When someone let the CAT out of the bag
By Neel Anil Panicker
Examinations are a load or a breeze. That’s depending on which side of the academic scale you tilt.
For a serious student of life such as yours truly, it means a welcome release after months of burning the proverbial midnight oil, lying awake through days and nights coding, uncoding, and then decoding a near endless array of bewildering permutations and combinations, hoping to get bat through as many of the trickier than tricky bouncers (read questions!) that the head honchos that govern the test aim to throw at you at speeds that would put to shame the fastest of bowlers of world cricket.
And so it was the other day when I found myself inching into a rather expansive second floor examination hall located quite ironically in a mid-sized mall in a godforsaken back of beyond location some 50 kilometres away from sweet home.
The jostling continued but this time the shoulders gave way for cubicles as I found myself staring at a computer screen that steadfastly refused to wink back at me.
Humour was not its forte, I guessed.
I craned my neck left and right and saw only eyes, all eager and expectant. The future of the country, smilingly ready to put their collective heads on the chopping block.
And then the screen sprang to life, whispering start.
The race had begun and the Usain Bolts of the world began to run.
Thereafter, it was non-stop bombardment as question after question popped out of the funny looking screen made even smaller by the enclosed lines within which played out the jumbled, contorted and even twisted world of sweat inducing near unsolvable questions.
Finally, after a tortuous (and might I add torturous) three hour ordeal that I would wish the best of my enemies), the ordeal ended as I bid goodbye to the last of the questions.
The reverse troop down started and I joined the teeming mass of IIM aspirants on the outside, their facial expressions and bodily contractions and contortions conveying the entire gamut of human emotions ranging from the downright crestfallen to the supremely elated.
I looked around just in time to find my friend Harish, ambling towards me, his face squeezed in like a three-day-old mashed potato.
“Guess what, the paper has been leaked”
The words hit me like a ten tonne brick.
I blinked and stared into his face__ a sorry mash of fallen hopes. The mock test all India topper was understandably crestfallen.
A whirlpool of myriad images began to badger my mind.
Sheer darkness enveloped all over me.
The collateral damage to my CAT preparations over the past eight months had been immense.
A quick mental calculation brought out the losses:
Total man hours spent studying: 1800 (averaged over the past one year)
Girl friends left: Fifteen (Eight at the preparatory stages, two at base camp, seven at second stage, and three at the summit__well, almost)
Parties missed: twelve (including five outstation trips, with one to that land of utopia, Goa)
A flurry of noises brought me back to terra firma.
“Aree, bach gaye yaar”, shouted out a bunch of students.
They seem to have just managed to survive . Tomorrow is just another day.
I let out a smile.
Hopefully, next time around, they will be better prepared.
And, hopefully, there will be no more leaks.
As for me, I am going for a leak, right now.

(A first person account of an IIM aspirant)

neelwritesblog/neel’sCAT-ology- #1/16/09/2016

NEEL’S CAT-ology- #1
By Neel Anil Panicker
Teaching B-school aspirants, usually a highly invigorating experience, can at times turn out to be very revelatory as well.
Just the other day while teaching a class of overburdened but still super charged graduates with the odd sprinkling of post graduates as well, I was slightly taken aback by the avalanche of near protests, the intent and intensity of which would put to shame even the most impromptu of public rallies in protest against the shameless shenanigans of ‘Johnny come lately’ politicians (read a certain Mr Kejriwal and his infamous ilk).
Honestly, I didn’t expect the sheer fury in the flurry of murmurs and more than mild protestations that erupted forth, when, I (and quite inadvertently at that), told them to do the balance of the questions as homework.
And just to make it amply clear here I quote verbatim what I said, “Please do the rest of the questions as homework”.
Immediately the atmospherics of the otherwise bubbly class changed faster than the speed with which our dear Kejri changes his stance on varied issues.
Looking at the downcast faces and stooped shoulders of my wards, I knew I had not only stirred a hornet’s nest but also managed to rub them the wrong way.
But then just when I was battling with this new reality, the truth hit me harder than a Mike Tyson ‘in his hey days’ knockout punch.
Then and there it dawned on me as clear as daylight what their very discernible ‘oh nos’ and ‘damn its’ meant.
It was a mea culpa moment. I was guilty of dropping the dreaded H- bomb.
I could now very well understand their plight and quite clearly empathised with these poor souls.
The incident brought in an instant recall.
It’s been ages since I left school but even today the mere mention of the word ‘homework’ sends shivers down my spine.
Home work. A beautiful compound word. One that evokes mixed emotions. Of feelings of love and hate. More hate, that is.
Back then when I was a proud ‘knicker wearing’ card carrying member of the child brigade, the mere utterance of the word homework by otherwise benevolent teachers would send my head into a tizzy.
The following hours and days till the successful completion of the homework I would be in comatose state—moving around aimlessly from one mundane task to the other, trying in vain to avoid till the nth hour from doing the much needed but absolutely derisive homework.
And so would spring forth a million excuses to derail the agony of sitting down to complete the task (usually tasks). A million devious machinations would concoct in the traumatized brain and soon the mind’s eye would sift through each excuse knocking of one option or the other, performing endless permutations and combinations, sorting through umpteen situations which would as legitimate excuses so as to avoid oneself from doing the task.
Years later as I recall those traumatic times (and trauma is the only word that I could then associate with that most dreaded of all eight-letter words for a ten year old impressionable child)
I remember trying out several innovative schemes to somehow lessen the intensity of its pain by looking at them in isolation, mistakenly believing that maybe then the immense trauma that precedes and succeeds this ‘obnoxious’ word evokes might lessen to some degree at least.
Alas! If only life were that easy.
Homework. Two words. How different do they look when they stand in isolation.
The first a haven of love for a child and the other someplace in outer space into which grownups disappeared every morning only to return from, come evening, their faces and bodies all tired and worn out.
Home and work. As different as chalk and cheese. One evoking feelings of warmth and happiness. The other, a big torture, I must say, or least that was how I felt several moons ago, in the era much before Aadhaar Cards and Any Time Anythings; a time when all I could lay claim to was a pithy ten
years of tenancy rights in this Earth.
Wait torture, did I say?
Well, not exactly. Admittedly, as with all other things, there were the good things to homeworks as well.
Way back in school I had a love hate relationship with homeworks. In fact more hate than love.
Let me first tell you about the ‘love’ part.
Oh! That’s easy. I used to look forward to homeworks when they were to do with my favourite subject__English.
An English homework meant I was at may happiest. There I was, closeted in my room, head propped up against the pillow, and eyes boring into the world of Shakespeare.
Oh, how I recall those syrupy days when the antics of Romeo and Juliet, the maddening rage of Othello, the drams around A Midnight Summer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour Lost and, the pulsating plot line of The Merchant of Venice with the wily Shylock demanding his pound of flesh dominated my mindscape.
So utterly engrossed was I in the anguish and pain of Antonio that several days thereafter I would sit and ponder through long summer days empathizing with the poor God-fearing merchant and his entanglements with the diabolic Sherlock.
I suspect that was probably the time when my more than a slight antagonism towards shopkeepers began to take firm roots.
Besides this, I also used to love the one sentence essay topics that were handed to us. I remember sitting in my room and mulling over the subject topic for seemingly endless hours thinking about a hundred million ways to write the first line and then another longish period of time trying to stitch and sew together an acceptable product that would not only draw the attention of the teacher but also hopefully end up as the best essay in the class.
If these were the good things about doing homework how can the bad memories remain behind!
I for one absolutely hated the days (and they were a bit too many for comfort) when we were to do long drawn out tasks as charting the physiology of an amoeba or solving no less than fifty mathematical problems about what else but quadratic equations and complex geometric formations ( my nemesis!) and memorizing myriad nonsensical theoretical___all from my most hated of subjects ____chemistry.
Even today when I recall those dreadful times my chest swells up not in pride but in deed ache, a reminder of the extreme torture I must have underwent.
Thankfully, all that is in the past and today the tables have turned and I am the one handing out homework to poor, unsuspecting students.
It all goes on to prove one thing: like it or not, homeworks are certain aphorisms, are here to stay.
But that leaves me mighty bugged as I am yet find an answer to that eternal question: “Why can’t there be a better word to describe this monster?”
If homework is the only effective pill for a student’s ills, then why not make that pill a sweet one to swallow. Say, some word that sounds nice and less intimidating while at the same time retaining its avowed palliative, curative and alleviative properties?
Methinks, I have got the answer.
How about if I propose changing its nomenclature to the more savvy, in vogue and classy ‘chill pill’.
So, friends, where there is a will there is a chill pill to help get well from all ill.
Chill to that!