Most Gracious ILites, This is one of those stories I wrote with tears in my eyes. The seed for this story was sown by my friend and fellow trainer Mr.Suresh who narrated a simple incident when we were in a leadership camp as faculties. The incident was hurting my heart continuously until I brought it out as a short story. It was published in Vikatan 6 years ago. It is very difficult to read this story with dry eyes. Even I, who wrote it and would have read it at least a hundred times cannot do it. If you try and succeed, please let me know. And that's why the story is titled, The Challenge A Short Story by Varalotti Rengasamy “You are … Mr… .. ” “Mahendar, Madam.” “How do you know my lawyer? It is only on his insistence that I gave you an appointment on an otherwise very hectic day. So be brief and to the point. Don’t waste my time. Tell me about yourself. What do you think you can do for my company which is already the industry-leader? You have just five minutes.” Mahendar was baffled by the curt manner in which he was received. He did not expect a red carpet. Nor was he prepared for this treatment. He was not even asked to sit. But he had a mission to achieve and did not mind the discourtesy. “Thank you for the time, Madam. May I sit and talk, Madam?” “By all means.” “Madam, I am a trainer, a HR man, by profession. I train people, especially those working for companies like yours , to enhance their productivity and to hone their skills. “I was working as a Personnel Manager in a Mumbai company before venturing into this profession. I can teach your employees how to work with involvement, how to excel in human relations and how to achieve the targets by smart work. “Your lawyer attended one of my training seminars; he should have been impressed by what I said on that day. It was he who requested me to meet you.” Having finished the opening talk to his satisfaction Mahendar now surveyed the lady sitting before him. She was in her late forties. Wrinkles had just started to appear in an otherwise flawless face. Her forehead was bereft of thilak or other marks. She had lost her husband long ago. She should have been extraordinarily beautiful in her prime. But now…. a stern look and a dry, commanding voice to match that look, the thick glasses she wore and the vertical creases in her forehead marred her beauty and showed that she had hardened over the years. She was well known in her business circles for her cut-throat nature and hard decisions. She had outwitted and outsmarted the toughest tycoons in her industry and was clearly ahead in the dog-eat-dog race. Mahendar thought that the soft name Saradha did not match the personality it represented. Saradha spoke in a stern voice. “Look here, young man, I am the MD of a five hundred crore-company. And I am the market leader. My staff and my workers turn out good work and are paid at the top end of the market. “Even in this recession we are doing well – we make good profits. So I don’t think I have any use for you or your fancy training programmes. Honestly I do not believe in all this humbug – training, seminars etc. They are just a waste of time and money.” “I am sorry,Madam, but I have to differ from you. If you give me a chance I will prove that your employees do need training. With a little bit of training your people will do far better than what they are doing at present. If I fail in my challenge I will concede my defeat and do whatever you order me to do.” Mahendar knew that Saradha loved challenges in life and there could be no better way to convince her than to trap her into a challenge. As he expected Saradha took the bait but….. “Are you throwing a challenge to me? I’m accepting it. Now the terms. I will give you whatever facilities you ask for and we will agree on a time frame. “You train some of my staff. If you can bring about a change in them – I mean a perceptible change , a change which I can feel for myself - then you win and I will give you a lakh of Rupees. “Otherwise I win and you will have to work as my personal attendant – my peon - for a week – without wages. Agreed?” Mahendar was not prepared for this kind of a challenge. He had thought that at the worst he will be denied monetary consideration for a week long training programme. That itself will be bad enough as he was in need of money. But that was manageable and can be thought as a part of his struggle to gain a standing in his chosen profession. Working as a peon for this arrogant lady was something different. The humiliation will be too much for him to bear. But if he backs up from the challenge now Saradha will not miss the opportunity to make fun of him. And the humiliation will be no less than working for her as her peon. Mahendar realised that he had burnt the bridges he had crossed and there was no way back. The way forward was hazardous, but at least there was a way. The conditions of the challenge were quite vague. How was he ever going to convince Saradha of the change brought about by his training? Motivation, human relations or other skills cannot be objectively measured. Unlike a weight-loss programme where a participant can pinpoint the effectiveness to the nearest hundred grams there are no tools to measure human skills.