a host of qualifications to his credit. He has an MPhil in Strategic Management as well as an MBA in HR Management and Organisational Behaviour apart from masters in Psychology, Malayalam Literature and Journalism. Jobin, who did his graduation in English Literature, is all set to receive his PhD in Management. “I just cannot quit learning. I wish to continue studies as much as I can.”
Jobin’s pillars of support are his better half, Christy, and their son Aiden, a Class III student. Despite having German citizenship, the mother and son duo opted to settle in Kerala and nurture Jobin’s dream of bringing his academy to more parts of the state.
Even during the pandemic crisis, he is a busy man with a tight schedule of online classes and motivational training sessions. His interviews of winners and achievers are watched by lakhs of viewers on YouTube.
Dreaming big and striving hard to achieve them
Asked about his dream, Jobin says he wishes to have his study modules translated into all regional languages so that children hailing from the hinterlands of north and northeast India get a chance to dream big and enter the civil services, thereby triggering a slow social transformation. “I also have a Vision 2030 to bring Kerala to European standards with the help and support of innovative Malayalis who are well settled abroad,” says Jobin, who is also planning to roll out his Rising 40 project next year, targeting 40 kids hailing from economically backward families of all parts of the country. “We sponsor their education and coaching and will bring them to the Civil Services,” he says, adding that he was inspired by the Bihar Super 30 training programme for underprivileged IIT aspirants.
“This will be funded by a portion of the fees we get from regular students. Once they come into the civil services, they will definitely have a commitment to society and give back something in return,” he adds.
Another lofty ambition is setting up a research institute to conduct studies on ways to enhance happiness index and harness the immense powers of the mind. Jobin, who is planning to pen a book in Malayalam on Indian foreign policy, is also dreaming of a mental rejuvenation programme deep in the lap of nature akin to the Kapitari shamanic therapy in Latin America. As he likes to put it, the sky is the limit and there is no stopping him.