By Neel Anil Panicker

There was no leader. In fact all got to play leader. Up, several thousand feet above the earth, they would trade places, move in and out, shuffle back and forth, allowing each one the pride and joy of leading the pack sans any ego sans the megalomania that is the occupational disease that besets homo sapiens.

From her terrace, Asha watched with unalloyed pleasure at the non-stop parade of one majestic flock of birds after another, each flapping her wings and taking off; all__in no time__making perfect military V formations, the tinged reddish brown and sparkling yellow of their wings neatly slicing through the sky blue skies, sprouting forth bubbles of effervescent clouds.

The sight__a magnificent fluorescent trail of winged beauties, all floating away to their destinies__left behind heart warming images of an exquisitely choreographed heavenly dance.

As darkness descended and the birds and their antics became but a distant memory, Asha reluctantly dragged her feet downstairs.

It was back to the monotony, the drab and dreariness of human existence.

As she entered the hallway, her stepfather’s voice, coarse and cruel, slammed into her ears, “Come to my room and do as I command. Or else, your mother’s dead”.

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FFfAW Challenge – 173rd

Hosted at




PHOTO PROMPT © Yarnspinnerr


By Neel Anil Panicker

These walls__the plaster all peeled off; the smell__dank, an all pervasive nauseatingly pungent odour so clinging that it threatens to lather me all over.

The roof above is a hallapolooza of cuts and bruises, the fan hanging down from it a twisted mass of archaic metal__ it’s fate worse than one facing the hangman’s noose.

Crestfallen, I slumber out.

A voice, doused in whisky besides last night’s gastronimic indulgences, croaks.

I stop dead in my track.

Crestfallen and now on my knees, I succumb to the lure, and slowly retrace my steps to resume what’s left of my debauched existence.

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neelwrites/emptyblackboards, emptierdreams/FFfAW/fiction/shortstory/10/04/2018


This week’s photo prompt is provided by Yinglan. Thank you Yinglan!

By Neel Anil Panicker

It was the only ‘school’ In the entire 200 sqaure mile desert stretch that is the Rann of Kutch.

In fact to call it a school would be an anchronism. For, it wasn’t like it had a well painted building or two with a jazzy frontage and was housed within a large three feet high compound complete with a multitude of classrooms, staff rooms, a canteen, besides the ubiquituous playgrounds__different ones, both for indoor and for outdoor games.

The truth was far, far removed from reality.

Our ‘school’ was a small, barely 100 sqaure feet room encased within a conical thatched roof that doubled, or trebled, as a border outpost as well as a resting house for migrant sugar farmers.

During daytime, between the hours of 12 and 4, it functioned as a school for we kids, all children of labourers employed by wealthy landowners. While our parents toiled from morning to sundown to produce the best quality refined sugar, we huddled inside the semi dark one room hutment to learn from Abdul Chacha the three Rs of education.

Our school life ended the day he died. Since then, much like the empty blackboard that stands guard outside the school, our lives too have darkened.

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FFfAW Challenge-Week of April 10, 2018

Hosted by Priceless Joy at 





By Neel Anil Panicker

“It smelled? Well, it smelled of burnt plasticky, with overtones of sweet gunpowdery, charring fleshery, and concrete dustery.”

Inspector Sharma looked bemusedly at his colleague and shook his head.

When will these trainee newbies forego their English bred tongue and speak the language of the plebs, he wondered.

‘Yadav, I’m sure you must have taken pictures of the spot. Let me have a look at them.”

Moments later, the two men were peering into a pack of black and white photographs.”

“Sir, I spoke to the tribals. They say it’s always like this__i mean the air’s full of toxic smell. Gun shots, they say. Say it’s the Naxals undergoing weapon training, the forests serving as a natural shooting range”.

‘Ssshhhh…have  a look at this.’

Sharma stabbed his forefinger at a grainy image.

‘See that white patch sticking out of the pot hole. That’s sulphur. It proves an IED blast killed the Home Minister. Now all we have to figure out is who killed him. And that’s a lesson I shall impart you post lunch, ok’.

©neelanilpanicker2018 #flashfictionforaspiringwriters #fiction #shortstory #175words

FFfAW Challenge-Week of February 6, 2018




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





PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

By Neel Anil Panicker

‘Son, see that tree over there?’

“That’s barely a tree, Dad.”

‘Son, that’s the work of man. Evil men. Precisely, a few evil men.’

“Dad, what do they want?”

‘Son, they want to claim the tree for themselves, roots and all. Each warring group has laid claim to its ownership.’

“But dad, what’s there to fight over a tree? A tree that gives us fruits and flowers, provides shelter, and even supplies us with wood?”

‘Exactly my son, but try telling that to grown up men.’

“Dad, if this is what grownups do then I’m better off remaining a child.”




2 February 2018