Vallath started as an informal coaching for six juniors in the living room of a quiet residential house in Trivandrum. Kalyani and Sudip had recently cleared the NET JRF exam. The year was 1998, and their notes were hand written, covering major periods, authors and works. They contained almost a hundred pages of information sourced from books and previous exam papers they could get their hands on.
Kalyani was approached by her juniors to help them clear the exam. Under her guidance, some cleared NET with JRF. Her enthusiastic teaching style, rigour with information and genuine love for literature brought more students year on year. The space was limited, some sat on the floor, but the teaching continued.
In 2003, Kalyani left for Vancouver, Canada for the Shastri Indo-Canadian fellowship. It was the early internet era, and technology was not evolved like today. Even then, she continued to send assignments to her students via email.
In 2004 she returned to India and to her passion for teaching. She decided to expand her coaching – rented a bigger space nearby and converted the handwritten notes into printed books. She now had 30 students.
A Woman with a Vision
Kalyani knew she could do more. She wanted to reach out to learners and lovers of literature across the country. She sent her books to colleges and universities all over India. A few months later she got a letter from a student in Punjab with a DD of Rs 500. That person was her first student from outside Kerala.
By then Kalyani was getting noticed in the academic circle in Kerala. She was invited to give a lecture to students in a college. The students loved her style and were eager to prepare for NET with her. It was 2008, four years since she returned from Canada. And it was obvious that the current space would not suffice. She decided to expand her centre by adding another classroom.
As the number of students increased, Kalyani began to see a pattern. Many of them had not read enough books. Most of them did not know the basics. Literature to them was about the necessary books for exams and not self-study and research. Her initial surprise transformed into dedication – to ignite passion for literature in every student she teaches. She wanted to expose her students to the wonder of literature, to the lessons it holds and the stories it has to tell. So she went ahead and did just that.
The Turning Point
In the early 2010s a student from Maharashtra wrote to Kalyani asking to be coached in literature. He was from a background with limited means. She discouraged him from coming all the way to Trivandrum and spending so much money on accommodation and tuition. Yet, he turned up at her gate at 3 am one morning with a sack full of books and a mind eager to learn.
She put him up as a paying guest in a house nearby. This was his first time in a city. He was from a small village with limited exposure. He found it difficult to adjust to the climate and food, but still he persevered. He requested Kalyani for questions, tough questions, questions he had no answers to. But he went back and read his books, researched and would come back with answers. He cleared NET with JRF.
This was a turning point for Kalyani. She realised she was not just coaching for NET, but preparing students for a life with English literature. She decided to call her institute TES – Total English Solutions.
The classrooms were revamped with more chairs and better infrastructure. Former students joined TES as managers, coordinators and academic contributors. They researched topics and compiled presentations. From a one-person-show, Kalyani was nurturing a team committed to furthering English literature.
Colleges and universities from beyond Kerala sought Kalyani for workshops and seminars. Meanwhile, more books were published, books that made learning easier, engaging and memorable. Kalyani’s books and notes became extremely popular. Some students bought and many others photocopied them. With this confidence and the support of her students who compiled information, she decided to venture into publishing. And thus, Bodhi Tree Publications (now Vallath Books) was born.
Sometimes students who purchased the books found typos or errors in them. The team was always open to feedback. They noted every point and incorporated it in the next edition.
Bringing New Ideas Alive
By 2015, Kalyani was teaching a hundred students in one batch. She experimented with distant education classes through emails and even a one year batch. She was always looking for new, exciting and efficient ways for students to learn. She wanted her students to not just clear NET JRF, but also see the beauty of literature and its relevance in our everyday life.
This kind of thinking resulted in an idea. She decided to put together an encyclopedia on (British) literature. It covered authors and works from different eras but written in small, bite-sized form perfect for today’s generation. The encyclopedia was rich with pictures, context and connections to art, history, music and other culture at the time. It introduced a topic, created curiosity and encouraged the reader to research more. This was the first in a series of encyclopedias on literature. Today there are 3 volumes on British literature, 2 volumes on American literature and 3 in the works.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
Kalyani never took anything for granted. That is why, when she heard the rumour that the NET exam format might change from descriptive to objective, she started preparing for it. She initiated a 25-questions-a-day for her students. After 40 such tests, she had enough information to compile it into a book. The book had both – the objective style, as well as explanation answers. So when the exam format did change, Kalyani and her students were prepared. By 2018, several thousands of students had studied at TES. Kalyani was well recognised beyond Kerala. She had taught students from over 20 states across the country. In fact, over 50% of her students were now from states other than Kerala.
Kalyani’s love for literature goes far beyond education. She believes students who study literature should not be diffident about their choice. They should wear their decision proudly, they should celebrate the wit and flaunt the depth of literature. With this in mind, in 2019, Kalyani started a literary lifestyle store. Designed by a few talented students, cups, t-shirts, cushion covers, diaries and more were made available through Q-shop (now Verbivore).
The Pandemic Curve
Up until the pandemic, Kalyani’s lessons were available through physical classes. But in 2020, she decided to pivot to online classes. Always eager to learn, she not only adapted but mastered the medium. Maintaining her effervescent personality, she conducted online classes, youtube videos/ live and also recorded lessons for Unacademy.
By then, Bodhi Tree Publications (now Vallath Books) was seen as the go-to place for books for NET English Literature. With over 75 books, it had something to offer to everyone – quizzes, quick reckoners, encyclopedias etc.
From a one member team, TES was now an institute with three Teaching Assistants and a remote team of 15 R&D individuals from all over India.
An Education Innovator
In 2023 Kalyani completes 25 years of teaching English literature. What started as helping some juniors, evolved into coaching, which grew into a centre and then an institute with a team of literature enthusiasts.
Our journey has been full of creative pursuits – an experimental course called Mojo Language, exhibitions, workshops, fluid classroom concept, gender sensitisation, career workshops, outreach programs and many more. All this, from then to now has been driven by Kalyani’s energy, passion and hardwork. Her values are imbibed by her team as we choose to deliver excellence, every day.
As Vallath (formerly, VTES) steps into its next phase, we promise to continue innovating to provide new experiences in English literature. We look forward to an exciting future!