neelwrites/maya:littlemorethanillusion/fiction/shortstory/reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#16/14/12/2017

Hosted by the fantabulous Reena at https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2017/12/08/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-16/

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.

why

MAYA: LITTLE MORE THAN ILLUSION

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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neelwrites/training/flashfiction/performance/09/12/2017

December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

December 7 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch @Charli_Mills

In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you.

Hosted by https://carrotranch.com/2017/12/07/december-7-flash-fiction-challenge/

TRAINING, IT’S DRAINING

By Neel Anil Panicker

Two days, seven hours, thirty-one minutes and still counting. There’s no signs of the torture  ever coming to an end. From his secluded perch in the far right hand corner, I watch with eyes as dead as of a dodo’s at the ‘actors’ and their ‘performances’.

The powers that be had even thought out a name for this form of extreme sadism, grandly christening it as ‘ANNUAL SKILL UPLIFTMENT SESSION’.

My foot! The only skill upliftment was that the hapless trainees had by now learnt how to fall into deep slumber with their eyes split wide open.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #fiction #flashfiction #99words #training

neelwrites/fromrattocat/reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#11/shortstory/1553words/09/11/2017

Hosted by Reena at https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2017/11/03/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-11/

 

FROM RAT TO CAT 

Exploration Challenge 11

By Neel Anil Panicker

“You are a cat. Not just any ordinary cat. The big one. The biggest of them all.  A true blue Royal  Bengal  Tiger. The best and the rarest breed to inhabit the whole wide world.”

 

Saumik  began to feel dizzy. His head started to swirl. Blood began  to drain out of his face and limbs.

He felt his legs and limbs go limp.

All this not out of fear or pain. But out of shock.

So far no one, not one person in his entire life so far of over two score years on Mother Earth had ever said so many wonderful words of appreciation for him.

 

A tiger. They were calling him a tiger, that too the best in the business. From a lowly rat to a majestic tiger__that’s quite a paradigm shift. How quickly the wheels of fate change, he thought.

His mind flashbacked to the past, to his childhood, to his village by the sea, near the Sunderbans, the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger.

His mind was once again assailed by words, fierce poison barbs and insults that were heaped on his friends and neighbours.

A recurring image flashed through his mind. There he was, a slip of a ten year old boy, naked above the waist standing a step behind his half bent father whose hands were folded in supplication.

It was morning time. They were in the middle of rich, golden yellow paddy fields. A sickle rested on the ground beneath him, between his father’s legs.

The lands belonged to Hari Shankar, the landlord, an evil eyed wily invective hurling rotund man with a ferocious handlebar moustache.

His father was pleading to Hari Shankar, who also doubled up as the unofficial money lender for the entire impoverished populace.

 “O’ dear God’s gift to mankind, O’ dear benevolent soul, you have blessed us by allowing me to till your soil. We__ my wife and three children subsist because of your kindness. Here have a look at my youngest son. Here he is, Saumik, though we call him Birju. His teachers tell me that he is intelligent, that he is meant for bigger things, that he should be sent to the city for a better education. I told him that I am a poor man, that I can’t afford such expenses. But Birju here is insistent. Says he wants to study, go to a proper school, a school that has a roof, a school where the walls don’t smell of urine and cow dung and human excreta. A school that will make a man out of him.  O’ dear Lord, I request you to loan me some money so that I can fulfil his dream and send him to the city. For this act of kindness I shall forever be under your debt and till your land all my life”.

‘I have heard you and feel like laughing. A man should never dream for anything that is above his stature. Look at him. He is just like you and your father and all your wretched kith and kin. You people are meant to slog all your lives. You can do nothing else in life. This is your fate. You are just a rat and he too will end up like one, a small, useless, slavish rat all his life tilling the soil of the rich. I tell you,  in my fields from today itself. That way there will be two more hands and one extra mouth that can be fed. Now, get back to work, you good for nothing rats”.

‘Congratulations Saumik, you have cleared the most prestigious management school entrance examination in this country. We are proud to tell you that since you are among the top five students, you have secured admission into IIM, Ahmedabad. We wish you all the very best in your B school and hope that you will be an inspiration to millions of students who come from small towns and impoverished backgrounds and realise their dreams by making it big in life. Just one last question. Who do you owe your sterling success to?’

Saumik looked at the distinguished group of panellists who sat across in an oblong teak wood table  and were looking at him with eyes that spelled pride and joy. His welled up.

For one nano second his mind’s eye played out the events leading upto his selection in breakneck speed. Like a Bollywood film every single scene, frame and shot came alive in technicolor.

First, his leaving behind his parents and siblings, then his arrival in big city Kolkata. His new school. The initial rough days. The non stop barrage of insults and mocks and humiliations. The stark contrast between him and his city bred school mates. Their language, mannerisms, their style, swag, and oh, their English_ slick and polished, spoken in an accent that sounded alien and heavenly. Compared to them and the crispy starched clothes that they wore and the redolence that emanated from their well toned bodies, he looked with his pidgin rural English, unkept hair, dark smelly skin, and half protruding yellowing teeth like someone literally from the boondocks, a Stone Age man grossly unfit to move around and be accepted in modern society.

And thus he was marked out, segregated, ostracised from all, made the butt of jokes, laughed at derided to the point when he could take it no more.

The frame moved to one where was packing his bags and was leaving; leaving the big city, leaving behind his dreams of giving himself an education, of becoming a man, of fulfilling his parents’ dreams, of going back and joining his siblings and countless others whose fate it was doomed to with another man’s fields all their lives, existing but not living, mere worms and pests of absolutely no productive use, neither to themselves nor to the world around them.

The frame changes; a miracle happens. Out of the bottle, like a genie,  a kindly man with a benign smile pops up and says, “Son, I have been observing you for some time. You are a very bright student. I see great potential in you. I also see that you are bullied by other students. I can see why they do it. They see you as unkept, smelly, ill groomed, and most importantly as one who doesn’t speak English like the way they do.

My child, let me tell you, I will guide and teach you the ways of the world. I will guide you in the ways of this world. I will help you to not just speak and write and communicate with your fellow classmates but also to well informed adults in a manner that would be the envy of each one of them. I will make them and everybody who interacts with you feel in awe of you and respect and admire you from the inner cores of their hearts.

The next few frames all full of initial struggle in learning and mastering a new language, the efforts that went into turning an uncut stone into a polished jewel.

And one final frame. The day of his graduation. Seated among the audience was the same kindly man, the his English teacher from school who had taught and moulded him into a man, a much respected hugely admired modern young man.

That evening, as he held in his hands the glittering ‘Best Student’ trophy he had hugged Mr Ashmeet Bhattacharya, his mentor, now for ever friend, philosopher and guide for life.

With teary eyes that night before he went to sleep he realised  that he had turned around his fate and suddenly his perspective towards life, towards what constitutes success and how to achieve it had all changed.

“Respected gentlemen, everyman is the driver of his own destiny and thus no one can blame anyone or society or for that matter fate for what befalls him or her. Yes, all of us need one trusted navigator to show them the right path but then all onwards journeys are our to be traversed, however ardous the paths and difficult the terrains we come across. And that navigator is none other than our own perspective. With the right kind of perspective man can conquer mountains, swim oceans and soar high up in the skies. You asked me as to who I owed my success to. I know it is my parents who kept their faith in me despite ever mounting difficulties and teachers, one in particular, Bhattacharya Sir whose efforts helped me turn into a gem.

But besides them, I owe my success to another section of people. The supposed ‘haves’ of this world, the Mr Know Alls, the condescending ones, the ones who insulted me, called me names, made fun of my English et al because if it was not for them and their insults I would not have turned inward and found my inner navigator that has helped me steer the vehicle of my life past failures and towards success. Thanks to them today I have metamorphosed from a rat to a CAT and am about to enter into the best B-school in the country. But more importantly, thanks to them, my perspective towards life has changed for ever as I realise that nothing, absolutely nothing is unachievable for a human being if has the right perspective towards life.”

(c)neelanilpanicker2017 #fiction #shortstory #reena’sexplorationchallenge #shortstory #1563words

neelwrites/pain,truth’speskycousin/reena’sexplorationchallenge#08/shortstory/fiction/1642words/20/10/2017

week-8

Written for https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-8/

PAIN, TRUTH’S PESKY COUSIN, SETS YOU FREE

By Neel Anil Panicker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A week later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The room fell silent.

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

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

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

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

neelwrites/

Hosted by the super talented Reena at https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-5/

strategies

LOOKING BEYOND THE NUMBERS

By Neel Anil Panicker

TOTAL NUMBER OF QUESTIONS :      34

RIGHT      :                                                   6

WRONG   :                                                   28

Rubbing his eyes in disbelief, Mahesh got up from his chair and began to pace up and down the floor, his fingers tightly clutched inside sweaty palms.

The results of his Diagnostic Test stared him in the face.

It was a timed test that helped the students gauge their current levels and helped them get a better understanding of their strengths  and weaknesses in order to prepare themselves for the final Common Admissions Test (CAT) nine months down the line, a test that would make or mar their professional careers, decide whether they would end up in any any one of the top ten premier Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) of the country or languish in a lowly job, joining the ever toiling hoi polloi that make up the great Indian workforce.

A slight stirring from the corner bed broke his thoughts.

‘Turn off the damn lights, will you’.

It took awhile for Mahesh to register what he heard. Then, still in a half daze, he pulled his arms out and turned off the switch.

‘No point in disturbing others’. His roommate Arvind had just returned from his night shift.

As Mahesh slid himself under the sheets and closed his eyes, his mind lay awake, playing in a loop the roller coaster happenings of the past few days, each recall exacerbating his already frayed nerves.

Here he was, barely a week into life in the big city, some 1500 kilometers away from home.

The past three days had been particularly tough on him. The first day, after de-boarding at New Delhi Railway Station from a jam packed Jharkhand Express, he had headed straight to Coaching First, the premium coaching centre for CAT that her friends and teachers back home in Sitamarhi had recommended.

For the next couple of hours he had sat and heard out an impassioned extempore from the Front Desk Counsellor, a stentorian heavily bedecked lady with a lipstick smeared powdered face who trotted  out in a rat-tat-tat fashion the advantages of enrolling at Coaching First, her multi-hued long nailed finger tips repeatedly pointedly towards the walls all around her which were plastered with the smiling visages of successful pass outs, and the linear golden ribboned tagline of the institute, ‘Turn to us if you want to turn your dreams into a reality’.

Sufficiently impressed, Mahesh had signed himself for a one year long term course by completing the necessary admission formalities and paid out her fees, a six months’ advance with the remaining to be paid within the next 90 days.

An hour later he was filling up another form, this time at a seven storied box like building whose half peeling faded façade was emblazoned with the legend, PG FOR BOYS ONLY.

He had forked out a three months’ advance of Rs 15,000 and found himself herded inside a near bare cubicle sized room.

“This is your bed,” spat out the landlord, a 65-year-old who walked around with an unusually ramrod straight back as his eyes turned towards a small door sans hinges.

‘That’s the bathroom-cum-toilet. You’re two of you here, as of now.’

After the man had left, it took another hour before Mahesh could make himself comfortable, stacking his clothes in the drawer, piling the first set of books that the institute had handed over on the side table, generally trying to make life as comfortable as could be possible in such alien surroundings__alien room, alien city, alien culture et al.

His mind pole vaulted into the previous day’s events when at exactly ten in the morning he had found himself at Coaching First, seated in a ‘packed like sardines’ classroom, listening, wide eyed, along with around a hundred other students a forty-year-old man’s impassioned speech about the arduous road that lay ahead.

‘Dear students, I welcome you to the class but before I kickstart your CAT class, first things first.

I need to show you the mirror and bring to the fore some harsh truths. 

Nowadays, the road ahead for a student, especially so in India, is an uphill task.

The struggle for them commences right after the Board or Class 12 exams. For it is here that he decides whether he is good enough to get into the IITs, the gateway to the best engineering education in the country rated at times, even above par of some of the best colleges around the world.

But then reality strikes and how. Not many are good enough to sneak past its narrow doors. Of the over ten lakh students who sit for the test every year, a paltry 3000 ultimately bag a seat, and of this too, only the top 100 get into their choice streams.

Almost similar, if not more, is the case with the entry level hassles that go with bagging a prized Medical seat.

Government colleges with their heavily subsidized course fees are a major draw but open its doors very slightly as the intakes are low and the demands staggering.

True, one can pay through one’s nose to bag a seat ‘out of turn’ but then how many of us have the surname ‘Ambani’ tagged to our names?

So what do the Children of Lesser Gods do? Well, nothing but slog through college picking up a ‘regular’ degree in any one of the innumerable ‘standard’ courses and then join the long que outside caching classes that promise the moon and the earth and everything in between to give themselves a realistic chance of grabbing a B- school seat into any one of the premier management schools.

Here too, what exactly are their chances?

Now let me run you through some stark statistics, because like Shakira’s hips, my lips won’t lie when I trot them out.

Total number of 11Ms in the country: 23

Total number of CAT candidates: Four lakhs plus  

Total number of top General Category seats: 100

Per Candidate to seat  Ratio: 4000

Which means the dreams of only one in every 4000 enrolled students get into one or the other top IIMs. The others just fall by the wayside or languish in some lowly paying jobs after passing out of some third rate management school that no recruiter or employer worth their his salt would dream of even touching with a barge pole.

A collective gasp erupted from the students. It was followed by whispers, followed by pin drop silence.

Mahesh, like everybody else, knew how tough it was to crack the CAT and get into the IIMs. But then as he listened attentively from his far right corner bench to the words he felt a massive weight forming in his chest. He shuffled his legs below the table and wringed his hands as a cold wettiness began to form under his faded cotton blue shirt.

The next half an hour were a daze as the man who had earlier introduced himself as one Nihil Rahane, Senior Faculty cum Student In-charge

ran through the class structure and the road map for the days and months to come.

He finally ended his class with the words, his rich baritone voice ricocheting off the classroom walls, “Remember, no pain, no gain. Work hard, burn the midnight oil, and keep the faith__success will surely follow”.

***

Mahesh woke up in beads of sweat. The words from the introductory class rang in his ears, bombarding his senses with the intensity of a mild temblor.

No pain, no gain. How true. All achievements and accomplishments in this world, have come through hard work; work that entailed turning days into nights and nights into days.

Mahesh’s mind reverberated with visuals of all great men and women and their world changing discoveries and actions. Madam Curie,  Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Tennyson, Keats, Shelly, Hellen Keller, Florence Nightingale, and closer home Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Abdul Kalam…the list went endless.

All illustrious champions and winners who had hacked their way to success, surmounting unimaginable difficulties, overcoming Herculean odds, persevering, persisting, pushing themselves beyond limits, pursuing seemingly super human goals to finally turn initial bitter failures into glittering successes.

Mahesh recalled the words of his ‘guru’, his Class 10 Mathematics teacher.

“Remember Mahi, your namesake the brilliant Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the hugely successful captain of the Indian Cricket team used to say, “It’s not the runs that you score that matters, but when and what stage of the match you score them that really matters, ” adding, “my dear Mahi, don’t let mere numbers and scores bog you down. They are like small pebbles on the vast ocean of life. Wait for the next tide and the fortunes will change, bringing in new pebbles, new scores, completely washing away the earlier ones.

Don’t ever get bogged down by low tides. You are meant for the high seas. Go and meet the waves headlong; new oceans of success await you.

Mahesh sprang up from the bed.

‘Go and meet the oceans of success.’

How true were the words, Mahesh thought to himself.

So what if he hadn’t done well in the Diagnostics. Statistics were like sands on the ocean front. One huge wave hurtling down from the high seas and they vanish without a trace leaving behind a new pattern.

They are past masters at not just falsifying the truth but also are an irritant in the pursuit of one’s avowed goals.

The truth is that he was meant for bigger, greater things in life.

Come hail or shine, he will do all that it takes to crack the CAT.

With that resolution firmly embedded into his senses, Mahesh slipped back under the sheets and closed his eyes, awaiting the dawn of a new day, a day of hope and vigour and all things positive.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #CATOLOGY #04 #fiction #reena’sexplorationchallengeweek5  #1627words

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FIRST DAY, FIRST SHOW BLUES   (SHORT STORY) (GENRE:FICTION)

longing

By Neel Anil Panicker

First Day, First Class, First Hour: Twentyone-year-old Kishore Prasad Mahto wished the Earth below his feet would give way and he be sucked deep into its recesses.

He looked what he was: A person from the heartlands.

Clad in a pale blue workman’s half sleeved shirt, cheap cotton trousers worn out at the edges, thin lips pursed around a scraggy pockmarked face that looked dyed a permanent dirty yellow, and cracked feet half covered in shocking red slippers, the kind that you get in village fairs popularised by the cattle classes.

Cattle class, that’s what he was and that’s what he epitomised.

He was seated all alone in the farthest corner. The desk beside him was empty, so were the ones in front and back.    His segregation from the mainland populace was complete, the lines clearly drawn.

He was an island.

The message, loud and clear: the elite and the hoi poloi were poles apart and there was no meeting ground.

There he sat, his head bent, heart palpitating, hands firmly secured inside his trousers pockets, inwardly crying, cursing the day he decided to forego the cocooned comfort of his small town existence and headed for the big city.

Barely 24 hours into life in Delhi and he felt like a trapped animal, one brutally uplifted from his natural habitat and thrown into an utterly alien jungle, a world where everything was so unlike what he had ever seen, heard, or experienced in his two score years on terra firma.

The city was different, the people looked different, they dressed differently, they spoke differently. Damn’t it, even the water, the air, the sounds, the smells, the tastes…every single thing about Delhi was different.

‘Hey you, who’s your partner’?

The words were a wasp’s sting.

Thirty pairs of eyes turned around and looked in the direction of the pointed finger.

Despite the air conditioner buzzing at 20 degrees centigrade, Kishore found himself sweating like a pig.

‘Say something man, don’t you have a buddy’?

Kishore opened his mouth to answer but words failed him. The words simply refused to make contact with his vocal cords.

‘Ok, you come in last once the others have finished. Now we begin with the first row. So who’s coming”?

Officially termed THE INTRO CLASS, the class was meant to be an icebreaker, some sort of ‘Greet ‘n’ Meet’ event for the newly joinees, mostly fresh graduates, all eager faced and gung ho after enrolling themselves in the  premier coaching institute, THE COACH, in a bid to crack one of the most arduous entrance tests in the entire country, an examination that would open for them the doors of the best management schools of the country, the hallowed IIMs.

The Verbal Faculty, usually a very senior person, had the honour of conducting the Intro Class.

In the two hours that he took, he was expected to hand hold the students and run them through the rigours of the CAT, the class structure, the daily academic regime, the various protocols to be followed for students as far as faculty interactions were concerned, doubt clearing sessions, library usages, book requisitions, workshops et al.

But first things first.

The class was ordered to make pairs. They would then grill each another and then once ready with all the information needed, each person would walk up to the front and introduce his new ‘buddy’.

‘The idea is for you to first know your ‘buddy’ well enough and then ‘sell’ him or her to us, meaning the audience,’ Amit Poddar who was at the helm affairs explained to his pupils.

As each pair walked up and introduced themselves, Kishore watched in amazement that was quickly followed by acute embarrassment. He noticed the sheer confidence with which all of them spoke, the words, all solely in English, trotting out of their lips in a rat tat tat fashion, the vocabulary all Greek to him as they smiled and locked eyes with their fellow students.

Besides their obvious fluency in English, he also noticed their body language, confidently casual, their spick and span mannerisms, their chic and ultra uber overall dressing style, and even the minor details__the shine in their hairs, the gloss in their shoes, the sawg in their walks and talks.

“Now do you need a special invitation”?

The faculty’s voice bore through his ears rudely awakening him from his wayward ruminations.

Despite himself, despite his week knees that refused to budge from his seat, and despite his will, he found himself getting up and inching his way past the rows of chairs, his eyes downcast, careful not to lock horns with his fellow students.

“My name…my name…”

The words once again failed him. He stood there, his legs shaking, his lips trembling, his body shrivelling and shrinking with each passing moment.

As the students watched and Mr Poddar waited, his hands on his waist, Kishore felt like a small caged animal brought to a village circus, the kind he had been to a million times a as child; and the   students like his village folk, unruly and out to have fun, all gathered around him, laughing, deriding, cracking jokes, making fun, throwing barbs, a few even hurling invectives, throwing small pebbles, maybe a few peanuts as well.

An agonising three minutes passed in pin drop silence. It was longest three minutes of his life. Soon followed the sounds, albeit first muted, then slightly loud, and finally rambunctious,  as if the flood gates of patience had broken free.

The students were laughing, barely concealing their voyeuristic delight at discovering among a buffoon, an unkept shaggy, shabby, scraggy young person, one so out of tune with the modern world, one of a kind they thought had long gone extinct, as dead as a dodo.

In fact a voice from the back said exactly that, a bit loud and clear__’You dodo’.

The word bounced all over the four walls of the classroom, furiously ricocheting off them to finally escape through the open door to spread its message through the long corridors that led to other rooms and to be heard by others in the three storied building located in the heart of Delhi that housed the premier coaching institute of the country whose tagline, splashed prominently across billboards and newspaper pages read, ‘We make your dreams come true’.

Kishore felt like he had come under a ten tonne truck, his head crushed into tiny little pieces,  his heart smashed to pulp, his body hammered to pulp, his ego, self respect a lifeless mass of rotten flesh waiting to be trampled upon mercilessly by a million stomping feet.

He fell on the floor landing crashing head long on to the hard wooden bench in front of him.

His humiliation was complete.

When he woke up he found himself in his rented room, lying on the floor, a bedsheet wrapped around his frail body.

His head still felt slightly heavy and it took a while for his eyes to adjust to the dark. He dragged himself to the window and drew aide the dirty lungi that someone had loosely  fastened onto the grills, an improvised curtain to keep the sun and the sand, the dirt and the wind at bay.

His mind now clear, the events of the previous day came alive again, the laughter, the mockery, the derision, the sarcasm, the barbs…and then the fall.

All played out in ultra slow motion, unspooling in graphic details his loathsome humiliation.

He didn’t waste a second more to make his decision: He would leave the class, leave the coaching, leave the city; he would drop his plans to clear CAT, abandon his dreams to become an MBA; he would head home to his village, to the warmth and comfort of his people, his village, back to living the life he loved and had led all his wondrous life.

So determined Kishore got up and put on his shirt. He would go to the railway station to buy himself a ticket to Bihar.

It was then that he heard a faint sound.   His phone was ringing.

challenge 4 prompt

Nonplussed, he dipped his fingers inside his shirt pocket and extricated the instrument.

The caller ID read Mahto Sir.

It was his school headmaster, his guru, the man who taught him for the first sixteen years of his life, the person who had discovered the spark in him when he was a mere four year old and since then held his hand, guiding, teaching, inspiring, exhorting him to do better and better, to elevate his lot and aim for the skies.

Standing there, all alone in his room and staring into the phone, Kishore recalled the very last words that Mahto Sir had said before he boarded the train.

‘Remember Kishore, my boy, the world is your oyster. Go forth and clasp it with both hands. Nothing is impossible in this world. Failures are but the stepping stones of success. Whatever you earnestly wish for, is your goal in life. Step ahead and stop not until you fulfil it.”

Overwhelmed, Kishore picked up the phone. Instantly, the voice of his guru came alive over several thousand miles, “My blood is alive with many voices that tell me I am made of longing.”

That instant Kishore resolved that he would conquer the beast that was English, and more importantly rest not until he avenged his humiliation.

Clearing the CAT and entering the top B-school of the country would be a befitting reply.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #shortstory #fiction #theCATfiles #1576words

 

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Hosted by the wonderful Reena at https://reinventionsreena.wordpress.com/2017/09/08/reenas-exploration-challenge-week-3/

Exploration Challenge 3

LIFE IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT

By Neel Anil Panicker

Remember students, you need a fantabulous vocabulary… eschew, virago, déjà vu, venal, rectitude…you must be able to roll off the meanings of these and words even more tougher in a jiffy, without batting an eyelid.

Besides, your understanding of the grammatical syntax needs to be perfect; modifiers, subject-verb agreement, adverbial clauses, conjunctives, subjunctives, hypotheticals, gerundial nouns et al.

Remember, you can bell the CAT if and only if you are the undisputed King of the Queen’s language.

If you do so the doors of the best B-schools will open for you. Otherwise…

Seated at her desk, two rows from the back, Roshni simply stared out to the front,

her face lost of all emotions, head bobbed to one side, eyes hooked to the front, transfixed at the white board and the man in front of it, desperately trying to make sense, latching on to every single word that was being uttered.

The last time she had heard such fine oratory was when she had inadvertently stumbled upon the CNN news channel only to hear the last few sentences of Barack Obama’s impressive speech as he addressed the US Congress days before relinquishing the office of the President of the United States of America.

Diction, pronunciation, inflection, intonation, enunciation, grammatical sense, style, prose, beauty and power___you name it the person delivering the lecture had all of this and then some more.

“So, dear students, if you dream about clearing the CAT with an enviable percentile and by that I mean above 99.95 percentile, a score that will open the doors of the Big Three IIMs of the country, and thereby begin your journey in the highly competitive corporate world, then make sure that you work towards improving your English.

Remember one thing: Your absolute mastery of English, both spoken and written, will ensure that you not just clear the CAT and bag a seat in one of the management schools in the country but also clear the decks for you to set sail and ride the crests and troughs of the rough seas, ultimately steering your ship safely and successfully to multitudinous ports of glory.

As the words of the teacher trailed off and long after the class had ended and the class emptied out, a shell shocked Roshni sat affixed to her chair, her mind a melange of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

Not for the first time since her arrival in Delhi a month ago she realised to her horror that she may not be as good as she believed she were.

Back in her hometown Jabalpur, she basked in the warm adulation of her teachers, friends, and family members.

For them she was Ms Know All, academically bright with a great gung ho spirit. She was the one who always topped her class and was the favourite of one and all.

But a month into living in the big city and reality had struck. The once sprightly girl who had landed in Delhi with the express intention to fulfil the dreams of her parents that their eldest child get into the IIMs, become a top notch corporate professional, and bring glory to not just them but also the entire town was finding that achieving all that was not a walk in the park. There were other things that need to dealt with besides studies. Surviving in a big city with its attendant issues was a Herculean task by itself and increasingly, as the hours elapsed into days and then into weeks and then months, Roshni found herself grossly ill-equipped to find her feet in the big, bad world into which she had parachuted barely a couple of months ago.

All her twenty-odd years of life had been one blissful cocooned existence; loving parents, appreciative teachers, gloating friends, an army of well wishers_an entire ecosystem that had nurtured and raised her and made her the person that she was __a bubbly, bright, topper who was destined for further glories, one who would not just do her parents, teachers and friends proud but also bring glory to her small village tucked away in the back of beyond, a place still pure and unadulterated by the filth and grime of modernity.

Living in Delhi, the capital city, the political, cultural and educational hub of India brought home the stark reality that there is more to life than just leading a cocooned existence in a small village.

Here, there was a new zing in the air; the young walked with a swagger and spoke with an ease and confidence that she had never seen or experienced before.

Every single hour brought home to Roshni the stark contrast between her own impoverished self and the lives of the big city denizens.

As she trundled in and out of her class, she watched with a stupefied look at her classmates at the coaching institute where she had enrolled by way of her B School preparations; watched and heard them speak with a flair and confidence, a sophistication and style that she had never known ever existed.

Everything about them spelled class__their sanguine walk, the poetry of their language, their dressing sense, their choice and range of words, the power of their personalities all added upto a drop dead confidence that she found at once both intimidating and exhilarating.

Suddenly she found her world had shrunk and shrivelled, her plight not different from that of the frog in a small well who mistakenly believes that this is the world and she its queen.

Suddenly, the size and scale of the world had changed and Roshni found herself utterly lagging behind, pitifully inadequate and incompetent to face upto to it.

Much later, back in her hostel room, long after the lights had been turned off and her room mates surrendered to sleep, weary after an entire day choc-a-bloc with classes, library, studies, and some socialising, Roshni tucked herself under the bedsheet and cried her heart out, silent tears wetting her face and moistening her bed, cursing the fate that had befallen her.

Her mind travelled back in time.

How the wheels of fate had turned. Life was idyllic just a little while ago. There she was, at the small and only railway station, hugging her mother, embracing her younger siblings, touching the feet of her father, receiving the blessings of her uncles, aunts, and the entire extended clan of family members.

It was a big thing, one of their own, the brightest of them all, and a girl child, was going to the big city, to study and be a big shot.

Looking into their moistened eyes Roshni could feel besides the obvious glow and warmth and pride, a deep sense of anticipation that one day, very shortly, this slip of a girl, their own ‘Roshni baby’ would return back a big girl, a highly successful corporate professional, a woman who would be the epitome of girl power, a woman would make them all proud.

And here she was, miles away from her loved ones, unable to grieve, to pour out her sorrows to anyone.

Who would she talk to, befriend, and reveal her problems to?

Most of her classmates came from relatively well off families, dressed as if they were going to or coming from glitzy parties, snootily walked around with a swagger and spoke in an Englishman’s   accent, complete with ooohs and aahs and wows, generously garnishing their talks with liberal spoonfuls of idioms, metaphors, oxymorons, hyperboles and other such artistic tricks of the English language.

A language that they used with a confidence that had long left the shores of arrogance and now reeked of sheer dominance and proof of their perceived superiority as reflected in their condescending attitude towards other students who were not similarly blessed.

As the hours swept away and darkness enveloped all over, for the first time in her life Roshni began to doubt her abilities. Was she really as good as her parents and school teachers had made her out to be?

Would her inadequacy in English really come in the way of fulfilling her dreams?

Would she end up as a basket case, another wayside failure, one more among the multitude to have bitten the dust after failing to cope up with the excruciating rigours of student life in a big city; the never ending demands, the trials and tribulations, the daily rigmarole of classes, and doubts sessions and workshops and then night long studies that were part and parcel of a student who dreamt about belling the CAT, the common admissions test that once cleared, opened the doors for a glittering high flying career in the global world?

If this were so, what would she tell her parents? Her siblings for whom she was Ms Perfectionist, their dear ‘Roshni di’, the one who could never fail? Her teachers in school, her elders, neighbours et al…all who loved her and pinned high hopes on her?

Would she ever be able to show her face, look into their eyes, face the world ever again?

The vibrating sound of the phone broke her thoughts.

She reached out and held the phone placed beside the table stand.

A green light flashed. It was a message.

Groggy eyed, she sat upright and read it:

Dear Roshni, I am writing this to tell you that you are a bundle of talent. Don’t let your lack of command over English ever discourage you from achieving your goals. With perseverance and sheer will power one day you will master English and speak and write with a flair and finesse that will be the envy of one and all. All you need to do is reach out and seek guidance. Remember, you have untapped abilities waiting to be discovered.

Your English teacher,

Prakash Hegde

Suddenly the veil of darkness lifted over and Roshni’s eyes lit up brighter than the brightest of bulbs; here heart began to resound with a new energy, her mind began filling up with a new faith, rigour, and meaning.

That very moment she resolved she would be the master of her own destiny and ride the crests of success for ever.

For the first time in a long, long time Roshni slept peacefully fully aware that a new, beautiful dawn awaited her.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #CATOLOGY #fiction  #shorstory #02 #1710words