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By Neel Anil Panciker

A recent nationwide survey conducted among 25,000 students between the ages of 12 and 20 threw up certain revelatory statistics.

A staggering 82 percent of them were unable to answer all the 20 questions that were put to them. Only three percent of the interviewed received a centum; answered all the two score questions correctly. Worse, 48 per cent of the children failed to answer even one question correctly.

And pray, what were these questions like? Well, as simple as ‘Who is the President of India? What is our National Anthem? What is the full form of UIDAI?

A pithy aside to all this is that over 77 per cent of the interviewed had at least three social media accounts and logged on to one or the other of them for at least two hours every single day.

One would like to believe that the knowledge level of these tech savvy children, exposed as they were to such a dizzying array of mind boggling media platforms would be very high.

Alas! that is sadly not the case.

Which brings me to my contention, which is that despite living in this fast paced technologically advanced age when every single thing that we want and need is available at the click of a mouse, our children are intellectually stagnating and not growing. Their understanding and knowledge levels are at best rudimentary, superficial. They have become the unwitting victims of a huge business enterprise  that believes in serving low quality, half baked, at times absolutely untrue news and information__all served in the garb of ‘insta’ hot news, breaking news et al.

‘Breaking news’, I fear, is just that__broken.

Instead, what we need is wholesome, holistic, well researched information that is unbiased and doesn’t slip through our doorways as advertorials and self serving

Promotional material.

And who best to fulfill this other than the tried and tested, our centuries old daily intellectually cuppa__ the newspaper. It is the not the paper that is of relevance here but the news that comes embedded in it.

News, in a newspaper, doesn’t just break unlike in Twitter, Facebook and all other ubiquitous newsfeeds platforms that are dime a dozen in the worldwide internet space. The ‘news’ in the paper, is real, actual, and meaningful and is broken down into its identifiable parts, its every single component, analysed threadbare, the ramifications thoroughly researched and made intelligible sense of.

And to top it all, simply have a look at the kaleidoscopic array of options that are available in the hands of a discerning readers.

Open any reputable national newspaper and you will find there is everything of something for every single one of us cutting across age, gender, social, ideological  and intellectual spectrums __all systematically arranged and segregated into neat symmetrical columns that are easy on the eye as well as easily identifiable.

Block headed into standalone pages such as CITY, NATION, INTERNATIONAL, OPEN ED, BUSINESS, LEISURE, SPORTS et al_, none, not even the most hardcore online news junkie can undermine the quintessential supremacy of newspapers over all other Johnny come lately ‘news’ sources that pop out of tablets , mobile phones and laptops__ all high sensationalism but rock bottom when it comes to content doing nothing but merely feeding into our inner depravities and innate voyeurisms rather than satisfying our intellectual curiosities.

On the other hand a good newspaper functions as a mid-path, quite removed from the puerility of ‘insta’ news and a mere arms stretch away from the great books that lie awaiting us in bookshelves to be picked up and read in depth.

To all those naysayers who aver that newspapers are an endangered species soon to be as dead as the dodo, to them I say that’s time they woke up and smelled the coffee__ with the feel of crispy newspaper pages in their hands.

For, such is the paradoxical nature of life that the more the internet grows and serves us ‘breaking news’ the more we will gravitate towards newspapers because unlike the former the latter doesn’t take recourse to short cuts merely to capture more and more eyeballs at the cost of ‘news’ that questions, probes, analyses in complete depth, not just for the moment but for the days and weeks that follow.

©neelanilpanicker2018 #newspapers




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By Neel Anil Panicker

Ali struck out the back of his palm and squatted a mosquito that had settled on his bare legs.

The standard issue prison uniforms were too short for his six foot tall frame. The half length cotton trousers barely reached below his knees. This coupled with a half sleeved collarless shirt made his body a healthy hunting ground for a swarm of blood sucking mosquitoes who lorded over the hapless prison inmates and attacked with a sadistic delight only seen in hardened criminals. It was ironical to see mere flies practicing their deadly skills on hardened prisoners who in the outside world were capable of putting the fear of the devil in the minds of fellow human beings.

Al, the master criminal was slowly getting to learn that the nuts and bolts of prison life were quite different from the world that he came from.

A slight vibration tingled his bones under the trouser pockets.

Ali looked around at his prison mate. He was lost to sleep.

He looked past his cell gate into the long corridor that loomed ahead. It was pitch dark. Not a soul in sight. He strained his ears against the iron bars. Not a single sound either.

It was two hours past midnight. Still a few hours before the change of shift.

The inmates, the guards…everyone was in sleep mode.

Stealthily, he retreated to his corner space and crouching against the wall, retrieved the phone from his inner pocket and then pressed the green button.

The phone came alive in an instant.

“How are you, Ali Bhai?” It was Moosa’s, the man with the whisky scarred voice.

Only Moosa addressed him as Ali Bhai. For all others he was simply Al.

Moosa’s was the first and only voice he had heard from among the gang members ever since his incarceration.

‘You know me, Moosa Bhai. I am an action guy. Can’t sit alone for long.

This jail thing is so boring.’

“Have patience, bhai. It’s just a matter of time.”

A matter of time, bullshit. Today is my  fifteenth night in this God forsaken place. The maximum I have ever been in prison.

As if reading his thoughts Moosa answered, “I know, dear. Usually we are out by a week.”

‘Moosa, I’m losing it. I feel trapped here.’

“Ali Bhai, I feel for you. I wish you were outside; that we were together, zipping off to the countryside__chatting, binging on movies, gorging on aloo paranthas, gulping whisky…VAT 69, you know …

The thought of what he was missing made downed Al’s moods further.

‘I wish the same, Moosa Bhai. I wish I were outside. I wish I were with Liza.’

The phone went silent for a second.

All Al could hear was the uneven, slow snoring sound of his fellow inmate.

“Are you alone there, Ali? Is there anyone around?”

‘I am alone. You can speak. What’s the matter, bhai?’

“I’m hearing something. There are rumours…whispers actually.”

Al pressed his ears to the phone.

‘About what? About who?’

“About You. About you  and Liza.”

‘What exactly did you hear?’

“Can’t really say. Just a hunch.”

‘Just what’s it, Moosa? Spit it out.’

“Just a conversation. Over the phone. Yesterday…while entering the den…”

The den? Ali knew he was referring to Afzal Bhai, their boss’ private room, the one inside which his boss confabulated with only his very trusted men.

‘The den? What did you hear, bhai?’

“Boss had called me about the Dwarka case. He was just ending a phone call. I just heard a few bits…just snatches of it…his last words caught my ear…They were “you don’t spite the hand that serves you” and then… “ I will teach the bastard a lesson he will never forget”.

Sheer cold wave ran through Ali’s spine. He felt a stab of pain in his chest as slow beads of perspiration began to form on his temples.

‘Did he mention a name? Was he referring to anyone?’

“No. He just slammed the phone down when he heard my footsteps.”

‘What do you think? Is it about Liza and me? Does he know about us? Is that what he was referring to?’

“I don’t know. I can find out if you want. But in the meantime, Ali, my bro, be careful. Be very careful.

Al wiped his sweaty hands across his face and said,

‘I will. I will for sure. Thanks, Moosa bhai.’

“Got to go now. Shall call you after I dig some more info, bye.”

As Al slid the phone back into his trousers, he looked upto to see his prison mate

smiling down at him.

It was a slow, hesitant curve of the lips, and in the dead of the night,

it was enough to spur Al’s already racing heartbeats.

#neelanilpanicker2017 #parteightofdangerouslove #dangerouslove#fiction#cat’soutofthebag#795












Sunday Scrawl #1




By Neel Anil Panicker

As a child I loved walking the paths untrodden.

I remember the big, rectangular park adjacent to where we lived. It was grasssy, had more than a couple of swings, a long disused see saw and a big, spherical sand pit that was variously used__for long jumps and high jumps, free style wrestling, to build sand castles, and even as a place to pee come an exigency.

Well, this was the park that was peopled by all the children of our locality.

It was the place where all the children congregated after school hours; headed went to after their mothers, elder siblings, or maids, as may be the case, had stuffed their mouths with enough proteins and carbohydrates to help them last through the day, which as was more often the case, extended itself to long, langurous evenings, especially so during summer solstice.

Did I say all the children? Well almost all, but dfinitely not me.

I may have been barely ten or so but had known even back then the pleasures of exlporing unknown frontiers.

Off I would go ambling around and shuffling feet past the ever bustling bylanes of Patel Chowk, lazing around its myriad shops, gaping wide eyes at big monster petrol guzzling vehicles and at the even bigger billboards that advertised their worthiness, their oomphness, their desirability quotients.

My feet would drag around at narrow gulleys, around hole in the wall shops, my nostrils flaring up and my mouth salivating as I peeped into large steel tumblers in which swam like small baby elephants huge palm sized balls of sweet meat.

Gulab jamuns they were called, those spherical gastroniomic delights; their heavenly taste lasting for long; well after dusk had fallen and I was safely tucked in bed, the lights all out in our two roomed house where I lived with my parents.

It was during one such off beat trip around that I stumbled I bit too far from civilian surroundings and entered the forest and discovered the secret pathway.

I remember the day very well. It was a Saturday evening and my parents were at work. Left to myself and having got a bit bored of circumambulating the regular haunts, I had walked a little beyond, a a few fifty meters or so away from where I lived.

It was a slightly deserted place in that it led to a wooded area, one that was secluded by iron wires. A sign affixed to one of the poles that held them read, ”Forest area, entry restricted”.

The words caught my fancy. I had never seen a forest earlier and hence my curiosity upped.

What what really pushed me to action were the words “entry restricted”.

I read that as an inviolate order, a strict rule of law, a non negotiable command that brooked no

interference and therefore I decided to interfere.

Without thinking I slipped my four foot slender self through a gap between the wires and the ground.

At first looked it looked like no different from the small bush that stood adjacent to where our school was. I could see small light green shrubs protruding out from wet earth.

I looked ahead and saw some rocky outcrops.

I decided to explore further.  I stepped forward gingerly, careful not to fall and mindful of the uneven pebbles all around the grassy landscape.

By now I was past the rocks and the trees around me gradually thinned to reveal something that looked to me, far that I was, as some sort of a giant black pit.

Hacking my way through the overgrowth, I narrowed my eyes to get a better view.

Was it a black boulder or something else?

I turned around and near emptiness stared back at me.

All of a sudden a shard of light escaped through the branches and lit the area.

I looked once more at the spot and saw what it was: two small railway tracks that disappeared into a dark as hell tunnel above which stood a moss covered bridge.

A tunnel in the middle of a forest area? A fusillade of whos and whats and whys assailed my inquisite young mind as I stood there, transfixed, rooted to the ground, as if immobilised by an unknown enemy.

God knows for long I stood there but soon after, fully intrigued that I was,

I tiptoed towards it.

It was then that I heard them; the voices__they were human and, not very pleasant.

©neelanilpanicker #fiction #sundayscrawl#1  #episode#01

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