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




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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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


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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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Here is a character narrating different episodes from her life. You get an idea of the overall personality. Pick just one sentence from the story, and develop further on that.



By Neel Anil Panicker

I see the rage in my boss’s eyes and know that is time to quit. Or, more appropriately, that is time for me to be asked to quit.

There he is, sitting opposite me, in that favourite swivel chair of his, the chair, the specific make and colour that I helped him to chose, staring down at me, those limpid blue eyes now a raging red, its pupils trebly enlarged, the nerves threatening any moment to burst out.

I bravely refuse to give in and like a fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread, I lock eyes with him.

I see his head, bald as an eagle’s, the strobe lights streaking in through the translucent windows doodling all over his six foot gym toned frame, the hands, large and hairy, like a grizzly bear’s fiercely clutching onto a palm sized paper weight, furiously rotating it over the oblong sun mica topped teak wood table.

I see a melange of emotions, predominantly distaste, written all over his usually placid face, now a bundle of bumbling emotions.

I see a lot that I haven’t seen in the past six years, the years that I have known him since, the years that I have worked  under him, the years that he has been my boss, also the years that we have been lovers.

I know it is time for me to leave, allow for him to be alone so as to be able to process all that has happened.

I get up and calmly hand over an envelope. It contains my resignation letter addressed to Shiv Kumar Sharma, Director, COACHING TIME, New Delhi from Maya Talreja, General Manager- Planning.

‘I shall see you in the evening’, I say, and walk out of the cabin. I know he’s my man and I know together we’ll battle our way out of this storm too.


My name is Maya. Maya Mirchandani. I am a 30-year-old Sindhi, a divorced Gujarati born Sindhi to be precise. I stress on the divorced part because that’s was defined me, at least for the first five years since my marriage with Kunal, a regular parochial wife beating male chauvinist pig fell apart. Wait, fell apart did I say?

Shred to pieces, smashed to smithereens__these would be better descriptors of the hellish times I spent with Kunal whose favourite form of abuse was to strip me naked,   chain me to the window sill, and then beat me black and blue with a steel belt for hours together.

Of course, he did take power breaks in between, replenishing himself with whisky on the rocks and snorting cocaine, just one among many of his addictions.

One night soon after when he and the entire world were in deep slumber, I climbed down the bathroom pipe, walked barefoot upto to the nearest railway station, and took the first available train to my hometown.

My parents, saddled with typical middle class mores thought I had committed a crime  and did everything possible right from weeping and begging to cajoling and threatening to somehow force me to go back to Kunal, to give my marriage yet another try.

But I had resolved that enough was enough and would under no circumstances go back to marriage which I know equated with hell for short of a milder word.

That broke their dam of patience and I was subjected to another round of torture.

This time it was mental, and especially so by own parents, who feared that a daughter, beautiful and educated as she may be, had no life outside of marriage.

Things deteriorated from bad to worse and then one day, when unable to bear their near non-stop rebukes and emotional blackmails, I packed my bags and left home.

In less than 100 days I had hit road again, the only difference being this I had burnt all my bridges and there was no going back, anywhere whatsoever.

I decided to hit a new town and landed up in Delhi. The first few months were sheer hell, as armed with nothing more than a college degree I walked in and out of countless interviews without any luck.

It went like this for a month or so and soon things reached a point when I had no money to even pay the rent for my single room Paying Guest accommodation.

It was then that the landlord offered me a life a line: He would forfeit my dues if I agreed to sleep with him.

Disgusted I slammed the phone down and was about to smash it to the wall when it began to ring.

I picked it up and was about to hurl my choicest abuses when I heard a woman’s voice, soft though business-like over the phone, “Am I speaking to Miss Maya?”

“Yes, this is Maya”, I somehow managed to mumble.

“Congratulations,” the voice continued, “You have been selected. Please kindly collect your offer letter from Coaching Time”.

A melange of emotions swirled through my mind. One moment I was down and out and the other I was on top of the world. I was over, my ordeal, my quest, my struggle for survival. I had finally bagged a job.

The next day, my heart full of joy, I walked into my new office, and fell straight into the arms of my boss.

Well, it so happened that I had just left the HR Manager’s cabin, clutching in my hand an appointment letter that said my designation was Executive Secretary, Director, Coaching Time.

“Walk straight and turn left. Extreme corner is Kumar Sir’s cabin.”

I did as she had guided me, and found myself standing outside an impressive oak panelled cabin door that sported a gold embellished capital lettered name plate ‘DIRECTOR’.

I was wondering whether to knock or to simply step in, when the door opened all of a sudden and out stumbled a man and almost fell into my arms.  In fact if he hadn’t held himself against the wall, both of us would have come tumbling down like nine pins.

“I…I am sorry. ‘Am in a hurry.” was all he managed to blurt out as we pulled ourselves together.

I looked at him, half fearful, half embarrassed.

Pushing the wrong side of forty, the man had a shock of curly grey hair the sides of which fell over a square face that reeked of a childlike naughtiness.

“Sir, I am Maya…your new secr…”

“Sorry, got to go. Shall meet you in the evening. Make yourself comfortable” was all he said before he vanished down the corridor.

I shrugged off the awkwardness and stepped inside to find the room, a mid sized hall rather, a picture of disarray. Half opened books, files, stationery, even Coke cans were littered all over the place__ on the work table, under the chairs, on the mosaic floor, a few even near the attached washroom.

My womanly instincts came to fore and I set about putting everything in order, even at one point picking up the intercom and requisitioning the House Keeping Department.

And when Mr Kumar walked in through the door in the evening all he did was stand and stare in wonderment at the metamorphosis his cabin had undergone.

He rewarded me with a hesitant half smile.

In turn I extracted a cup of hot Nescafe from the Coffee Machine and placing it on his desk, said, “ Sir, I am Maya, your new Executive Secretary”.

He motioned me to the chair opposite him and apprised me of the tasks at hand.

I was to take care of his appointments, attend all his meetings, take down their minutes, prepare notes, and help him with the general functioning of his office.

The next few months I immersed myself fully in my job, voraciously lapping up each day and new experience as part of my learning curve, ever learning, at times faltering, at times making mistakes but never repeating them.

At the end of six months, I had learnt enough to make myself an indispensable part of the office, befriending one and all, helping all and sundry, ensuring the smooth and efficient running of the organisation.

The wheels of time spun and soon a year passed by and another and  then yet another.

I was happy, at peace with myself, had a job, a great one at that, one that I loved to the hilt, and most importantly was independent in all senses of the term.

By now I was promoted as General Manager-Operations and my salary was ten times over what I had started with.

And then I fell in love. Or, we fell in love. Shiv and I.

It was not one of those Slam, Bam, Thank You Ma’m kind of puerile, lust filled entanglements that you hear of but quite on the contrary, a slow brewing, deep stirring, meaningful heart enriching, life affirming love between two mature fully responsible consenting adults.

As such we resolved that our love, romance, relationship, affection or whatever one may choose to call it, would in no way interfere with our official duties. We turned increasingly discreet, making sure that not one soul got a whiff of it.

But then as they say such things have a dirty habit of leaking out and soon someone somehow poisoned the ears of the powers that be at the Head Office.

Soon enough Shiv received a terse one line note from the head honchos asking for my scalp.

And that’s where things stand now as I sit in my cabin wondering over the dilemma that stares Shiv, my boss cum lover.


The intercom buzzes; I pick up the phone.

“Maya. We’re in this together. I’ve put in my papers. Now, either we swim or sink.

Are you with me?”

“Forever, my sweetheart”.

I kiss him over the phone.

I am happy, elated, over the moon.
I have finally found love.

I have a man, a man who’s man enough to take on the world.

For me, for him, for us.

©neelanilpanciker2017 #fiction #shortstory #CATolgy #BSchool #MBA

#reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#16 #1670words


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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