By Neel Anil Panciker

Students come in all shapes and sizes and, might I add here, orientations, inclinations, and affiliations.

I first saw him in an English Class.

Well, spotted would be a better word.

It was Day One, Week Three of the mid-season batch, an early morning batch, a seven o’clock batch. The marketing whiz kids had in their greater wisdom even coined a word for such a batch___A HAPPY EARLY MORNING BATCH.

A wisecrack friend of mine, on hearing of this, had puked out a better word for this__he called it A LATE MIDNIGHT BATCH.
One full year of taking such batches and I was wondering whether the marketing guys had made a genuine error in christening it as such.

For, there was nothing happy about an early Happy Morning batch.

All the stakeholders involved were very unhappy.

First, the students.

Most of them I discovered, came from small towns and cities__Tier 2 and 3__, and hard pressed as they were for survival, stayed in hole in the wall four in a room sets. Here, closeted in such confined spaces they studied, at times even cooked, if the owner was magnanimous enough to allow them such a luxury, studied, and slept. The lucky ones even had an attached washroom sans any door or fittings.

This hell hole, roughly the kitchen size of a regular middle class home kitchen, was the universe of these starry eyed young twenty somethings who had made the metaphorically ardous decision to pluck themselves out of the comfy environs of back of beyond single school villages and moffusil towns and sleepy hamlocks that scatter through the length and breadth of this vast country.

After a spartan breakfast that more often than not would be the obligatory sattu washed down with what else but a glass of tap water, they would walk down to the centre after having taken the metro, rickshaw, or shared auto, and then, like ants following one another, troop into the classroom ready for a gruelling six hour classes.

So, as I said, for these students, there was nothing happy after all this to sit and listen and try to make sense of the English chatter that happens all around them and in front of them, on the white board as the suave English bred faculty tries to run them through the Greek, Latin, German, French, Scandinavian or what have you root derivatives of such fanciful words as blitzkrieg, gastronomic, and ignoramus.

Completely ignorant, and all at sea, these village boys would look at one another utterly nonplussed and imagine their plight when one of them would be asked to string together a sentence with one of the words in it being one of the above mentioned.

This after I had explained in detail, with more than a couple of example sentences, the meaning of  the words.

Imagine their plight as ten pairs of eyes___ eyes that belonged to another class of students, who also were part of the same class, but hailed from the metro hub that is Delhi, and whose parents were moneyed enough to ensure them quality English medium education__, bored into the hapless student, and the class erupted in half giggles and guffaws as the HMT (Hindi Medium Type) stood there and did nothing but scratch his three month old scrubby beard as if doing so would magically tickle his brain cells enough to generate the answer that all of us  expected of him.

And imagine my plight when, day in and day out, all through the year, I would be conducting such classes with clockwork regularity.

Trust me, it’s a lose-lose situation for all, there’s no happy outcome such polar opposites sit in the same class for how in the hell can you compare apples with oranges, and expect the same outcome from both.

Obviously, both the fruit types would rebel at some point, and that’s exactly what happened in less than a fortnight’s time.

#CLASS #655words


FOWC with Fandango — Beard

FOWC with Fandango — Beard

For today’s Three Things Challenge, the words are: clockwork, imagine, orange.





By Neel Anil Panicker

“Let me start by telling you a story, if you please. But before that let me begin with a Biblical aphorism: You reap what you sow.”

He heard some rumblings from the back and looked towards the last bench.

Pin drop silence followed. Years of teaching MBA aspirants had enabled Keshav Chandran, the senior most Verbal Faculty at ‘Coaching Time’ to appropriate this moment for himself. His every single movement and action following this was choreographed right down to down to a T. Like a master conductor in charge of the largest symphony in the world, he played to hilt all the instruments at his command. And so began the slow languorous moon walk around his enclosure, the small space around  the student seating area that was his own personal fiefdom, his own private space from where he lorded over his ‘flock’.

His eyes, razor sharp as an eagle’s, swept past the four rows of the jam packed classroom, lingering over each student, at times swooping down on a few, especially the ones he found interesting, ones that intrigued him no end.

“Hey you”,

Several pairs of eyes followed the direction of the raised finger.

“Yes you, the boy in the check shirt, the one who has a blazing red bandana strapped around his egg shaped head.”

The student who was now at the crosshairs of his ‘investigation’ shifted uneasily in his chair.

“A man is known by the clothes he wears. Do you know what that means?”

The hapless student looked to his left and right and wished the ground below him gave way and he disappeared into it.

Keshav Sir decided to ease the tension now that he had made his point. Sarcasm could very well have been his middle name. He liked putting his students into awkward, uncomfortable situations, pushing them to the wall, their hands raised high up, and then slowly extricating them and pulling them back top safety.

‘That’s what a teacher should do, that’s what a good teacher’s job is, the role he needs to play,’ he loved to say to all ‘Trainee Faculty’  who attended his compulsory ‘handholding sessions’.

The class he was currently addressing was an Introductory  Class. The very first of the current academic year. A ‘Happy Morning’ Class that commenced on the dot at 8 am on weekdays.

He had stepped into the corner room recently refurbished class at the appointed hour and found myself staring into the eyes of some 40 odd students, eager beavers all, their faces aglow with the excitement of attending coaching from the numero uno institute in the whole of India.

As is customary, he kickstarted the process by asking the students to come to the front and introduce themselves.

They had come, their faces displaying rigour and vigour, a few, in their over enthusiasm, even tripping over others’ legs and bouncing books, papers, water bottles et al off tables and chairs.

The odd few held onto their seats, resolutely refusing to part from their positions, their heads lowered, eyes half shut, as if in deep contemplation of the ground beneath their trembling feet.

But a good hour later, the ice had broken, and after that it was the deluge. Everything thereafter had turned well and now there was an easy camaraderie between not just the teacher and the taught but also among the students.

By now, Keshav Sir had taken complete control of the class of eager beavers and had the students eating out of his hands.

“Well, dear students, that’s another aphorism. Aphorisms by their very nature are a holy cow, immune to being twisted, tweaked or even turned around on its head. At least that’s what they are meant to be otherwise why would anyone refer to them as an aphorism. Take, for instance another very popular one: Honesty is the best policy. A great moral compass, a very apt philosophical saying and absolutely attuned to the olden era when human values enjoyed primacy over all other values.

But the world has moved on and how. Now try plugging this dogma to today’s millennials  and you are sure to be dismissed as a crackpot.

But why only the millennials? Only the other day a 52-year-old man found himself behind bars only because he had filed an Income Tax return that mentioned his annual income as over 40 lakhs. So what, one may ask?.

But consider this: the said person turned out to be a notorious bootlegger, also the kingpin of a multi-state illicit liquor conglomerate whose trail the police and excise authorities were pursuing for the past so many years.

An overzealous Excise official smelled a rat and tipped off the cops who landed up at his house with an arrest warrant.

The hapless man was paying for his honesty in declaring his ‘true’ income right down to the last rupee.

This, as countless other incidents from recent past, very unambiguously drive home the point this adage as innumerable others of its ilk have bitten the dust, having clearly far outlived their expiration dates.

And that brings me to the subject at hand which is: Isn’t it time we bid adieu to one more such anachronism and that is that ‘Time heals all wounds.’

I mean for centuries we, as in all of mankind have been fed this spiel that Father Time is the biggest and greatest healer if ever there was one and with the passage of time all of a person’s suffering will simply vamoosh into thin air, as if they never ever existed.

No, this is all wrong. Utter gibberish, so very false and misleading. This is the most outrageously inaccurate adage that has ever been bandied about since the beginning of time, since the time when Adam and Eve, the very first homo sapiens frolicked around in the Garden of Eden.

But what’s even more surprising is that thanks to centuries of brainwashing, all of us have been conditioned to believe to our heart’s conviction what essentially is a lie morphed, packaged, and resold as an eternal truth.

And thanks o the relentless perpetuation, such patent falsehood now stands ramrod straight, shining bright and in glory, wearing the bewitchingly chic cloak of public approbation, thereby giving it the much needed veneer of respectability.

As for the damning truth (and this is something I strongly aver and is culled from my very many years of experience of life within and outside of the classroom), time doesn’t heal all wounds, it only helps us to deal with such wounds better in future.

Ah! There you go, did I hear you say it?

Another grain of wisdom. To that I say yes, and why not, if that grain of wisdom is hundred per cent genuine, something that comes with its own ISI mark?

So,a natural corollary to all this is the beguiling question that begs for an answer: How does one tackle life’s seemingly insurmountable battles and solve all the earth shattering problems that beset a man’s life?

.Well, my answer to that is: Negative Capability.

‘A what, did I hear you say? Prey, what the devil is Negative Capability. Well, negative capability is the panacea for all our seemingly unconquerable problems that life throws at you every once in awhile.

To all Doubting Thomases out there, I shall validate this with something that happened to me personally.

But before that let me tell you what some literary greats have to say about this coinage.

it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

That’s John Keats, the venerated English Romantic poet.

And chew on this, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Well that, if you didn’t already know is the writer of such masterpieces as ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Tender is the Night’, ‘John F. Fitzgerald.

And now for the practical aspect of all that I have said. As a serious student, one whose dream it is to get into

any one of the top IIMs and one who is taking coaching here ‘Time Coaching’ you will  wrest with this philosophy on a daily basis__ be it in the class or outside of it.

The role that Negative Capability plays in our life is paramount to whether we make a huge success of it or not.

Now, take your case itself. All of you have enrolled here and are about to commence your classes.

You are embarking on one of the most difficult of journeys in your life, which is taking a shot at cracking one of the most competitive examinations in the world.

As the days unfold every single day your mind will play mind games with you. From sky high exhilaration to rock bottom despondency, from taking classes that seem like a walk in the park to being hit all over the park, every single hour, minute, second, and moment you will find yourself swinging like a yo-you gone dangerously loose, oscillating between hope and despair.

At the end of each rigorous class and after you have mastered or thought to have mastered every single concept and theorem and trick and technique that could help in your quest to solve questions comfortably, accurately and most importantly speedily, there could be times when you will be beset with problems, occasions when you will arrive at a dead end, the fork, when you will be faced with a dilemma, a dilemma of varied choices, all looking good or all looking bad.

Suddenly you will find yourself at the crossroads, not knowing what to do and what not to do; your ego smashed to smithereens wondering how the very same type of questions that you were able to solve in a jiffy only hours or days before had now very heartbreakingly turned into ‘tough’ ones.

Your position is akin to the climber who straddles up the coconut tree only to find that there are no more coconuts left to pluck. Adding to the sense of acute discomfiture and of having failed is that fact that instead of slowly climbing down and trying to climb some other coconut tree, one that is full of nuts, you are hell bent on jumping onto the next tree, which is as good as committing hara kiri, caught as you were in netherland, your life precariously dangling from the edges. Like a merry go wheel gone off the rails you play with your life, feeling confident one moment and diametrically opposite the very next moment.

So, my advice to all of you students is simply this:

Fall in I love with the world of knowledge, with the world of books, pay minute attention to every single word that your teachers and mentors tell you, believe but don’t trust all that they tell. Hear them but retain to yourself the power to question all that they say. Know that there could be not just one side to a problem or situation. Brutally rip apart the issue, lay it bare, and then examine every single microscopic detail as if you were a top class forensic investigation specialist, rifling through seemingly innocuous everyday noticeables, looking for unseen clues, clues whose rightful detection and deduction could stop an innocent from being sent to the gallows and the guilty slapped with a conviction.

Develop the ability to hold two entirely opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. Look at every single answer with suspicion that borders on morbidity as if it were a murder suspect only letting it off the hook after you have exhausted all the possibilities of its guilt.

 Likewise, there will be days when you will feel like giving it all up, be utterly frustrated, think that no good can ever happen to you.

It is then that you must remember that the all great innovations and achievements that have ever birthed this world are all from the kernel of doubt, and uncertainty and sprung about after battling a prolonged confidence crisis of faith.

\So, dear students, don’t get bogged down when life throws you one those square balls.

Instead, pick them up and smash them for a six, and the way to do that is to know and make friends with your negativities.

Equip yourself well enough to first recognize, acknowledge, and thereby become capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Do that, and you will never ever end up a loser.

©neelanilpanicker2018 #fiction #CAT #COACHINGTIME #2130WORDS

exploration challenge 22




Hosted by Reena at

Coping Up


By Neel Anil Panicker

Salsa, said one. Solo world travel, offered another. Yet another, this one, a well meaning distant Uncle from my long gone mother’s side mooted painting. And this knowing that I had earlier, and that was a good two decades ago, dabbled in Fine Arts. The stark truth was that the closest I had ever come to anything that could even remotely be classified as Fine Arts was to ferociously snatch and tear to pieces the pencil sketches that my twin brother Chirag drew as a seven year old.

Ultimately, I chose teaching. Or, to say it otherwise, teaching chose me. I chose to respond to the newspaper advertisement that called for ‘Fresh Talented Educators’ with aptitude to teach college graduates.

The powers that be called me over, subjected me to a quick fire ten minute interview and a writing test wherein I was tasked to write in under 500 words on ‘LIFE’.

That came easy, especially in knowing what I was going through.

A day later I received a call inviting me to be a part of their ‘Esteemed Faculty’.

The following Monday saw me take the Metro and a hop, skip, and jump later I arrived at the reception desk of ‘Coaching Time’, the number one training institute for students intending to crack the CAT, the annual national online test that helps weed out the winners from the losers and pitchforks the former straight into the comfy comfort of the most elusive IIMs, the gateway to stratospheric successes in their lives.

And that’s exactly how I, Nupur Chawla decided to cope with the tragedy that had come visiting me __ the loss of my only sibling, my  twin brother Chirag to cancer.

Three months after Chirag’s death and first working day back after a twelve month break and Day One at Coaching Timre turns out to be lonesome and foreboding.

I greet the lady at the Front Desk, introduce myself, and am responded by a single finger that points towards what is long, forlorn corridor.

I spot the Faculty Room, knock, hear no response, and gingerly step in.

A man’s in a deep sleep, his arms flailing all over the jet black leather sofa, legs dangling on the floor, shoes displaced and at either ends of the otherwise spartan room.

Ignoring him I look around and drop into an empty straight backed chair positioned to the outer wall on one end of it hangs an oblong wooden photo frame inside which scrawled in red paint is the legend “TEACHERS ARE GOD’S GIFT TO MANKIND’.

I notice another man__this one’s seated at the fag end of a long table that’s bolted to the walls___notice me.

He responds with a nod and what I believe is a smile, his best smile that is.

If that was meant to me to lift my spirits, sadly it hasn’t.

My mind’s still in a comatose stage; there’s something inside that’s still not able to connect to the world outside.

My heart’s one deep hollow and I am stationed at the very bottom of it, desperately trying to wriggle my way, but like quicksand falling even further deep into it.

For want of anything else to do I settle down in my chair, extricate Jane Austen from my bag, and pretend to immerse myself into a long past Victorian era but soon I am caught in the bushfire fight between want and need that criss crosses through my battered soul.  .

I want to go out and disappear into nothingness but I need to stay here, hang myself in this dreary place for the next eight hours/ I need to do this for my well being, for my sanity, for staying alive.

I lift my head up and spot an overhead drawer lined with books. Buddha smiles benignly at me through the glassed enclosure. I get up and pick him from the shelf.

The next hour or so I learn that pain is a human’s most loyal Man Friday. Accept it nee embrace it and then one day you will it.

I like the concept but then am a bit muddled as to what exactly pain is. I know what it feels though.

It is those hours that I spend gazing at Chirag as he locks arms with me, crinkly eyes, easy smiles, the massive snow white Himalayan peaks forming the perfect backdrop.

It is my fingers running through the still warm acrylic lining of his leather jacket, his favourite, the one that I picked up while returning home from Singapore, just one of many week long trips when life was one big happy event.

After a while I surrender, return Buddha back where he belongs, and extricate my phone.

I surf through the internet; I am greeted with drab headlines__there’s a global downturn, the economy’s going south,  there’s crisis in Europe and elsewhere  and everywhere, I get to know, two mad men are hell bent on bombing each other out. There’s a world war about to happen. We may all die, screams a notoriously well known talking head.

I give up again and this time open my inbox. I am amazed; didn’t realize I knew so many people, worse still, didn’t know they cared for me.

I flip through the messages that’s all over my social, media accounts.

Short sentences, hybrid lingo, quite a lot Hinglish, the lingua franca through which youthdom makes known their myriad thoughts. There’s images too…smileys, emoticons, stares. Smiles, a lot of teeth baring, They are all there, my gang, the entire paraphernalia of long forgotten school friends, college buddies, last worked workmates, even a few teachers and of course, the family including extended ones comprising uncles, aunts, thrice removed half cousins et al.

I back myself firmly to the wall and pore the messages.

They come in all shapes, sizes, even colors.

Get well soon  brave girl, Amazon  fighter spirit, aphorisms__ when the going gets tough the tough get going__ also, one which read in caps NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

What’s the gain in losing your dearest possession in this world, your own brother, the twin you grew up with, the one whom God sent fort you to be taken care of, the one who had promised to be with you all your life.



The last I interpret as  ‘Get lost, you wimp, We are too busy having a life, you are already forgotten.’


I hear a knock. Someone’s come. It’s a woman. This one introduces herself as Vandana. Says she’s the Planning Coordinator, whatever that means. Says it’s an emergency. Mumbles something about ‘trouble shooting’. Asks if I am okay to take a class at the North Campus centre.

Says it’s an hour’s journey from here and that if were to say yes I need to start right away.

‘Hope that’s not a hazzle’, she ends, smiling one of those perfectly crafted smiles that I have seen umpteen times on the faces of the heavily bedecked face three layered pan caked super efficient airhostesses ten thousand feet above the air.

Some other day, some other day, I may have ended up saying something else nut not today, not now, definitely not with what I am passing through.

I tell her I am ready and she leaves, and with that I too.

Trouble shooting, yeah. That’s what I am here for. Shooting off others’ troubles. Hope somebody shoots mine too.

The guy in the room that I leave behind is still snoring, the other one, his head buried in a book, the words Quantitative Reasoning hitting my eyes.

I leave the two to their fate and step out, down the winding stairs two floor stairs and out into the searing bitterness of a mid-December coldwave.

The Metro is choc a block at this hour. Even at this hour. Damnt it. This city needs at least ten more Metros, price hikes notwithstanding. The seats are filled in, every conceivable inch. All around me are human body appendages__ arms, legs, heads, all one on top of the other. Quite difficult to tell who owns what body part.

I spot the shaft, the one that leads to the Ladies Only Coach, and move towards it. I am met with opposition. I feel hands move in, bodies flank all around, booted legs twist and turn under me and try to halt my movement. I feel like I am a cornered chicken as wild foxes close in from all sides for the kill. Predators are on the loose. Only this time they are not in the forest but in the city jungle, their lustful eyes shone, they lip smack their way forward, stopping my onward march.

One of the, has shifted gears, and I can feel swarthy hands, probing fingers itching their way around my waist.

I hack my way past the unseen demons as more fingers close in from all sides.

A few reach up and encircle my lower breasts. That’s when I lose it and let my limbs fly, left right and centre. A few of my jabs connect well enough for I hear startled gasps of pain followed by a few agony filled aahs.

This shock treatment seems to have done its job for I suddenly see space around me. I put my feet forward as men around me part as I am the Red Sea.

In this city women are a piece of meat, meant only to satiate the ‘gastronomic’ hunger of sub human sexual predators, to be devoured in whole without permission, as if by right.

I get off the Metro and find the evening sky paler than my current self. It’s North Campus, the five kilometres radial where the twenty somethings of the world converge at, coming from all corners of this vast country,  emptying the God forsaken back of beyonds where civilisation has all but failed to knock.

I follow the a bee line of shoulder bag strung boys and after a few minutes invariably find themselves staring at a huge poster strapped inexpertly white washed four story building. The board on the top affirms what I am looking for.

I slowly stride up the dank steps, all 22 of them.


It’s seven and a little more than dark when I step out of the class and hit the streets again. I walk past roadside fast food stalls, past hole in the wall bookshops. Flex boards announce the latest courses, batches and their timings while young boys, barely out of their teens and clutching colourful flyers scream their lungs out imploring the passerby, mostly students to join “Bestest coaching” “Special coaching” and “Buy one get four offers”.

Here, this place, known as ‘India’s Knowledge Mile’, the bastardization of education is complete; knowledge is a mere commodity to be bought and sold, and may the best deals be made.

Am I surprised? Turned on, or turned off by this so in your commodification of what is touted as the noblest of all professions.

I so, I don’t care. Or, at least for now I am beyond caring. All I want is to head back home. Even if home is a rented one room barsati where the roof leaks and water, a dirty red spews out only twice a day, once at four in the morning and the other at three in the afternoon, both, unearthly hours for a single woman, recently divorced and cruelly yanked out of relative by the loss of the one person who could be called family in this unwept city.

An hour later I wriggle up another set of wobbly stairs and turn in the keys to my shack. My fingers move to turn on the lights but then they stop. I turn left and two paces later plonk myself onto the bed. The springs under the mattress creak and that’s about the only sound I hear before I am lost to the dark.

A thing that I read long back was that when life throws square balls at you should smash them for a six. Great lines. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But for that I need to open my eyes. But for now I am lost to sleep and a million miles away from life’s tragedies and the truth is that I don’t want to wake up ever. Ever? Wait, did I say that?

Well, tomorrow, when I come back to life, back again to living the paradox that is life, I promise I will be strong and willing and a lot more cheerful than I have been today.

Until then, it’s just me and my demons and the dark night ahead.

©neelanilpanicker2018 #fiction #shortstory #2108words #COACHINGTIME  #REENA’S EXPLORATIONCHALLENGE#20 #COPINGUP



This week’s cue is SUSPEND…


By Neel Anil Panicker

“Listen, dear friend, trust me when I this and am saying this not out of my hat but out of my experience, a great many years of hard won experience.”

‘Do I have a choice? Go ahead, I am all ears’.


“So here it is straight off the horse’s mouth: If you want to take a wow class and win friends and influence people then you should suspend all judgement.”
‘Hmm…interesting, in this world there is no dearth of free idea floaters and now that I see you too have joined that ‘Entry By Invitation Only’ club why don’t you enlighten me as to how exactly do I go about this earth shattering path breaking pedagogical strategy that you so elegantly have euphemistically christened as SUSPEND ALL JUDGEMENT?’

“Well, first of all you should keep your eyes and ears open in the class to look around for any and all sorts of non-academic activity and that includes all sorts of shenanigans including coochie cooing into one another’s ears, engaging in near animated discussions about the morals or lack of it of neighbourhood street dogs, and even heatedly analysing threadbare the inverse correlation between the rising levels of global warming and the plunging necklines of Hollywood beauties.”

‘There it is, I got it, a bit paradoxical though it may be. First, I need to keep my eyes and ears open and then close them. A class act indeed’.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #six sentence stories #fiction #short story #237 words


Hosted at

challenge 18


By Neel Anil Panicker

I am Pooja. Pooja Sethi in an earlier avatar, and Pooja Matrani in an avatar before that. This is my story. The story of my life. The story of the different Poojas that I was and the slow but steady metamorphosis into the Pooja that I am today.

I began life some forty years back as Pooja Matrani. I was the second of three children. My father was a government servant employed with the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs.

We lived here, in the heart of Delhi, at RK Puram, in a comfy three room government accommodation. My parents, both Sindhis had migrated from undivided Punjab at the time of Partition.  My mother was a Matriculate, which in her time, was a big thing, considering that education was something that was a prized commodity, something which was considered of value only for the men folk, a means to a living.

Women were simply cattle to be bought and sold in the marriage market, their only worthwhile role being to beget and rear children besides cooking as per the gastronomic tastes of all others.

My father too subscribed to this antediluvian philosophy. In fact, he scored one better. On most weekends, his favourite form of recreation would be staying put in his bedroom, drinking and eating to his heart’s glory. He would have company though: his wife, our mother.

There she would be, closeted inside for hours together, only occasionally coming out, scurrying to and fro from the kitchen to the bedroom, her face, bruised and battered, her walk, getting limper as night descended, the heart wrenching screams breaking through the four walls and bombarding our infantile senses until we fell asleep, dullened by the maniacal sensory violence that was inflicted.

It was only much later that I got a taste of what mother must have gone through.

I was eighteen when one day, just back from college, mother collapsed in front of my eyes.

Two hours later, she died at the hospital.

She was too young to die and I was still too young to have learned to live without her.

My brothers, both a year elder and younger to me, took things in their stride, and life soon returned back to normalcy for all except me.

Being the only woman of the house, I did what was expected of me. I took over the kitchen, the laundry, the cleaning and general upkeep of the house besides ensuring that my studies were on an even keel.

A month into this and my father started abusing me. It started with simple things__ a pat on my behind while turning away from him, a well timed brush against my breasts while passing by to full blown feet massage sessions that invariably led to he placing his arms around me.

Appalled, repulsed and shocked by this wanton display of degenerative behaviour by my own father, I soon began to think of escaping from the hell hole my life had turned into.

Succour came in the form of Ronnie, a boy roughly my age, who I had noticed would stand outside the colony gates every time I passed by, be it while on my way back and forth from college, or when stepping out to buy milk and groceries, all tasks which I had to do and which my brothers or father found it below their dignity to undertake.

I found myself returning his smiles and soon enough we started talking.

Thereafter, we met a couple of times outside college and once when he noticed my swollen eyes and inquired of it, I couldn’t stop myself and blurted out the truth.

I told him that my life had turned into a living hell and that I needed to escape.

He understood my plight and offered to marry.

I grabbed at his offer. There wasn’t much to think anyways. Ronnie was a pleasant young man, a graduate, worked at a garment store, was an orphan (said his parents had died when he was a child).

A week after I ran away with him, taking with me only a small bag that contained besides a week’s dresses, an old black and white photograph of my mother, the only physical connection that was left of her.

The following day we got married in a Arya Samaj Temple; a couple of his close friends being the only attendees.

We moved into a rented accommodation, a small two room upper floor barsati not very far from where I stayed.

My new life had begun. I had moved on from Pooja Matrani to Pooja Sethi.


Ronnie Sethi was his name, my husband’s, the man I fell in love with and married, the man I thought was my saviour and one who would help me come out of the living hell my life had turned into.

He was easy on the eye; broad shoulders rested over a moon shaped face topped with a shock of fashionably cut curly hairs. Plus, the ocean blue eyes, an ever present  delightfully naughty glint in them accentuated with a matching smile was enough to make any girl go week in the knees.

The overall effect for me was magnified ten times over for I looked at him as my Prince Charming who had galloped and rescued his damsel in distress.

Initially, things were great, for the first year at least.

Plain happy to have left behind a hateful existence besides being young and in love, I was brimming with energy and high hopes for a lovely future with the man I loved.

Ronnie had bagged a job at a bag manufacturing company and would leave at sharp ten in the morning and be back by seven.

I would wake up with the sun, wash the overnight dishes, prepare breakfast and pack his lunch and  see him off with a kiss.

The whole day would be spent managing household chores, the evenings waiting in anticipation for his return and sharing beautiful moments together.

I was more of a listener and since Ronnie loved talking, I would sit across from him and listen with riveting attention as he spoke passionately about his job, the work, the world around him.

Things went smoothly for the first year but began to go wrong after that.

At first it were just small things. His hours turned a wee erratic; he would leave an hour or so early, come back a couple of hours later than usual in the evenings.

When I would question him about it he would simply give some lame excuse about added pressure at the office and throw words like workload and targets et al, all things I wasn’t too well aware of.

But then slowly I saw that he was clamming up, wouldn’t reply to me, the earlier long, detailed talks full of unbridled excitement gave way to short, staccato bursts, all questions being answered in unemotional, monosyllables.

In the ensuing months things further worsened as he started coming home pitch drunk, delayed handing over money to buy essential grocery items, and began to become irritable when I started questioning him aboiut his changed behaviours.

Things hit a low point when during one such questioning, Ronnie, his eyes, a bloody red and burning with uncontrollable rage, lunged at me and hit me, a hard, painful whack on my face.

I fell down on the floor and immediately blanked out.

When I regained consciousness, I pulled myself up and examined myself in the mirror. My eyes were a bloody mass, black and swollen. Besides, I had lost a tooth.

That evening Ronnie didn’t come home and even the day after.

Anxious and worried, I walked to his factory, the entire three kilometres on foot. At the factory gates I was met by a couple of his colleagues and it was then that I learnt the truth.

Ronnie, my husband, the one for whom I had left my family and the man who I thought was my saviour was nothing but a swine, a lowly scoundrel who was now living in with another woman, a woman ten years elder to him, a woman who worked at the same factory as he.

I found the ground below me had parted and I was slipping into bottomless dark dungeon.

I felt deeply hurt and betrayed. Soon it gave way to anger that finally manifested in sheer hatred towards Ronnie.

That evening I reached home, packed my clothes, and stepped out, never ever to return.

I was walking away from Ronnie, walking away from marriage, walking away from hell, one more time, in just an year.

I was back on my own, again. Only this time I had no home to go to, no one to hope for.

I had burnt all my bridges. There was no going back in life. The only way was ahead.

The future, however uncertain it seemed, beckoned me.

I stepped forward. I had no option. I was back to being Pooja.


…Twelve years later

“And the award for the ‘Most Outstanding Business Manager of The Year’ goes to Pooja.”

The massive 700-seater plush triple deck auditorium of Coaching Time erupted in thunderous applause.

All eyes zeroed in on the first row, where seated amidst the CEO, Director, and senior management was a spectacled woman attired in a subtle off white business suit that further accentuated her charming personality.

Acknowledging the many handshakes, claps and wildly ecstatic shouts of approval that came her way she elegantly made her way to the stage__confidently, assuredly, happily.

She had buried her past and now there was no looking back. This was her rebirth, her reincarnation, her new life.

A new Pooja had taken centre stage, a Pooja who was strong, financially, emotionally, and mentally.

This was a Pooja who had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat; who now looked at life in the eye, unblinkingly;   whose second name was OPTIMISM.

Pooja, the Optimist was what they called her.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #fiction #shortstory #reena’sexplorationchallengeweekend#18  #1661words



By Neel Anil Panicker

Cradled and cocooned. That’s what Vineet felt in winter’s welcoming arms.

He had set the alarm at five and had got up just after the third ring; his mind a step ahead of his body which still was in sleep mode.

Strange how the seasons and our perspectives of it change with time.

As a child and well into his late teens he remembered snuggling up in bed all through the cold Delhi mornings, his mind lost to sweet dreams, sleep induced deep explorations into a distant land of fantasies that was teeming with angels, a never ending fantastical journey into the unknown, a sepia tinged wish filled comatose state of mind, something from which he wished would continue for ever, that he would never ever have to wake up from.

But that was then when dreams were young and life fairly innocent.

Now, especially so in the last couple of years, young Vineet’s dreams had been rudely smashed to smithereens and he had crash landed on terra firma, harshly brought down to earth.

Mercilessly left to confront and brave the everyday vicissitudes that life hands out to students all over the world.

Studies and more rounds of studies, endless hours of poring into copious tomes, juggling multiple subjects, battling and surmounting one gargantuan mathematical theorem over the other, delving and diving deep into one arcane, even esoteric philosophical musing after another, mugging up idioms and phrases and mastering the syntactical intricacies of the eternally perplexing English Grammar___these and other Herculean obstacles ate up his wintry mornings making all those dreamy memories of sleeping through chilly wintry mornings just that__ a long forgotten distant dream.

For an instant his mind turned a child of ten and he half turned towards his room to snuggle in under the warm sheets.

It was then that he heard his father’s thick baritone smashing into his ears like an overloaded DTC bus on Delhi’s maddening ‘busier than a bumble bee’ streets_ “Vinu, don’t forget to take your Admit Card. It’s the most important day of your life. It’s CAT day”.

He already started feeling like a mouse.

(c )neelanilpanciker2017 #fiction #flash #shorstory #357words



Written for


By Neel Anil Panicker

Pin drop silence prevailed; all eyes hooked onto the dashing young man at the front, all ears latching onto every single word that was being uttered.

Rachel, sitting in the front rows, closed her eyes and wandered into dreamland.

“It’s all in the eyes, the way we perceive things, look at people.

They are what we chose them to be­­—- our best friends, or worst enemies.”

‘What is it about love that makes you go weak in the knees; leaves you mumbling and fumbling, trembling and stumbling like a gawky ten year old?’

Rachel opened her eyes and gazed into the man in front of her.

No Gucci shoes or Armani suit, Rolex watch or Bond Street tailored clothes?

No Body Shop fragrance oozing out of a six pack six foot tall movie star persona? Not even a deep edgy baritone?

Then what was it that this very ordinary looking thirty something man who taught her class twice a day had that made her go weak on the knees? Made her get up from bed even on days when her body temperatures touched an alarming 104 degrees Celsius, made her attend every single class of his, come rain or shine, even if it meant foregoing her weekends, exarcerbating her already frayed relationships with her roommates and ex-college friends?

She decided to figure out for herself and clasping her hands under the table, she listened to the words of the man, hoping to find a solution to the mystery that was eating into her vitals, keeping her endlessly awake all through the tortuous nights dreaming fantastical visions of her and her Prince Charming.

“Confrontation. That’s what we have come to. We, and that includes every single person on this planet has been pushed to the wall and believes that the only way out is to fight back, retaliate, adopt a confrontationist attitude.

This is the single most reason that we are become distrustful of one another, both on an individual level and on the scale of nations and nationalities.

Look over and you will find manisfestations of this phenomenon—-Nations are fighting each other; nationalities laying claim t supremacy over others, spreading malice, hatred, animosity, and violence all around, falsely, stupidly, or ignorantly claiming themselves to be superior to others, trampling on the pride, ego and rights of others, bringing nations to the heel, hurtling them to the precipice of war and destruction.

It seems everyone is on the warpath, fighting nonexistent battles, battling invisible demons of their creation, causing not just themselves but all around them massive pain and hurt. It is time to change this mindset. It’s time we confront our own inner demons and crush them once and for all so that the truth sets us free. It is time we engage with mankind, with every single person that we meet and encounter on equal terms, with compassion, with empathy, and with love, immense love that comes from the inner wellsprings of our hearts, hearts which must know only to give and share and are full of care. It’s time we change ourselves and thereby change this beautiful world that we inhabit. It’s time we make love, not war.”

Utter silence enveloped the class, not a single human sound or whisper, no shuffling of legs, or even rustling of papers, not even the faint sound of the early morning breeze that snakes in through the open windows.

Rachel, like all others in the classroom were in a deep trance. Never before had someone so captured their collective consciousness like this young man had through his utterings, his words had a power, his thoughts came loaded with a wisdom culled from centuries old sages and were timeless.

Someone from the back rows clapped, a few whistled, and then it was as if the dam had burst__within seconds the whole class had erupted in thunderous applause, their full throated lusty shouts of approbation resounding in the corridors and beyond long after the class had eneded and young man at the centre of attention had made his exit.

For a good fifteen minutes after all the commotion had died down and the class had emptied itself out, Rachel still sat transfixed to her seat, wondering how and when a mere Personality Development Class had managed to usher in so huge a change in her.

How could a person, a young man at that who incidentally also taught Verbal Ability could speak so well, hold such deeply insightful beliefs, have such an evolved world vision.

A lot many such questions assailed her and she, despite racking her mind far and wide, was unable to get concrete answers to them.

But she knew that this person, in the course of a mere 120 minutes, had filled her heart with positivity and an excitement that she hitherto had thought wasn’t possible to achieve.

Here impoverished childhood, her overriding feeling of inferiority had deadened all passion from ever forming in her small heart was what she had thought so far and what she believed to be true until…

Until…the class had changed her and now, she wanted to meet the person responsible for the change.

So thinking, she got up and walked out of the classroom, looking for an opportune moment to meet and confront her new benefactor, the one she knew held answers to the questions that beguiled her mind.


A week later…

“Your name is Meena, and you have questions to ask me, right?

How could he? How could he have known all this, wondered Meena as she closed the door behind her and walked towards the empty chair in front of her.

“It’s in your face, in your eyes, in the way you look at me when I take classes.”

What was he, a saint, clairvoyant, a soothsayer, a magician…, He seemed to know exactly what was crossing her mind and bothering her all this time.

Meena decided not to beat around the bush and confronted him headlong.

“How could you be so clever and insightful. How do have all the answers, always, Sir”?

‘Deepak Matrani. That’s my name, Those who know me address me as simply Deepu. I will resolve your dilemma today. Come, have  a look at me. What do you see? A young man, reasonably well dressed, well behaved and cultured, and now as per you clever and insightful as well.

Well, the foundations of what you see today in me was set two decades ago in a small village in Bolangir district of Odisha. Have you heard of Bolangir? It is the district that regularly draws international attention for the dubious distinction of the maximum number of child starvation deaths in the world. Not very long ago, I too would have been a mere statistics, adding my tiny, puny might to that empirical data, yet another number for the world to gape at and shake their heads in shame and disbelief and then, quite impassively move on to the next sob story around the world.

But fate had other plans in store for me. I survived, miraculously grew up sans parents, sans schooling, sans love, sans anything.

One day a lady found me lying unconscious in a roadside ditch, my skeletal frame smeared in human excreta, filth and dirt.

I was twelve when she brought me to her home, ‘Saviours of Humanity’, and that’s where I lived for the next ten years, or so, bathed in love and compassion, lovingly fed and raised by unknown hands and brought back to a life of dignity I had never known before.

The lady who saved me and brought me home that day and gave me an education, blessing me with her love and compassion, is today no more. A couple of years back she was waylaid on the road next to her home, accosted by ribald axe wielding religious bigots, accused of forcible conversions, and brutally hacked to death.

This person, whom I called Mother, was killed, her beautiful life cut short by misanthropes, narrow minded illiterate men whose hearts were filled with only hatred towards humanity.

Still, she blessed them as life ebbed out of her saying aloud, “Merciful God, forgive them and bless them for they know not what they do. That day I cried a lot but later, slowly the pain ebbed within me and I realized my true calling in life, which is to spread the word of peace and brotherhood, of love and compassion, of living and letting live.

That day I learnt that the only way to combat the forces of evil in this world is by compassion, by having a sympathetic understanding of all human sorrows, by treating every single person one encounters in life with the same sense of equality, dignity, and love  that one expects of oneself from others. This truth set me free, freed me of all pain, and has helped me become a better soul.”

The room fell silent.

For a long time Reena sat there, alone and lost in her world. Finally, she looked at the man seated in front of her, the man who was her teacher, the man who had impressed her enough with his confidence, his humility, and now his compassion.

Slowly, realization dawned on her and she smiled, a full bloom smile that came from deep within the recesses of her fledgling heart and radiated joy and happiness all around her.

“Thank you, Anirban Sir. Thanks to you, today I am able to confront my fears and I by doing so I have become free of all pain. Thanks to your noble thoughts and philosophy my eyes have opened to a new world, a world of infinite possibilities, and like you, one day I too, who has come from a similar impoverished background as yours, will become successful, but more importantly stay grounded and humble always.”

©neelanilpanicker2017 #reena’sexplorationchallenge#8 #shortstory #fiction #selfdiscovery #1642words