neelwrites/differenteyes, differentlearnings/fiction/coachingtime/1429words/25/01/2018

Perspectives shape reality, and we write our own destiny. It is perhaps a hackneyed theme that I use so often in my speaking and writing.

But, a writer writes the destiny of its characters.

Perspectives shape reality, and we write our own destiny. It is perhaps a hackneyed theme that I use so often in my speaking and writing.

But, a writer writes the destiny of its characters.


By Neel Anil Panicker

It’s not done; its plain bad, it’s downright cruel, it’s as if you, a lamb, has been by deceit, led into a dark desolate forest and then left to the mercy of the beasts, the biggest beast of them all, the lion itself, the king of the jungle, making mince meat of you, ripping asunder your delicate heart, its ferocious teeth gnawing at your vitals, wrenching out every shuddering gasp of breath that is left in you.

From across the glass topped table, the two gentlemen silently listened to this interminable harangue, this exquisite metaphorical exposition of one person’s angst against supposedly grave wrongs and injustices, lifting their heads only once to exchange a long meaningful glance before lifting their gaze to look, albeit a tad amusedly at the verbal pyrotechnics of the young man seated across from them.

Finally, and after a good ten minutes had elapsed, one of two passive participants in this soliloquy, an absolute one sided tete ete you may call it for want of a better word__the taller one, the guy with the thick rimmed spectacles and fast thinning hair expertly swept back to half conceal a egg shaped balding pate__cleared his throat and setting aside the hardbound tome entitled Kabir ke Dohe exclaimed, “Mr Sahil, my dear young man, you seem to be unnecessarily splitting your hair over what is in fact a very miniscule matter.”

The words worked like a frontal stab, its pointedness searing through the cotton fabric of the off grey shirt that the 27 year old was wearing and plunging deep into his heaving chest.

As if stung by the deadliest wasp on Planet Earth, Sahil suddenly stopped midway through his speech, his mouth agape like a pre-historic ape, his slim, trim frame now recoiling quicker than an earthworm, his five feet ten inch falling helplessly back into the thick sofa cushions.

Miniscule?”, the voice craoked, this time sans the gravity and timbre displayed in his earlier diatribe.

Did you just say that? Miniscule? Receiving such a negative feedback is miniscule? Is of no consequence? Amazing! I just can’t believe what I have heard, Gagan Sir”.

The man whose name was called out immediately shop up in his chair.

Exactly. And that’s your problem. You seem to…

I seem! I seem what? Here, take a look at this. This is the latest Feedback Report for the last month, that’s January. Of a total of 34 students in my class, as many as 32 have given me a 4 out of a maximum 5, quite a few even 5, the highest ranking, whilst two, just 2 measly students have graded me as a 1. To rub salt to my wounds, have a look at what these two venerable souls have had to say about me. Here, read this. It says and I quote verbatim, “Sahil Sir is incompetent. He needs to replaced. We don’t want him. We believe…”


The voice of the third person, hitherto unheard of so far, now reverberated all across the third floor corner Faculty Room of ‘Coaching Time’ that Friday afternoon.

They are right. They don’t want you, Sahil” That’s the stark truth, accept it, and change yourself.”

What followed was pin drop silence. The tension in the air was so thick that you could slice it with a knife.

Like a hunted down, tired and badly bruised lamb, Sahil found himself pushed to te wall, his hands raised up in abject submission. He sank deeper into the sofa, his eyes staring shell shocked at the two senior Faculty members who now stared back at him, their chins up, eyes shone bright, a quiet feral intensity emanating from every single pore of their bodies that were tucked under Winter Specials__made to order satin embellished body hugging suits.

Sahil, what Gagan Sir wants to say, and that’s something that I fully endorse, is that one needs to pay heed to every single feedback that comes from the students, especially and more so if it is negative. I would advise you to take the feedback positively and work on overcoming your shortcomings”.

Sahil felt like a foot soldier trapped in enemy terrain; captured and later tortured to the hilt, a piece of meat to be used and abused, watched over with sadistic pleasure, fully stripped of the last ounces of whatever dignity that was left in him.

He got up in a laboured fashion, his legs still wobbling, and made a slow painful walk towards the exit door.

It was then that the two-month old words of the HR Head unspooled in his rickety brain like an old vinyl tape played out on a near obsolete recorder.

Remember Mr Sahil Chowdhury, while we at Coaching Time feel immensely proud in welcoming you into this great organization, you should be perennially thankful at being given this opportunity. Also, be immensely proud that you will now have the benefit of picking the brains of the best Faculty who will also be your seniors and mentors. Be ever respectful towards them and grab every opportunity to learn and assimilate best practices from them. That way not only will you become a better Faculty but also will you witness a faster learning curve and, needless to add, a quicker rise up the echelons.”

As he turned the knob and just before slipping out of the Faculty Room, Sahil turned around and, remembering something, smartly walked towards the seated gentlemen.

This time he was however careful to wipe off all trace of negativity from his face.

Instead, freshly donning a manner that could only be termed as the epitome of servility coupled with a low pitched voice soft as feather, one that smacked of utter servititude, he said, “Pradip Sir, You are absolutely right. And you too, Gagan Sir.  There’s so much to learn and imbibe from you boty of you. I promise I shall be extremely careful in future. Your constant guidance and support is what I value and look forward to the most. Have a good day, Sirs”.

And with that he turned away and headed out. As he gently closed the door behind him, he spotted from the corner of his eyes something that gave him deep satisfaction. His boss and Head of the Quantitative Department, Pradip Sinha, and his immediate senior, the one he was reporting into, Gagan Dhillion, were looking at each other, the expressions on their power drunk faces a little more than mere smiles.

Phew! that was close, he muttered as a huge sigh of relief escaped his lips while he wound his way down the hallway.

Dammit, that was close, he admonished himself. If he harboured any hopes of surviving for a long enough duration in this mine infested place, he needed to be careful, double, trebly careful.

What other option did he have, he reasoned to himself. Which organization would be willing to welcome into their fold a convicted rapist, a serial molester of women. If only they knew his past, it be kaput, the end of tye road for him. He had to be careful, damn careful, he reminded himself, as he hurtled down the steps for a cigarette and some much needed shot of fresh air.

It was only after he had inhaled a few puffs of his staple Gold Flake Kings did a smile splash across his otherwise bubbly face. He was recalling the words of his mentor at Tihar Jail, the much feared but hugely pragmatic Tanu Bhai, the one who had taken a shine to him.

‘Sahil, remember in life people rarerly are on the same page. When it comes to human beings there’s never a straight binary__never a yes or a no, a right or wrong, a true or false. It’s all a matter of perspectives. However much one may agree with others’ viewpoints, remember that they are always right, at least in their own eyes. Acknowledge that reality through your actions and body language and you will never go wrong. Instead, you will always end up with not just your bread with a liberal spread of jam on it as well.’

Sahil stubbed his cigarette and pulling himself up, strode confidently back to the office. It was then that he noticed a stream of girls, a few of them clad in half shorts, all laughing and giggling their way, wriggling their ample hips past the massive hallway towards their respective classes.

‘Yes, teaching is a very pleasurable activity’, he reminded himself for the umpteenth time ever since he had joined ‘Coaching Time’ as an ‘esteemed Faculty Member’.



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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


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Challenge 17

  1. Past – My resume line

Professional journalist with a particular fascination for ferreting out and writing about the dirty underbelly of life.


Journalism was a career I stumbled into, more a lazy indulgence that slowly turned into something deeper.

It served as an enabler, a force multiplier in terms of helping me first identify my true self through a very vigorous though painful process of trial and errors.

  1. Present

I am an author, a passionate writer and avid blogger besides a Communicator__ of ideas, thoughts, and skill sets.
Coach, career counsellor, trainer and writer.

The fields that I work in are chosen fields, closer to my core. Yet, it is a fluid state, as I need to zero down on one or maximum two options that will rule the course of my remaining life. I am yet evolving.

  1. Future

I plan to be a successful author and a better human being..

The future awaits me and it is for me to stretch my arms and embrace it in my fold.

I believe life is the present and its beauty lies in its unpredictability.

My metaphor

I am a solitary ever vigilant light house that looks out into the sea and decodes its signals for the benefit of all.

(c)neelanilpanicker2017 #reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#17


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By Neel Anil Panicker

As the Master of Ceremonies (MC) announced the winner of the COACHING TIME Best Faculty Award 2017, thunderous rounds of applause swept through the audience as every single person was up on his or feet, clapping, cheering lustily, quite a few even, especially among the women, shedding more than a tear.

These were no ordinary tears; instead they were tears of joy, tears of supreme happiness and a silent prayer in honour and recognition of the insurmountable spirit displayed by one of their own, one who with her actions had become an inspirational beacon of hope for all.

Daintily adjusting the folds of her exquisitely ornate gold embroidered Kancheevaram silk saree, Dr Lavanya got up from her chair in the corner third row and worked her way towards stage acknowledging the compliments that came her way.

Joining his colleagues and co-workers in expressing their extreme happiness was Mohandas Pai, the Director of ‘Coaching Time’ who too stood up, his hands clapping in chorus with the rapturous crowd.

Amidst thunderous ear deafening applause Sr Lavanya acceded to the request of the MC to speak a few words.

First of all I request you all to kindly sit down. It makes me feel a wee bit awkward to receive so much love and attention from my dear colleagues, well wishers, respectful Director Sir__ all who have known me in the past decade or so to ten years.

If an outsider were to inadvertently gate crash into this evening’s conference, he would assume me to be a hot shot Bollywood celebrity, in town for one or the other charity event.

Speaking of charity, I will say that charity begins at home.

And here I must thank, besides my dear parents, my dear colleagues without whose unstinted support and encouragement I wouldn’t have been here, standing before all of you, holding in my hands this glittering trophy that has my name engraved on it, acknowledging and honouring me with the award for the BEST FACULTY- VERBAL 2017.

And now I must get on with the task at hand, a promise that Pai Sir had extracted from me.

It was a promise that I will tell my story from every single stage, that I will narrate at every opportune moment and occasion the story of my life, that is my life battling cancer.

So here it is, the no holds barred, bare boned story of my life.

My name is Lavanya. I had a surname. But life and circumstances have forced nee enabled me to drop my surname.

I was born a boy, the only child of typical middle class Maharashtrian parents who were both bank employees.

Life was blissful as I grew up into my teens but sometime around when I had crossed seventeen I realised I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

When, after much hesitation and quite a lot of trepidation, I disclosed my fears to my parents they were devastated. Quite understandably so. I mean who wouldn’t? Their only child, bright and cheerful, a crowd puller, was now telling them, literally out of the blue that he was a she. That their only offspring, that too a son, the much sought after male homosapien, was a daughter.

Barring the initial shock, my mother, as all mothers are wont to, took it in her chin and embraced me. She had a daughter now instead of what she believed earlier to be a son. Just a switch of genders.

But my father was made differently. He felt insulted, cheated, humiliated, his elephantine male ego couldn’t the fathom the idea of fathering a boy who had now cruelly turned into a girl.

He ranted and raved, threw things around, began binge drinking and chain smoking, and when one day my mother suggested that it was time to heed the doctor’s advice and help initiate the medical process that would transform my body from male into female he put his foot down. He simply refused to sign the consent form, refused to put his signature on the medical form without which no hospital or doctor could carry out the medical interventions my body so very urgently needed.

And when my mother questioned him over this reluctance, he slapped her and threw us, both mother and I out of the house, our house that parents had jointly built.

The next day and the week after we stayed at a relative’s place and the months following that we moved into a single room rented accommodation.

The day we moved in was when we received the court notice. My father had filed for divorce.

Our cup of woes filleth over.

I will cut short the horrific days and nights and the several years that followed thereafter, suffice to say it took all of ten years, five ‘eight-hour-long’ surgeries and a ten lakh rupees bank loan to help me transform fully from a boy to girl.

In between my mother worked at the bank, toiled as an independent single mother, bravely fighting the not so veiled barbs and insults and slights of a highly myopic misogynistic society to enable me pick up a graduate degree and a prized MBA thereafter.

She died last year, a happy and contented soul, ever in live with life, ever a fighter, ever positive and left me with her message of peace and love. A true fighter she was and made me one too.

My mother was stronger than I ever could be.

I remember she never ever dropping that smile off her face, never ever saying or feeling one bit of despondency, never ever indulging in self pity or wallowing in the deep bottomless well of despair and negativity.

Friends who have visit my house have seen my bookshelf chock o block with self help books and autobiographies of great men and women.

In one of the walls is a huge white board imprinted with the words, “Trauma is about being stuck. Sometimes a holding pattern becomes habitual, causing tension and ill health. We understand our lives backward, but must live them forward”.

These are the words of the great 20th century Danish philosopher Soren Kiregaard, considered the ‘Father of Existentialism’ on whose works I have done Doctorate.

Thanks to my in depth research into his teachings and philosophies was I able understand the concept of choice that besets every human being and thereby lead myself from pitch black darkness into blinding light.

It was he who helped me move from my earlier stage of dreadful existence to another beautiful stage, an act of will, a leap of choice.

I slowly moved from apathy to sympathetic antipathy to finally antipathetic sympathy.

I realised it’s not the traumas and setbacks that come our way that defeat us, that hold us back, that lead us to failures. I realised that is it is our own mental blocks towards them, our own deep rooted self serving narrow mindsets and attitudes towards these temporary but all so natural mishaps that beset every human being on this planet that we need to smash, come out of, and overcome. And that’s what I did. I smashed and broke through all these artificial walls to carve my own space on this Earth.

And that’s the message that I want give all.

I am no doctor but today I help heal minds, heal human minds caught in a time warp, a vicious self defeating circle of bigotry, obscurantism, patriarchy and gender subjugation.

This beautiful award and recognition will always stay embedded in my heart for ever, for it shows your love and respect for both of us, my mother and me__for my mother Lalitha, and for me, Vanya.

And that, my dear friends and colleagues, is my story, Lavanya’s story, the story of a  girl who was once a boy but will always remain a human being, and strive to be a good one. Thanks You and God bless all of you.”





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Here’s the prompt.



By Neel Anil Panicker  

Nitin Gokhale looked around him and found that he was the odd one out. Everyone in the large airy hall the size of a 5-star lobby was clad in suits. Cleaned and shaven, hairs gelled, shoes shining brighter than the morning sun, and holding sleek leather bound files in their manicured hands, each one of them radiated brilliance as their eager, sparkling eyes stood affixed on a corner door that for now remained firmly closed.

For a casual observer the scene could be mistaken for the grand finale round of the ‘Mr World’ contest when the door would magically spring open and the judges would walk upto announce the winner of the most prized contest.

Except that this was no beauty contest but a brainy one. The participants who were waiting were no handsome Amazon Gods and gorgeous Greek Goddesses but were all who had trumped the best brains of the country and elsewhere to emerge among the list of the final call getters of the CAT, the prestigious IIMs, the premier management institution of the world, from where in two years time, they would be honing and perfecting their considerable academic skills and business skills to emerge and take their rightful places as czars and czarinas of the diamond crusted corporate world.


Should he too have followed suit and worn a suit. Nitin mulled over the question as he looked at his crispy white shirt worn over a pair of black trousers.

No, that was unnecessary, maybe even a little over the top, and had he worn one it would have made him extremely conscious and thereby anxious, which again would have reflected in the way he conducted himself, Nitin reminded himself.

Besides, this made him stand out in the crowd even if it made him the odd one out.

A voice over the microphone interrupted this thoughts; Nitin heard his name being called out.

It was time to step through the door. He got up, creased his trousers, and with confident steps walked towards the door.

At the corner, he saw someone flashing a thumbs up sign.

It was Inder Malhotra, his friend and colleague from Delhi Technical University, his alma mater, and thereafter COACHING TIME, the MBA coaching institute in Delhi that the two had attended for almost a year immediately after completing their graduation.

He smiled back mouthing a ‘thanks’ and stepped in.

Smiling, he walked towards the sole oblong teak lined wood table that stood in the centre of an airy mid-sized room.

“Good morning, Sirs and Madam”, he wished the eminent group of five panelists who were seated across the table.

“Please be seated”, the man, who looked, with his shock of greying curly hair and huge thick oval glasses like Zubin Mehta, the renowned conductor of international symphony.

Gently easing himself into a chair, Nitin sat down, arms firmly folded and clutching single black colour file that contained his resume and a few certificates.

The perfunctory question and round session began as each panel member posed one query after the other, all pretty much the norm and answers to which Nitin though he gave very satisfactorily, judging by the glowing expressions that emanated from the eminent panellists.

Just as he thought the interview was over, a man who looked around sixty and had until now remained silent barring one stock question that he had posed about his school, straightened his tie, a blue silk one with a small red coloured triangular insignia, and asked, “Tell me young man, can you do a SWOT of yourself?”

Nitin had half anticipated this question and was a bit surprised that it had come at the fag end of the around fifteen minute interview, almost as an afterthought.

He cleared is throat and looking at the esteemed panel and then specifically at the gent who had asked, he replied,

“Respected Sirs, this is a standard trope that is trotted out in interview sessions all over the world. It’s as if without this asking about SWOT, no interview can pass muster.

It’s taken on a very holy status, a litmus test to validate or invalidate a candidate’s efficiency or lack of it.

With due respect, I would like to say that it’s time that we junk this acronym and replace it with another.

Nitin caught a few murmured whispers as suddenly the temperature in the room shot up despite the air conditioning.

He heard one of them say,” And what’s that, my friend?”

Ignoring the slight sarcasm laden tone that emanated, Nitin carried on, “ SOAR. This the new acronym that I believe the world should embrace instead of the mindlessly following the centuries old SWOT.

Unmindful of a few raised eyebrows and as many quizzical looks, Nitin continued, his voice dripping with confidence, his words cast in conviction,

“First, let’s see what SWOT means and is meant for.

The S stands for Strengths. It aims to figure out a person or institution’s strengths, our individual strong points. A very legitimate query.

W for weaknesses reveals our lackings, our drawbacks, out chinks in the armour.

O looks at our Opportunities while T points towards the Threats that we may pose.

Now, while I wholly subscribe to S, I strongly believe that the remaining letters have a strongly negative tone. To me it seems as if we are preparing to go to war. It’s as if the world is one big battlefield and full of mad, raging enemies, fire spewing monsters that we need to trounce and slay.

SWOT reads like a very clinical war manual to me, a secret blood letting code, that if it falls in someone’s hands could lead to either world supremacy and dominance along with unbridled power or universal subjugation and eternal stagnation.

It’s advocacy sends an entirely wrong message to the strife torn world that we live in currently, telling to young minds, boys and girls on the cusp of entering into adult hood that it’s okay to find, ferret out others’ weaknesses and exploit them to your advantage, that’s it’s okay to strike without fear and put the fear of the devil into your adversary’s brains simply because you have more strengths and little weaknesses and a whole lot more opportunities to threaten others not as blessed as you are into meek submission and insultful subjugation.  It teaches the world the wrong set of dogmas, a dogma steeped in the binary of right and wrong, strong and weak, and good and bad shall, and will never ever be a panacea to solve the gargantuan problems that stares our beautiful world and help make it a better and more humane place to live in.

Instead, I propose that each of us, as individuals and as collectives, live and breathe and internalise SOAR.

While we turn inwards to understand and identify and hone our STRENGHTS in our respective professions, we don’t look of them as corporate arsenals, deadly AK 47s that we use, misuse and abuse by unleashing it mercilessly on our opponents, colleagues, competitors, Instead, we need to harness out strengths and look at it as aids, as OPPORTUNIES to help our fellow men and women, colleagues, contemporaries, to hand hold them and improve them, to make them better.

This way if we go about setting our goals and ASPIRATIONS keeping in mind the general benefit and welfare of all around us, the day will not be far off when one day we can sit and look back at all that we have achieved__a deep inner satisfaction, an abiding sense of inner fulfilment, a sense of peace and oneness with ourselves and the world and the cosmos. This is our reward, our RESULTS, the ultimate fruit of all our endeavours, the one that leaves us as happy and contended souls, the ultimate purpose of our lives.

And that respected gentlemen is what I intend to strive for, something no B-school can teach me or anyone else for that matter. Thanks.”

Pindrop silence followed thereafter. Then, the man who had posed the question got up and clapped, first slowly and then vigorously. Soon others too were on their feet, their beaming faces and wrinkled eyes revealing unequivocally their acknowledgment the wisdom that emanated from Nitin’s mouth.

That evening when the day long interview session ended each of the eminent went back home with a new vision, a new all embracing humanistic outlook towards life all thanks to a conscientious 21-year-old who had his head and heart screwed in the right places,  who helped them traverse the difficult but highly rewarding journey from SWOT to SOAR.

©neelanilpanciker2017 #shortstory #fiction #CAT #CATology #1431words


Hosted by the ever resourceful Reena at

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By Neel Anil Panicker

Professor Preetam looked through the glass door and found the line outside at the bay area had thickened. He glanced at the wall clock above. It was still hovering under three. Another three hours to go and the eager beaver queue of students who had booked an appointment with him was just not showing any signs of letting up.

With a sigh he turned his attention towards the young woman in front of him. He knew her well. A Bachelors of Technology  graduate from one of the umpteen nondescript engineering colleges to have sprouted faster than mushrooms in the Greater Noida belt abutting the National Capital Region that was Delhi.

Rashmi Saxena was anything if not nervous.

Thrusting her opened up computer towards Prof. Preetam, she asked, half hesitantly, full nervously, “ Sir, kindly guide me on how to fill this form”.

Preetam knew what form that was. Over half the queries he had received so far pertained to form filling. Most students wanted help in filling up one or the other B-School forms.

More than help they wanted handholding; they wanted him, Head of Department- Verbal, to literally write down all the answers to the questions the said B-School posed.

She addressed the first question that needed to be filled and submitted, this time by FMS, Delhi, one of the top eight business schools of the country __“what are your extra curricular activities”?

‘Sir, this is what I have written. I require your guidance in answering the next one, “What are your career goals”?

“So, what exactly are your career goals, my dear”?

He watched amusedly as the student opposite him shifted uneasily in her chair; his face losing colour and turning pale, a vision that reminded him of the reaction of the legendary athlete Ben Johnson on being stripped of his Olympic gold for doping in sports.

Preetam pushed his swivel chair slightly back, lifting his shoulders to touch the glass topped walls behind him.

He watched intently at the student who sat across the table from him, at her the fast fading colour of her face, at the nervous fidgeting of her fingers, the slight twitch in her left eyelids.

All signs indicating a loss of confidence in the self.

For a moment he closed his eyes and pondered over the thought that had been niggling him ever since the examination date of the  CAT neared. The questions uppermost in most students’ minds were__ besides the clearing of the premier B-school examination with a high percentile that was good enough for them to bag a seat in one or the other top five or eight IIMs of the country, a virtual ticket to a highly remunerative much sought after corporate career___how to write down the regular everyday questions that propped up in every B-school Admissions Form.

‘What kind of an educational system are we bequeathing our young minds that makes fearful and utterly petrified when it comes to answering regular everyday questions about their lives?

I mean which twenty year old does not indulge in an extra curricular activity? Especially so in todays’ times when one is exposed to a plethora of experiences and interests. Be it the world of books or sports or even cultural activities such as music, dance, debates, elocutions, open mikes speechathons and speakathons, there is almost anything and everything a student of the current age and times can get hooked onto and become if not an expert at but at least take more than a passing interest in.

Pray, what help does a student need in giving a decent, reasonable answer to this question? Does he not possess an extra curricular activity. At least one, if not more, in the two-odd decades that he has graced this planet? Or is this that the only out of course indulgence of the students is to traverse the adrenaline inducing high octane world of online chatting? Facebooking, Twittering, Instagramming, Whatsapping, Snap Chatting, Tindering and what have you.

The thought, highly disturbing as it were, set the alarm bells ticking in Preetam’s mind as he pondered over the fallout of all this, the natural corollary to all these nonsensical, mindless activities.

Are we then merely mass producing a generation of straight off the factory mindless robots  who do nothing but eat, drink, and play and at crucial junctures of their lives write a plethora of  mind numbing tests that are conducted to weed out the undesirables and reward the remaining with prized seats and fat cat jobs, thus creating elitist class of youngsters pitch drunk in the heady cocktail of power and pelf that is the natural fall out of academic success?

Is academic success measured in terms of how one fares in a highly competitive pressure cooker type test prep environment where the person or persons, a miniscule among the lakhs and lakhs of aspirants are declared winners merely due to the fact that they were able to answer better than others a limited number of  questions in a limited amount of time?

And then, once a student is able to clear this first hurdle, then is he also rated on his ability to answer, both in writing and speech, a set standard spiel of questions thrown to him an alien panel of  condescendingly high brow intellects. Mr Know Alls who take sadistic pleasure in asking such questions as what’s so special about you; why should we admit you; give three good qualities that you possess and five bad ones that you are trying to overcome? More to follow like what are your career goals, whare do you see yourself five/ten/fifteen/twenty year from you and what’s the best thing that’s happened to you to what’s the worst things that’s ever happened to you?

These and more such stupefying questions assailed Preetam as he worked his way around the battleground of queries laid out in each admissions form that students brought to his table with unfailing regularity all through the day, the entire past fortnight.

At the end of the day, a very bemused, utterly confused, and supremely  nonplussed Preetam pulled himself from his chair, steped out of his cabin, and left the gates of Coaching Time, the premier B-School entrance coaching institute of the country where was teaching as a senior Verbal Faculty for the past roughly one decade.

On the metro ride back home, seated a in corner chair, with ample time on his hands, his thoughts turned inwards, towards resolving a dilemma that was troubling him for a long, long time.

A dilemma over the whether all the effort, energy, and time that went into preparing a student into clearing one or the other mindless examination was worth it or not? Whether what he had been doing all these years__lecturing, mentoring, teaching, advising, educating innumerable students__was it all worth it, commendable, something to be proud of, something that he could leave behind as his legacy?
Legacy? The word hit him like a ten tonne brick. His mind went back to its dictionary meaning. Legacy, a noun; an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.

Synonyms: bequest, inheritance, heritage, bestowal, benefaction, gift, heirloom, a handover.

The last one struck him, a handover. He thought about its metaphorical implications. What legacy did he wish to bequeath to the world? To his students? Merely receive words of high praise, an endless stream of Thank Yous, may be a box of sweets from the those who have successfully cracked the CAT;  a felicitation ceremony perhaps, he holding a bouquet of flowers and mouthing words of gratitude as speaker after speaker come on stage and hosannas extolling his excellent virtues and the Director and the top management publicly thanking him for the yeoman services rendered by him.

Yeoman service? What a joke? What service had he rendered so far that merited recognition?  That he would be remembered by, that he done so as to leave behind a legacy, a lifetime of  values that the students and youngsters could pick up and follow and make it their life purpose?

That he had taught for over four decades innumerable number of students on the art of cracking competitive examinations, the umpteen tricks and strategies, the quick fire answers to seemingly impossible questions during Groups Discussions  and Personal Interviews, the entire rigmarole that went into fibbing and fooling a lackadaisical examination system that made mindless robots out of young impressionable minds, that though could help master them the rote/parrot method of  solving the endless intractable range of questions  the helped clear bookish exams but sadly failed to help young men and women pass the all important examinations of their lives__ that is the examination of life, an examination so exacting that no coaching institute, no college, and no university could ever even dream about preparing their students for.

As such thoughts churned in Preetam’s mind it slowly began to take shape into one concrete realization. That evening before the metro dropped him at his station and much before he had stepped into his home, he, for the first time in his entire academic career came to the horrific conclusion that he had miserably failed in leaving behind a legacy, a timeless, age transcending bestowal that he could leave behind for his students, for the youth, for those on whose shoulders rested the burden and thereby the responsibility of turning not just the countries of their births and origins but also wherever they chose to serve.

Later that night as the thought hit him hard and he had thought long over it he came to a decision: he would beginning the following morning devote himself to only one task_ working towards the creation of an enduring legacy, not by way of providing academic counselling and classroom assistance to scores of score and percentile seekers but by enabling them to become better souls, better human beings, men and women with their hearts in their right places, global conscientious citizens who believe, live and breathe the dictum__ service before self.

With that ennobling thought Professor Preetam went to bed and slept a peaceful sleep, the first time in many, many years.

©neelanilpanciker2017 #reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#13 #short story #fiction #CAT #CATology#1685 words


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Here’s the prompt

If you were asked to share one experience you had with someone you knew which was experienced as a gift or transmission, what memory would that be? Close your eyes and see what arises. Which gift will you pass on?


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By Neel Anil Panicker

There are two types of educators: those who do what they are tasked to do out of love and those who don’t do what they are tasked to do out of hate.

Now doing something out of love is entirely different from doing something because it needs to be done.

And the needs could be any and varied. It could be commanded by the every elemental need for survival. I mean people teach for the money that it provides, necessary money that helps feed  themselves and their families.

But then that would apply to any profession, one may argue.

True but then not necessarily. There are those in this category who teach because they know nothing else or because they are no good at anything else.

Not for them the rigours of the corporate world, the daily grind of struggling to meet and outdo targets and KRAs. Not for them also the admonitions, demotions, insults, and humiliations that follow the non-performance or under performance of a task.

Ratnesh Karmakar was one such person. I first met him in the staff Faculty Room. It was on a Monday morning, a little after 11. I had just walked into the Faculty Room after finishing my first class of the day.

It was an English Vocabulary class and as what happens after most such classes I was surrounded by a couple of very eager students too intrigued by the fascinating world of words; words which hitherto were new to them. They were badgering me with questions as to the scientific originations of these new fanciful words.

I decided to give them a very patient hearing and walked them through the various etymologies and root word methodologies to help decode the words and their subtle undertexts.

All this while I barely noticed that the Faculty Room was inhabited by another person. After I was done with the students I turned around and found to my utter surprise and shock a man, barely under 35, half sprawled on the leather couch, his eyes shut and snoring away to glory.

Feeling slightly discomfited by what I saw, I stepped out of the Room and when I came back after grabbing a cup of coffee from the kitchen I saw that the man, whoever it was no longer there. Whoof! Vanished into thin air.

That day, in the evening, I met him again, but this time in passing. He was inside the classroom adjacent to mine. I spotted through the glass door; he was there, seated on the chair, his legs all laid out on the floor like some heavily pregnant woman’s minutes before delivery, ostensibly teaching a a classfull of students, his eyes half shut, sheer boredom plastered all over his swarthy, unshaven face.

Disgusted by this wanton display of insouciance I turned around and walked into my own class, my respect for this man, whoever he may be, definitely hitting rock bottom in the few hours that I had encountered him.

It was only the next day that I came to know that this person was a new recruit, a Mathematics teacher to boot.

Now, was I shocked? Well, not one bit. For in my over a decade and half years spent in and around a classroom I have encountered many such teachers who bring disgrace to the noble profession by not just diluting it of its true worth but by also revealing themselves as very poor role models for the impressionable students that they vouch to teach and thereby to the society at large.

Such laidback people with a damn care attitude and without an iota of commitment towards the world of books and the pious business of teaching are dime a dozen in all educational institutions, be they schools, colleges, coaching institutions et al.

I avoid them like the plague but feel sorry for the hapless students who are at the receiving end of such ‘learning’ for what is education and its efficacy if delivered half heartedly and sans all passion.
And speaking of passion, my thoughts travel to the other side of the  spectrum for every such deadwoods of the world there are also inhabit the tireless, sincere warriors who go about their tasks with a dedication and honesty that is almost saintly in nature.

Rahul Joshi was his name. but we called him simply ‘The Wall’. Quite like the venerated Indian cricketer he was, to all who were fortunate to have interacted with him and partaken of his goodness, Mr Dependable,  always to be trusted upon, reliable to the core.

No, he wasn’t Mr No All, one of those who profess to know every little thing on this planet and then struts about with an air of superciliousness.

No, absolutely not, Far from it, Rahul was the epitome of humility, dedication, discipline and simplicity.

Clad in a starch white or light blue shirt and matching trousers, his hair, neatly trimmed and gelled,

He would be found either in the class, teaching English, explaining the finer nuances of the English syntax to a bevy of eager beaver students who would lap up every single utterance of his with an eagerness and devotion that would any Hindu god to shame.

A fact validated by the huge crowd of students who would swarm him once the class got over and bombard with umpteen questions.

Very assiduously, Rahul would give each one of them a patient hearing, listening, and then clearing, clarifying, correcting, suggesting, counselling all of them in a manner that was nothing short of heights of dedication and sincerity.

I mean here was a faculty who had just taught for a whole two hours a class choc-a-block with students, all the while remaining standing, and then to continue like that and take individual doubt sessions with a dozen or more students without batting an eyelid or revealing a whiff of discomfort, his perpetual smile never flagging a wee bit__all this was more than admirable. My respect for this man, as I sat and watched him over the following days and weeks, grew in geometric progression until one day I resolved to know or better still understand what made him so special, so grounded, when everyone around him walked around with a jaunt and a forced swag as if they owned the world and its backyard.

I came to know few things which increased my respect for this remarkable person.

Here is his story as I gathered over the course of the next few days.

Rahul was the only child of educationists who very tragically died in a ghastly train accident some ten year ago.

After their death, and in deference to their lifelong wish, which they had made known much earlier to him on several occasions, Rahul decided to follow in their footsteps and become an educator himself.

So, immediately after acquiring an IIM degree from Kolkata, he joined Coaching Time, first in its Pune centre and then at its New Delhi branch.

Here, he found as few things that riled him no end. First, the teachers, at least a few of them, were not so dedicated and wedded to the noble task of imparting knowledge.

They would simply come, take their classes half heartedly, and then while away the rest of their time unnecessarily indulging in talks and activities that could very mildly be termed as ‘undesirable’.

He found that all this went antithetical to what his parents had taught him. From them he had learnt that mere possession of knowledge is of no use unless it serves to benefit mankind.

And here that meant the teeming multitude of students who had left behind their homes and comforts, traversing thousands of kilometres, putting up in alien jam packed rooms and subsisting on outside food, living and surviving with just one solitary hope and dream in mind__ that of  cracking CAT, one of the toughest of all competitive examinations in the country, an achievement that would open the doors of the much sought after big, wide managerial world around them.

And so Rahul had decided to dedicate his life to the cause of these students. He not only began to lend a helping hand to every student who came to him for help, but also went back home and studied a multitude of diverse books and resource material and passed on all that extra knowledge to his students to equip them with that extra edge.

Highly impressed by this exemplary display of work ethics and fearsome dedication to the noble cause of teaching, I too decided to inculcate all this in my daily life.

Here was one person who was worthy of emulation, who through his actions and deeds had shown to one and all the right path, the path that led towards knowledge and enlightenment , not the one that Lord Buddha took, but one that was more grounded and rooted in real life, that allowed one to live a normal life while at the same time dedicating oneself to a far nobler cause, that of  guiding, teaching, educating, advising, and handholding a retinue of hesitant, struggling and fearful students, equipping and arming them but not just  the nuts and bolts of their course material but in the process making into better evolved persons and fine human beings.

Thanks to this wonderful person, in due course of time, he became the apple of everyone’s eyes including the initial naysayers and the slackers, and soon his values began to be embraced by one and all.

©neelanilpanciker2017 #shortstory #1582words #reena’s exploration challenge